As the Cold War came to an end, political scientists began to debate what the new paradigm in global conflict might look like. Perhaps the most notorious theory was proposed by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations (1996) – “the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” – in which he singled out Islam as likely to be particularly problematic; Huntington further expounded this argument in Who Are We? (2004), in which he argued that, in many non-Muslim societies, Muslim minorities are proving to be “indigestible”.
Jytte Klausen’s The Islamic Challenge (2005) was in many ways a direct riposte to Huntington. The book, based on interviews with Muslim parliamentarians, educators, lawyers and businesspeople, pushed back on the notion that there is a uniform “Muslim” approach to integration in the West. Klausen discovered something “shocking”: Muslims are basically like everybody else. They want to educate their children, make a decent living and find ways to live a religious life of their choosing. Critics of her book didn’t see it that way, however, and pointed out that Klausen was ignoring a significant subset of the Muslim population in the West that was committed to terrorist violence.
The quest to answer these critics turned out to be a long one. As she writes in her new book, Western Jihadism: A thirty-year history, it took “fifteen years and the work of eighty students”, each of whom scoured court records, media reports and martyrdom biographies released by terrorist groups themselves, to amass a dataset containing 5,832 men and 561 women who have acted on behalf of al-Qaeda or Islamic State in some manner. The book – which has revelatory individual chapters on the life of Osama bin Laden, the first World Trade Center bombing, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the rise of ISIS – argues that the “Western branch” of the jihadist movement is driven by a coalescence of the “strategic objectives of Osama bin Laden and the global movement he spearheaded” and the desire of some young Muslims to take part in a transnational and revolutionary social movement, to be part of a historical moment, and to have their lives imbued with purpose.
— Amarnath Amarasingam (@AmarAmarasingam) November 17, 2021