Ideology along the Contours of Power: The Case of the Caucasus Emirate

The proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz, or IK) in October 2007 marked a watershed moment in the evolution of conflict in the North Caucasus, one that changed the ideological rationale for armed resistance. Remarkably little attention, however, has been paid to the substance of that rationale. This article redresses this gap by examining how local leaders sought to shape the meanings of the conflicts that they were engaged in and mobilise people to action. It demonstrates that the IK’s leadership articulated a weakly developed political program that often failed to explain what the insurgency was fighting against or seeking to achieve, instead focusing their attention on moulding local identities. In doing so, however, the leadership frequently failed to address practical concerns or overcome existing political boundaries to establish a regional insurgent identity. The article demonstrates the benefits of moving beyond instrumental and doctrinal considerations of ideology and reveals the insights that can be gained by considering important questions of identity.

Click here to read the full (open access) article in Perspectives on Terrorism.

Interpreting the ideological evolution of an insurgency: Lessons from the North Caucasus, 2007-2015

Ideology has fallen badly out of fashion. In the study of political violence in particular, it is often pushed to the margins, and there is considerable scepticism over its importance. Yet violent political actors often devote substantial effort to shaping interpretations of their activities, and explanatory models that neglect ideology typically rely on a narrow understanding of the concept and leave important questions about its role unanswered. This thesis interrogates ideology’s role in political violence through a rich empirical study of the insurgency that operated in Russia’s North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. It applies Social Movement Theory to unique datasets to understand how movement actors defined the conflicts they were engaged in and sought to persuade others to participate, and how internal and external contexts influenced these ideas. In doing so, it establishes the insurgency as ideologically shallow and weakly integrated, and argues that identity and pragmatism were more central to its ideological vision than specific grievances or goals. This thesis significantly advances our understanding of the insurgency and generates important insights into the role of ideology in political violence more broadly. At the same time, it contributes important methodological innovations to the study of clandestine social movements.

Click here to read this PhD thesis (open access).

Building ‘terrorism studies’ as an interdisciplinary space

Over the years, there have been many debates regarding the state of research into terrorism and whether “terrorism studies” constitutes an academic discipline in its own right. Such reflections, coupled with the natural evolution of what is still a relatively new area of research, have arguably led to significant improvements in quality and rigour. At the same time, the status of terrorism studies itself remains somewhat ambiguous: it is both discussed as a distinct field and simultaneously evades criticism by pointing to the difficulties of defining its boundaries. There are undoubtedly a number of advantages to forming a separate discipline, which would go some way to helping the field address some of the recurring problems that terrorism research faces. However, this article ultimately argues that scholars are better served by deliberately moving in the other direction and developing the field as a space for interdisciplinary engagement.

Click here to read the article (open access).

The Numbers Game: Transparency and Reliability Issues in Estimating Russian Rebel Involvement in Syria and Iraq

Articles discussing rebel involvement in the conflict in Syria and Iraq and the threat posed by returnees often cite estimates by the Soufan Group. In this research note, I’m going to explain why this is problematic in relation to Russia, and identify some of the challenges in estimating how many Russians have travelled to the Middle East. Continue reading “The Numbers Game: Transparency and Reliability Issues in Estimating Russian Rebel Involvement in Syria and Iraq”

New Report On Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters

Despite its early and spectacular successes in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) has, over the last year, suffered repeated setbacks that have weakened its ability to control captured territory and implement its state-building agenda. A key aspect of IS’s strategy has been the mobilisation of supporters across Russia and the former Soviet Union. Other rebel groups in Syria have also attracted support from these areas, illustrating the need for a proper understanding of the Russian-speaking militant milieu, beyond IS’s territorial claims. Continue reading “New Report On Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters”

A Primer on the Caucasus Emirate

The Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz) was the main insurgent group operating in the North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. However, the deaths of key ideologues, intense pressure from the security services, and mass defections to the Islamic State (IS) resulted in the group’s decline. In this guide, Mark Youngman and Dr Cerwyn Moore explain the background and transformation of the Imarat Kavkaz.

Click here to read the rest of the article for Radicalisation Research.