Book Review by Elias Davidsson
Philip Bobbitt, Terror and Consent: The wars for the Twenty-First Century, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008, 673 p., footnotes, index
The author’s main “evidence” for his assessment of Al Qaeda are alleged pronouncements by so-called Al Qaeda leaders. The author doesn’t bother to examine the authenticity, the credibility and the good faith of these pronouncements. He simply accepts them and US government allegations about Al Qaeda at face value. The result of such deficient scholarship is an artificial mental construction that affects the entire book.
The author masks the almost total absence of empirical evidence for his thesis with countless citations by other equally dubious scholars and with poems. Of the more than 500 endnotes, only a handful refer to first-hand evidence. The overwhelming majority of cited sources refer to equally opinionated colleagues or to second- or third-hand accounts. The author has clearly not engaged in original research. The nature of his work suggests that he proceeded from a given conclusion and searched for facts that might convince the occasional reader.
Typically, the author – without providing solid evidence – claims that al Qaeda and its network of affiliates are responsible for the October 12, 2002 attacks in Bali, for the August 19, 2003 attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, for the August 29, 2003 bombing near the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf (Iraq), for the February 27, 2004 attack on a ferry outside Manila (The Philippines), for the March 11, 2004 attack on trains in Madrid, for the July 7, 2005 attack on the public transport system in London, etc. Basing himself on these unsubstantiated claims, the author concludes that Al Qaeda “today is a sophisticated operation – with a sophisticated propaganda machine based in Pakisten” (p. 15). Anyone, who has examined these particular events, will have discovered that the official account on these events was, in the very least, questionable.
A detailed review of this book would only have been worthwhile if the author had fulfilled his basic scholarly duties, namely to substantiate his main claims. As he failed to do so, it would be a waste of time to examine each of his claims.