Propaganda and finance in Al Qaeda and Islamic State
Author: Imogen Richards

Few social and political phenomena have been debated as frequently or fervidly as neoliberalism and neo-jihadism. Yet, while discourse on these phenomena has been wide-ranging, they are rarely examined in relation to one another. In response, Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism examines political-economic characteristics of twentieth and early twenty-first-century neo-jihadism. Drawing on Bourdieusian and neo-Marxist ideas, it investigates how the neo-jihadist organisations, Al Qaeda and Islamic State, engage with the late modern capitalist paradigm of neoliberalism in their anti-capitalist propaganda and quasi-capitalist financial practices. An investigation of documents and discourses reveals interactions between neoliberalism and neo-jihadism characterised by surface-level contradiction, and structural connections that are dialectical and mutually reinforcing. Neoliberalism here is argued to constitute an underlying ‘status quo’, while neo-jihadism, as an evolving form of political organisation, is perpetuated as part of this situation.

Representing differentiated, unique, and exclusive examples of the (r)evolutionary phenomenon of neo-jihadism, AQ and IS are demonstrated in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism to be characteristic of the mutually constitutive nature of ‘power and resistance’. Just as resistance movements throughout modern history have ended up resembling the forms of power they sought to overthrow, so too have AQ and IS ended up resembling and reconstituting the dominant political-economic paradigm of neoliberalism they mobilised in response to.

Imogen Richards

This chapter establishes a frame of inquiry through which the dialectical engagements of the anti-capitalist posturing and quasi-capitalist practices of the neo-jihadist organisations, Al Qaeda and Islamic State, are investigated in later chapters. In doing so, it provides a brief history of neoliberalism, extending from the US and UK administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, beginning in 1979 and 1980 respectively. It elaborates on neo-Marxist geo-economic theory presented by David Harvey, Bob Jessop, and Jamie Peck, in preparation to apply this theory to explain Al Qaeda and Islamic State’s respective geo-economic interests. Theories of neoliberalism, the forms of capital, and dialectics in Bourdieusian theory are also outlined, as is Bourdieu’s influence on the research design of the book. The final part of the chapter explains the data collection and methods of analysis used in the chapters, as well as the key sources used and research limitations.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
Imogen Richards

The details of neoliberal philosophies and policies, as they relate to both neo-jihadism and the Global War on Terrorism, are set out in this chapter. Drawing on the work of John Gray, the first part of the chapter discusses the positivist and modern philosophical premises of neoliberalism, along with its fundamentalist and neo-colonial attributes. Extending these philosophical characteristics to a consideration of neoliberal policies, the second half of the chapter comprises an account of high-profile neoliberal case studies, from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis to deregulated labour conditions in less developed countries, and the growth of US military industries in the Global War on Terrorism. Extending insights from Thomas Piketty’s 2014 Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the chapter also examines how the monetarist precepts of neoliberal reasoning and its ‘meritocratic extremism’ have contributed to exacerbating wealth inequality within the US and internationally, creating environments generative of political violence.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
Imogen Richards

This chapter commences an account of Al Qaeda’s political-economic propaganda. The discussion and analysis are influenced by interpretations of neo-jihadism articulated in the work of the activist-scholars Iain Boal, T. J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, and Michael Watts, as well as insights from investigative journalism in the Global War on Terror. The analysis in this chapter foregrounds Islamist ideologues that influenced Al Qaeda at its 1988 inception, before reflecting on how the organisation’s political-economic propaganda engaged with dominant anti-capitalist and anti-US perspectives prior to and following 11 September 2001, and after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The investigation addresses the discourse of prominent figures who influenced Al Qaeda in history and who spoke on behalf of the organisation, including Osama Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, Aymenn al-Zawahiri, and Adam Gadahn. Drawing on Bourdieusian theory, it explores how Al Qaeda leaders appeal to social, cultural, and symbolic capital through their propaganda, while their collective expression of an anti-capitalist ‘habitus’ corresponds to a changing ‘field’ of anti-capitalism that developed over time.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
Imogen Richards

The continued investigation of neo-jihadist propaganda in this chapter begins with an account of historical and contemporary ideologues that influenced Islamic State at its inception, in particular the pseudonymous author of The Management of Savagery, Abu Bakr Naji, and draws on the insights of Will McCants and Robert Mann. It then proceeds with a critical analysis of Islamic State speeches and audiovisual propaganda produced and disseminated by leading figures and entities affiliated within the organisation leading up to and after its announcement of a Caliphate in 2014. These figures include Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, and the production entities Al Hayat and Al Furqan. The analysis of media documents is informed by Bourdieu’s explanation of the dialectical relationship between ‘materiality’ and ‘idealism’ and foregrounds the ‘historical materialism’ focus of Islamic State propaganda relative to the ‘idealism’ focus of propaganda disseminated by Al Qaeda. The investigation also considers how this focus on the part of Islamic State reflects the organisation’s own geo-economic and strategic interests, including its need to retain and exploit territory in the Middle East in governing the Caliphate during its peak from 2014 to 2017.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
Imogen Richards

This chapter investigates fundraising and financial governance on the part of Al Qaeda from the 1990s to 2014. First, it outlines detail of US-directed interventions in Afghanistan during the Afghan–Soviet War (1979–1989). Building on the description of these interventions before the declaration of the establishment of Al Qaeda in 1988, the analysis then explores the relative significance for Al Qaeda fundraising of wealthy donors and charities in the Middle Eastern region, alternative remittance systems, and broader commercial activities. Insights from declassified Western government intelligence material, testimony from figures within these organisations, and reliable information from think tanks are applied to the documentary discussion of Al Qaeda finance. The concluding section of the chapter discusses precepts of Islamic finance that conflict with the political and economic policies of neoliberalism, including neoliberal economic managerial mechanisms. Collectively, the chapter explores how Al Qaeda’s financial behaviour can be understood as representing the organisation’s collective expression of ‘habitus’ within a ‘field’ and ‘doxa’ of normalised neoliberal political-economic relations.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
Imogen Richards

This chapter accounts for US-led interventions in Iraq from the 1990s to 2003 and discusses key fundraising and financial management practices on the part of Islamic State from 2014 to 2017. Drawing on think-tank research, declassified intelligence reports, and administrative materials produced by Islamic State actors, the analysis reflects on the relative importance of financial institutions, oil and gas, other natural resources, and financial governance within the Caliphate, and the organisation’s historical fundraising. Islamic State’s actions are in this context interpreted in relation to the impact of neoliberal economic restructuring in the Middle Eastern region, drawing on Jamie Peck’s theory of ‘neoliberal layering’. Islamic State’s practices are also analysed for their neoliberal features, with reference to Bourdieusian and neo-Marxist ideas. Using a neo-Marxist lens to compare the financial behaviour of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the discussion further considers the extent to which their different financial behaviour exists in a recursive relationship with each organisation’s geo-economic orientation. The divergent geo-economic and territorial interests of Al Qaeda and Islamic State are a point of focus in this chapter, as is the extent to which these characteristics can be said to characterise differentiated organisational models of neo-jihadism.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
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Imogen Richards

Extending Bourdieu’s theory and a peace-studies approach, the concluding chapter of this book reflects on the significance of the research in light of political-economic developments in neo-jihadism from 2017 to 2020, and within the global economic system. It incorporates a comparative consideration of other political movements: anarchism, left-wing activism, the Global War on Terrorism, and a twenty-first-century rise in right-wing extremism. It also considers evolutionary developments within the phenomenon of neo-jihadism, including the possible future political activities of Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Drawing on theoretical and strategic inferences of the variegated nature of neo-jihadism, and empirical insights from research presented in this book, it ultimately suggests reframing strategic emphasis on surface-level contradictions or paradoxical relationships between the political-economic propaganda and financial practices of neo-jihadist organisations. As an alternative to this approach, it advocates paying greater attention to underlying structural connections between such organisations and the Western neoliberal entities and societal systems they externally oppose.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism
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Imogen Richards

The Introduction sets out the rationale for and approach of the book, clarifies several important characteristics of the phenomena of neo-jihadism and neoliberalism, and explains the evolutionary attributes of neo-jihadism that inform the following chapters. Differing from other, strategic analyses of these groups, this chapter argues that the various ways in which these organisations repurpose and reconstitute neoliberalism are in certain respects unsurprising. It suggests that in their finance, propaganda, and state- and community-building, Al Qaeda and Islamic State reconstruct elitist and oppressive political-economic hierarchies in a similar manner to historical examples of power-cum-resistance during the 1917 Russian Revolution, Mao Zedong’s China in the 1930s, and the US-backed ‘Purple’, ‘Orange’, ‘Cedar’, and ‘Rose’ revolutions in Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia in the 1990s and 2000s. Far from endorsing the violence of organisations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the chapter argues that understanding neo-jihadism in dialectical relation to the dominant political-economic environments it operates within provides an avenue through which to address a prevailing ‘epistemological crisis’ in contemporary counterterrorism.

in Neoliberalism and neo-jihadism