The author produced an exclusive interview with Usama bin Ladin that aired on CNN in May 1997 and has subsequently forged a career on research into the world of bin Ladin and militant Islam, appearing regularly as a talking head on television. Holy War, Inc. culminates his research on these topics. It may well be the best of the many bin Ladin books that appeared in the aftermath of September 11 (standing head and shoulders above Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,[1] with its many wild and unsubstantiated claims). Bergen draws a biographical sketch of bin Ladin that is judicious and thoroughly investigated and his profile of al-Qa‘ida is also quite good.

The problem is, Bergen does not know when to quit. For one, he spends too much time discussing the now-dismantled Taliban regime of Afghanistan and the lawless regime still ruling Yemen, thereby straying from the focus of the book, being bin Ladin. For another, he tries to wear the hat of an Islamic studies professor. "It is worth noting that Islam has had a long tradition of tolerance," he writes. Bergen might do well to learn that there is more than one "Islam" among the religion's 1 billion adherents. Indeed, Islam has many branches and offshoots that make such oversimplifications dangerous. And out of those manifold interpretations, several strains have had a long tradition of intolerance (e.g., Salafism and Wahhabism). He further asserts that the literal meaning of jihad "signifies battle against one's own moral shortcomings." But jihad today (and historically) means basically only one thing to Muslims—waging war to expand the boundaries of Islam.

The author further underscores his lack of Islamic knowledge when he quotes apologists for Islamism, including the journalists Geneive Abdo and Anthony Shadid, who wrongly tout it as a potential path to diversity and democratization in the Muslim world, ignoring its long path of violence and destruction.

Finally, "don't go there" comes to mind as Bergen tackles Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory. "Huntington correctly points to an Islamic resurgence in the twentieth century," Bergen writes, "but he mistakenly conflates this resurgence with violence." In writing these words, Bergen effectively ignores the long tale of violence documented in the pages of his own book.

[1] Roseville, Calif: Prima Publishing, 2001.