Conflict and Islamist Violent Extremism
Examining the similarities and differences between Islamist violent extremist groups and other conflict actors, and the implications for development, state building and peace building responses.
Main Image Credit ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo - Two foreign fighters from the An-Nusra front
This research project, looking at conflict and countering violent extremism, was conducted by RUSI for the (then) Department for International Development (DfiD) in 2015. The project examined the similarities and differences between Islamist violent extremist groups and other conflict actors, and what this means for development, state building and peace building responses.
This project was published in a monograph by Palgrave Macmillan.
Conflict, Violent Extremism and Development: New Challenges, New Responses, 2018, Palgrave Macmillan, by Andrew Glazzard, Sasha Jesperson, Thomas Maguire, Emily Winterbotham
Glazzard et al, Islamist Violent Extremism: A New Form of Conflict or Business as Usual, (Stability Journal, 2017)
The following were also project outputs:
A summary paper was also produced, following the structure of the project’s main outputs.
A literature review of conflict and countering violent extremism.
A set of case histories (covering Kenya, Nigeria, and Syria/Iraq) examining whether Islamist groups behave differently from other types of conflict actors.
A paper summarising the implications drawn from the project, reviewing lessons learned.
The project resulted in the first book-length work to address the implications of Islamist violent extremism for development actors. It combined theory with a current, up-to-date case-study approach and proposed a new approach for development programming to take new terrorist threats into account.
The project revealed that violent Islamists show many similarities with other conflict actors and are as much a symptom of governance failure as other violent groups. Ideology influences how Islamist groups frame their scope, aims, tactics and recruitment strategies.
Violent Islamists are particularly associated with certain strategies and tactics, such as the recruitment of foreign fighters and use of suicide bombing. These strategies and tactics are not unprecedented, and not all Islamist groups employ them. But groups aligned to Al Qaida and ISIL – “Salafi-Jihadists” – have significantly increased their scale and scope and use them expressively as well as instrumentally.
Although violent Islamist groups are strong where governance is weak or repressive, state building efforts by themselves are unlikely to resolve the conflicts they are involved in. Such efforts can, however, constrain their operations and limit their capacity to gain public support.
All conflicts are local. Even those framed by Salafi-Jihadists as part of a global war are deeply rooted in their countries and regions. Responses require deep contextual knowledge which identifies actions that can help prevent or ameliorate conflicts involving violent Islamists.
Salafi-Jihadist ideology is absolute and utopian and promotes war as a route to a better world. This would appear to make negotiation impossible or futile. However, ideology is also contested between and within groups, and consequently prone to splintering, potentially opening opportunities for dialogue with more tractable elements. Also, while groups such as Al Qaida in Iraq/Daesh have become even more extreme under the pressure of war, other groups have moderated their programmes. Although difficult and risky, such responses have the potential to transform conflicts for the better.