Al Qaeda’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions Within Al-Qa’ida and its Periphery, a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, was released publicly yesterday at an event at the New America Foundation (I couldn’t make it, but you can already see video here). By digging deep into al Qaeda’s internal ideological and strategic division ...

560418_101217_ctc_cover2.jpg
560418_101217_ctc_cover2.jpg

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions Within Al-Qa'ida and its Periphery, a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, was released publicly yesterday at an event at the New America Foundation (I couldn't make it, but you can already see video here). By digging deep into al Qaeda's internal ideological and strategic division and its contentious relationship with most other Islamist factions, Self-Inflicted Wounds offers an essential corrective to popular narratives of a single, undifferentiated Islamist menace. It fleshes out a broad trend towards more differentiated analysis of al Qaeda and policies which divide rather than unite the disparate strands of Islamism.

Self-Inflicted Wounds gives a realistic sense of where al Qaeda really fits within the map of Islamism, neither minimizing nor exaggerating its threat. It demonstrates powerfully the value of disaggregating the challenge posed by various Islamist movements rather than lumping them together into a single, undifferentiated menace. It's slightly dated now, since most of the chapters were completed more than a year ago, and it doesn't quite capture the rise of the franchises such as AQAP or the new trend of small-scale attempted attacks. But despite that inevitable limitation, I believe it makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of al Qaeda and its milieu. It demonstrates how essential it is to understand these movements from within and on their own terms, and how counterproductive it is to ignore those distinctions.

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions Within Al-Qa’ida and its Periphery, a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, was released publicly yesterday at an event at the New America Foundation (I couldn’t make it, but you can already see video here). By digging deep into al Qaeda’s internal ideological and strategic division and its contentious relationship with most other Islamist factions, Self-Inflicted Wounds offers an essential corrective to popular narratives of a single, undifferentiated Islamist menace. It fleshes out a broad trend towards more differentiated analysis of al Qaeda and policies which divide rather than unite the disparate strands of Islamism.

Self-Inflicted Wounds gives a realistic sense of where al Qaeda really fits within the map of Islamism, neither minimizing nor exaggerating its threat. It demonstrates powerfully the value of disaggregating the challenge posed by various Islamist movements rather than lumping them together into a single, undifferentiated menace. It’s slightly dated now, since most of the chapters were completed more than a year ago, and it doesn’t quite capture the rise of the franchises such as AQAP or the new trend of small-scale attempted attacks. But despite that inevitable limitation, I believe it makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of al Qaeda and its milieu. It demonstrates how essential it is to understand these movements from within and on their own terms, and how counterproductive it is to ignore those distinctions.

Edited by Brian Fishman and Assaf Moghadam, the volume contains chapters by an impressive lineup including Steven Brooke, Brynjar Lia, Bernard Haykal, Reuven Paz, Vahid Brown, Mohammed Hafez, Anne Stenerson, and me. The volume makes a strong case for the problems al-Qaeda has faced with other Islamist movements (including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah), with non-Arab Muslims and with Shi’a Muslims, and within its own ranks. A longer version, with additional chapters and topics, will be published later this year as a book. Great work from Fishman, Moghadam, and all the contributors — I’m proud to be a part of it.

You can download the report here (PDF).

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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