Jihadism Transformed

Al-Qaeda and Islamic State’s Global Battle of Ideas

Edited by
November 2016 9781849046473 256pp


Jihadist narratives have evolved dramatically over the past five years, driven by momentous events in the Middle East and beyond; the death of bin Laden; the rise and ultimate failure of the Arab Spring; and most notably, the rise of the so-called Islamic State.

For many years, al-Qaeda pointed to an aspirational future Caliphate as their utopian end goal — one which allowed them to justify their violent excesses in the here and now. Islamic State turned that aspiration into a dystopic reality, and in the process hijacked the jihadist narrative, breathing new life into the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. Despite air-strikes from above, and local disillusionment from below, the new caliphate has stubbornly persisted and has been at the heart of ISIS’s growing global appeal.

This timely collection of essays examines how jihadist narratives have changed globally, adapting to these turbulent circumstances. Area and thematic specialists consider transitions inside the Middle East and North Africa as well as in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. As these analyses demonstrate, the success of the ISIS narrative has been as much about resonance with local contexts, as it has been about the appeal of the global idea of a tangible and realised caliphate.

Table of contents

Introduction — Simon Staffell & Akil Awan

1. The “Islamic State” and al-Qa‘ida — Nelly Lahoud

2. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the rise of ISIL — Donald Holbrook

3. From 25 January to Islamic State: Transitions in Egyptian Jihadist Narratives — Simon Staffell

3. Beyond Narrative: How and Why Islamically Inspired Narratives of Political Violence Resonate in Contemporary Tunisia — Jonathan Githens-Mazer

4. Al-Qa‘ida And Islamic State In Yemen: A Battle For Local Audiences — Elisabeth Kendall

5. Inside the Propaganda Machine of Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb and its Evolution Following the Rise of Islamic State — Valentina Bartolucci

6. Boko Haram and Islamic State — Virginia Comolli

7. Local and Global Jihadist Narratives in Afghanistan: Impact of the Decline of Al-Qa’ida and the Rise of Islamic State — Martha Turnbull

8. In the Shadow of the Islamic State: Shi‘i Responses to Sunni Jihadi Narratives in a Turbulent Middle East — Christopher Anzalone

9. The Impact of Evolving Jihadist Narratives on Radicalisation in the West — Akil N Awan


‘This collection of essays covers almost all areas of the world where al Qaeda and/or ISIS are present. It provides fascinating insights on the nature of the terrorist narrative and offers much food for thought on what lies behind and sustains these movements. As well as being of general interest, it will certainly help in constructing an effective counter narrative.’ — Richard Barrett CMG OBE, former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)

‘Simon Staffell and Akil Awan have gathered a group of top class scholars who each analyse the implications in selected locales of the global competition between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Timely, fact-based and scholarly, it provides the blueprint to understanding the complex infra-terrorist conflict that is leaving bloody footprints worldwide.’ — Lorenzo Vidino, Director of the Program on Extremism at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, George Washington University, and author of The Muslim Brotherhood in the West

‘This book is an important and much needed effort to try to understand ISIS from the perspective of its regional affiliates. Awan and Staffell have done an excellent job of bringing together some of the world’s top terrorism experts to analyse the group from the perspective of the parts of the world where the group’s ideology appears to have taken root. This is an important contribution to the body of literature available to experts, officials and anyone trying to understand how we should worry about ISIS in the long-term.’ — Raffaello Pantucci, Director, International Security Studies, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), and author of ‘We Love Death as You Love Life’: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

‘This important volume brings together an impressive array of contributors to explore some of the most important ideas driving global jihadism today. The breadth of its approach means that both scholars and general readers will gain important insights into the various trends shaping our world today.’ — Shiraz Maher, Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at Kings College, University of London, and author of Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea


Simon Staffell is a UK government expert on extremist ideologies, counter terrorism and the Middle East. He has a PhD in Political Science and Government from the University of Sheffield and has lived and worked across the Arab World, having recently returned from a diplomatic posting in Cairo.

Akil N. Awan is Associate Professor of Modern History and Terrorism and Director of the Conflict, Violence and Terrorism Research Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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