Violent extremism naturally benefits from any state of fragmentation. This article focuses on Iraq in a period of a staggering rise in terrorist attacks that started with “operation Iraqi Freedom.” The rhetoric of Abu Musa’ab Al-Zarqawi is used as a case study. Analyzing his statements between 2003 and 2006 shows his weaponization of the concepts of out-groups and threat; it is shown to have a temporaneous association between the escalating violence and successful mobilization. This highlights the saliency of these concepts, the crucial role of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs’ grievances, and the resulting societal fragmentations, which all play in Zarqawi’s efforts to mobilize his in-group. The use of Social Identity Theory and Integrated Threat Theory outlines Zarqawi’s rhetorical strategies in portraying his enemies, and therefore, exposes the rhetorical justifications behind his violent extremism. Results show, temporally, prominent implementation of out-group/threat in the rhetoric, the different out-groups in question, and the types of threats portrayed. In addition, this article concretely shows the effect of the allied forces/Iraqi government’s policies in fortifying Zarqawi’s rhetoric by way of adopting hostile and discriminatory measures against Sunni Arabs. This article also shows an undeniable dialectical relationship between societal fragmentation/grievances and violent-extremist rhetoric and returns the question to policy makers.
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