Northwestern Events Calendar


Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel: Local Politics and Rebel Groups (Alexander Thurston)

When: Wednesday, April 21, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rebecca Shereikis  

Group: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Co-Sponsor: Program of African Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel: Local Politics and Rebel Groups

Join ISITA for talk by Alexander Thurston (political science, University of Cincinnati).

Moderated by Zekeria Ahmed Salem, ISITA director and associate professor of political science, Northwestern University.


This talk draws from Dr. Thurston's recent book, Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel: Local Politics and Rebel Groups (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Jihadist movements have claimed that they are merely vehicles for the application of God's word, distancing themselves from politics, which they call dirty and manmade. Yet on closer examination, jihadist movements are immersed in politics, negotiating political relationships not just with the forces surrounding them, but also within their own ranks. Drawing on case studies from North Africa and the Sahel - including Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania – the book examines jihadist movements from the inside, uncovering their activities and internal struggles over the past three decades. Highlighting the calculations that jihadist field commanders and clerics make, it shows how leaders improvise, both politically and religiously, as they adjust to fast-moving conflicts. Featuring critical analysis of Arabic-language jihadist statements, this book offers unique insights into the inner workings of jihadist organizations and sheds new light on the phenomenon of mass-based jihadist movements and proto-states.

About the speaker

Alexander Thurston is assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.  He previously taught at Georgetown University and Miami University of Ohio. Dr. Thurston specializes in the study of Islam and politics in West Africa and North Africa. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown. In 2013-2014, he was an International Affairs Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, and in 2017-2018 he was a fellow at the Wilson Center.  In addition to Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel (2020), Thurston is the author of Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement (Princeton University Press, 2017), Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2016), and numerous peer reviewed articles and book chapters.

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