Landscapes of the Jihad

Militancy, Morality, Modernity

Part of the Crises in World Politics series
June 2017 9781849047203 184pp
EU Customers


The militant Islam represented by Al-Qaeda is often described as a global movement. Apart from the geographical range of its operations and support, little else is held to define it as ‘global’.

Landscapes of the Jihad explores the features that Al-Qaeda and other strands of militant Islam share in common with global movements. These include a decentralised organisation and an emphasis on ethical rather than properly political action. Devji brings these and other characteristics of Al-Qaeda together in an analysis of the jihad that locates it squarely within the transformation of political thought after the Cold War. The jihad emerges from the breakdown of traditional as well as modern forms of authority in the Muslim world. It is neither dogmatic in an old-fashioned way nor ideological in the modern sense, and concerned neither with correct doctrinal practice in the present nor with some revolutionary utopia of the future. Instead it is fragmented, dispersed and highly individualistic.


‘A brilliant long essay on the ethical underpinnings of modern jihad … Martyrdom, observes Devji rightly, “only achieves meaning by being witnessed by the media.” It is, short, a horrendous form of advertising.’ — New York Review of Books

‘Landscapes of the Jihad is very short, closely and narrowly focused, thought-provoking, and elegantly written … One refreshing aspect of Devji’s book is that it leans heavily on evidence from an area often neglected by scholars writing about Islam — the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘Do not approach this challenging essay … expecting a familiar narrative of al-Qaeda and its founder, or of the eponymous “war on terror”. Devji dispenses with conventional analysis and with much that is regarded as received wisdom … Landscapes of the Jihad is, in its unconventional thinking, an oasis in the wearisome desert of al-Qaeda studies. It is, in the best possible sense, subversive.’ The Economist

‘One of the most intelligent analyses of the world-view of the militant Islamist.’ — The New Statesman

‘Devji’s Landscapes of the Jihad examines the vitality of militant movements, arguing that in a global society, organizations like al-Qaeda have gathered meaning and strength in an “institutional vacuum” … Devji rejects the traditional scholarship that roots it in regional issues like the Palestinian cause and poverty and oppression. Most controversially, he equates militant Islam with “the plethora of non-governmental agencies dedicated to humanitarian work”. He also concludes, more conventionally, that the U.S. response to militant Islam — the “global war on terror” — has transformed war “into a species of policing”.’ — Publishers Weekly 

The Terrorist in Search of Humanity is in many ways a sequel to Devji’s equally provocative 2005 book, Landscapes of the Jihad. Al Qaeda’s importance in the long run, Devji writes, lies not in its pioneering a new form of networked militancy … but instead in its fragmentation of traditional structures of Muslim authority within new global landscapes … it is a measure of Devji’s seriousness, and his unfailingly original turn of mind, that one waits impatiently for his next provocation.’ — The National

‘I enjoyed Landscapes Of The Jihad, in which Devji points out just how deeply unorthodox a Muslim Bin Laden is — not just in his espousal of indiscriminate violence but also his cult of martyrs and frequent talk of dream and visions, all of which derive from popular, mystical and Shia Islamic traditions, against which the orthodox has long struggled.’ — William Dalrymple, Sunday Herald

‘No political theorist, anthropologist or student of Islam will fail to be provoked and inspired by this brilliant analysis of jihadi discourse. […] Devji moves effortlessly between theology, history and cultural studies to give us the first major English-language interpretation of the moral world of contemporary jihad.’ — Professor Arjun Appadurai, New School University

‘Devji’s very original book analyses Al Qaeda and jihad in metaphysical terms, discarding geo-strategic and cultural factors, [hence] the West is also presented as a metaphysical entity. Globalization is thus not linked to strategy, territory or culture. The concept of landscape summarises his approach: action creates its own landscape and is not the expression of an pre-existing cultural, territorial or strategic divide. Hence there emerge different ‘landscapes’: of jihad, of mysticism, of media and of film, all of which combine with each other. […] Devji’s original analysis of the writings of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri is very illuminating and substantiates his iconoclastic approach.’ —Professor Olivier Roy, author, Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah


Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History at the University of Oxford. He is the author of, inter alia, Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea and The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptations of Violence.

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