Background reading on al-Qaida from Pluto Press

The leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, has issued specific guidelines for the conduct of jihad this week. The document stressed the organisation’s need to avoid attacking other Muslims, and those of other faiths inside Muslim countries, alongside a more general urging for restraint. He also re-stated al-Qaida’s military aim to weaken the US and Israel. See the Guardian for more.

In light of al-Zawahri’s guidelines, Pluto has put together a shortlist of key readings about al-Qaida. For this week only, we are also running a special ‘back to uni’ sale, with 40% off all titles. You can get all of the following at this discount – simply click here to activate it:

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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

New books from Pluto in September – What We Are Fighting For / How to Look Good in a War / Peacebuilding and Reconciliation / Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice / Beyond Occupation

The raddest political press there is…

Good afternoon book lovers and radicals! Just to let you know Pluto has five amazing new titles out this month, which you can check out, and (we hope) buy. As we move into September and a new academic year, now seems like the best moment to build up a healthy-sized reading list – or at least to add new books to your pre-existing pile…

Covering topics such as state violence and propaganda; occupation, colonialism and apartheid; sacrifice and terrorism; peace and conflict resolution; and radical alternatives to capitalism, it’s definitely a bumper crop.

Brian Rappert’s How to Look Good in a War offers a powerful, concise examination of the methods used to depict, defend and justify the use of state violence in recent wars, from Iraq to Libya.

Virginia Tilley’s edited collection, Beyond Occupation, is a timely and urgent analysis that looks at three contentious terms that regularly arise in contemporary arguments about Israel’s practices towards Palestinians in the occupied territories – occupation, colonialism and apartheid. She considers whether their meanings in international law truly apply to Israel’s policies.

Melissa Finn’s pioneering Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice goes beyond the usual simplistic accounts of Jihadi movements in her insightful examination of the idea of ‘sacrifice’ in al-Qaeda suicide attacks.

Marwan Darweish and Carol Rank edit Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, a cutting-edge collection using different global case studies of societies experiencing or emerging out of violent conflict.

Finally, Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio’s essential What We Are Fighting For serves as both sword and shield (in paperback form) against the logic of capitalism and the new age of austerity it has wrought. The book features vivid visions of a different society run in the interests of the 99%. In over 20 chapters, leading activist voices including Nina Power, Owen Jones, David Graeber and John Holloway answer the questions the media loves to ask the protesters.

To buy any of these books, go to

How to Look Good in a War

Justifying and Challenging State Violence

Brian Rappert

Examines the methods used to depict, defend and justify the use of state violence in recent wars, from Iraq to Libya.

“Brian Rappert is one of our shrewdest commentators on the complicated ways in which we come to believe that wars are right and weapons are good. His brilliant case studies of official British enquiries into the Iraq War, of controversies over casualties in that war and of the international movement to ban cluster bombs turn settled wisdom on its head and show us new ways of looking at familiar issues.” – Hugh Gusterson, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at George Mason University

“In war, governments habitually lean towards closure rather than openness in matters of policy and practice. There then exists the issue of ‘striking the right balance’, with this seen as the core of any debate. Rappert challenges the very basis of such discussion, arguing with considerable insights that seeking balance or redressing imbalance may well be praiseworthy, yet structuring the argument in these terms can obscure the underlying issue of the legitimacy of force. This is an important book with much to offer to anyone concerned with the study of statecraft in time of war.” – Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and author of Losing Control

£17.99 only £16.00 on the Pluto site

Beyond Occupation

Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Edited by Virginia Tilley

“A responsible re-evaluation of the legal relationship between Israel and the Palestinian territories under its control is long overdue. This compelling study, by reputable legal scholars, answers the international community’s need for new analytical tools to understand a conflict that defies conventional legal categories.” – George Bisharat, Professor of Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law

“An excellent and very full study that examines in great detail the legal concepts of colonialism and apartheid, and considers their implications in the context of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” – Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law, London School of Economics and Political Science

£75 only £67.50 on the Pluto site

Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice

Martyrdom, War and Politics

Melissa Finn. Foreword by Yasir Qadhi

Insightful examination of the idea of ‘sacrifice’ in al-Qaeda suicide attacks. Goes beyond the usual simplistic accounts of Jihadi movements.

“Excellent. An intelligent, nuanced and innovative analysis of a key phenomenon of our times. Melissa Finn takes the scholarly debate on transnational terrorism into the next phase by critically unpacking Al-Qaeda’s thought, phraseology, and logic of political violence.” – Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Geneva Centre for Security Policy, author of Understanding Al Qaeda

“This book fills a large void in the literature and shows the promise of offering practical solutions to one of humanity’s major challenges at this time. It will find a wide audience including academics, policy makers, and broadly all those interested in a better understanding of terrorism.” – Wanda Krause, Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Gulf Studies Program, College of Arts & Sciences, Qatar University

£21.99 only £19.50 on the Pluto site

Peacebuilding and Reconciliation

Contemporary Themes and Challenges

Edited by Marwan Darweish and Carol Rank

Cutting-edge collection on global peacebuilding and reconciliation from members of the renowned UK Centre for Peace & Reconciliation Studies.

“Using case studies from countries like Canada, Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Nepal, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the authors share their experiences and articulate a range of issues which are central to conflict transformation and peace building. This is a useful resource for academics and civil society organisations.” – Dr. Deusdedit R.K Nkurunziza, Makerere University, Uganda

“Each chapter is fascinating, engaging with the detailed complexity and special features of conflict situations and attempts to build peace, and applying an extensive literature. In combination the chapters provide a valuable representative sample of responses to conflict, together with critical reflection on attempts at peacebuilding and reconciliation.” – Gordon Burt, Chair of the Conflict Research Society

£19.99 only £17.50 on the Pluto site

What We Are Fighting For

A Radical Collective Manifesto

Edited by Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio

Visions of a different society run in the interests of the 99%. Leading activist voices answer the question the media loves to ask the protesters.

“Here are the first flowers of spring: the beginning of an epochal dialogue about the human future. Inspired by the Occupy movements across the world, What We Are Fighting For should inspire all of us to join the conversation.” – Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and City of Quartz

“This collection provides a rallying point for all those who resist the dogmas of contemporary politics and seek a fresh set of alternatives. What We Are Fighting For is a manifesto full of urgent, articulate responses to the current situation.” – Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School, New York, and author of The Faith of the Faithless (2012).

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site