Who counts as a jihadist? This chapter develops a conceptually grounded, practical approach for detecting which of the many clerics who post writings on the Internet are jihadists. This is a crucial step in my empirical research process because I need to know which clerics in my sample are jihadists in order to test, in the next chapter, whether indicators of blocked ambition predict jihadism.
I define a jihadist cleric as a cleric who produces material expressing jihadist ideology, so the key to identifying jihadists clerics is first to conceptualize jihadist ideology and then find ways to detect which clerics are producing it. I use four different approaches to make my identification process as robust as possible: (1) evaluating the ideological commitments expressed in cleric biographies, (2) evaluating endorsements by actors with known ideological preferences, (3) analyzing expert coding by other scholars, and (4) using statis- tical text analysis to measure the ideologies expressed in the writings of clerics.
Each of these four approaches has strengths and weaknesses; by using all four, I believe I can distinguish jihadists from non-jihadists with more accuracy than any method could achieve alone. I rely primarily on statistical text analysis to recognize jihadist writing in the documents produced by clerics in my sample, but I evaluate the performance of the statistical model using the cleric biographies, endorsements, and expert coding.
Since the revelation of the Quran, the concept of jihad has played a prominent and often controversial role in Islamic doctrine and political thought. The term “jihad” comes from the Arabic verb “to struggle” and is often roughly translated into English as “holy war,” although this translation is inaccurate.
The word “jihad” appears in the Quran, although often with somewhat different connotations than the word carries today (Bonner 2006, 21–22). The concept of Islamic military conflict, both defensive and offensive, was certainly operative in Muhammad's lifetime as evidenced by early conflicts between his followers and the other Arabian tribes. However, ideas of jihad were not fixed at this early date (Mottahedeh and al Sayyid 2001; Mourad and Lindsay 2013).