Jihadism is a militant ideology of the Sunni fundamentalism.1 Their initiators and supporters refer to Islamic sources. Nevertheless, jihadism is a very human creation, just as every other ideology. Ideologies demonstrate their power by the synergy of ideological contents and social action. These contents are not inherently true or false, but are composed of numerous single statements, claims, positions and convictions.
Of course, jihadism ideologies use outspoken hate speeches, but most of the time they are more subtle.
One of the reasons why jihadism is one of the most successful militant ideologies of this century, is that up to a certain point, it delivers reasonable contentions concerning real political and social inequities. Of course, jihadism ideologies use outspoken hate speeches, but most of the time they are more subtle.
Modern media channels used by the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda tend to increase the credibility of their message. This media provides a starting point for the social-scientific analysis of jihadist violence.
Religiously motivated violence, such as jihadism, is influenced by various social, psychological, political and cultural coefficients. Many people who travel to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS, do not even know the group’s ideology, but act out of a temporary thirst for adventure, personal frustration or a short-term life crisis.2
One doesn’t need extended knowledge of the jihadist ideology to understand these hacks. However, it is necessary to appreciate the ideology, in order to understand: exactly what the jihadist movement is, its long term goals, policies used to achieve those goals and what unites or divides the different jihadist groups across the world.
Structure of the study
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute (specialists in foreign and international criminal law) investigated media contents of jihadist movements for three years. The study aimed to identify the ideological origins of religiously motivated violence.
Two kinds of data were used: the contents of video messages featuring important jihadist leaders and claims of responsibility by jihadist groups in Iraq for assaults committed.
Looking at the first data sample, the rationality of jihadist violence was determined. More precisely, information on whether the use of violence was necessary relative, target-aimed and legitimate, is provided. The following evaluation of the claims for responsibility was based on how this ideology actually influences a specific conflict.
Video messages from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are professionally produced. Both groups run their own media organisations: Al – Hayat Media Center or As-Sahab, that manage the production and contents spread via YouTube and Twitter.
How do you organise an empirical study which revolves around a complex matter like an ideology? Not only the spoken word, but also images, symbols, body language, vocals and musical rendering containing ideological messages.
The study by the Max Planck Institute specifically focused on the written and spoken word, so that the intellectual roots of jihadism were easier to understand. Digital analysis was used to systematically investigate the contents of each message.
Within just 20 hours of video messages, 178,000 spoken words were used (this article contained approximately 1000 words). Coherent parts of the text were summarised and categorised to evaluate the data. An encoder decided which parts of the text relate to a particular unit. Additionally, a program that automatically recognizes units of meaning by statistical / semantic patterns, safeguards each decision.
The study identifies that the contents of jihadist ideology can be divided into 95 categories. Some of these categories represent abstract contents, others focus on very detailed information. The abstract tier can be split into three components, called frames. The expression ‘frame’ stems from the theory of social movements by the two social scientists: Robert Benford and David Snow.3 It describes which characteristics an ideologic message requires to recruit followers successfully. Every ideology operates with three different frames: diagnostic, prognostic and motivational. Patently, they describe the societal status-quo and the policies essential to attain the desired condition.
The three components can be summarised as follows: (a) world-wide heresy4, (b) caliphate5,(c) jihad6. Its prognostic component describes symptoms and causes of perceived world-wide heresy, in all its facets and manifestations. This component divides into three narratives which describe the three existential threats from the fundamentalists’ point of view, that Islam is exposed to. These threats are the betrayal of Arabic governments, the global war against militant Islamism and the spread of secular governances in the ‘Islamic world’.
Each narrative is composed of coherent groups of themes that contain descriptions which become more and more concrete and detailed. Policies and justifications for using militant violence are deeply embedded into the structure of the ideology.
In terms of content analysis, there are certain procedures that help to identify these structures. Thereby, it is also possible to reveal patterns in greater depth, that would not be revealed without the use of procedures like this. The combination of theological and factual reasons for the application of violence, is one aspect these procedures show.7
Scientists later checked which policies and justifications the jihadist groups used to instigate militant force, and which were not. They also checked if new policies and justifications were used as well.
The evaluation shows the early stages of the emergence of the Islamic State, and its continuous efforts to build a caliphate in Iraq. The ideology of ISIS, combines political calculus and religious fanatism to the maximum – just as Al-Qaeda’s does. However, ISIS are very careless at maintaining their ideological and theological standards when they do not meet their objectives.Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are more loyal to their own principles.
 Armborst, Andreas: A profile of religious fundamentalism and terrorist activism. Defence Against Terrorism Review, n.p. 2009, Vol. 2, pp. 51-71.
 Sageman, Marc: Leaderless Jihad. Terror Networks in the Twenty First Century, Philadelphia 2004.
 Snow, David S.; Benford, Robert, D.: Ideology, frame resonance and participant mobilization. International Social Movement Research, Greenwich (Connecticut) 1988, pp. 197-217.
 Heresy, contradicting their own ideology.
 Kazim, Nibras: The caliphate attempted. Current trends in Islamist Ideology, Washington 2008, Vol. 4, No. 7, pp. 5-49.
 Cook, David: Understanding Jihad, Oakland 2005.
 Armborst, Andreas: Jihadi Violence. A study of Al-Qaeda's media, Berlin 2013.