On Tuesday, December 14, 2010, author and academic Nelly Lahoud spoke at the New America Foundation about her newest book, The Jihadis’ Path to Self-Destruction. Her comments focused on modern jihadi discourse as well as historical trends of Islamic dissent. Much of her lecture explored comparisons made between modern jihadis and early Kharijism (a seventh century splinter movement). According to Ms. Lahoud, the two groups are not perfectly analogous, but they do suffer from the same shortcomings. In the case of the Kharijites, this matters little since the group no longer exists. But for modern jihadis, and those waging war against them, there are serious implications.
The problem with scriptural rigidity—as practiced by the Kharijites and groups like al Qaeda today—is that it produces dissent within groups and distaste among a broader, more moderate public. Strictness can create a plurality of jihadis who might share very general goals but disagree on theological details. A united front of jihadists, according to Ms. Lahoud, will most likely never materialize because of this. And, although today’s jihadists differ greatly from the Kharijites, they share a common destiny of irrelevance because their views produce hostility within their own ranks and beyond. Such conclusions suggest modern jihad could prove self-destructive.