Thomas Hegghammer’s meticulously researched story of the life, times and significance of Azzam is the opposite of a hagiography, as is to be expected from a renowned scholar. His main argument is that Azzam was responsible for internationalising jihad by interpreting it theologically as a duty. That was at odds with Muslim Brotherhood ideologues who preached domestic opposition to autocratic secular regimes like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya. But it was the repressive character of those regimes, he also argues, that made jihad “go global”.
The Caravan makes a number of very useful historical arguments with powerful resonance today. The most important perhaps is Hegghammer’s rigorous and impartial deconstruction of the myth that the US trained, or even created, the international legion of Islamic militants who fought in Afghanistan (among them Osama bin Laden) and then, once Moscow had withdrawn its troops, turned on their supposed erstwhile sponsors. This “blowback” theory has been so often cited that it is often accepted without interrogation. Hegghammer shows it to be – largely – bogus.