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Salafi Jihadism: A 1,400-Year-Old Idea Rises Again

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Technical Report,05 Jul 2015,26 May 2016

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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Salafi-Jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS threaten US national security and the stability of the Middle East. The ongoing fighting in Syria and Iraq and Salafi-Jihadist global terrorist attacks from Paris to Mali show that we understand relatively little about how this radical ideology propounds violent goals and propels its followers to devise strategies to achieve them. The United States has fought al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS for fifteen years without preventing them from plotting and executing attacks against the interests of the United States and its allies. For a military approach i.e., an organized, executable degrading strategy to be effective in countering an unconventional threat such as Salafi-Jihadism, it must be based on the richest possible profile of the groups mindset. This monograph asserts that to understand the Salafi-Jihadist movement, two historical time periods must be examined 19601978 and the year 1979. The former period marked the era of the Arab cold war, a zero-sum struggle between Egyptian-led Pan-Arabism and Saudi-led Pan-Islamism. The defeat of Pan-Arabism resulted in a seismic transfer of power from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, which remains unchallenged today in its dominance of the Sunni world and unhindered in its financial support to Salafi-Jihadi groups. However, no single year in the post World War II era was more important to the Middle East than 1979. In that year, the Iranian revolution challenged Saudi Arabia for control of the Muslim world, Salafis tested the Saudi regime by besieging the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and Muslim nations worldwide reacted violently to the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan. The historical events that transpired from 1960 through 1979 significantly altered the political landscape of the Middle East and also led to the militarization of Salafism.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Humanities and History

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