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The Narrative Delusion: Strategic Scripts and Violent Islamism in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This PhD explores the strategic decision-making processes of violent Islamist movements in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The primary aim of this research is to investigate how these organisations formulate and select strategy. The research constructs an interdisciplinary approach to decision-making based on strategic scripts, which are viewed as cognitive structures that allow strategists to form expectations about how a sequence of events might unfold, enabling a potentially successful course of action to be selected. The research argues that there are a limited number of scripts available to violent Islamists: survival, power play, mobilisation, provocation, de-legitimisation, attrition, co-operation and de-mobilisation.

The case study chapters are devoted to establishing the existence and nature of the eight scripts and to investigating how they unfold when operationalised, focusing on the interplay between terrorist action and government counter-terrorism reaction. The major conclusion is that while scripts govern decision-making by fostering expectations about the outcome of strategic options, there is a pervasive disparity between the way in which scripts, as theoretical visions, should unfold and the way in which strategies actually unfold. The final chapter argues that this disparity is a consequence of ‘narrative delusion’. It argues that strategic scripts are not simply cognitive structures, but also stories about the future, describing how situations evolve and conclude. The problem for strategists is that even credible stories can mislead by smothering the role played by luck, shortening the distance between cause and effect or oversimplifying the impact of human agency. But because scripts are persuasive stories, violent Islamists often remain blind to their inherent fallacies. The research concludes by arguing that, for the violent Islamists under study, narrative fallacies very often render scripts inadequate as well as making some more general observations about strategic decision-making outside the world of violent Islamism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2013


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