Glenn E. Robinson


On his book Global Jihad: A History

Cover Interview of May 05, 2021

The wide angle

There are two main audiences for this book. First, anyone interested in the history of the global jihad movement, including its intellectual precursors, its development, its ideologies, and its structural weaknesses should read it. I present both my own translations and interpretations of original Arabic documents and share the insights of the best scholarly work on the subject in a short and accessible book meant for a wide audience.

The second audience includes anyone interested in issues of political violence. The concluding chapter on “movements of rage” is a broad discussion on the various forms of political violence and how they have been categorized and understood by different scholars.

The vast majority of political violence undertaken over the past century has been based on Enlightenment ideals. Those on the Left argued that revolutionary violence often represents the forward and scientific march of history, including the overthrow of feudal and repressive monarchies from France to Russia. New and more progressive societies are the outcomes of such social revolutions. Fascists and others on the Right have also often espoused political violence as a means for the conservative modernization of society, to “make the trains run on time”, in Mussolini’s famous phrasing. National liberation movements in the post-World War II period often justified political violence in the name of greater freedom and liberty.

By contrast, I argue that there is a small subset of violent political groups that are antithetical to Enlightenment ideals. They espouse nihilistic violence—in the political sense of the word that comes from the Russian anarchists of the 19th century—that is system-destroying; not surgical violence for more modest outcomes. Movements of rage also adopt apocalyptic ideologies that see a cosmic struggle between good and evil, which always have as a feature the notion of cultural contamination by outsiders and Fifth Columnists. By using a movement of rage lens, I can make valuable comparisons of global jihadis to the white nationalists today as well as earlier groups such as the Khmer Rouge, Red Guards, and Brownshirts in Germany.

This book represents a natural culmination of intellectual interests and experiences I have had in life. I first caught interest in issues of political violence as an American exchange student living in Iran in 1978 as the revolution to overthrow the Shah was launched. Later, for my dissertation at Berkeley, I detailed the first Palestinian uprising against Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which became the basis of my first three books and many essays. Other research conducted in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan continued my focus on political violence, its root causes, and its various manifestations. The terror attacks on 9/11 and subsequent wars in the Middle East led me to write this book, to capture in one accessible volume the most important aspects of this new phenomenon of global jihad.