Thomas Hegghammer of Jihadica and Marc Lynch both point to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point called Self‐Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al‐Qa’ida and its Periphery as a major new study on international jihadism. I don’t have time to read all 200 pages at this point, but the executive summary was interesting:
The internal jihadi divisions examined in this report include tactical disagreements over takfir (excommunication of Muslims) and the killing of Muslims; strategic disagreements over whether the jihadi struggle should focus on the near enemy (i.e., nominally Muslim regimes) or the far enemy (the United States and its Western allies); friction between jihadi pragmatists and jihadi doctrinarians; rifts between al‐Qa’ida Central and local affiliates; as well as the sometimes tense relations between Arab and non‐Arab members of the jihadi movement. The competition between the jihadis and their Muslim counterparts scrutinizes the jihadis’ relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Shi’a community.
The phrase “jihadis and their Muslim counterparts” confused me, but I think that it is drawing a contrast between international jihadis like al‐Qa’ida and its allies and local Islamist groups (like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah) that have a regional focus (Egypt for the Egpytian Muslim Brotherhood, Israel/Palestinian territories for Hamas, Israel/Lebanon for Hezbollah). One illustration of the difference would be during the summer of 2009 when Hamas attacked a Gaza-based group called Jund Ansar Allah. This group had criticized Hamas for not being interested in the international jihad.
The study reports three major findings:
- Overall, it hurts the movement to have these divisions, but because of al‐Qa’ida’s resilience it can actually increase the dangers that it poses (presumably by empowering divisions and splinter groups).
- It also hurts al‐Qa’ida to compete with Islamist groups, but it can also burnish its credentials with extremists as al‐Qa’ida assumes the role of “recalcitrant underdog.”
- “A third broad finding is that jihadi divisions matter in different ways. Quarrels over tactics and strategy tend to be more damaging to jihadis than dissent over goals and views of the enemy. Disagreements over tactics—and especially ongoing protests at al‐Qa’ida’s killing of Muslims—have greater potential to shove al‐Qa’ida further toward the margins of the Islamic community than to split jihadi organizations. Ongoing leadership debates over strategic questions, on the other hand, can pose direct threats to the group itself, but do not necessarily marginalize al‐Qa’ida further from the mainstream. In practical terms, certain tactics tend to be more controversial for jihadis than lack of consensus on broader questions as goals and objectives because tactical adaptations have direct practical consequences visible on the ground.”