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Jihad Denial on the Potomac

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by Gordon M. Hahn

In an otherwise worthwhile article “The Decline of International Studies: Why Flying Blind Is Dangerous” (Foreign Affairs, July-August 2015), a writer, Charles King, bemoans the state of international studies in the U.S. Urging more funding for his field, the national past time in DC, King notes: “In an incentive structure that rewards an emphasis on countering global threats and securing the homeland, the devil lies in the definitions. In this framework, the Boston Marathon bombing becomes a national security problem, whereas the Sandy Hook massacre remains a matter for the police and psychologists-a distinction that is both absurd as social science and troubling as public policy.”

If this distinction is “absurd as social science and troubling as public policy”, then it is social science that is absurd not the distinction, and the writer should not be let anywhere near policymakers.

For starters, Sandy Hook had no terrorism component, Boston did. Terrorism is defined as an act of violence that targets civilians (sometimes here definitions include police, property, and even soldiers in peacetime) undertaken for political reasons intended to communicate a message to a third, larger ‘audience-party.’ Sandy Hook did not even have a quasi-political – in this case religious/Islamist – component no less a religious/Islamist main driver. The Boston Marathon bombing had both politics and religion as main drivers. Moreover, the Boston jihadi terrorist attack had a foreign genesis, inspired by a foreign jihadi terrorist organization (the CE) and overall global jihadi revolutionary movement. Thus, it was clearly a national security issue and ultimately a national security failure.

The upshot of the writer’s statement is: The Sandy Hook massacre rises to the level of a national security problem equal to that of the Boston Marathon bombing or conversely, the Boston attack should fall to a mere social, psychological matter to be addressed by police and psychologists. King’s preference is likely the former, since there is now a long tradition in American and Western academia of watering down or stretching the definition of what constitutes a national security issue in order to undermine the position of true national security studies in political science and simultaneously chip off chunks of government funding dedicated to the task for other ‘academic’ purposes.

In the former case, international studies, national security, intelligence and military resources in the U.S. should be focused on violence committed by troubled teens here in the US as much as on the rise of the global jihadi revolutionary movement and its attendant terrorism. Not a surprise, given the claim comes from an ‘academic’ as the word is used today. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. Academia today is not concerned with the objective study of phenomena but rather the transformation of the world and, first and foremost the U.S. Naturally, then any political phenomenon must be reduced to an American issue, an American, problem, more precisely, the problem with America is….well, America.

A similar trend can be found in tensions between terrorism studies and human rights studies. Thus, those in the latter field often require that state terrorism and thus human, political, and civil rights problems be included in the fields of terrorism (and national security) studies. But human rights activists are not required to include the study of jihadi or other non-state terrorist groups and their violations of human rights in their field. Quite to the contrary, all too often human rights activists explain non-state terrorism in terms of a response to state terrorism and violations of human rights. They would never entertain the idea that state actors’ violation of human rights might be provoked by the actions of opposition forces or jihadi or other terrorist groups.

Whereas in King’s world today, the Boston Marathon bombing and jihadi terrorism are just some of a myriad of violent acts and national security problems, yesterday it was little more than a random act of violence very similar to Sandy Hook. For him, the attack barely had a political component, no less a North Caucasian or jihadist component. In a discussion on Huffington Post television, to which for some reason I uncharacteristically was invited to participate, he perversely rejected the idea that the North Caucasus, the CE, or jihad had anything to do with the Boston attack. “The Politics of Chechnya,” The Huffington Post Live, 19 April 2013,

In an article in the same journal in which the article presently being discussed was published, he argued there was no real sense in referring to jihad or Islam when discussing the ‘violence in the Caucasus’ – as it was so neutrally referred to in DC during those years. Despite the DC think tanks’ virtual ban on associating the CE with Al Qa`ida and the global jihad, King even claimed that the discourse on the ‘violence’ was bogged down by an in fact non-existent “single-factor fallacy” (Charles King, “Prisoners of the Caucasus,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 2010,

Sensible if previously deluded people now acknowledge that the Boston attack was carried out by the two jihadized Tsarnaev brothers, who were inspired by the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin based in Russia’s North Caucasus and the global jihadi revolutionary movement of which the CE and, to a lesser extent, its predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI), had long been a part. Indeed, recently the CE has been integrating with the Islamic State’s jihadi movement after years of ties with AQ and other global jihadi groups. The elder Tsarnaev brother, Tamerlane, had become a wild-eyed jihadist and even traveled to Dagestan to join the Caucasus Emirate only to be talked out of it by his cousin. He then re-focused his basically senseless but now theo-ideologically focused ire on his new homeland, the United States. He and his younger brother Dzhokhar were frequent visitors to CE and other global jihadi revolutionary movement websites where they imbibed the jihad’s hatred for infidel countries like Russia and the U.S. This is not the first time the writer has downplayed the jihadi threat emanating from Russia’s North Caucasus [see and Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond, (McFarland Publishers, 2014), pp. 232-45].

However, in one sense, King is right, all too often funding nowadays is tied to support for specific policies rather than an objective understanding of a problem. The tendency is aggravated by the reliance of universities and think tanks on government grant funding. Indeed, the noted writer and those who thought like him regarding the Caucasus mujahedin and now do on Ukraine, have been long-time beneficiaries. Thus, it is no coincidence that even the conservative DC think tanks (there are no conservative universities) support the basic position of the Barack Obama Administration on the Ukraine crisis and civil war. When they diverge from the Obama party line it is to urge an even more simplified, one-sided explanation of the crisis and even more aggressive political, economic and military adventures against Russia.

Until just before the Boston Marathon bombing, DC think tanks, activists, and writers like King, were busy obfuscating the jihadi essence of the CE and the jihadi connections and elements of its predecessor, the ChRI. These falsifiers of the reality surrounding jihadism in the North Caucasus are partly responsible for the intelligence failure that led to the Boston attack. Now much of the same crowd is distorting the issue of Ukraine and encouraging yet more bloodshed on the soil of Donbass……..and their own hands.


Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.

1 comment

  1. There has been a terrible US PR con trick on the reason for terrorism.
    terrorism has almost always been anti-imperailist. Always. Red Brigades, anarchists, Irish, communists and islamicist. In 1990 or even 1999 no one would have disagreed with that.
    Nowadays we have had explicit islamic on US terrorism, followed (or often preceded) by US on Islamic war (or bombs or just arming of one side in an economic fight).
    So why is terrorism suddenly caused by the Koran, and not anti-imperialism (+acts by the empire which is basically the US).
    Surely whatever we thought pre-2000, everything since has proved that it is anti-Americanism that causes terrorism, not the Koran.

    I can see why it suits the US though. And excuse to bomb, kill or arm whoever they want, without causing any subsequent effect (because the subsequent terrorism is all the fault of the Koran).

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