Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power

In This Review

Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power
By Aisha Ahmad
Oxford University Press, 2017
336 pp.
Purchase

This book is one of a kind, and so is its author. Ahmad is a female Muslim scholar born into a family of smugglers in Peshawar, Pakistan, who has engaged in extensive field research in two of the most dangerous places on earth: Afghanistan and Somalia. She offers a simple and compelling hypothesis regarding the relationship between business elites and jihadists. Anarchy of the type that prevails in Afghanistan and Somalia raises the costs of doing business and shrinks profits margins. By embracing Islam, sincerely or strategically, and cooperating with jihadists, businesspeople help construct a sort of “moral” black market in smuggled goods, in which actors voluntarily comply with contracts. In turn, jihadists turn to businesspeople and smugglers for contributions—rather than extorting them, as secular warlords usually do. By financially supporting jihadists such as the Afghan Taliban and the Somali Islamic Courts Union, businesses help the extremists corner the market on the provision of security and thus help them create proto-states. This analysis is anchored by Ahmad’s solid grounding in the political economy of civil war and state building. Ahmad extends her analysis to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and the Sahel region, where “conflicts appear to be driven by ideas and identities” but where, in reality, “everyone is talking about money.” Ahmad also explains when and why alliances between businesspeople and jihadists erode, and what that means for combating terrorist groups.