With the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this August, the post-9/11 era seems to be ending. Challenges such as climate change, a bellicose China, and the crisis of liberal institutions have crowded out jihadi terrorism as the primary American foreign-policy concern. Even in the narrow counterterrorism realm, white supremacist violence and anti-government extremism are the flavors of the day, and the occasional jihadi attack doesn’t seem to change things.
Yet a new book provides a stark reminder of the persistence of terrorist networks despite over 20 years of relentless counterterrorism. In Western Jihadism: A Thirty Year History, Jytte Klausen, a professor at Brandeis University and a highly respected scholar of terrorism, traces the origins of al Qaeda and the broader jihadi movement, and how the seeds they scattered throughout the West flourished in the 1990s and even in the post-9/11 era. What emerges is a portrait of a robust movement that, despite having suffered numerous setbacks, has learned from its mistakes, become more connected, and adapted its tactics and structures to keep the flame of jihad alive.