Osama bin Laden may be America’s public enemy No. 1, but his intellectual influence is relatively limited, according to a new analysis of jihadist thought conducted by the West Point–based Combating Terrorism Center. Researchers there spent a year analyzing material from al-Qaeda’s online library and found that the most influential writers—as measured by citations in other works—are figures from the distant past, led by Ibn Taymiyya, a medieval legal scholar whose calls for holy war against Mongol invaders are particularly popular with present-day jihadists. The most-cited twentieth-century writer is Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian intellectual often regarded as the leading theorist of modern Islamism, while the most-cited living thinker is Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian-born cleric based in Jordan. (Overall, the center notes, “the most influential Jihadi intellectuals are clerics from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s closest allies in the Middle East.”) Bin Laden is cited frequently, but the study’s analysis suggests that he isn’t the “key broker of information” in the jihadist intellectual network, and that his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, often depicted as al-Qaeda’s chief theoretician, is “totally insignificant.” The report also suggests several ways the West could wage a more successful war of ideas, from labeling jihadists “Qutbists” (it’s what rival Muslims call them, and it’s “a designation Jihadis hate since it implies that they follow a human and are members of a deviant sect”) to working with “non-violent Salafi leaders” (like Saudi clerics, for instance) whose politics may be otherwise distasteful to us, because “they are best positioned to delegitimize Jihadi violence and monitor the activities of the more militant elements of their movement.”
—Militant Ideology Atlas, Combating Terrorism Center
Pentecostalism, which emphasizes personal religious experience and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” (speaking in tongues, prophecy, and spiritual healing), is one of the fastest-growing segments of Christendom—and perhaps the least understood. Researchers at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently tried to shed some light on the subject, surveying Pentecostals and Charismatics— Christians who don’t belong to an explicitly Pentecostal denomination but who describe themselves as “charismatic” or report speaking in tongues—in ten countries on four continents. They found that these “Renewalists” (as Pentecostals and Charismatics are collectively known) constitute large and growing chunks of the faithful—23 percent of people in the United States, for instance, are either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and the percentage climbs to 56 percent in Kenya and 60 percent in Guatemala. In many countries, particularly traditionally Catholic strongholds, Renewalists now constitute the vast majority of Protestants—72 percent of Brazilian Protestants are Pentecostals, for instance. Overall, Renewalists are generally more likely than other Christians to report having witnessed exorcisms and divine healings; to be biblical literalists; to be active in politics; and to disapprove of alcohol, divorce, and abortion.