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About the World Almanac of Islamism

The fight against radical Islamism has emerged as the defining struggle of the Twenty-First Century. Yet today the international community knows precious little about the groups that espouse this extremist ideology, their ideological programs, political and/or military capabilities, and worldwide appeal.

The threat posed by Islamism is very real, and it is growing. From Western Europe to Asia, from the Middle East to the Horn of Africa, moderate forces are finding themselves under growing assault by radical Islamist forces proposing a harsh totalitarian worldview. In some countries, such as Great Britain, Denmark and France, the challenge posed by radical Islamism is still limited in scope and embryonic in nature. But in others, including Somalia, Lebanon and Pakistan, it is mature, and poses a mortal danger to the future of the current state.

Charting the worldwide spread of radical Islamist ideology, as well as the successes and failures of foreign governments in confronting this challenge, is essential to informed policy-planning on the part of the U.S. government and our allies in this struggle.

The American Foreign Policy Council’s World Almanac of Islamism is a comprehensive resource focusing on the nature of the contemporary Islamist threat in individual countries and regions, intended to provide an accurate picture of the rise or decline of radical Islamism on a national, regional and global level.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of AFPC. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and veracity of this work. Any remaining errors, misrepresentations or mischaracterizations should be considered those of the authors themselves. 

Editors and Staff

Executive Editor:  Ilan Berman, AFPC Vice President 

Managing Editor: Chloe Thomspon, Research Fellow and Program Officer 

Website Architect:  Rich Harrison, AFPC Director of Operations and Defense Technology Programs

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Almanac 2017 Preface

Welcome to the 2017 edition of the American Foreign Policy Council’s World Almanac of Islamism. The Almanac is a unique compilation designed to examine the current status of the political phenomenon of Islamism worldwide. It is intended to provide a snapshot of contemporary Islamism, as well as of the movements it motivates and the governments it impacts. 
For the purposes of this collection, the term Islamist is used to describe movements, groups, and individuals which harness religious values and ideals in the service of a political agenda aimed at spreading or imposing Islamic law, either locally, regionally, or internationally. While it showcases a broad spectrum of Islamist thought and ideology, and touches more briefly upon more moderate Muslim movements, the Almanac does not—and is not meant to—provide a comprehensive chronicle of the full range of Islamic political thought. 

Since the Almanac was last published in 2014, the complexion of Islamism has changed considerably. In North America, the United States has been impacted by several terrorist incidents inspired by the ideology of the Islamic State, while both the U.S. and Canada remain mired in debate over the proper response to migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East. In Latin America, Islamic activism continues to rise, propelled by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, as well as quiet efforts to establish a regional presence by groups such as the Islamic State. Iranian activity is likewise increasing in the Americas, as the Islamic Republic—now unfettered from international sanctions as a result of its 2015 nuclear deal with the West (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)—has begun reengaging wit the region in earnest, strengthening its trade and strategic relationships with various Latin American countries. 

In the Middle East, Syria’s civil war has become a new front for global jihad, as well as a crucible for future terrorism. Foreign fighters from throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia have flocked to Syria by the thousands to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while a smaller but still significant number of “volunteers” has been recruited by Iran to enter the conflict on the side of the Syrian regime. The resulting conflict has the potential to destabilize multiple regions in the years ahead, as its “alumni” return to their home countries and foment local instability in those places. 

Africa, too, has emerged as a significant locus of Islamist violence. In Libya, once ruled by the regime of Col. Muammar Gadhafi, the Islamic State and other assorted militants have gained a foothold, aided by the political chaos of two warring governments. Further south, two major Islamist movements—Somalia’s al-Shabaab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram—continue to thrive, as well as to expand their international connections. 

Like North America, Europe has experienced its share of terrorist incidents in recent years, among them a series of coordinated attacks in Paris in November 2015 a December 2016 attack in Berlin, and a March 2017 attack on the British Parliament. These “lone wolf” style attacks have intensified Europe’s ongoing debate over the fate of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. 

Eurasia, meanwhile, has seen a significant mobilization of Islamists, with militants from Russia and several Central Asian nations migrating to the Middle East to join the ranks of the Islamic State in comparatively large numbers. Extremist activity has also intensified at home throughout the “post-Soviet space,” propelled by a variety of causes (from official repression to Russia’s ongoing involvement in the Syrian civil war). 

Islamist extremism continues to represent a significant threat to nations of Asia as well. Afghanistan’s government still struggles to contain the militant Taliban movement—a challenge now made more difficult by the presence of the Islamic State in that country. China, for its part, continues to engage in an extensive policy of repression against its indigenous Uighur Muslim minority, propelled by fears of rising militancy and growing extremist influence on this segment of the population from beyond its borders. 
Islamist tactics and behavior are changing as well. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, Islamist movements are in increasing competition with one another for both resources and recruits. But that are also in greater communication than ever before, a dynamic evident in the growing sophistication of extremist media and messaging. Likewise, with the lion’s share of international counterterrorism efforts being directed against the Islamic State, its main ideological competitor, al-Qaeda, has been afforded relative freedom of action—something the Bin Laden network has used to great effect, solidifying its territorial presence throughout the greater Middle East and honing a more inclusive, though equally subversive, Islamist message.

Islamist thought, as well as the operations and objectives of Islamist groups themselves, continues to change and evolve at a rapid pace. The Almanac represents our attempt to track and codify those changes as a way of assisting policymakers in the United States and elsewhere to develop better, more comprehensive approaches to that changing challenge. 
It is, by its nature, a massive undertaking, and this edition of the Almanac simply would not have been possible without the help of a number of talented and dedicated researchers: Liam Bobyak, John Burke, Brian Carpowich, Cory Driver, Tzara Geraghty, Katelyn Johnson, Garret Lynch, Alexis Mrachek, Amir Sanatkar, Jennifer Schneider, and Hannah Wallace. We are deeply grateful to all of them for their help and assistance. Special thanks also go to AFPC Vice President of Operations and Director of Defense Technology Programs Rich Harrison, for his continued support, and to AFPC President Herman Pirchner, Jr., whose guidance and vision have been indispensable throughout this undertaking. 

Ilan Berman, Executive Editor
Chloe Thompson, Managing Editor

Washington, DC
March 2017

*The idea was first raised in 2008 by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch in a conversation with Herman Pirchner Jr. and John Wobensmith. 

A Word About Definitions

For the purposes of this collection, the term ISLAMIST is used to describe movements, groups and individuals which harness religious values and ideals to serve a larger political agenda aimed at spreading or imposing Islamic law, either locally, regionally or internationally.

About the American Foreign Policy Council

For more than three decades, AFPC has played an essential role in the U.S. foreign policy debate. Founded in 1982, AFPC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to bringing information to those who make or influence the foreign policy of the United States and to assisting world leaders with building democracies and market economies. AFPC is widely recognized as a source of timely, insightful analysis on issues of foreign policy, and works closely with members of Congress, the Executive Branch and the policymaking community. It is staffed by noted specialists in foreign and defense policy, and serves as a valuable resource to officials in the highest levels of government.

AFPC’s publication program includes the sponsorship of numerous articles, monographs and books. In recent years, AFPC authors have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including:  the Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Janes’s Defense Weekly, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal (including their Asian and European editions), Financial Times, National Review, Baltimore Sun, American Spectator, and the New York Post.  American Foreign Policy Council spokesmen regularly give testimony before Congress as well as give commentary on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, BBC and other news channels.  C-SPAN has covered AFPC’s public conferences on Missile Defense and other topics.
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