Middle East and North Africa

The Evolving Threat of Violent Extremism: Getting Ahead of the Curve

The West failed to predict the emergence of al Qaeda in new forms across the Middle East and North Africa. It was blindsided by ISIS's sweep across Syria and Iraq, a blow that changed the map of the Middle East, at least temporarily. Both movements skillfully continue to evolve—and surprise. They have produced dozens of franchises, expanding the threat globally. A new U.S. administration faces daunting tests in navigating violent extremism and the related policy problems. Please join the U.S.

The Jihadi Threat 6: Policy Considerations

The Muslim world is in a deep state of flux. A confluence of trends—ideological, geostrategic, sectarian, demographic, economic, and social—will shape the future of jihadism. In crafting policies to deal with jihadi movements, the United States and its allies face complex challenges. They cannot fight terrorism by simply “fighting” terrorism. Military means can disrupt, but they can’t permanently dismantle or reverse a trend initially spawned by deep political discontent.

The Jihadi Threat 5: Drivers of Extremism

Jihadism has always been produced by a confluence of factors. Some individuals are motivated to join jihadist movements by ideology, the desire for meaning and belonging, anger at the West, even wanderlust. Other conditions enable jihadism to flourish. They include the volatile mix of shifting demographics, notably a surge of youth, higher literacy, and greater social aspirations intersecting with economic woes, growing unemployment, and deepening political malaise or disillusionment.

The Jihadi Threat 4: Whither Jabhat Fateh al-Sham?

By 2016, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in Syria (originally known as the Nusra Front) was al-Qaeda’s most successful franchise. Its name means Front for the Conquest of Sham (an area that covers more than Syria). It was formally announced in 2012, but it had roots in earlier incarnations as both al-Qaeda in Iraq (2004–06) and the Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13).

The Jihadi Threat 3: Whither al-Qaeda?

Once the uncontested leader of global jihadism, al-Qaeda has been dealt two blows since 2011: its charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed by the United States in May 2011; and in mid-2014, it was eclipsed by ISIS and a new “caliphate.” Al-Qaeda’s shift away from public view may be strategic and deliberate. It has shaped global jihadism in subtle and shadowy ways in recent years, even as it faded from public view.

The Jihadi Threat 2: Whither the Islamic State?

In the twenty-first century, the most stunning development in radical Islamist ideology was the creation of the Islamic State in 2014. ISIS is a descendent of al-Qaeda, but it has propagated an interpretation of jihadism both more urgent and aggressive than any previous group’s.

Closing the Gaps of Maternal Health in Conflict and Crises

Where violent conflict displaces people and disrupts societies, maternal and child health suffers, and such instability is widespread today. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, 21.3 million refugees, and 10 million stateless people over the world. In addition, more than 65 million people who are not displaced are affected by conflict.

The Jihadi Threat 1: The Future of Extremism

Jihadism has evolved dramatically and traumatically since the 9/11 attacks. Movements, leaders, targets, tactics, and arenas of operation have all proliferated in ways unimagined in 2001. The international community has mobilized unprecedented force against an array of jihadis, with mixed results. The United States alone has spent trillions of dollars—in military campaigns, intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and diplomacy—to counter jihadism.

The Annual Michael Van Dusen Lecture on the Middle East: "Syria, Sectarianism, and ISIS: Where is National Identity Headed?"

Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma's College of International Studies, spoke about how the ongoing crises in Syria will affect the country’s national identity.

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