Previous Projects

ahmed-thistle The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings 2013)

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States declared war on terrorism. More than ten years later, the results are decidedly mixed. Here world-renowned author, diplomat, and scholar Akbar Ahmed reveals an important yet largely ignored result of this war: in many nations it has exacerbated the already broken relationship between central governments and the largely rural Muslim tribal societies on the peripheries of both Muslim and non-Muslim nations. The center and the periphery are engaged in a mutually destructive civil war across the globe, a conflict that has been intensified by the war on terror.
The study provides the social and historical context necessary to understand how both central governments and tribal societies have become embroiled in America’s war. Beginning with Waziristan and expanding to societies in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere, Ahmed offers a fresh approach to the conflicts studied and presents an unprecedented paradigm for understanding and winning the war on terror.

“In the end, I was close to tears. Lagrimas caudales or ‘flowing tears,’ to use the apposite phrase of Blas de Otero, seems to be what the book’s conclusions lead to. Thus lagrimas for the tribes, for the soldiers, and for the United States. Professor Ahmed gives us the only way out of this dangerous dilemma, a way to coexist with the thistle without the drone.”—Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary

“Professor Ahmed combines a clear professional anthropological expertise with an equally clear, critical and humane moral perspective. This is an unusual and groundbreaking book, which should be compulsory reading for Western governments.”—Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

“I am moved, horrified, and encouraged all at once. Above all, Professor Ahmed makes me proud to be an anthropologist!” –Professor Marilyn Strathern D.B.E., former William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

*Winner of the German Peace Prize at the 2014 Karachi Literature Festival

“Terror: The Hidden Source”: Review of The Thistle and the Drone by Malise Ruthven in The New York Review of Books 

“The Drone War is Far From Over” by Akbar Ahmed in The New York Times 

“How the ‘War on Terror’ Became a War on ‘Tribal Islam’, Morning Edition with Steve Inskeep on NPR 

Interview of Akbar Ahmed about The Thistle and the Drone on NPR’s This is America & The World with Dennis Wholey 


journeyintoamerica Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings 2010)

Nearly seven million Muslims live in the United States today, and their relations with non-Muslims are strained. To shed light on this increasingly important religious group and counter mutual distrust, Akbar Ahmed conducted the most comprehensive study to date of the American Muslim community. Journey into America explores and documents how Muslims are fitting into U.S. society, placing their experience within the larger context of American identity. This eye-opening book also offers a fresh and insightful perspective on American history and society.

Ahmed and his team of young researchers traveled for a year through more than seventy-five cities across the United States—from New York City to Salt Lake City; from Las Vegas to Miami; from the large Muslim enclave in Dearborn, Michigan, to small, predominantly white towns like Arab, Alabama. They visited homes, schools, and over one hundred mosques to discover what Muslims are thinking and how they are living every day in America. Journey into America is equal parts anthropological research, listening tour, and travelogue. It is absolutely essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of America today.

“A timely and stimulating contribution to a critically important issue: the West’s (and especially America’s) relationship to Islam.”—Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser

“My friend Professor Ahmed came to America in the great tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville: a perceptive foreigner affectionately looking at America and American identity. This important new book advances his heroic, even dangerous, ‘five minutes to midnight’ effort to save us from our foolish mutual animosities. Pray his efforts are not too late.”—Tony Blankley, Washington Times and Heritage Foundation

“Journey into America is an essential pillar in the effort to build the interfaith bridge of understanding. It will inform, provoke, and inspire Americans of all colors, cultures, and faiths.”—U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

*Winner of the 2011 American Book Award

Akbar Ahmed on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 

“Journey into America, past and present” by Akbar Ahmed in The Guardian 

“The Challenge of Islam”: Review of Journey into America by Gerard Russell in Foreign Policy 


i170x240 Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Brookings 2007)

“Why?” Years after September 11, we are still looking for answers. Internationally renowned Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed knew that this question could not be answered until Islam and the West found a way past the hatred and mistrust intensified by the war on terror and the forces of globalization. Seeking to establish dialogue and understanding between these cultures, Ahmed led a team of dedicated young Americans on a daring and unprecedented tour of the Muslim world. Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization is the riveting story of their search for common ground.

From the mosques of Damascus to the madrassahs of Karachi to the homes of Jakarta, Ahmed and his companions met with Muslims from all walks of life. They listened to students and professors, presidents and prime ministers, sheikhs and cab drivers, revealing Muslim hopes and frustrations as the West has never heard before. They returned from their groundbreaking journey with both cause for concern and occasion for hope.

Rejecting stereotypes and “conventional wisdom” about Islam and its encounter with globalization, this important book offers a new framework for understanding the Muslim world. As Western leaders wage a war on terrorism, Ahmed offers insightful suggestions on how the United States can improve relations with Islamic nations and peoples. Written with equal parts compassion and urgency, Journey into Islam makes a powerful case for forming bonds across religion, race, and tradition to create lasting harmony between Islam and the West. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future survival of the United States as a world leader, for the individual who faces the painful changes of globalization, and for the very future of our planet.

“Akbar Ahmed’s voice needs to be heard, and his courage strengthened.” –Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

“In Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, [Ahmed] invites us to listen to the many voices of Muslims today as they face a confusing and often threatening world. It is essential reading, wise, literate, insightful, optimistic, honest and humane, the work of one of the great religious sages of our time.” –Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth

“A deeply moral work, informed by profound commitment to universal values of knowledge, justice, and compassion, all of which work to confirm Ahmed’s position as preeminent Muslim public intellectual. Ultimately, a generous and empowering work which allows the kind of understanding that is transformative, Journey into Islam is as an extraordinary venture for its readers as it was for the students involved in its making.” –Professor Tamara Sonn, College of William & Mary

“The Colours of Allah”: Review of Journey into Islam by Edward Mortimer in The Guardian 

“Bridging the ‘Great Divide’”- Professor Ahmed’s research team on Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan show 

Book Discussion on Journey into Islam by Akbar Ahmed on CSPAN’s BookTV 


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