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Militant Ideology Atlas Executive Report

Osama bin Laden's Global Jihad: Myth and Movement


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Editor & Project Director: William Suluants, PhD; Project Coordinator: Jarret Brachman, PhD; and CTC Director: LTC Joseph Felter, PhD

Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy
November 2006


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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 way ahead.

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 difficult struggle.

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 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 or 845938-8549.)


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.


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 Islam.

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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