Modern Jihad: Ideology, Technology, and Violence
Variously feared, vilified, and radically misunderstood, jihad occupies a place of privilege in the Western political and social imagination. In the aftermath of 9/11, a cadre of pundits argued that jihad was synonymous with “holy war,” propagated by forces of evil that hate our freedom as much as they long for the virgins of paradise. Despite evidence to the contrary—from al-Qaeda’s technical and media savvy to the advanced degrees held by its leaders—the dominant narrative depicts a civilizational clash of binaries: medieval vs. modern, Islam vs. the West, barbarism vs. enlightenment. This assessment not only underwrites the endless and boundless Global War on Terror, but regimes of surveillance, harassment, and imprisonment of Muslims in the United States and allied countries. But what is jihad? What are its forms and its broader place within the arc of Islamic history? How should we account for the proliferation of jihadist groups over the past several decades? And to what extent is it comparable to extremist movements in the West?
This class will address these questions, pushing beyond vilification or exotification to understand jihad as a complex political and social phenomenon—at once wholly modern and rooted in a particular reading of the Islamic past. We will survey the history and development of jihad over the past century, charting its evolution from a form of warfare to a mode of terrorism (a binary that will itself be interrogated), asking why and how this transformation occurred. The course will begin by examining the work of mid-century ideologues like Sayyid Qutb and the emergence of a new form of global jihad in Afghanistan and Bosnia in the 1980s and 1990s, before turning to the formation of al-Qaeda and its most famous progeny, the Islamic State. We will ask: Who is the modern mujahid (one who wages jihad) as a political subject? What assumptions about political authority and individual responsibility animate today’s jihad? Is jihad necessarily violent? What theological justifications are used by contemporary jihadist groups, and how do they hold up to scrutiny? In addition to an abundance of primary sources, students will read works by scholars including Olivier Roy, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Faisal Dejvi, Roxanne Euben, Wael Hallaq, Mary Kaldor, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, and Philip Bobbitt, among others.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
January 31 — February 21, 2022