The War against al-Qaeda

Religion, Policy, and Counter-narratives

Nahed Artoul Zehr

"Nahed Zehr’s The War against al-Qaeda brings the story of our conflict with “the al-Qaeda movement” up to the minute. It is a dazzling work of synthesis that illuminates the complexities of the rhetoric on all sides."
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In this original and provocative book, Nahed Artoul Zehr explores the theological underpinnings of al-Qaeda and related Islamic movements such as ISIS. She demonstrates how this marginal narrative transformed al-Qaeda from a relatively hierarchical and regional organization to a globalized, decentralized, and diffuse system of networks. She draws connections between religious ideas and strategy in her translation and analysis of leading theoretical and tactical jihad text, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, by Mustafa abu Mus’ ab al-Suri.

Just as importantly, she questions al-Qaeda’s understanding of the Islamic tradition on the use of force, arguing that it reflects a weak understanding of this tradition. More specifically, it is al-Qaeda’s (and related groups’) break with this tradition that is key to an al-Qaeda defeat.

Simultaneously, Zehr critiques the US military and policy establishment as it attempts to offer counter-narratives to the al-Qaeda phenomenon that emphasizes “good Muslims” versus “bad Muslims” in order to embrace a “moderate” form of Islam. According to Zehr, this approach is misguided: it is beyond the US government’s purview and expertise to make such theological claims about Islam. Better, she argues, to note the counter-narratives that are coming from within the Muslim community and other nongovernment institutions interested in moving this work forward.

By refocusing our attention on al-Qaeda’s narrative and the various ways that
it is being contested, the book provides an alternate lens from which to view
al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda phenomenon for Islamic and US foreign policy scholars and students.

Table of Contents

Notes on Terms and Translations

Introduction: A Different Kind of War

1. Foundations: A Just War Analysis of the War against al-Qaeda

2. Traditions: The Moral Constrains of War in Islam

3. Narratives: Al-Qaeda's Dual Nature

4. Tactics: Al-Suri and al-Qaeda's Model of War

5. Counter-narratives: Moderate Muslim Voices and a Debate within the Tradition

Conclusion: Operationalizing Counter-narratives in the War against al-Qaeda

Selected Bibliography
About the Author


"Everyone interested in radical Islamic jihadism should welcome this book, which stands out for its coverage of figures, perspectives, and topics not treated elsewhere. Zehr follows the al-Qaeda phenomenon from its foundations to the birth of its offspring ISIS/ISIL, concluding with a chapter on “counter-narratives” to the Islamic State movement’s jihadist propaganda."—James Turner Johnson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

"Nahed Zehr’s The War against al-Qaeda brings the story of our conflict with “the al-Qaeda movement” up to the minute. It is a dazzling work of synthesis that illuminates the complexities of the rhetoric on all sides."—Scott Davis, Lewis T. Booker Professor of Religion and Ethics, University of Richmond

"This deceptively simple book wallows in rich layers of cultural analysis and it ought to be a standard textbook in culture studies, military science, and international relations courses.... The War against Al Qaeda: Religion, Policy, and Counter-narratives [is] one of the more thorough, inclusive, and balanced scholarly treatments of this topic in at least a decade."—Terrorism and Political Violence

"This is an interesting and informed discussion of the need by the United States and its allies to complement

the military campaign to counter Islamist groups, such as al Qaida, with an effective theology-based counternarratives approach."—Perspectives on Terrorism


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Nahed Artoul Zehr is the executive director of the Faith & Culture Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Previously she was assistant professor of Islam and
Religious Studies at Western Kentucky University, where she taught courses
on Islam, the Qur-an, comparative religious ethics, and religion and violence. In 2011–2012 she was Minerva Research Chair at the United States Naval War College.

232 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-427-7
May 2017

232 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-428-4
May 2017

232 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-62616-429-1
May 2017

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