Incitement: Anwar Al-Awlaki's Western Jihad



The definitive account of the career and legacy of the most influential Western exponent of violent jihad.

Anwar al-Awlaki was, according to one of his followers, "the main man who translated jihad into English." By the time he was killed by an American drone strike in 2011, he had become a spiritual leader for thousands of extremists, especially in the United States and Britain, where he aimed to make violent Islamism "as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea." Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens draws on extensive research among al-Awlaki's former colleagues, friends, and followers, including interviews with convicted terrorists, to explain how he established his network and why his message resonated with disaffected Muslims in the West.

A native of New Mexico, al-Awlaki rose to prominence in 2001 as the imam of a Virginia mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers. After leaving for Britain in 2002, he began delivering popular lectures and sermons that were increasingly radical and anti-Western. In 2004 he moved to Yemen, where he eventually joined al-Qaeda and oversaw numerous major international terrorist plots. Through live video broadcasts to Western mosques and universities, YouTube, magazines, and other media, he soon became the world's foremost English-speaking recruiter for violent Islamism. One measure of his success is that he has been linked to about a quarter of Islamists convicted of terrorism-related offenses in the United States since 2007.

Despite the extreme nature of these activities, Meleagrou-Hitchens argues that al-Awlaki's strategy and tactics are best understood through traditional social-movement theory. With clarity and verve, he shows how violent fundamentalists are born.

Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
May 05, 2020
5.8 X 1.2 X 8.4 inches | 1.2 pounds
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About the Author

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is Lecturer in Terrorism and Radicalisation at King's College London and Research Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He writes regularly for major periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic, including Foreign Affairs, Prospect, and Foreign Policy.


A fascinating analysis of the career of this most dangerously charismatic of fanatics...Meleagrou-Hitchens has provided an essential analysis of the career of one of jihad's most successful devotees and enlightened us as to the broader nature of Islamic holy war...If you want to understand the nature of Islamic terrorism and its evolution, look no further...If we want to combat the ideology that leads to such violence, we must understand it. Incitement will be central to that understanding.-- (04/07/2020)
Make no mistake, this is a very important book. The meticulously researched description of al-Awlaki's ideology, his charisma, and his influence on a whole generation of Salafi jihadists should make this required reading for policymakers, practitioners, and academics alike. Anyone who is seriously interested in trying to understand what the future of global jihad might look like should pay very careful attention to the past, and I have seen no more coherent description nor compelling analysis than this. But beyond that, the very readability of this book should bring it to a wider audience. The narrative is incredibly powerful.--Peter Clarke, former Head of Counter Terrorism at New Scotland Yard and UK National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations, 2002-2008
With forensic research and deep scholarship, Meleagrou-Hitchens traces the spiritual and political evolution of al-Qaeda's most prominent recruiter of Westerners, the American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. A major contribution to the study of religious violence.--Scott Shane, author of Objective Troy and veteran New York Times national security reporter
Incitement presents the most comprehensive and incisive analysis available of the American-born al-Qaeda ideologue and recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. Meleagrou-Hitchens masterfully assesses al-Awlaki's emergence as the 'face of Western jihad' during the War on Terror's first decade and provides new insights regarding his messaging and recruitment methods, his impact, and his legacy.--Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University, author of Inside Terrorism
A deep, insightful journey into one of the most extraordinary terrorist legacies ever witnessed. Incitement connects the dots between Western jihadism's 'Pied Piper' and his far-flung devotees. Meleagrou-Hitchens's brilliant analysis gives us an essential account that should be read by researchers and national security professionals alike.--John Horgan, Distinguished University Professor, Psychology, Georgia State University
Anwar al-Awlaki continues to motivate, inspire, and activate young jihadists long after his death. Incitement illuminates the how and why of that process in a way that both academics and practitioners will find incredibly valuable.--Nicholas J. Rasmussen, former Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, 2014-2017
Incitement is an authoritative and deeply researched account of the impact of the most important jihadist ideologue in the English-speaking world, the US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.--Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad: Who Are America's Terrorists and How Do We Stop Them?
A rigorous analysis of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki's influence on the global jihadist movement...[Meleagrou-Hitchens's] lucid and deeply informed presentation reveals just how difficult it is to stamp out extremist ideologies once they've taken root. This sobering account makes a meaningful contribution to the study of terrorism.-- (02/28/2020)
A fascinating insight into al-Awlaki's personal ideological evolution and how he became so effective in communicating the Salafi-Jihadist message...You can't help but see just why al-Awlaki was and remains so effective as a communicator and recruiter...Meleagrou-Hitchens is an excellent guide.--Joshua Huminski"Diplomatic Courier" (04/02/2020)