New book provides unique view into jihadist mind

October 20, 2008

David Aaron, a veteran U.S. diplomat and director of the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, has compiled a wide range of writings by Islamic terrorists that offer an unusual window into their mentality. The book, "In Their Own Words: Voices of Jihad," is a virtual encyclopedia of jihadist rhetoric written by the terrorists themselves.

"Reading the texts of jihadi writings and speeches can help readers develop deeper and more powerful insights into the thinking motivating Islamic terrorists," said Aaron, also a senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "I hope this book becomes a resource for researchers, policymakers and others who want a deeper understanding of jihadism."

Aaron points out that the appalling views of fanatical jihadists presented in the book are the beliefs of only a small minority of Muslims. The book should not be seen as providing a balanced or representative picture of Muslim views.

Included in the book are translations of writings and speeches from such widely known Islamic terrorists as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as other jihadis who are not so notorious. The sources for the material include Internet postings, television interviews and terrorist communiqués, and are listed in the book.

Readers are offered unfiltered access to a broad range of stories, rationales, ideas and arguments of jihadi terrorists and those who support their mission. Some quotations have been selected because they are representative, others because they are contradictory, and still others because they provide a unique insight into the jihadi mentality.

Aaron said the Internet has made jihadi material widely available. By one count, the number of terrorist-related Web sites has grown from 12 in 1997 to 4,500 by 2005.

"I hope the book, in essence, paints a self-portrait of jihadism," Aaron said. "Instead of describing what jihadis stand for, it presents jahadis' as they see themselves. Jihadis' statements are often more appalling and more profoundly revealing than the accounts that have been written about jihadi terrorism."

Aaron writes that it may be more difficult for Americans to fathom jihadism compared to earlier totalitarian movements, which originated in Europe, because jihad comes out of a culture largely unfamiliar to Americans and does not speak with a single voice.

The book begins with a concise history of Islam and the events that led to the terrorist radicals of today.

Aaron has held senior positions under three presidents, most recently as the Clinton administration's ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade. Other highlights of his government career includes serving as deputy national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter and helping to organize the negotiations for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978. Aaron also wrote two PBS documentaries, including "Lessons of the 1991 Gulf War."
"In Their Own Words: Voices of Jihad" is available at The work was sponsored by RAND's continuing program of self-initiated independent research. Support for this research is provided by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

Through research and analysis, publications and conferences, the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy helps public and private decision makers solve problems, tackle challenges, and identify solutions that can enhance security, political reform and social and economic development in the Middle East.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world. To sign up for RAND e-mail alerts:

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