Militant Ideology Atlas Executive Report
I am extremely grateful to Gen. Wayne Downing,
the Distinguished Chair of CTC, for his early enthusiasm for the
project and for his constant support throughout its duration. He
took a great deal of his own time to ensure that the final report
is policy relevant. I would also like to thank Col. Mike Meese,
the Chair of the Social Sciences Department at West Point, for his
encouragement and helpful advice along the way. The quality of the
Atlas would have been much diminished without their oversight.
Thanks to Jarret Brachman for adroitly steering
the project through the usual bureaucratic obstacles that accompany
such a large endeavor. Without complaint, he not only attended to
the administrative details but also dealt with an unfair amount
of editorial minutiae.
Special thanks to the following researchers
who did the hard labor of reading, coding, and commenting on the
very abstruse Arabic texts used in the project: J. Vahid Brown,
Adrian and Vanessa De Gifis, Chris Heffelfinger, and Rebecca Molloy.
I am particularly grateful to Vahid and Chris for helping me prepare
the Research Compendium.
Finally, I wish to thank Col. Kip Suluormick
and Lt. Col. Joe Felter, the previous and current heads of CTC.
Kip made sure the project was fully resourced and academically viable
and Joe upheld those commitments and skillfully shepherded the project
through all of its various permutations. I and everyone else are
in their debt for overseeing the creation of one of the most potent
weapons in the struggle against Jihadi terrorism.
William Suluants, PhD
Fellow, Combating Terrorism Center
U.S. military Academy
President Bush, in his commencement address
at West Point in May 2006, compared our nation's current war with
violent Islamic extremism to the long struggle against communism
and the Soviet Union. The President told graduating cadets from
the Class of 2006-nearly all bound for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan-that,
"like the Cold War, we are fighting the followers of a murderous
ideology that despises freedom, crushes all dissent, has territorial
ambitions, and pursues totalitarian aims." The United States
and her allies eventually prevailed in the long war against the
Soviets but only after making a concerted effort to fully understand
the enemy, its ideology, its vulnerabilities, and how these vulnerabilities
could be best exploited. Today, over five years into this generation's
long war, we do not have this same understanding of the ideology
that is driving our enemies; we lack a map needed for planning the
Dr. William Suluants and his team of researchers
from West Point's Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) help us understand
this opponent with the publication of the Militant Ideology Atlas.
This report, and its accompanying compendium, is the first systematic
mapping of the ideology driving the actions of the terrorists responsible
for the 9/11 attacks and other violent actions around the world.
Using a robust research methodology and critical analyses of the
Jihadis' most widely read texts, the Atlas gives us a highly nuanced
map of the major thinkers in the Jihadi Movement and their most
salient areas of consensus and disagreement. In short, this report
identifies who the most influential people are among the Jihadi
thinking class, what they are thinking, and where the movement is
most vulnerable ideologically.
Significantly, the report uses these empirical
findings to identify powerful messages and influential messengers
that can turn different constituencies against the Jihadis. These
constituencies range from benign mainstream Muslims to the most
violent Jihadis. The recommendations of this report establish a
baseline against which strategic communications campaigns can be
calibrated and adjusted.
An old adage warns, "If you don't know
where you are going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."
The CTC's seminal contribution offers a valuable resource that will
greatly inform our assessment of where we want to go in this fight
and the best routes to get there. It promises to be useful to policy
makers and all those involved in charting the way ahead in this
This project was coordinated by Dr. Jarret
Brachman, Director of Terrorism Research in the Combating Terrorism
Center and produced under the direction of LTC Joe Felter, Director
of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. For additional
questions concerning this research contact Dr. Brachman at email@example.com
or (845) 938-8549.
The Militant Ideology Atlas identifies the
most influential thinkers in the Jihadi Movement (see appendices)
and delineates the movement's key ideological vulnerabilities. It
situates the Jihadi Movement within the various Muslim constituencies
that Jihadi leaders seek to influence and persuade. These constituencies
can be envisioned as a series of nesting circles. Each constituency
is responsive to leaders in the broader constituencies of which
it is a part, but each also has its own thinkers that are best positioned
to influence their base.
The largest constituency is comprised of Muslims,
people who follow the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad. This includes
Sunnis (people who follow the example of the Prophet) and Shi`is
(people who follow the example of the Prophet and his descendents
through his son-in-law Ali), and ranges from secularists to fundamentalists.
This constituency is much too broad to identify one or two individuals
who shape opinion across the broad spectrum of Muslims.
The Jihadis lose credibility among mainstream
Muslims when they attack women, children, and the elderly; damage
the sources of a nation's wealth (such as tourism and oil); kill
other Muslims; and declare other Muslims apostates. Jihadi propaganda-which
is designed to reclaim this lost credibility-can be countered with
the following messages:
Jihadis want a totalitarian system of government
in which no one is allowed to think for themselves. Not even the
Saudi government is strict enough. Anyone who does not share their
understanding of Islam will be declared an apostate and executed.
If you want to know what a Jihadi state will look like, contemplate
the Taliban-the only state in recent memory that Jihadis consider
to have been legitimately Islamic.
We recognize that the use of "Jihadi"
to designate Salafis of a militant stripe is controversial. Some
analysts feel that it cedes too much to militant Salafis to ratify
their use of the term-they call their movement al-haraka al-jihadiyya
("the Jihadi Movement")-since jihad has positive connotations
in Islam. However, we have opted to use it for the following reasons.
First, it has wide currency in the Western counterterrorism community.
Second, the proposed alternatives are either too imprecise or polemically
charged to be analytically useful. Third, "Jihadism" indicates
the centrality of religious warfare in the militant Salafi worldview.
Fourth, using the label makes Jihadis accountable for giving the
term a bad name and for not living up to the high standard of conduct
associated with jihad. Finally, the term is used in Arab media and
was coined by a devout Saudi Muslim who is hostile to the ideology,
so it is not a Western neologism.
- The Jihadi message is so weak and unappealing
that they have to use violence to persuade people. They claim to
be saving Islam, but they are giving it a bad reputation. They are
hurting their own people and national resources.
The next constituency is comprised of Islamists,
people who want Islamic law to be the primary source of law and
cultural identity in a state. They differ over the meaning of this
objective and the means of achieving it. Among Sunnis (the vast
majority of the world's Muslims), the Muslim Brotherhood is the
most influential group in the Islamist constituency, with Yusuf
Qaradawi as their most influential spokesman.
Next come the Salafis, Sunni Muslims who want
to establish and govern Islamic states based solely on the Qur'an
and the example of the Prophet as understood by the first generations
of Muslims close to Muhammad. Salafis differ over the final form
of these states and the proper means for achieving them. This movement
is ideologically akin to the medieval Puritan movement in England
and America. The most influential Salafis are Saudi clerics.
Finally are the Jihadis, the holy warriors
and today's most prominent terrorists, whose movement is part of
the larger Salafi Movement (but note that most Salafis are not Jihadis).
Since Jihadi thinkers draw their legitimacy from the same tradition
as Salafis, Salafi scholars-particularly Saudi clerics-are best
positioned to discredit the movement among other Salafis. Within
the Jihadis' core constituency, the most influential living thinkers
are al-Maqdisi in Jordan, Abu Basir al-Tartusi and Abu Qatada in
England, `Abd al-Qadir b. `Abd al-`Aziz in Egypt, and several Saudi
clerics. Most of these men have formal religious training and are
either of Palestinian or Saudi descent, reflecting a shift in intellectual
leadership of the Jihadi Movement away from laymen from Egypt to
formally trained clerics from the Levant or Saudi Arab. Given the
influence of these men, they are best positioned to convince Jihadis
to abandon certain tactics. Denouncements of prominent Jihadis by
other prominent Jihadis are particularly damaging and demoralizing.
Governments combating Jihadism should support
messages and messengers that will resonate with the various constituencies
we have identified. Since Western governments lack credibility in
the Muslim world, they should do this indirectly. In particular,
governments should convince influential Islamist and Salafi leaders
to renounce Jihadi thinking and tactics since they are best positioned
to damage the credibility of Jihadis and prevent their constituencies
from joining the movement. Jihadi thinkers may also be amenable
to renouncing certain tactics, which would be very effective, but
it is much more difficult to persuade them to do so. Specific prescriptions
for delegitimizing the Jihadi Movement are outlined at the conclusion
of this report. A Research Compendium and a searchable online database
with lengthy biographies, bibliographies, and other data are also
available upon request. (Contact Dr. Jarret Brachman at firstname.lastname@example.org
MOST INFLUENTIAL THINKERS
Using a technique called "citation analysis,"
the Militant Ideology Atlas identifies the most influential authors
among Jihadi ideologues. A list of these authors is found in Appendix
II: Most Cited Authors (modern Jihadi authors are highlighted in
gray). A network representation of the data is found in Appendix
I: Ideological Influence Map.
These authors are divided into two groups,
medieval and modern. Not surprisingly, the most influential medieval
Muslim authors are largely scholars known for their conservative
and uncompromising interpretations of Islamic law and theology.
Most of these scholars are also highly influential among mainstream
Salafis, which reinforces the notion that the Jihadi Movement is
a violent subset of the broader Salafi Movement (largely indistinguishable
today from Wahhabism). These authors, whom we call Medieval Authorities,
are cited for two reasons. First, they are respected Islamic scholars
among conservative Muslims, Salafi or not, so citing them provides
religious and scholarly legitimacy to Jihadis' arguments. Second,
their conservative and often militant interpretations of Islamic
law and history dovetail well with contemporary Jihadi arguments
for violent revolution, as do their narrow delineations of proper
Islamic belief and practice, which make it easy for contemporary
Jihadis to excommunicate their rivals.
A good case in point is Ibn Taymiyya, the most
influential Medieval Authority. Aside from the Qur'an and the Hadith
(records of the Prophet's words and actions), the fatwas by the
13/14th centuries AD jurist are by far the most popular texts for
modern Jihadis, particularly his writings about the invading Mongols.
These texts are important to the modern Jihadi movement because
1) Ibn Taymiyya is the most respected scholar among Salafis, 2)
he crafted very good arguments to justify fighting a jihad against
the foreign invaders, and 3) he argued that Mongol rulers who converted
to Islam were not really Muslims. The last two arguments resonate
well today with the global Jihadi agenda.
Citation analysis is a technique frequently
employed in the social sciences as an objective way to determine
intellectual influence among scholars (Google uses a similar technique
to rank pages for its search engine). Note that this method determines
the intellectual influence between Jihadi authors and does not
determine their influence or significance in the wider Jihadi
Movement. Moreover, the study was limited to the most popular
texts on the Tawhed website, al-Qa`ida's main online library.
These texts are in Arabic, so the study is limited to intellectual
influence in the Arabic speaking world. The texts were selected
according to the number of times they had been read or downloaded.
In order to have a representative sample of Jihadi literature,
we chose the most popular texts overall, as well as texts from
the section on the "Neglected Duty" (i.e. jihad) and
the subsection on "Doubts and Rebuttals." (For a list
of these books and a summary of their contents, refer to the Research
Compendium.) The researchers summarized the texts' contents, cataloged
who was cited most often, and color-coded the texts for important
information-such as the names of individuals and groups, and quotations
from the Prophet-that could be used in future projects.
For the sake of convenience, authors who
lived after 1900 are designated "modern".
As for the most influential modern thinkers,
they are generally of three types. The first type is Conservative
Scholars, most of who are Wahhabis (followers of the eighteenth-century
theologian Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab). As with the Medieval Authorities
mentioned above, quoting these scholars provides legitimacy to Jihadi
arguments and their conservative intellectual output syncs well
with the Jihadi worldview. The second type is Saudi Establishment
Clerics, scholars who generally are politically quietist, supportive
of the ruling Saudi family, and often receive some kind of financial
support from the Saudi government. (Note, however, that some of
these clerics, like Safar al-Hawali, were once critical of the government
and then later co-opted.) They are quoted for the same reasons as
Medieval Authorities and Conservative Scholars, but Jihadis also
frequently disagree with them because they have repudiated some
core Jihadi doctrines and criticized Jihadis. The most important
points they differ over are who has the right to call for a jihad,
who can excommunicate Muslims, and whether violent revolt against
a Muslim ruler is legitimate. Jihadi ideologues are most threatened
by prominent Wahhabi scholars since they both draw their legitimacy
from the same tradition and have the same core religious constituency.
Jihadi authors also frequently deride the Muslim Brotherhood since
they have renounced violence and participate in elections (at least
in Egypt) and they are very successful at winning the allegiance
of the masses through Islamist slogans and social services.
The third type is Jihadi Theorists, men who
call for jihad against non-Muslims and/or the overthrow of local
apostate regimes. Sayyid Qutb is the most influential person in
this group, but interestingly it is his commentary on the Qur'an
and not his revolutionary tract Milestones that is most cited.
Next in influence is al-Maqdisi, a formally
trained cleric of Palestinian descent who currently lives in Jordan.
By all measures, Maqdisi is the key contemporary ideologue in the
Jihadi intellectual universe-he is the primary broker between the
Medieval Authorities, the Conservative Scholars, and the Saudi Establishment
Clerics on the one hand, and the Jihadi Theorists on the other (see
Appendix I: Ideological Influence Map). Since Maqdisi owns the Tawhed
website which we used for this study and since he wrote many of
the most-read books on that, one could argue that the study is unfairly
weighted in his favor. There are two responses: First, the books
on the website are very representative of Jihadi literature and,
according to the website owners, not selected according to Maqdisi's
personal approval of the material. Moreover, the fact that many
of Maqdisi's books were used in our study actually works against
him-every book written by Maqdisi that made our list of most-read
books is one less book that could Maqdisi. Given that the odds were
stacked against him, it is impressive that Maqdisi is still the
most cited person in our study.
In addition to being the most influential living
Jihadi Theorist, Maqdisi is part of a new trend revealed by our
data: there has been a shift in intellectual influence from laymen
in Egypt (like Sayyid Qutb) to formally trained clerics from Palestine
(often living in Jordan) and Saudi Arabia. While it is unclear if
this correlates with new developments in Jihadi theory, it certainly
indicates a trend toward shoring up that theory with religious credentials.
`Abd Allah `Azzam, the influential Palestinian cleric who organized
foreign Jihadis in Afghanistan in the '80s, was an early example
of this trend.
In Saudi Arab, most of the Jihadi Theorists
are from the religious establishment, while in Egypt they mainly
come from outside the religious establishment. One of the most influential
Egyptian Jihadi Theorists is `Abd al-Qadir b. `Abd al-`Aziz; like
Zawahiri, he is a medical doctor (he is currently in prison in Egypt).
Despite his lack of formal religious training, his massive books
are replete with quotes from the Prophet and Medieval Authorities
and have been used by Jihadi groups like that of Zarqawi to justify
a number of attacks.
Not surprisingly, Bin Ladin makes our list
of influential ideologues (see Appendix II: Most Cited Authors),
although he matters much less in the intellectual network than Maqdisi
and others. His lieutenant, Zawahiri, often portrayed by Western
media as the main brain in the Jihadi Movement, is totally insignificant
in the Jihadi intellectual universe. To be sure, both men have had
an enormous impact on the wider Jihadi Movement, but our data shows
that they have had little to no impact on Jihadi thinkers. In contrast,
the Syrian ideologue, Abu Basir al-Tartusi, has had a large intellectual
impact on Jihadi authors, but he is little known outside of Jihadi
circles. He currently resides in London, as does another influential
ideologue, Abu Qatada (a Jordanian cleric of Palestinian origin).
Finally, two men that have had a substantial
impact on the movement but are little known outside Jihadi circles
are Yusuf al-`Uyayri and Abu `Ubayd al-Qurashi. They are part of
a growing subset of Jihadi Theorists we call Jihadi Strategists
since their primary intellectual output is secular, analytical studies
of the strengths and weaknesses of the Jihadi Movement and the Western
governments that oppose them.
RECURRING THEMES AND DIVISIVE ISSUES
In addition to cataloging citation information,
researchers also wrote detailed summaries of the issues discussed
in the works they read. The following themes are well-represented:
1. Jihadis want unity of thought. They reject
pluralism-the idea that no one has a monopoly on truth-and the political
system that fosters it, democracy.
2. Jihadis will fight until every country in
the Middle East is ruled only by Islamic law. Once they are in power,
the punishments of the Qur'an (such as cutting off the hand of a
thief) will be implemented immediately. Not even Saudi Arabia has
it right; the Taliban state was the only state that was closest
to their vision.
3. Jihadis contend that the violence they do
to their own people, governments, and resources are 1) necessary,
2) religiously sanctioned, and 3) really the fault of the West,
Israel, and apostate regimes.
4. The Jihadi cause is best served when the
conflict with local and foreign governments is portrayed as a conflict
between Islam and the West. Islam is under siege and only the Jihadis
can lift it.
5. Countries in the Middle East are weak; they
cannot remove tyrants or reform their societies without the help
of outsiders. Jihad is the only source of internal empowerment and
reform. Many of the books surveyed were written in response to people
who had criticized Jihadis for specific actions. That these criticisms
are taken seriously indicates vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
Jihadis are routinely condemned for the following reasons:
- Declaring other Muslims apostates
- Attacking other Muslims
- Attacking women, children, and the elderly
- Attacking the sources of a nation's wealth,
such as tourism and the oil industry
- Creating political and social chaos. These
condemnations are particularly damaging when they come from three
types of individuals: - Influential religious leaders
- Former Jihadis and prominent current Jihadis
The Jihadi ideology is a subset of Salafi ideology:
the desire to establish and govern Islamic states based solely on
the Qur'an and the Sunna (the words and deeds of Muhammad) as understood
by the first generations of Muslims close to Muhammad. Where they
differ is over the final form of these states and the proper means
of political action for achieving them.
The West, especially the United States, should
be modest about its ability to intellectually challenge Salafism.
The movement gained mass popularity during the last century and
Salafis now constitute a majority or significant portion of the
Muslim population in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite
the fact that it was often strongly opposed by secular nationalist
regimes and non-Salafi clerics. Western governments have neither
the local credibility nor the cultural expertise necessary to diminish
the popularity of Salafism.
The findings of this research suggest that
governments interested in reducing the popularity of Jihadis among
Salafis and the wider Muslim world will be more successful if their
efforts incorporate the following recommendations:
1. Label the entire Jihadi Movement "Qutbism"
in recognition that the Jihadis Saudi Sayyid Qutb more than any
other modern author. Muslim opponents of the Jihadis (including
mainstream Wahhabis) use this term to describe them, a designation
Jihadis hate since it implies that they follow a human and are members
of a deviant sect. Adherents of the movement consider "Qutbi"
to be a negative label and would much rather be called Jihadi or
Salafi. Calling the movement "Qutbism" would also remove
potentially offensive words from the lexicon of public officials
(like "Islamofascism") and disassociate the movement from
2. Highlight statements by influential Salafi
clerics in Saudi Arab denouncing Jihadi terrorism.
3. Convince Jihadi intellectuals who are truly
influential in the movement to renounce certain targets and tactics.
Al-Tartusi, for example, shocked his Jihadi colleagues when he renounced
suicide attacks after the London bombings; the same happened after
al-Maqdisi criticized some of Zarqawi's tactics.
4. Focus on the divisive issues described above
as part of broader efforts to delegitimize violence against non-combatants
and to impugn the methods of Jihadis as ineffective and counterproductive
means for social change.
5. Counter the recurring themes found in Jihadi
literature (detailed above) with the following messages: - Jihadis
want a totalitarian system of government in which no one is allowed
to think for themselves. Not even the Saudi government is strict
enough. Anyone who does not share their understanding of Islam will
be declared an apostate and executed. If you want to know what a
Jihadi state will look like, contemplate the Taliban-the only state
in recent memory that Jihadis consider to have been legitimately
Islamic. - The Jihadi message is so weak and unappealing that they
have to use violence to persuade people. They claim to be saving
Islam, but they are giving it a bad reputation. They are hurting
their own people and national resources.
6. Remind people of what happens when Jihadis
come to power. This could done with commercials and documentaries
focusing on the atrocities committed by the Taliban or by al-Qa`ida
in Falluja, or perhaps a video game or movie in which the setting
is a Middle East governed by the Jihadi caliphate.
Since Western governments lack credibility
in the Muslim world, they should pursue these efforts indirectly.
Finally, a word about "moderate"
Muslims. The measure of moderation depends on what type of standard
you use. If by "moderate" one means the renouncement of
violence in the achievement of political goals, then the majority
of Salafis are moderate. But if by "moderate" one means
an acceptance of secularism, capitalism, democracy, gender equality,
and a commitment to religious pluralism, then Salafis would be extremists
on all counts. Then again, there are not many Muslim religious leaders
in the Middle East that would qualify as moderates according to
the second definition. Until there are, the international community
should focus on alienating Jihadis from the broader Salafi Movement.
While it may be distasteful to work with non-violent Salafi leaders,
they are best positioned to delegitimize Jihadi violence and monitor
the activities of the more militant elements of their movement.
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