Jihadists Study Jihadi Studies

Posted: 29th April 2009 by Thomas Hegghammer in propaganda, Strategy, Western Analysts, Western books

At the risk of seeming omphaloskeptic, I will add a few more observations about jihadists citing western scholars, because this phenomenon taking larger proportions than I expected.

Since my last post on the subject, both the Militant Ideology Atlas and the RAND study mentioned by al-Maqdisi have been posted on al-Maqdisi’s own website, Minbar al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad (MTJ). Maqdisi’s readers can now enjoy the original version, the original executive summary as well as an Arabic summary of both reports. As many of you know, MTJ is the largest online library of jihadi literature, so this means that the CTC and RAND are now part of the official jihadi literary canon.

It also means we now know which RAND study al-Maqdisi was referring to in last week’s statement:  Building Moderate Muslim Networks by Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Lowell Schwartz and Peter Sickle.

Since the last post I have also learned that Joas Wagemakers has been cited before; In fact, both Muhammad al-Mas’ari and Abu Humam al-Athari have mentioned him in the past. The latter notes on p. 94 of his book The Exalted Declaration that “A Christian from one of the European countries has written a PhD thesis on al-Maqdisi in which he speaks about our sheikh al-Maqdisi and the sayings of his opponents and supporters. Curiously, this Christian has read all the books of our sheikh al-Maqdisi and he has an article in which he responds to the claim that al-Maqdisi has revoked his positions.”

At FFI we have been watching all these references to colleagues in the field with a mixture of jealousy and relief. We seemed to have escaped the scrutiny of the jihadists. Or so we thought.

A few days ago a scanned PDF version of Brynjar Lia’s book Architect of Global Jihad turned up on the al-Faloja forum as well as on Archive.org . It soon also appeared on Thabaat where it was applauded as “objective” (hat tip: Adam R.)

But the icing on the cake was the appearance, on Minbar al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad, of an Arabic translation of my colleague Hanna Rogan’s FFI report on Jihadism Online. The translation is the work of the MTJ itself and is accompanied by an introduction to the report, to FFI and to Hanna’s bio. The fact that al-Maqdisi’s assistants took the time to translate Hanna’s 38-page report into Arabic is quite extraordinary. I have not seen this honour bestowed on any other recent academic publication.

What’s next, the Infidel Scholar Atlas?

Document (Arabic): 04-29-09-minbar-new-articles-inventory
Document (Arabic): 04-29-09-minbar-atlas-summary
Document (Arabic): 04-29-09-minbar-rand-summary
Document (Arabic): minbar-translation-of-hanna-rogan-ffi-report
Document: 04-27-09-faloja-architect-of-global-jihad

Update (30 April): Jihadica’s reporting inspired a frontpage story in the New York Times today.

  1. alle says:

    Oh, admit it, you uploaded that stuff yourselves…

    Now, I guess we’re waiting for the first forum discussions of the Jihadica.com posts discussing their discussion of your studies on them, to close the meta-Jihadi circle completely. Perhaps you should just cut to the chase and invite Maqdisi as a guest contributor.

  2. MStout says:

    I’d certainly endorse getting Maqdisi as a guest contributor, per Alle’s suggestion. Do you think you could swing that, Thomas? I’m sure it would draw media attention to your blog…

    I think this latest post is fascinating. I would argue that the phenomenon you point to is a logical extension of behavior that we’ve already seen from the jihadist intellectuals. My work (and that of others too, notably e.g. Brynjar Lia’s) turned up numerous references to non-Islamic strategic/military/political thinkers (Ronfeldt and Arquilla, Mao, Che, Clausewitz, Paul Kennedy, Tim Thomas, T.X. Hammes, Harry Summers, etc.) However, aside from a few ref’s to RAND work, the only thing I recall finding that was particularly close to a reference to a Western work about the jihadists was a very brief mention of the alleged influence of Bernard Lewis’s work on Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.”

    I find the intertwining of global and jihadist thought to be a fascinating and rich topic. I’m delighted to see you posting on it.

  3. Oldpilot says:

    There’s already media attention, as witness the NYT story this morning. That’s what brought me here, to check out this Henry Jamesian discussion of a discussion. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

  4. Excellent website and resource. You can’t be thanked enough for your work.

    Thomas, Do you ever venture onto any of the pro Baath party websites out there? Would you like the links if you haven’t been to them?

  5. Alle and MStout: Yes we thought of inviting Maqdisi but then we’d have nothing to write about…

    Mark: Thanks! I do not follow the pro-Baath websites but I’d be very grateful for some links so I could have a look and compare.

  6. بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، وبعد:

    طيب، انا ارحب بكم في موقعي، لانه في مشكلة بيني وبين بعض الاخوة، بس ممكن ان توضحوا لهم اني لا استرضيكم الكفار في كفركم الرهيب…؟ وشكرا

    tawhed.ws يعني اهلا وسهلا ب

  7. Abu Muhammad: We would be happy to provide this clarification. But how can we be sure that you are the real Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi?

  8. إسألوا أبا أبي محمد المقدسي…؟

  9. Vahid Brown says:

    Just a note regarding the canonical stature of Minbar al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad. In his mid-March, 2009 message on the liberation of Palestine, UBL provides a recommended reading list and then states that these and other “beneficial” books can be read on the Internet, “like on the al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad website.” It is the only site that he mentions.
    Cheers,
    Vahid

  10. Hesperado says:

    “The fact that al-Maqdisi’s assistants took the time to translate Hanna’s 38-page report into Arabic is quite extraordinary.”

    Obviously, they are studying you for military intelligence reasons, just as you are studying them.

    The mention of the Angel Sabasa book on Muslim “moderates” reminded me that one crucial thing that should be looked for among these various jihadist communications venues is the extent to which they realize how useful the symbolism of the “Muslim moderate” can be to their ongoing cause — to wit, as part of the current PC MC paradigm in the West by which the West continues to think in terms of a division between a harmless mainstream Islam and a relatively tiny minority of “extremists” who are trying to “hijack” harmless Islam. By perpetuating this paradigm, the West actually tends to continue to give cover to the “extremists” insofar as the extremists are drawing their inspiration and support from a much broader swath of mainstream Muslims than the paradigm’s narrow vision allows for recognizing.

    Needless to say, if any jihadists are smart enough to realize this, they may then also be smart enough to realize that they should be very careful about communicating this realization too openly, for it might serve to help undermine the very Western paradigm that is currently proving useful to their efforts. Currently, the worst they have to worry about from Western intelligence are industrious networks of mosquito-swatters who forever try to swat the jihadists that keep pullulating out of the swamp of the Umma — but never think to do something about the swamp itself or worse yet, actively obstruct any analyses and policies that might be directed to doing something about the swamp, because the swamp, being Islam itself and the mainstream community of Muslims around the world, cannot possibly be connected to the jihadists who are endangering us, you see. As long as Western intelligence is only swatting at the mosquitos, the jihadists have to worry only about dodging their swatters and sprays of insecticide — as well as the industrious analysts who follow the activities of the mosquitos in their dizzyingly complex taxonomies and networks — but never have to worry about the West getting wise to the real source of their nourishment, breeding, inspiration and support.

  11. […] 2009 was an exciting year for the blog. Our readership grew, and some of our postings made news. One post even inspired a front page story in the New York Times. Other posts were widely noted in the […]

  12. Raff says:

    Did anyone ever discover what the story with regards the Al Suri book getting online was?