What Can The Lives Of One Hundred Jihadis Tell Us About A Global Movement?
25 Apr 2016
Tomorrow's jihadi leaders are being shaped today. They are forging the friendships, and absorbing the ideology, that will secure them positions in this global, violent movement. In new research, our Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at what the lives of 100 militants can tell us about those joining extremist groups now.
The word jihadi is translated from the Arabic word Mujahid, a person participating in jihad. Jihad can be loosely understood as a responsibility on Muslims to serve and uphold their faith. The word literally means "to struggle" or "to persevere", and for the majority refers to a spiritual struggle. However, jihad has also been interpreted as "armed struggle" or "holy war", and has been used to justify violence to make social or political change. Today, this has been incorporated into some narrow and violent ideologies, which interpret Islam, and the concept of jihad, to mean that they must establish an Islamic state through armed confrontation.
The rapidly changing and global character of terrorist threats demonstrates the challenge posed by extremism. Groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda use the concept of jihad to justify their violence, and to undermine the threat, we must counter this ideology.
We must build a firebreak: a way to prevent the development of a new generation of battle-hardened leaders, following a violent and expansionist path. If we understand the past journeys of individuals into jihad, we can try to gain insight into those currently making their way through the ranks.
Our Centre on Religion & Geopolitics analysed the biographies of 100 jihadis from 41 countries, and 49 groups, to explore the paths they took. The findings paint a picture of a global network formed by individuals who are linked across generations. In campuses and prison cells, in training camps and battlefields, jihadis have formed friendships, and adopted an ideology that drew them into the leading ranks of one of the most influential and violent movements of our times.
There is no 'typical' jihadi, and this global problem will not be solved by military might alone. The ideology that draws each individual along the path to violence is the enemy that must be faced.