Anwar al-Awlaki’s Western Jihad
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2020, 352 pages
Book Review published on: August 27, 2021
Incitement: Anwar al-Awlaki’s Western Jihad is an in-depth analysis of how New Mexico-born Yemeni-American jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki rose to prominence to become the most influential figure in promoting the jihad movement in the West. The author of this book, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, is the research director of the program on extremism at George Washington University. An expert on extremist movements, he has researched and conducted fieldwork on jihadist groups in the United States, United Kingdom, East Africa, and Iraq with a focus on how the groups attract recruits.
The book has two parts: the first covers how al-Awlaki rose to become the most influential activist in the Western jihad movement. Meleagrou-Hitchens traces al-Awlaki’s initial moderate stance on Islam and analyzes the events that shaped his growth and radicalization. Meleagrou-Hitchens digs deeply into al-Awlaki’s view of Islam and interpretation of the Quran and how he spread his increasing radicalized message through distributed media to Muslims living in Western areas primarily in the United Kingdom and United States. He did this by translating his anti-Western messages into English and broadcasting the messages to Western mosques, universities, magazines, YouTube, and through the internet. He has been linked to over one-quarter of Islamists convicted of terrorism-related offenses in the United States since 2007.
The second part examines three people that became radicalized after listening to and internalizing al-Awlaki’s teachings: the 2009 Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan; the Christmas Day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and young American convert Zachary Adam Chesser. All three are extensively examined from their pre-radicalization days and through the ways al-Awlaki’s teachings influenced them into committing acts of violence against western targets in response to the so-called Western war on Islam and in defense of the prophet Muhammad. The author concludes by summarizing the strategies and methods that made al-Awlaki so influential.
The book is well organized, flows in a logical manner, and provides citations for all his work. His research also includes a glossary of over forty Arabic words and how their meaning is interpreted and applied in the context of western jihad. I highly recommend this book for its value in strategic studies, cultural understanding, and information warfare.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Olathe, Kansas