Glenn E. Robinson


On his book Global Jihad: A History

Cover Interview of May 05, 2021

In a nutshell

In Global Jihad I make two unique arguments. First, I provide an interpretive history of this important movement by showing how there have been four distinct iterations, or “waves”, of global jihad since it began in the 1980s. Each wave had its own distinct crisis that initiated it, and its own peculiar ideological vision for the path ahead. In each case, the fundamental problem was seen as systemic to the international system, which is why they are examples of global jihad.

The first wave, in response to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, focused on liberating occupied Muslim territory around the world; it was led by a pious warrior class I term a “Jihadi International”.

The second wave, led by Usama Bin Laden and al-Qa’ida, sought to drive the Americans out of the Middle East as part of an “America First” campaign that would lead to the easier overthrow of local apostate regimes.

ISIS’s state-building campaign, the third wave, sought to eliminate apostasy by creating a puritanical and globalized caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

The fourth and current wave of global jihad is focused on the survival of global jihad through “jihad fardi”—personal terror attacks undertaken by individuals and small groups who are connected online by a shared ideology but whose attacks are autonomously orchestrated. This form of “stochastic terror” was initiated by white nationalists who, with the birth of the internet, realized they could influence and connect with the audience without ever having any logistical connection in the planning and execution of violent acts. Global jihadis have made full use of this “inspired terrorism”, the acts of which are stitched together in an ever-evolving wiki-narrative by an online jihadi community.

The second big argument I make is to situate global jihad in the universe of all violent political groups over the past century. I borrow and build on the theory of “movements of rage” to suggest that there is a unique form of political violence that is marked by calls to nihilistic violence and that adopt apocalyptic ideologies. Both religious and secular groups can constitute movements of rage, from global jihad to white nationalism. Movements of rage are usually small and weak, and rarely come to power. But when they do seize power, such as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the results can be devastating.

Readers primarily interested in the history of global jihad from the 1980s to the present can focus on the Introduction and first four chapters. Those mostly interested in the current wave of global jihad can focus on Chapter Four, Personal Jihad, in which a networked system using the internet and social media has replaced old-fashioned organizations to make for a much more durable form of violence. And for those readers more attuned to scholarly arguments about terrorism and other forms of political violence, the concluding chapter on movements of rage will hold the most interest.