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Biography

I’m a lecturer on non-state actors within the Department of War Studies and also serve as Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), an academic research centre within the department.

By training, I am a historian and am primarily interested in the development of Islamic political thought. In particular, I study the use of theology by reactionary and militant movements, and have produced an intellectual history of the Salafi-Jihadi movement. I am also deeply interested in the Syrian Civil War, its various mutations, the internationalising of the conflict, and the foreign fighter phenomenon. More recently, I am also looking at how non-state actors provide alternative administration in newly ungoverned spaces across the Middle East and North Africa. I am also interested in Saudi Arabia and its plans for reform under Vision 2030. As a result, I am increasingly looking at what has been called ‘applied history’ and the ways in which it might illuminate some of the challenges facing the Arab world at present. 

My book, Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea (Oxford University Press; Hurst & Co; Penguin) has been widely acknowledged as a ground-breaking exploration of the political philosophy behind contemporary jihadist movements. It has been described as “a masterclass in how to do intellectual history” by the historian Tom Holland and was picked as a book of the year by Foreign Affairs magazine for 2017. 

I am also a contributing writer for the New Statesman, writing on the Syrian crisis and the broader Middle East. Much of this is based on fieldwork I have conducted across the world, including interviews with members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army. Most recently, I have interviewed more than 100 Western foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. As a result of this research, I have given evidence before two parliamentary committees looking at the Syrian conflict, the flow of foreign fighters into the country, and the rise of Islamic State.

In 2016 I was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for my pieces on radicalisation, foreign fighter mobilisation, and the terrorist threat to Europe. I also received the prize for ‘Excellence in Research Innovation and Impact,’ at the King’s Awards in 2015.

Research Interests

  • Intellectual history of millenarian movements in the Middle East
  • Radicalisation, terrorism and security studies
  • The Syrian Civil War and foreign fighters in that conflict
  • Governance by non-state actors
  • The history of Saudi Arabia

Teaching

Co-convenor: MA for Terrorism, Security and Society

Terrorism and Counter Terrorism

Publications

Select publications include:

Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea (Oxford University Press; and Hurst & Co.)

Al-Qadā’ wa-l-Qadr: motivational representations of divine decree and predestination in salafi-jihadi literature, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, DOI:  10.1080/13530194.2017.1361317 (2017; co-authored with Alexandra Bissoondath)

Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks, ICSR (April 2014; co-authored with Joseph Carter and Peter Neumann)

The Arab Spring and its impact on supply and production in global markets, European Centre for Energy and Resource Security, (October 2013)

Between ‘engagement’ and a ‘values-led’ approach: Britain and the Muslim Brotherhood from 9/11 to the Arab Spring, in Western reactions to the rise of Islamists in the MENA (Al-Mesbar, January 2013; co-authored with Martyn Frampton)

Understanding Political Islam: Theories, Thinkers, and Movements

PhD Supervision

I am happy to hear from students wanting to work on issues relating to any of my research interests.