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“Battle of Karbala” (‘Abbas al-Musavi); Oil on canvas, Qajar period (late 19th-early 20th century) at the Brooklyn Museum

Professional website and academic blog of Christopher Anzalone, Ph.D.

I am a postdoctoral research fellow with the International Security Program at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. My research interests include political Islam, political violence and terrorism, Shi’i Islam, and Islamic visual cultures and narratives of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. I earned a Ph.D. in Islamic, Middle Eastern, and African studies at McGill University, M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from Indiana University, Bloomington, and B.A. in history and religious studies from George Mason University.

My first book project, Islamizing Rebel Governance: Jihadi Insurgencies and Symbolic Power, examines the symbolic, framing, and narrative dimensions of territorial proto-state governing projects of Islamist rebel groups including Al-Shabab in Somalia, Islamic State and its branches, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Afghan Taliban. This interdisciplinary project examines the strategies and experiences of Islamist insurgent organizations that have actively attempted to set up civil governing systems through which to interact with local civilian populations. It situates the study of Islamist insurgent groups with governance ambitions within the growing literature on rebel governance.

On this site I will post about my research on Islamic social movements and organizations, Shi’i Islam, political Islam, jihadism/militant Islamism, and Islamic visual cultures.

Disclaimer: This should be clear but needs to be explicitly said: This is an academic website and blog for analysis and scholarly discussion. I do not endorse or in any way support violence or terrorism. In order to understand political violence and its use by a variety of states and non-state organizations, academics, government and other professional career practitioners, and the public must be able to analyze and publicly discuss it and related topics and issues.

Islam & the Nation: Visual Culture of the Palestinian HAMAS: Part 1

A selection of posters produced by the Palestinian Islamist movement HAMAS including by its political branch, military wing (the Brigades of the Martyr ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam), and media departments and including posters to commemorate “martyrs” and mark major events in HAMAS’ history. The group’s visual culture combines both religious and nationalist symbols and motifs.

HAMAS-affiliated university student Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahim Raddad, killed by Fatah-affiliated students at Al-Najah University in Nablus in 2007 during the height of HAMAS-Fatah armed conflict.
Reem al-Riyashi, one of HAMAS’ handful of female “martyrdom-seekers” (istishhadiyyat) who carried out a suicide attack on January 14, 2004 targeting Israeli soldiers.
Sa’id Siyam, Palestinian interior minister in 2006 and a senior HAMAS official killed in an Israeli targeted assassination during the 2008-2009 Gaza War. His brother and son were also killed. The poster references the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, from which HAMAS was an offshoot of its Gazan branch, and HAMAS’ military wing, the Brigades of the Martyr ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam.
Martyrdom anniversary poster for Shaykh Ahmad Yasin (k. March 2004) showing the HAMAS movement’s emblem and the land of Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Photography & Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, 1990s-mid 2000s

The foreign and local mujahideen insurgents active in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in the 1990s into the mid-2000s regularly produced photography which was disseminated by a number of different media networks. In this photo essay are a selection of these photographs including ones showing Arab and regional commanders including the legendary “Amir Khattab” (Samir Saleh ‘Abdullah), killed by poison in March 2002; Supyan Abdullayev, deputy leader of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus killed in March 2011; Shaykh Sa’id Buryatsky, a clerical figure in the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus killed in March 2010; Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen president killed in March 2005; Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi, the Saudi commander of the Arab foreign fighters until he was killed in April 2004; & Abu Hafs al-Urduni, al-Ghamdi’s successor who was killed in November 2006.

South Asian Sunni Jihadis Mark the 12th Anniversary of the Lal Masjid Siege

South Asian Sunni jihadis are marking the 12th anniversary of the July 3-11, 2007 siege of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad by Pakistani government forces, which were responding to increasing violent activism by male and female students at the mosque’s two schools including its now famous women’s madrasa, Jami’a Hafsa. These groups include pro-Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as well as Pakistan and Kashmir-centered groups including the sectarian Lashkar-e Jhangvi.

The mosque’s deputy imam, ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed during the siege, became a central “martyr” figure in Sunni jihadi visual and literary cultures, particularly but not only to South Asian groups. Different factions of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Jihad Union have named military attacks or campaigns and special units after him or in memory of the scores of students and others killed during the siege by government forces. Ghazi and the other martyrs were eulogized by Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) and other major jihadi groups and figures, with Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late AQC leader Abu Yahya al-Libi placing him in the pantheon of the “mujahid ‘ulama” who, they said, are exemplary figures for the Umma.

After the August 2009 battle between HAMAS security forces and Jund Ansar Allah, a small independent Gazan AQ-aligned jihadi group at the time, Sunni jihadis compared the battle around the Ibn Taymiyya mosque in Rafah and the death of its imam, Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi (‘Abd al-Latif Musa), with ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Musharraf’s siege of the Lal Masjid. Abu’l Nur was reportedly the clerical and ‘spiritual leader’ of Jund Ansar Allah though there were reports that he did not wish to die in the day-long battle with HAMAS forces. Musharraf is compared to then-HAMAS government chief Isma’il Haniyeh.
Segment from Al-Qaeda Central’s eulogy film for the Lal Masjid and ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi arguing that he and the others were killed by the Pakistani state because of their work to bring about a “true” Islamic state.
Segment from Al-Qaeda Central’s eulogy film for the Lal Masjid and ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi. It includes an audio clip of Ghazi comparing the willingness of the Prophet Muhammad to undergo severe hardships with the unwillingness of many self-declared Muslims today from enduring any difficulties for their faith. The film’s narrator also links the Lal Masjid’s “commanding the right and forbidding the wrong” work to setting the stage for a new “caliphate.”
Ayman al-Zawahiri lists ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi with the “exemplary mujahid ‘ulama” that also includes the late Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, Mullah Dadullah (Afghan Taliban), Abu ‘Umar al-Sayf (Chechnya), ‘Abdullah al-Rushud (AQAP), and the Saudi cleric Shaykh Hamud al-‘Uqla al-Shu’aybi.
Jihadi e-poster comparing the Lal Masjd siege and killing of scores of its students with the April 2018 Afghan government bombing of a madrasa in Kunduz that killed and wounded at least 107 civilians including dozens of children.

UPDATED JULY 11, 2019:

UPDATED JULY 13, 2019:

Jihadi Martyrologies: A ‘Martyr’ Biography Profiles Islamic State’s Late ‘Wali’ of Khurasan

The 189th issue of Islamic State’s weekly Al-Naba newsletter included an interesting and detailed profile highlighting the importance of individuals with formal religious studies expertise. They are particularly important for the militant organization and its regional affiliates and branches due to their often lack of many credentialed, highly educated religious scholars.

The article highlights one of Wilayat Khurasan’s “shining” religious scholars (‘ulama) & late wali (governor), Abu ‘Umayr ‘Abd al-Hasib al-Logari, who ascended to the top of Wilayat Khurasan after the July 2016 drone killing of Hafiz Sa’id Khan, heralding the former’s leadership during “one of the most difficult periods” for the “Province.” Wilayat Khurasan is the Afghanistan branch/affiliate of IS’ core organization. It maintains connections with the core while also having its own set of local and regional dynamics and interests. ‘Abd al-Hasib is referred to as a hadith scholar (muhaddith).

Born in Kurram agency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, ‘Abd al-Hasib studied extensively Arabic, Persian, & English in addition to his native fluency in Pashto and Urdu. He formally studied Islamic law & fiqh with a hadith specialization for 8 years at the Jami’a Imam Bukhari & then studied the Six Books (canonical Sunni collections: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawud, Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Nasa’i) at the Ganj Madrasa in Peshawar for 4 years.

After completing his studies, he decided to travel to Afghanistan to join the battle against “polytheism” (shirk) & “Sufism” (tasawwuf), spreading the “true” message of absolute monotheism (Tawhid).

He taught shari’a & fiqh for two years as member of the Afghan Taliban before leaving with defectors & TTP commanders who accused their rivals of being linked to the “apostate” Pakistani government, serving as a deputy to founding wali, Hafiz Sa’id Khan.

As Khurasan wali, ‘Abd al-Hasib he participated in fighting the “Crusaders” on the frontlines of Nangarhar in ribat & established the proto-state governing offices (dawawin, diwans) of the Wilayat.

Despite his leadership duties, he also continued his role of religious teaching & preaching, spreading “Tawhid” & the “loyalty & disavowal” (al-wala min al-mu’minin wa-l-bara ‘an al-kafirin) among locals. He died in battle against U.S. forces on April 27, 2017.

American Themes in Sunni Jihadi Visual Culture

A selection of visual materials produced independently by Sunni jihadis and their supporters drawing upon American military and pop culture themes including the U.S. Marines’ slogan, the iconic posed Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph from the Second World War, and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (which is when those two posters were produced).

The images in these posters include the late Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, the late Saudi foreign fighter commander in Chechnya and the North Caucasus Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi, Al-Shabab spokesman and official ‘Ali Mohamud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), and the then-Al-Shabaab officials Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow and Hasan Dahir Aweys.

Jihadi Culture: Gun Art from Islamic State’s (IS) ‘Wilayat Khurasan’

Individualized gun artwork produced by members of Islamic State’s (IS) self-proclaimed Wilayat Pakistan and Wilayat Khurasan, two regional “provinces” or branches of the militant organization:

Left:  “Soldiers of the ‘caliphate’” (jund al-khilafa)

Right:  “State of Islam” (Dawlat al-Islam)