Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power

Tuesday, March 14, 2017  Time: 12-1:00 pm
Robert Sutherland Hall, room 448 


The rise of militant jihadist groups is one of the greatest international security crises in the world today. In civil wars across the modern Muslim world, Islamist groups have emerged out of the ashes, surged dramatically to power, and routed their rivals on the battlefield. From North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia, these jihadist groups have seized large swaths of territory and consolidated political control over disparate ethnic and tribal communities. Out of the most broken and ungovernable places on earth, they have built radical new jihadist proto-states out of enduring anarchy.

Why have these ideologically-inspired Islamists been able to build state-like polities out of enduring civil war stalemate, while so many other powerful armed groups have failed to gain similar traction? What makes jihadists win? In this book, Aisha Ahmad argues that behind the heat rhetoric, there are actually hard economic reasons behind Islamist success. By tracking the financial origins of jihadists in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Mali, and Iraq she uncover the secret role an important but often-overlooked class plays in bringing Islamist groups to power: the local business community.

To uncover the hidden nexus between business and Islamist interests in civil war, Ahmad journeys into war-torn bazaars to meet with these jihadists and the smugglers who financed their rise to power. From the arms markets in the Pakistani border region to the street markets of Mogadishu, their stories reveal a powerful economic logic behind the rise of Islamist power in civil wars. Behind the fiery rhetoric and impassioned ideological claims is the cold hard cash of the local war economy. By bringing the reader from the mosque to the market, Ahmad explains exactly why business, far more than religion, explains the rise of militant Islamist power across the modern Muslim world.


Dr. Aisha Ahmad | Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto


Dr. Aisha Ahmad

Assistant Professor, Political Science
Director of the Island and Global Affairs Initiative, Global Justice Lab
Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto



Aisha Ahmad (@ProfAishaAhmad) is an assistant professor in the department of political science, the director of the Islam and Global Affairs Initiative and a senior researcher at the Global Justice Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a former fellow at the Belfer Center on Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has conducted field research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Lebanon, and Mali.  Her forthcoming book with Oxford University Press, "Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power" explores the relationship between clandestine business and Islamist movements in civil wars across the Muslim world.