How we talk about Islam in Mali and Beyond

Over at Sahel Blog, Alex Thurston has a typically excellent piece rebutting Sebastian Elischer’s arguments about Islam in Mali, particularly Elischer’s characterizations of Salafism in the country. Alex makes a number of important points in the piece, especially with regards to the fluidity of Salafi belief and practice (as opposed to the “tri-partite” division of Salafis into “quietist”, “politicos” and “jihadis”), the danger of outsiders picking “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims”, and the difficulties in labeling Salafi or Wahhabi actors like High Islamic Council President Mahmoud Dicko as “anti-democratic”.

These are all necessary distinctions that have become increasingly important as African and international governments discuss not just extremist violence but also counter-radicalization programs. These discussions often revolve not just around questions of correct belief and practice, but also on the governance of Islam, and by extension the governance of Muslim believers. One corollary of this governing imperative is not just the distinction between “good” and “bad”, but the idea that the “good” is local, African, and traditional, and that the “bad” is foreign, most commonly associated with the Arab world and particularly the Gulf countries.

While scholars of Islam in Africa have long disputed or critiqued these notions, they remain surprisingly prevalent in popular conceptions of Islam in Africa. In November, the Senegalese President Macky Sall spoke to the opening of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, where he stated that “we cannot accept models that correspond neither to our conception nor our traditions of Islam…[models] imposed in Africa simply because Africans are poor and there is a need to finance mosques and schools.” This corresponds with a popular narrative that Salafism and Wahhabism — the two terms are often incorrectly glossed — came to West Africa from the outside as an imposition that disrupted previous African Islamic beliefs, and that the subsequent spread of these ideas can be traced to Gulf money and the work of missionary groups like the Jama’at al-Tabligh.

There is certainly some truth to these ideas, but they also fail to capture the nuanced and complex history of Islam in Africa, and they also engage in some very problematic ideas of Islam on the continent writ-large. Historically, the drivers of Islamic reform in Africa were Africans, whether that reform came under the auspices of Sufi jihads in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, or people more closely identified with Salafism in the 20th century. These Muslims were often in contact with other parts of the Muslim world from Algeria to Egypt to Saudi Arabia to India, but that should not be surprising. Africa has never been detached from the world as colonial officials thought, and there is no reason why African Muslims would not be aware and part of the intellectual and political movements impacting other parts of the Muslim umma. Chanfi Ahmed’s new book, for instance, demonstrates the role that West African ‘Ulama played in shaping and promoting Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia as well as among African and other non-Saudi populations. Religious conversion or the adoption of new or different ideas and practices happened with the influence of outsiders, yes, but also through the intervention and choices of Africans. There is no immutable tradition or isolated African Islam that was simply swept aside by Salafism, but a process of negotiation and change that involves much more than just Saudi money flowing into Africa.

West Africa broadly and Mali more specifically provide a very good case study for understanding some of this complexity. The reformist movements over the past several hundred years in the region have more often been led by religious leaders associated with a Sufi brotherhood like the Qadiriyya or the Tijaniyya. The first major modern reformist movement in West Africa, the Ittihad al-Thaqafi al-Islami or Muslim Cultural Union (UCM in French), can be considered Salafi in orientation* but grew almost exclusively out of the work done by members of prominent Sufi families who had previously rejected some of the major religious practices associated with Sufism in West Africa in the early part of the 20th century. Additionally, the UCM’s efforts to modernize education and spread Arabic paralleled those of “reformist” Sufi ‘Ulama like the Senegalese Tijani Sheikh Ibrahima Niasse and the Malian Tijani figure al-Hajj Sa’ad Oumar Touré. Touré is widely regarded as the most influential figure in shaping contemporary Arabic education in Mali, and his madrasa in Segou educated a number of prominent Malian religious figures, including the more “traditional” religious leader Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara.

So in Mali, religious and educational reform that helped create what Robert Launay and Benjamin Soares called the “Islamic sphere” in West Africa was the work of Salafis but also Sufis, and all of them closely in-tune with local political struggles as well as international changes in Islam. And even today, for all of the talk about Salafis as challenging the ostensibly secular state in places like Mali, Sufi and “post-Sufi” leaders do just as much to bring Islam into the public sphere and influence the state in various ways. Both Salafis like Dicko and “moderates” like Haidara mobilize followers and ideas in ways that influence the state and shape its politics and character. That can have important implications for counter radicalization, but also for the issues that have much more of an impact on the lives of everyday people on issues ranging from government services to Family Codes.

In trying to promote one over the other, governments can still end up reinforcing the role of religion in politics and public life, whether in West Africa, North Africa, or the Middle East. I am neither African nor Muslim, and it is not for me to say whether or not this is a good thing. But a narrow focus on counterterrorism and counter radicalization — however defined and implemented — often misses the broader impact of security-focused policies for the societies in question.

*The UCM’s exact ideological orientation is a bit difficult to characterize, but most scholars characterize them as reformist, and they pushed for moral and educational improvement, the teaching of Arabic, and attacked some common Sufi practices that they characterized as bid’a. They also referred frequently to thinkers like Muhammad ‘Abduh and Rachid Rida, and spoke of the need to return to the example of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.


May the force (of history) be with you

I’ll admit it, sometimes I’m a sucker for the kind of pop culture hot takes that are sucking up an increasing amount of social media oxygen. These have taken a particularly intense turn with the impending release of the new Star Wars movie, which has sent writers and editors scurrying into the click mines. As political scientists Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel Nexon noted in their excellent piece on the relationship between pop culture and political science, “It’s as if a thousand editors cried out for clickbait, and no one had the courage to silence them.” Hear hear.

Jackson and Nexon make a series of thoughtful and important points in the article, but the most important is that many of the writers opining about the relationship between fictional worlds and contemporary politics  simply transpose a fictional world onto our own in order to reveal some ambiguous, tenuous “lesson” about our daily lives. As the authors note, “if you’re going to use a fictional universe to make an argument, you have to adhere to the basic rules of that universe. Not everyone does.”

For the authors, this failure to account for context and the fictional texts themselves means we lose the ability to read or watch them for their actual messages about politics and society. At the same time, directionless analysis that looks for lessons about politics from Emperor Palpatine (but seriously, who thinks this is a good idea?) also makes for bad interpretations of our own world. The fictional can approximate the real world, but it remains only an approximation, one that works according to the story that scribes and filmmakers want to tell. Search elsewhere for answers, you must.

But for all of the problematic constructs that Jackson and Nexon correctly document and dismantle, they are missing one important word: Anachronism. In very brief, anachronism is the act of applying one environment, context, or set of ideas to another time and place — or a galaxy far, far away — where these concepts do not necessarily apply or have the same meaning.

I have no doubt at all that the authors know and take the concept to heart. After all, what they described and critiqued in their article is anachronism in every sense. So why does the word matter? For me, the importance of the word lies in what its absence illustrates about some fundamental differences between political science and historical analysis.

I do not want to put too fine a disciplinary point on this issue, since people are not their academic disciplines, and vice-versa. Many, many political scientists appreciate and stress the value of context, deep experiences of places and people acquired through study and fieldwork, and the avoidance of choosing frameworks that overgeneralize in the quest to make larger points about political order.

However, the field itself does not place the same emphasis on avoiding anachronism as History does, and that matters. Historians are not always saints in the avoidance of anachronism, but it is widely considered a “sin” in the field, one of the worst you can commit. Historians at every level of study from high school to graduate training are inculcated in the horrors of anachronism. When I begin a class I explain the concept to my students and talk about it at length with them so that they can keep it in mind throughout the term.

Sometimes this emphasis can go too far, where historians overcontextualize or avoid frameworks for fear of omitting important details, as the historian and sociologist William Sewell wrote in The Logics of History. But the focus on avoiding anachronism  is also a key analytical strength of History. It forces students and practitioners alike to ask difficult questions about their sources, weigh incomplete and uneven information in light of what we know, what we think we know, and what we do not know, and also take note of the ways in which our experiences and perspectives can both inform and occlude our perspectives on the past and present.

This fine-grained attention is crucial both for historical and contemporary analysis, where one can only understand how things change over time with a careful understanding of different contexts at all levels of a study. And maybe, just maybe, it will cool the ardor of hot take warriors before they opine blithely on destroying far-away worlds in the name of page views.

Updates, reflections, and a few new articles

This post will be part personal update, part promotional entry, and part reflection on the past few years and resurrecting a dormant blog. When I started al-Wasat with my good friend Aaron Zelin, we intended it to be a chance to explore at length some of the niche issues that interested us. In that time, many of these issues have become less niche, while we’ve also both moved on to some different but related things.

When I went back to school in the fall of 2013 to pursue a PhD in African History, I consciously took a step back from the kind of policy-related writing I’d done in the past. I’ve stayed active (too active) on Twitter, but while I’ve continued to occasionally write articles and short essays, much of my attention has been focused on my academic work. Now I’ve finished coursework, passed my language qualifications, and begun the process of applying for research fellowships and reading for my comprehensive exams in the spring. While this is a busy time, it’s also a good one for me to reflect a bit on the relationship between academic work and more contemporary research.

In my time in academia I’ve found that while many people are more open to engagement with the world outside, even though the stereotype of the Ivory Tower academic is only partly true at best. Many people instead already do engage extensively with non-academic subjects and themes, and others want to do the same but are not quite sure how. For historians in particular, it can be challenging to relate research into the past to contemporary life. It can also be difficult to find time for this work when academic programs and job markets do not generally reward things like blog posts, articles, and media appearances.

This is changing rapidly, and there are already fantastic examples of scholars doing deeply researched, rigorous work about the past and present that remain connected to the contemporary world in interesting and new ways, whether at Jadaliyya, Alex Thurston’s Sahel Blog, Malika Rahal’s Textures du Temps, or elsewhere. These blogs and the people who run them have helped inspire my own commentary and writing for years, and will continue to do so.

Along those lines, I’m going to take more time in the coming months and years to write publicly again about the issues and parts of the world that interest me the most, namely North and West Africa. My goal is to stay engaged in current debates while also using my historical research and training in different ways. In doing so, I want to explore not just the connections between the past and the present but also how historical methods can inform analysis.

Those kinds of reflections and the personal connections to events far away were part of a piece I co-wrote with Prof. Gregory Mann for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on the recent attacks in Paris and Bamako. In that piece and another for Al Jazeera America, I emphasized the Malian context for the Bamako attacks and Mali’s eroding security environment. And in a wide-ranging conversation with Karl Morand for his excellent Middle East Week podcast, I talked about the history of jihadist mobilization in the Sahara and Sahel and the impact of France’s 2013 intervention in Mali, the resonance and explanations for this violence beyond a local framework, how people talk about politics and violence in Africa, and how I view the role of historical methodologies in understanding current affairs. I will continue to explore these and related ideas in some upcoming writing about Mali as well as Algeria and Morocco for different publications.

In the meantime, I’ll use this space to do some less formal writing, to flesh out ideas, and to continue the kind of dialogue I’d like to see take place about the concepts, issues, and places that are important to me. Stay tuned.

IN PICTURES: Faces of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)


See a 3-part photo essay on the late Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mehsud:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3



Maulana Fazlullah (Mullah Fazlullah)Maulana (Mullah) Fazlullah, the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan leader in the Swat valley who has reportedly been elected the new amir of the TTP umbrella organization.


Khan Said (Sajna) Sejena and deputy Ikhlas YaarKhan Said (Sejena, Sajna), reportedly the newly-elected amir of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (left) and his deputy, Ikhlas Yaar.

Maulana Fazlullah (Ustad Fateh) Ustadh Fateh (Ustad Fatih)Ustadh (Ustad) Fatih (Fateh), a Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan military commander in Swat (far left) with Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah (center).

Mawlawi Kaleemullah (Bajaur agency)Mawlawi Kaleemullah (Bajaur agency)Omar Khalid Khorasani‘Umar Khalid Khurasani (Omar Khalid Khorasani), [center], Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan commander in Mohmand agency.

Khan Said (Sajna) SejenaKhan Said (Sejena, Sajna) of the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan.

Sejena (Khan Said) SajnaKhan Said (Sejena, Sajna), (far right) of the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan.

Shahidullah Shahid (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan spokesman)Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

Shahidullah Shahid (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan spokesman) 2Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

Shakil Ahmad Haqqani (Mohmand agency)Shakil Ahmad Haqqani (Mohmand agency)

Ustad Fateh (Ustad Fatih) and Mawlawi Fateh (Maulana Fateh) Maulana Fatih (Khyber agency)Ustadh (Ustad) Fatih (Fateh), military commander (left) and Mawlawi Fatih (Fateh), Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan leader in the Khyber agency.

Hafiz Sa'id Khan (Orakzai agency) Hafiz Saeed 2Hafiz Sa'id Khan (Orakzai agency) Hafiz Saeed 3Hafiz Sa'id Khan (Orakzai agency) Hafiz Saeed 4Hafiz Sa'id Khan (Orakzai agency) Hafiz SaeedHafiz Sa’id Khan (Hafiz Saeed), Tehrik-i Taliban leader in Orakzai agency.

UntitledIhsanullah Ihsan, senior spokesman of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan.

Baitullah MehsudThe late founder-leader of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan, Baytullah Mehsud.

IN PICTURES: Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan’s Late Leader, Hakimullah Mehsud: Part 3

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)


See Part 1 of this photo essay HERE.

See Part 2 of this photo essay HERE.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 4

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 5

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) and Hajji Nur Islam (Noor Islam)Hakimullah Mehsud with Hajji Nur Islam (left), one of the Pashtun tribal supporters of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) and Muhammad Tahir Faruq (Muhammad Tohir Farooq)Hakimullah Mehsud and the late founder-leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Muhammad Tahir Faruq (right), who died in 2009 of wounds suffered that year from a U.S. drone missile strike.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) after drone strike (dead) body (killed)Photograph circulating on jihadi web sites purportedly showing Hakimullah Mehsud shortly after he was killed in a U.S. drone missile strike on November 1, 2013.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) dead (martyred)“By the Lord of the Ka’ba, I have succeeded!” (Saying attributed in the Sunni tradition to a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad and in the Shi’i tradition to Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib).

IN PICTURES: Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan’s Late Leader, Hakimullah Mehsud: Part 2

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)


See Part 1 of this photo essay HERE.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) Waliur Rehman Mehsud (Wali al-Rahman Mehsud) and Ihsanullah IhsanHakimullah Mehsud with Waliur Rahman Mehsud, the late deputy commander of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and head of Mehsud Taliban forces (left), and TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) Waliur Rehman Mehsud (Wali al-Rahman Mehsud)Hakimullah Mehsud with Waliur Rahman Mehsud, the late deputy commander of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and head of Mehsud Taliban forces (left).

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) & Faisal Shahzad

Hakimullah Mehsud meeting with Faisal Shahzad, who traveled to Pakistan to receive training from the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and tried, but failed, to construct and set off a working vehicle bomb in Times Square in New York City in 2010.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 4Hakimullah Mehsud leading prayers.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 5

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 6

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 7

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 8

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 9

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud)Photograph of Hakimullah Mehsud meeting with a Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan commander days before his killing in a U.S. drone strike on November 1, 2013.

IN PICTURES: Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan’s Late Leader, Hakimullah Mehsud: Part 1

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)


See Part 2 of this photo essay HERE.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) Abu Zarr Azzam (Abu Zarr Pakistani ( Abu Zarr Burmi)Hakimullah Mehsud with Abu Zarr al-Pakistani (Abu Zarr al-Burmi, Abu Zarr ‘Azzam), a religious scholar and preacher affiliated with both the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  The latter formerly was a teacher at the Jami’at Faruqiyya school in Karachi and the mentor to Qari Husayn Mehsud of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) Abu Zarr Azzam (Abu Zarr Pakistani ( Abu Zarr Burmi) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 4

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) and Usman Adil  (Uthman Adil) Usman Odil 2Hakimullah Mehsud with Abu Usman Adil (left), the late leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in April 2012 by a U.S. drone.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) and Usman Adil  (Uthman Adil) Usman Odil 3Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) and Usman Adil  (Uthman Adil) Usman Odil

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 4Hakimullah Mehsud with the late founder-leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Muhammad Tahir Faruq (far left), who died in 2009 of wounds suffered in a U.S. drone missile strike.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 5Hakimullah Mehsud with Muhammad Tahir Faruq.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) with Humam al-BalawiHakimullah Mehsud with Dr. Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian jihadi who tricked the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Jordanian intelligence into thinking he was working for them.  Al-Balawi, aided by the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qa’ida Central, carried out a “martyrdom operation” inside the U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan on December 30, 2009, killing seven CIA agents, including the station chief, and his Jordanian security services handler.

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) with Muhammad Tahir FaruqHakimullah Mehsud with Muhammad Tahir Faruq and Hajji Nur (far left), one of the local Pashtun tribal figures who aid the “mujahideen.”

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 1

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 2

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud) 3

American Jihadi Reportedly Killed in an Al-Shabab Ambush in Southern Somalia

Al-Shabaab (Al-Shabab) Harakat al-Shabab (Mukhtar Robow, Omar Hammami)

Omar Hammami (right) with Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow, a dissident Al-Shabab leader and member of the Rahanweyn clan group with which Hammami affiliated himself with on his year and a half in hiding from Al-Shabab.

American jihadi Omar “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” Hammami has reportedly been killed in an ambush in southern Somalia carried out by Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of the Mujahideen-Youth).  Hiding in the forests of the Bay and Bakool region of Somalia, Hammami fell out publicly with Al-Shabab in March 2012 over issues of “strategy and shari’a [Islamic law.]”  Hammami’s killing comes in the midst of growing internal strife within Al-Shabab related to the leadership (and criticism of it) of the movement’s amir, Ahmed “Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr” Godane.  In late June, reports surfaced that Godane had ordered the assassinations of two senior leaders of Al-Shabab who were also critical of his leadership, Ibrahim al-Afghani and preacher Mu’allim Burhan.

In his last interview, with Voice of America’s Somali language service, Hammami alleged that Godane had abandoned the “principles of our religion [Islam],” which represents a form of takfir or declaration of an individual who claims to be Muslim as a non-Muslim.  In his strategic writings and audio recordings, produced both under his nom de guerre “Abu Mansur al-Amriki” and his pen name “Abu Jihad al-Shami,” Hammami argued for a strategy wedded to “pure” Islam (as defined by him), marking a puritanical streak which, as can be seen in his dispute with Al-Shabab, transcended loyalty to any particular militant group.

The Global Jihad (al-Jihad al-‘Alami) is currently eulogizing Hammami and a British militant who was also killed with a banner at the top of its main page.  The banner (below) declares that “the shaykh” Hammami was martyred, using the term istishhad, which can carry a meaning of seeking out martyrdom.  The banner includes a quotation from part of verse 156 of Sura al-Baqara in the Qur’an:

Inna li-lahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (Verily we are from God and to Him we return).

The phrase is used by Muslims for those who have died.

Hammami killed (Global Jihad Forum eulogy, 2013 September 12)


A Violent Non-State Actors Reading List

In the introduction to her edited volume Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, Klejda Mulaj notes that, while political science scholarship has extensively examined non-state actors (most notably those whose activities are primarily economic), violent non-state actors (VNSAs) “have only recently received sustained interest amongst academic and policy circles.” The study of VNSAs is thus a young and developing academic field, and scholars examining VNSAs will experience both the joys and also the pitfalls of working on a relatively new topic. The theoretical literature is highly uneven, with some extraordinarily well developed concepts mixed with a battery of assumptions that the field may no longer adhere to in four or five years.

This semester I’m teaching a course on violent non-state actors for Georgetown University’s security studies program, the first such class that the program has offered (although it has offered courses examining terrorism and counterterrorism for many years). A number of colleagues have expressed interest in seeing my syllabus, or having me provide a reading list. Thus, to assist other scholars with an interest in VNSAs, I’ve compiled the following reading list, largely based on my course syllabus. The inclusion of a particular work does not constitute an endorsement (which should be evident to those who remember my reaction to Pape and Feldman’s Cutting the Fuse), but it means that it’s part of the relevant discussion that scholars should be having. [Note: This list was updated on July 9, 2014, following the completion of a new course syllabus.]

Part One: Theoretical Foundations

I. Violent Non-State Actors in Context

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Terrorism and the Coming Decade,” Global Brief, Oct. 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Interpreting al-Qaeda,” Foreign Policy, January 6, 2014.

Derek Jones, Understanding the Form, Function, and Logic of Clandestine Insurgent and Terrorist Networks (Joint Special Operations University, 2012).

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 1.

Jacob Shapiro & Nils B. Weidmann, “Is the Phone Mightier than the Sword?: Cell Phones and Insurgent Violence in Iraq,” Dec. 18, 2011.

Lisa Stampnitzky, “Disciplining an Unruly Field: Terrorism Experts and Theories of Scientific/Intellectual Production,” Qualitative Sociology 34 (2011):1–19.

II. Defining Violent Non-State Actors and Understanding Their Strategy

Ivan Arreguín-Toft, “How the Weak Win Wars,” International Security 26:1 (2001).

Jack A. Goldstone, “Toward a Fourth Generation of Revolutionary Theory,” Annual Review of Political Science (2001): 139-187.

Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, 2006).

Carlo Morselli, “Assessing Vulnerable and Strategic Positions in a Criminal Network,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 26 (2010).

Nicholas Sambanis, “What is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an Operational Definition,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 48:6 (2004): 814‐58.

The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2007), pp. 3-34.

III. Recruiting

Ana M. Arjona &  Stathis N. Kalyvas, Rebelling Against Rebellion: Comparing Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Recruitment (2008).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “A Blind Spot,” Pragati, Nov. 2, 2012.

John Knefel, “Everything You’ve Been Told About Radicalization is Wrong,” Rolling Stone, May 6, 2013.

Clark McCauley & Sophia Moskalenko, Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Peter R. Neumann, “The Trouble with Radicalization,” International Affairs 89:4 (2013): 873-93.

Robert Pape & James K. Feldman, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Patrick Van Inwegen, Understanding Revolution (2011), chapters 1, 4-7.


IV. Nationalist Groups

Brian Michael Jenkins, International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare (Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation, 1974).

Daniel Byman, “The Logic of Ethnic Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 21:2 (1998).

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapters 3-5.

C.J.M. Drake, “The Provisional IRA: A Case Study,” Terrorism and Political Violence 3:2 (1991).

Martyn Frampton, “Dissident Irish Republican Violence: A Resurgent Threat?” The Political Quarterly 83:2 (Apr.–June 2012).

Judith Matloff, “Basque-ing in Peace,” World Policy Journal 29:3 (2012): 81–88.

Ignacio Sànchez-Cuenca, “The Dynamics of Nationalist Terrorism: ETA and the IRA,” Terrorism and Political Violence 19:3 (2007).

James A. Piazza, “Is Islamist Terrorism More Dangerous?: An Empirical Study of Group Ideology, Organization, and Goal Structure,” Terrorism and Political Violence, 21:1 (2009): 62-88.

V. Insurgent Groups

Mark T. Berger & Douglas A. Borer, “The Long War: Insurgency, Counterinsurgency and Collapsing States,” Third World Quarterly 28:2 (2007).

David Fitzgerald, “Vietnam, Iraq and the Rebirth of Counter-Insurgency,” Irish Studies in International Affairs (2009).

Richard Weitz, “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Latin America, 1960-1980,” Political Science Quarterly 101:3 (1986).

Thomas H. Henriksen, Afghanistan, Counterinsurgency, and the Indirect Approach (Joint Special Operations University, 2010).

Gian Gentile, “A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army,” Parameters, August 2009.

Jason Fritz, “Counterinsurgency is Not the Problem,” War on the Rocks, August 14, 2013.

VI. Al-Qaeda through 2011

Brian Michael Jenkins, “The New Age of Terrorism” (RAND, 2006).

Juan Carlos Antúnez & Ioannis Tellidis, “The Power of Words: The Deficient Terminology Surrounding Islam-Related Terrorism,” Critical Studies in Terrorism (2013).

Ryan Evans, Peter Neumann & Raffaello Pantucci, “Locating al-Qaeda’s Center of Gravity: The Role of Middle Managers,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34:9 (2011).

Leah Farrall, “How al-Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs 90:2, Mar./Apr. 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Bin Laden’s Legacy (Wiley, 2011).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Lone Wolf Islamic Terrorism: Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe) Case Study,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26:1 (2014).

Brian A. Jackson & Bryce Loidolt, “Considering al-Qa’ida’s Innovation Doctrine: From Strategic Texts to ‘Innovation in Practice,’” Terrorism and Political Violence 25:2 (2013): 284-310.

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 10.

K. Payne, “Building the Base: Al-Qaeda’s Focoist Strategy,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34:2 (2011).

VII. The Arab Uprisings and Al-Qaeda

Marc Lynch, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013).

Scott Shane, “As Regimes Fall in Arab World, Al-Qaeda Sees History Fly By,” New York Times, February 27, 2011.

Gartenstein-Ross, Bin Laden’s Legacy, pp. 184-88.

Daniel Byman, “Terrorism After the Revolutions: How Secular Uprisings Could Help (or Hurt) Jihadists,” Foreign Affairs 90:3 (2011).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia’s Long Game: Dawa, Hisba, and Jihad (ICCT—The Hague, 2013).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Tara Vassefi, “Perceptions of the Arab Spring Within the Salafi-Jihadi Movement,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 35 (2012).

Fawaz Gerges, “The Rise and Fall of al-Qaeda: Debunking the Terrorism Narrative,” Huffington Post, Jan. 3, 2012.

Bruce Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36:8 (2013): 635-53.

William McCants, “Al-Qaeda’s Challenge: The Jihadists’ War with Islamist Democrats,” Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 2011.

VIII. Hamas and Hizballah

Eitan Azani, “Hezbollah’s Strategy of ‘Walking on the Edge’: Between Political Game and Political Violence,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 35:11 (2012): 741-59.

Nadia Baranovich & Ravichandran Moorthy, “Terror Strategies in the Israel-Palestine Conflict: An Analysis of Hezbollah and Hamas,” IEPDR 5:2 (2011): 229-36.

Hillel Frisch, “Strategic Change in Terrorist Movements: Lessons from Hamas,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32:12 (2009): 1049-1065.

Mona Harb & Reinoud Leenders, “Know Thy Enemy: Hizbullah, ‘Terrorism’ and the Politics of Perception,” Third World Quarterly 26:1 (2005).

Baudouin Long, “The Hamas Agenda: How Has it Changed?” Middle East Policy 17:4 (2010): 131-43.

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapters 7-8.

IX. The Defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 17.

Ahmed Hashim, When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers (2013).

Neil DeVotta, “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Lost Quest for Separatism in Sri Lanka,” Asian Survey, December 2009.

Lionel Beehner, “What Sri Lanka Can Teach Us About COIN,” Small Wars Journal, August 27, 2010.

Niel A. Smith, “Understanding Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers,” Joint Force Quarterly 59 (2010).

John Thompson, “Hosting Terrorism: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Canada,” in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Linda Frum eds., Terror in the Peaceable Kingdom (2012).

X. Drug and Criminal Cartels

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 2.

Robert J. Bunker & John P. Sullivan, “Cartel Evolution Revisited: Third Phase Cartel Potentials and Alternative Futures in Mexico,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 21:1 (2010): 30-54.

Ami C. Carpenter, “Beyond Drug Wars: Transforming Factional Conflict in Mexico,” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 27:4 (2010).

Sylvia M. Longmire & John P. Longmire. “Redefining Terrorism: Why Mexican Drug Trafficking is More Than Just Organized Crime,” Journal of Strategic Security 1:1 (2008): 35-52.

Carlo Morselli, Cynthia Giguère & Katia Petit, “The Efficiency/Security Trade-Off in Criminal Networks,” Social Networks 29 (2007): 143–53.

John T. Picarelli, “Osama bin Corleone? Vito the Jackal? Framing Threat Convergence Through an Examination of Transnational Organized Crime and International Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence 24:2 (2012): 180-98.

Bilal Y. Saab & Alexandra W. Taylor, “Criminality and Armed Groups: A Comparative Study of FARC and Paramilitary Groups in Colombia,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32:6 (2009): 455-75.

Graham H. Turbiville Jr, “Firefights, Raids, and Assassinations: Tactical Forms of Cartel Violence and Their Underpinnings,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 21:1 (2010): 123-144.

Jeremy McDermott, The FARC, the Peace Process and the Potential Criminalisation of the Guerrillas (2013).

XI. Non-State Actors in the Cyber Realm.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Anatomy of an Evolving Threat: Publication of Classified Information,” War on the Rocks, November 20, 2013.

Wendy Wong & Peter Brown, “E-Bandits in Global Activism: Wikileaks, Anonymous, and the Politics of No One,” Perspectives on Politics 11:4 (2013).

Noah Hampson, “Hacktivism: A New Breed Of Protests in a Networked World,” Boston College International & Comparative Law Review 35:2 (2012): 511-542.

Jeffery T. Richelson, “Intelligence Secrets and Unauthorized Disclosures: Confronting Some Fundamental Issues,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 25:4 (2012).

François Heisbourg, “Leaks and Lessons,” Survival 53:1 (2011).

Brandon Valeriano and Ryan Maness, “The Dynamics of Cyber Conflict between Rival Antagonists, 2001-11,” Journal of Peace Research 51:3 (2014).

Simon Mabon, “Aiding Revolution? Wikileaks, Communication, and the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt,” Third World Quarterly (2013).

Alinta Krauth, “Anonymous in Portmanteaupia,” Social Alternatives 31:2 (2012): 27-32.

Charlotte Philby, “The Tor System: Welcome to the Dark Internet Where You Can Search in Secret,” Independent, June 10, 2013.

Peter W. Singer, “The Cyber Terror Bogeyman,” Brookings Institute, Nov. 2012.

Simon Springer et al., “Leaky Geopolitics: The Ruptures and Transgressions of WikiLeaks,” Geopolitics 17 (2012): 681-711.

XII. Warlords, Lineage-Based VNSAs, and Traditional Power Brokers

Anthony Vinci, “‘Like Worms in the Entrails of a Natural Man’: A Conceptual Analysis of Warlords,” Review of African Political Economy 34:112 (2007).

Jutta Bakonyi & Kirsti Stuvøy. “Violence and Social Order Beyond the State: Somalia and Angola,” Review of African Political Economy 32:104-105 (2005): 359-82.

Kimberly Marten, “Warlordism in Comparative Perspective,” International Security 31:3 (Winter 2006/07): 41-73.

XIII. Private Military Corporations

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 18.

David Perry, “Blackwater vs. bin Laden: The Private Sector’s Role in American Counterterrorism,” Comparative Strategy 31:1 (2012).

Deane-Peter Baker & James Pattison, “The Principled Case for Employing Private Military and Security Companies in Interventions for Human Rights Purposes,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 29:1 (2012).

Christopher Kinsey, “Problematising the Role of Private Security Companies in Small Wars,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 18:4 (2007): 584–614.

Seden Akcinaroglu & Elizabeth Radziszewski, “Private Military Companies, Opportunities, and Termination of Civil Wars in Africa,” Journal on Conflict Resolution (2012).

Ulrich Petersohn, “The Other Side of the COIN: Private Security Companies and Counterinsurgency Operations,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34:10 (2011): 782–801.

XIV. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapters 9, 11, 16.

Gartenstein-Ross, Bin Laden’s Legacy, chapters 7-8.

Vanessa M. Gezari, “How to Read Afghanistan,” New York Times, Aug. 10, 2013.

Thomas Johnson, “Taliban Adaptations and Innovations,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 24:1 (2013): 3–27.

Thomas H. Johnson & Matthew C. DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code of Conduct (Layeha): An Assessment of Changing Perspectives and Strategies of the Afghan Taliban,” Central Asian Survey (2012).

Antonio Giustozzi, “Hearts, Minds, and the Barrel of a Gun: the Taliban’s Shadow Government,” Prism (2012).

Oscar Gakuo Mwangi, “State Collapse, Al-Shabaab, Islamism, and Legitimacy in Somalia,” Politics, Religion & Ideology 13:4 (2013): 513–27.

XV. Counter-Opposition VNSAs

Sabine C. Carey, Michael Colaresi & Neil J. Mitchell, “Disorder, Delegation, and Deniability: Incentives for Pro-Government Militias,” conference paper from Paramilitaries, Militias, and Civil Defense Forces in Civil Wars (2012).

Mark Wilbanks & Efraim Karsh, “How the ‘Sons of Iraq’ Stabilized Iraq,” Middle East Quarterly 17:4 (Fall 2010).

Myriam Benraad, “Iraq’s Tribal ‘Sahwa’: Its Rise and Fall,” Middle East Policy 18:1 (2011).

Enzo Nussio, “Learning from Shortcomings: The Demobilization of Paramilitaries in Colombia,” Journal of Peacebuilding and Development 6:2 (2011).


XVI. The State’s Tactical and Strategic Toolkit

Audrey Kurth Cronin & James M. Ludes eds., Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy (Georgetown University Press, 2004).

Audrey Kurth Cronin, How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Thomas & Casebeer, “Violent Non-State Actors: Countering Dynamic Systems,” Strategic Insights, March 2004.

Bryan Groves, “America’s Trajectory in the Long War: Redirecting Our Efforts Toward Strategic Effects Versus Simply Tactical Gains,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36:1 (2013): 26–48.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Future of Preventive Detention Under International Law,” in Sam Muller ed., The Law of the Future and the Future of Law (Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law, 2012).

Benjamin Wittes, Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantanamo (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2011), chapters 1, 2, 5.

Stephanie Carvin, “The Trouble with Targeted Killing,” Security Studies 21:3 (2012).

Jenna Jordan, “Attacking the Leader, Missing the Mark: Why Terrorist Groups Survive Decapitation Strikes,” International Security 38:4 (2014).

Patrick B. Johnston, “Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns,” International Security 36:4 (2012).

Bryan C. Price, “Targeting Top Terrorists: How Leadership Decapitation Contributes to Counterterrorism,” International Security 36:4 (2012).

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Kelsey D. Atherton, “How We Killed Privacy—in 4 Easy Steps,” Foreign Policy, August 23, 2013.

Neil M. Richards, “The Dangers of Surveillance,” Harvard Law Review 126:7 (May 2013).

Tore Bjørgo and John Horgan eds., Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

XVII. The Future of VNSAs

Mulaj, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, chapter 19.

Gartenstein-Ross, Bin Laden’s Legacy, chapter 12.

Adam Elkus, “The State of the State,” War on the Rocks, June 16, 2014.

Peter Turchin, “A Theory for Formation of Large Empires” (2009).

Abstract and updates on MUJAO and Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Given the length of yesterday’s post on Belmokhtar and MUJAO and the detail I used in explaining the subject, I decided to write an abstract for those who don’t want to wade through 3,000 words on Sahelian militant groups. I’ve also added in a few thoughts since yesterday. You can read the full post here.

The Mauritanian news service ANI carried the news Thursday that two closely linked Sahelian jihadist groups, the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO in French, generally MUJWA in English) had merged with the group led by former AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Katibat al-Mulathimeen, creating a new group called al-Murabitun after the 11th-century Muslim empire that encompassed parts of Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and southern Spain. While there is much we do not yet know about this group, including the identity of its leader, the post details some of my initial thoughts about the reasons behind the merger on a local and more international level, as well as what the merger might mean.

Given the close personal and operational ties between Belmokhtar and MUJAO, going back to the latter group’s founding, it is not surprising that the two merged. What is less clear is why the groups decided on a formal merger when their cooperation was so close, and why they did it now. One possibility is that the formalization of their relationship was meant to deal with organizational and leadership deficiencies in MUJAO, especially given the fact that the group has had to adapt after the French intervention in January of this year in Mali scattered the region’s jihadist groups.

Another possible explanation for the merger is that the impetus came from an outside force, notably al-Qaeda’s Core command in Pakistan. This is possible given Belmokhtar’s longstanding connections and frequent appeals to the group’s core leadership, and interesting timing in light of the reports that recently surfaced about a “conference” held electronically by Ayman al-Zawahiri with inputs from a number of representatives of al-Qaeda affiliates. Such a move could be a recognition of Belmokhtar’s high-profile attacks on the Tigentourine gas plant in southern Algeria in January, as well as the attacks on the Agadez military base and Arlit uranium mine in northern Niger in May. It could also be a sign of the continuing shifts in Sahelian militant structures, as AQIM continues to focus more on the Maghreb states while Belmokhtar and MUJAO further solidify their place as the Sahelian face of al-Qaeda. Without knowing more about the aforementioned conference, it’s impossible to say, though RFI’s report from this morning that the name of the group’s new leader may come “from Pakistan” suggests the hand of al-Qaeda’s central leadership. Either way, we’ll know more when the new emir’s identity becomes public.

Given the rhetoric used in the initial announcement to ANI as well as a statement Belmokhtar made to the paper, it would seem that the group seeks to represent a continuation and evolution of AQIM’s “glocal” position, with a possible territorial expansion based on Belmokhtar’s growing regional connections and profile as well as ongoing events of intense interest to jihadis, such as the military coup and crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In this context, the group’s name is very evocative; it represents on the one hand a continuation of AQIM’s use of local historical figures and references, with an eye to the themes and terms that will also have resonance with the global jihadist community. Notably, while the statements reference Egypt (which caught the eye of the international media) its stated focus remains French interests and those of France’s allies, again a continuation of past rhetorical and operational practices from both AQIM and Belmokhtar.

Finally, there is the question of why Belmokhtar would decide not to take over the new group himself. If the decision was made by AQC, then he may  not have had much choice in the matter. Given his taste for independent actions and flexibility, however, this arrangement would allow Belmokhtar to focus on his operational pursuits, rather than the management of a new and larger entity. Since writing the post, it appears that some analysts, notably France-based AQIM specialist Mathieu Guidère, have suggested that the merger and Belmokhtar’s language about the need to pass leadership on to a younger generation means that Belmokhtar is removing himself from the picture. While this is possible, I do not share Guidère’s interpretation. For years now, dubiously-sourced reports have circulated about Belmokhtar’s imminent plans to retire from the jihadist scene, to only pursue smuggling activity, to cut a deal with the Algerian government and more. Yet in this time Belmokhtar’s activity and status have grown, and these reports have all been proven false. So I will not believe that Belmokhtar has left the game until I see it.