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Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel, Alexander Thurston

Reviewed by Glenn E. Robinson

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Tip O'Neill's famous maxim that “all politics is local” could well be the subtitle of Alexander Thurston's newest work on jihadi movements in North Africa and the Sahel region. Following a similar path as his earlier books on Salafism in Nigeria and Boko Haram, Thurston provides us with a thoroughly researched and detailed account of a myriad of jihadi groups in the greater Sahel, arguing that they can only be understood as a series of unique phenomena that vary greatly among each other and should not be conflated into a singular dynamic. Each jihadi field commander is different from the next and must deal with existing patterns of social and political life, with the demands of others within his coalitions and networks, and with idiosyncrasies that result in demonstrably different types of jihadi groups, one to the next. Those field commanders are political entrepreneurs who seek to build a counter-order based vaguely on Islam, but the similarities tend to end there. They are not cynical leaders who will say whatever is needed to get ahead, but neither are they relying on the same set of ideas and blueprints from group to group. Each faces constraints and realities that are intensely different, and thus each produces a type of jihadi group that is unique unto itself.

Thurston does a masterful job of detailing the wide variations of jihad

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