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<em>The Globalization of Martyrdom: Al Qaeda, Salafi Jihad, and the Diffusion of Suicide Attacks</em>

The Globalization of Martyrdom: Al Qaeda, Salafi Jihad, and the Diffusion of Suicide Attacks

Book, Johns Hopkins University Press

December 2008

Author: Assaf Moghadam, Former Associate, International Security Program (ISP)/Initiative on Religion in International Affairs (RIIA), 2009–2010; former Research Fellow, ISP/RIIA, 2007–2009; former Research Fellow, ISP, 2004–2006

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Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Religion in International Affairs



This groundbreaking volume examines the rise and spread of suicide attacks over the past decade. Sorting through 1,270 terror strikes between 1981 and 2007, Assaf Moghadam attributes their recent proliferation to the mutually related ascendance of al Qaeda and its guiding ideology, Salafi Jihad, an extreme interpretation of Islam that rejects national boundaries and seeks to create a global Muslim community. In exploring the roots of the extreme radicalization represented by Salafism, Moghadam finds many causes, including Western dominance in the Arab world, the physical diffusion of Salafi institutions and actors, and the element of opportunity created by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He uses individual examples from the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Europe to show how the elite leaders of al Qaeda and affiliated groups and their foot soldiers interact with one another and how they garner support—and a growing number of converts and attackers—from the Muslim community. Based on over a decade of empirical research and a critical examination of existing thought on suicide attacks, Moghadam distinguishes the key characteristics separating globalized suicide strikes from the traditional, localized pattern that previously prevailed. This unflinching analysis provides new information about the relationship between ideology and suicide attacks and recommends policies focused on containing Salafi Jihadism.


Praise for The Globalization of Martyrdom:

"A rigorous and important examination of suicide attacks executed by Osama bin Laden and the movement he inspires. This timely book is a valuable contribution to an improved understanding of suicide attacks, terrorism, and Al Qaeda alike, and provides plausible policy recommendations to help stem the further spread of this tactic."—General (ret.) John P. Abizaid, former commander, United States Central Command

"One of the most thorough and important works available on this often misunderstood subject. Assaf Moghadam's authoritative study provides a welcome corrective to many of the canards and misperceptions that unfortunately comprise at least some of the conventional wisdom regarding suicide terrorism. The author's masterful treatment of this phenomenon's history and its contemporary growth and evolution, alongside his incisive analysis and perceptive policy recommendations, makes The Globalization of Martyrdom a welcome and seminal contribution to the field of terrorism studies."—Bruce Hoffman, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, author of Inside Terrorism

"This book is a 'must read' for all concerned with post-9/11 terrorism. Assaf Moghadam has broken new ground with this highly original analysis of the globalization of suicide attacks by al Qaeda and the Salafi Jihadist movement. Thoroughly researched and fully documented, the author brings to light the central role that ideology plays as an enabler in the escalation of this particularly insidious form of terrorism. This is clearly demonstrated in those insightful chapters discussing such complex concepts as takfir, tawhid, and istishhad. Moghadam's empirical analysis leaves no doubt that al Qaeda and the Salafi Jihad movement has over the last several years moved suicide terrorism to center stage in their global ideological fight with the West. This fine book concludes with thoughtful recommendations on ways to counter this challenge."—Richard H. Shultz, Jr., The Fletcher School, Tufts University

"This is an authoritative and updated study on suicide attacks that is better than any other research published in the field. Moghadam offers a clear conceptualization of a complicated phenomenon and a fascinating historical background of the various manifestations of suicide in political contexts."—Ami Pedahzur, University of Texas, Austin

"A tour de force by an important new contributor to terrorism studies. This learned corrective to the received wisdom on suicide attacks shows that military occupation alone fails to account for their proliferation. Moghadam’s conclusion that the fight against suicide missions should involve counter-ideological strategies will greatly enhance international security."—Jessica E. Stern, Harvard Law School

Assaf Moghadam is an assistant professor and senior associate at the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and a postdoctoral fellow at the International Security Program/Initiative on Religion in International Affairs at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is the author of The Roots of Terrorism.


For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

For Academic Citation:

Moghadam, Assaf. The Globalization of Martyrdom: Al Qaeda, Salafi Jihad, and the Diffusion of Suicide Attacks. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, December 2008.

Document Length: 360 pp.

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