Sources and Methods #16: Aaron Zelin


Aaron Zelin 101:

Jihadology (site / twitter

Aaron Zelin (site / twitter)

Aaron @ The Washington Institute

Show Notes:

2:40 - Twitter is probably the most important headquarters in many ways for releases for most of the Sunni jihadi organizations.”

3:10 - The hope was to create a website that would be useful to other graduate students. I never thought it would be as a big or as popular as it has become. Now it’s not just graduate students looking at it, but that was the initial point of it.”

7:55  - For me, it’s about being able to better educate people in terms of seeing the full spectrum of what’s going on. In some ways, the website came about at a monumental change in the evolution of how these groups were acting and evolving, especially in 2011, 2012 and 2013 where it went from not just these pure terrorist or insurgent organizations but you really started to see a multitude of groups using social services and low level governance types of activities. And when you usually hear about these groups, at least in the media and the news and a lot of times many people talking about it in terms of military sensibilities – at least for me, as someone who doesn’t have a background in military or strategic studies but more as an area studies type of nerd, I’m more interested in the social, political, historical or religious language type of issues. I thought it was important to highlight this broader spectrum of activities that these organizations were doing because I think it can better help why there is the appeal for these groups more so now than in the past.

9:45 - Thomas Hegghammer

14:00 - Jurgen Todenhofer

15:03 - (on making sense of the information from a variety of groups) I think it’s important to look at what all the different factions are putting out, and figure out where they all line out together. From there, you can see which seems more credible and relevant...because you’re looking at it over time, over months and over years, you can sort of see the track record of these groups...and have a good idea of what is deemed credible based off of your own experience. So part of it is just doing this over time, and being able to really know these types of sources.

18:35 - (on refuting the allegation that you’re supporting these groups or acts by hosting their material) I think it’s becoming more of an issue because more individuals are aware of this than they were in the past and it seems more immediate. When I started the site, I was worried about enabling people...I definitely do worry. But I try not to censor it because I think it’s important to see what’s going on, but there are some cases where I won't post things when I know there’s a video (for example) that the group is trying to use to get attention...because I don’t want to be part of broadening these message.

33:33 - Dan Drezner

People he follows for news:

J.M. Berger

Phillip Smyth

Brian Fishman

Will McCants

43:07 - My approach isn’t all that technical. It’s really just a lot of files on my computer. Sometimes it’s by group or by specific countries, or media outlets, or individuals. And I save content into them on a daily basis. Even if I’m not doing research on that topic at that particular moment, I still save it and archive it so that if I wanted to go back and look at it, I’ll have it there.

46:47 - I started studying Arabic my freshman year of college, and really just did it because it seemed interesting… it was more my own curiosity at the time. But as I did my master’s degree and began researching, I began seeing the value of it and I think that’s part of the reason I was able to get my job at such a relatively young age, but also to get people to notice and respect my work. I would say that’s one of the single most important aspects. Hard work is important, but having that skill on top of that is crucial.

51:03 - Cole Bunzel

52:15 - (on learning languages) I’d recommend starting to learn as soon as possible. And then I would highly recommend studying abroad as well, so you can learn a dialect and really get a feel for the culture and the people on the ground.

52:40 - Middlebury’s Arabic Program

55:50 - Thomas Erdbrink’s Stories on Iran