For many years, my job centered on finding different experts in terrorism, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, regional/cultural studies, law enforcement, and military disciplines. Thus far, I’ve identified expertise somewhat haphazardly through lots of different posts on a variety of topics. Today, I’ll begin highlighting and tagging those experts I respect the most in a host of different categories.
Today’s category is al Qaeda “ideologists”. These experts analyze AQ’s ideology and provide insight on the terror groups origins and their future direction. For ideology instructors/experts, I look for a few factors.
1- Does the person speak Arabic? Those that claim you “don’t need to speak Arabic to understand AQ’s ideology”, can’t speak Arabic and thus don’t realize what they are missing in their analysis. Arabic provides cultural as well as linguistic context to AQ’s militant ideology. Google translator doesn’t cut it. For true experts in AQ’s ideology, reading and speaking Arabic yields deep insights that result in useful analysis. (BTW, I don’t know Arabic and I’m not an expert on AQ’s ideology.)
2- Has the person lived in the region? I have no idea how someone can understand and pontificate about AQ’s ideology and its resonance with vulnerable populations if they have not spent substantial time in North Africa, the Middle East or South Asia. Two-day conference trips don’t count. True experts can relate their experience in the region with what is being said and written by AQ’s ideological leaders.
3- Can they answer questions about AQ’s future direction? About five years ago, I watched some so-called “AQ ideology experts” repeatedly predict the fall of Western civilization at the hands of AQ’s ever expanding ideological march to form a global caliphate. Funny, recent protests in Arab countries seem to indicate the exact opposite outcome. Ideology experts can use historical context, personal experience, Arabic language skills and religious knowledge to provide a credible vision of AQ’s future direction.
4- Do they conduct original research? Type “al Qaeda ideology” in Google and you’ll get millions of articles that largely reiterate a weak understanding of AQ’s tenets. However, true AQ ideology experts will craft sound, empirical research designs that reveal new insights based on original sources. For a good recent example, see Vahid Brown’s discussion of Sayf al-‘Adl’s recent revisionist posts. This is really good stuff.
In short, Jihadica’s contributors plus a few others essentially make up the top tier of AQ ideologists. I’m probably missing a couple in this short list and will add them in the future.
- Dr. Will McCants- Founder of Jihadica and creator of the Militant Ideology Atlas
- Dr. Thomas Hegghammer– Current Jihadica editor and member of FFI in Norway.
- Dr. Brynjar Lia– Jihadica contributor and Head of FFI, Norway’s international terrorism research division.
- Vahid Brown- Author of Cracks in the Foundation
- Dr. Asad Ahmed– Professor, Washington University
That’s my short list for now and I’ll add to it on the Expert List over the coming weeks.