Demystifying the Motivations and Priorities of Contemporary Islamist Militancy and Jihadi Groups: panel discussion and book launch

It is very hard to critique jihadism and develop critical analytical questions for terrorists when our knowledge about the jihadi worldview is mediated by the government and the news media. What are these people all about?

The above question is one that the book launch of Melissa Finn’s Al Qaeda and Sacrifice (Pluto, 2012) aims to address. The details for the event are below.


Paul Martin Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Monday, November 12, 2012 from 7.00pm to 8.30pm


Melissa Finn, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University

Chris Anzalone, Ph.D. Candidate, Teaching Fellow, Institute for Islamic Studies, McGill University

Theme 1: Narratives of Martyrdom

7:00- 7:15 pm:  “The Logic of Martyrdom” (Melissa Finn)

Pervasive and largely under-examined references to the descriptor sine qua non of jihadi violence, ‘suicide bombing’, reveals more about western readings of jihadi violence than it does about the actual intents, motivations, contexts, conceptual bases, and parameters of jihadi violence. Etymological analysis of words for ‘sacrifice’ in Arabic and their use in jihadi and Islamist discourses reveals much about the logic behind the “martyrdom” operation.

7:15- 7:30 pm: “The Martyr and Mujahid: Narratives and Aesthetics of Jihad and Martyrdom in Jihadi Discourses” (Chris Anzalone)

Contemporary jihadi discourses on martyrdom and “striving” (jihad) in God’s path are rich and multilayered, drawing upon classical Islamic religious texts and literary traditions while also adapting and interpreting them to fit modern conflicts and ideological needs.  Images of the martyr and the mujahid in these discourses mix themes of honor, heroism, fatalism, piety, and even romance to create a complex discourse of struggle, enduring hardships, and self-sacrifice that is today presented in a multitude of different communicative forms, aural, visual, and textual.

Theme 2: The Political Priorities of Jihadis

7:30- 7:45 pm: “The Parameters of Sacrificial Subjectivity and the Political Priorities of the Sacrificial Subject” (Melissa Finn)

There are many theories about why the soldier-martyr evokes such a strong response in people. Here, it is argued that enigmatic and controversial character of the “martyrdom” operation lies in the way the soldier-martyr inhabits, inhibits, and ruptures different Islamic norms. The parameters of sacrificial subjectivity involve devotion and challenge towards central principles of Islamic ethics. How does the sacrificial subject understand him/herself and how might comparative political theory unearth and explain this subjectivity? These are the central questions of this presentation.

7:45- 8:00 pm: “Insurgent ‘Justice’: Al-Shabab’s Conception of Law, Order, and Economics in Somalia” (Chris Anzalone)

Al-Shabab, which began to acquire territory rapidly by the end of 2008 into 2009, placed the establishment of law and order at the top of its list of priorities, particularly in important economic centers such as the port cities of Kismaayo and Merca.  Thus far, little research attention has been paid to the wealth of insurgent primary sources in sketching out how Al-Shabab itself conceives of law and order, and how this conception is intimately tied to economic concerns.

8:00- 8:30 pm: Q&A Session

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