Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The Management of Savagery
By Abu Bakr Naji

Translated by William McCants


Translation of Major al-Qaeda Book that Outlines Its Plan for Defeating U.S. and Its Allies

The genre of “strategic studies”—the name given by jihadi ideologues to their books and articles on the strengths and weakness of the jihadi movement and those of its enemies—had, until recently, been neglected by Western governments and analysts involved with counterterrorism.

In 2004, Hegghammer and Lia called attention to the genre (which they dubbed “jihadi strategic studies”) and usefully commented on its features (Hegghammer and Lia, SCT, 2004).

More recently, Brachman and McCants demonstrated how this genre can be used to identify and exploit the weaknesses of the jihadi movement (Brachman and McCants, SCT, 2006—a draft is available online).

Despite this growing attention, a full translation of one of these books has not been publicly available.

One reason for the neglect of works in this genre is that they are written in Arabic and they are often quite lengthy. Moreover, they are much more difficult to translate than the usual diatribes by Bin Ladin and other prominent jihadi leaders.

Unlike the latter, which are meant for popular consumption, jihadi strategic texts require translators to have a familiarity with Western strategic studies (from which they draw heavily), medieval Islamic history and theology, and contemporary developments in the jihadi movement.

The reward for overcoming these obstacles is immeasurable—these works are brilliant (if diabolical) studies of global insurgency written by its most intellectually-gifted participants.

While it is still an open question as to whether these texts guide the actions of foot soldiers, they are certainly read by the jihadi intelligentsia and they remain the best source for understanding the nature of the jihadi movement.

In recognition of their value, the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard commissioned William McCants in 2005 to translate one of the most recent and significant of these works, Abu Bakr Naji’s Management of Savagery (some of its salient features are summarized in the Brachman and McCants article cited above).

The Olin Institute, in collaboration with West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, is making this translation available online for free.

Writing as a high-level insider, Naji explains how al-Qaeda plans to defeat the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, establish sanctuaries for Jihadis, correct organizational problems, and create better propaganda.

It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the strategic thinking of al-Qaeda’s leadership and the future of the jihadi movement.

Download “Stealing al-Qa`ida’s Playbook” [link is here]

The translation is available at the Olin Institute website ( and the Combating Terrorism Center website (

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