A Decline in Jihadist Violence?

Here is an interesting piece by Nathan Field in The National:”Across the Arab and Muslim world, jihadists are beginning to renounce violence as a means to change their societies – and not just because they lost.”

I think he makes a good point here, but would point out that in Somalia it seems the trend is moving in the opposite direction. However, I think that an examination of that case would require an analysis by an expert on Somalia, which I am not.

8 Responses to A Decline in Jihadist Violence?

  1. Michael says:

    Nice choice on the article–a nuanced approach to a phenomenon that often too easily escapes the notice of academics and policymakers alike.

    As for Somalia, I’m by no means an expert; but I would say it’s somewhat misleading to make this contrast without a closer look at the situation in that country, as well as Field’s frame of reference in writing about the decline in jihadi violence. In Somalia you have a failed state where Islamist militias can commit acts of violence and “secure” the country because no strong central government exists to rein them in. This has never been the case in any of the countries Field mentions–Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have always maintained firm (read: repressive) control over the farthest reaches of their territories, so quashing jihadi violence has, at least theoretically, never been out of the question (examples abound: al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya in Egypt in the ’80s and ’90s; the Algerian Civil War, etc.). The fact is that Somalia exists in a state which most Arab countries (with the exception of Sudan) have never reached. Yes, jihadi violence persists in Somalia, but not merely because Arab groups have come to their religious senses and Somali ones have not. Intra-group debate and discussion about the efficacy of violence has, in the Arab cases, had as at least one of its first causes the brutal repression campaigns undertaken by strong, authoritarian central governments. What we are seeing in Somalia may lead us to believe that Islamists there simply haven’t “gotten the message” about the futility of violence, but the fact is no political structure exists to pound this message into their brains (forgive the image) in the first place.

    Moreover, a consideration of Somalia in light of the cases Field addresses necessitates a closer look at the origins of Arab and Somali Islamist groups. The Somalian Islamic Courts Union is, well, just that: a group of Sharia courts that sanctions guerilla violence against the government (or lack thereof). The origins of Arab groups vary, but it has been more common for them to form around particular intellectual figures rather than political actors stepping outside the system (case in point: Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and the Muslim Brotherhood–and the violent jihadi groups that split off from it along doctrinal and philosophical lines).

    • ibnyaaqub says:

      Hey Abu Shanab,

      You make some great points, and I certainly agree. Somalia is a different case, and it certainly needs to be taken as such. I guess what I would say is that on a more superficial level, the idea of a major or general “decline in jihadi violence” is something that needs to be nuanced, which you have done well. In addition, and as I said I am not an expert either, but I believe in the case of Somalia, at least more recently, we are talking about the Al-Shabab group as the violent group, which as I understand it has split off from its former association with the UIC, which is now heading the Somali “government.”

  2. Rob says:

    Good comments. Perhaps the author should have been clearer in his terms. But we shouldn’t too quickly blame all violence commited by Islamists as jihadists.
    Somalia is a totally different case. Its simply a civil war between factions, and there has never really been a Somalia government.

    This is much different than most of the Arab states that saw Jihadist violence. In Egypt and Algeria (and to a lesser extent) Saudi Arabia and a few other places, Islamist groups challenged an established state, based on their belief that violence was a legitimate tool of reform. What we’re seeing now, is a pattern where these groups are saying “look that didn’t work” and there’s an overwhelming consensus from Islamic scholars that those types of methods are illegitimate.

    Remember, there are differences between Jihadist violence. The Taliban and the Iraqi Resistance are fighting Jihad against the US and their actions are 100% legitimate Islamically. And they will be until the US leaves those countries.

    What the article is referring to is internal Jihadist violence in Arab countries. Ie groups trying to overthrow established governments by force. In the Arab countries, the trend is moving away from this.

  3. ibnyaaqub says:

    Thanks Rob, and you’re right. And pointing out the differences between Islamists, jihadists, etc. is so crucial. I am under the impression that a lot of people back home don’t really get that there are differences between these groups, and neither did the US govt for a while, I think. Iraqi resistance vs. Al-Qaeda, ISI, etc is a case in point. There is no way that these groups can be thrown into the same pot. And as you have noted on your blog, prominent thinkers and religious leaders, like Yusif Qaradawi have spoken on these matters, for example condemning the actions of ISI and Al-Qaeda while sanctioning fighting against US occupying forces as legitimate resistance.

  4. Rob says:

    Just one clarification. When it comes to Al-Qaeda attacks against the US in Iraq and Afghanistan there is not a single cleric who will say what they are doing is wrong. By any standard, this meets the standards of legit defensive Jihad. You probably aren’t going to here clerics saying that out loud since it is sensitive, but more imporantly, you won’t hear them deny it.

    When Al-Qaeda tries to attack Muslim regimes or undergo attacks inside Arab countries (that aren’t US military forces) this is where they get condemned.

    Whose ISI?

  5. ibnyaaqub says:

    Sorry, I should have clarified. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Al-Qaeda’s official (or non-official, depending on who you are going by) arm in Iraq.

  6. Rob says:

    oh ok. but there’s no cleric that says when Al-Qaeda fights the US in Iraq that they are in the wrong. Al-Qaeda sees themselves (and are seen by their peers in broader Arab society) as part of the Muqawama.

  7. ibnyaaqub says:

    no? hmm maybe you are right.

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