Glossary: Extremist and Terrorist Terms

  • Accelerationism
    is the belief that specific forces—historically economic—should be accelerated to effect societal change. Some far-right groups have adopted a violent form of accelerationism to promote terrorism and other violent acts in order to hasten the downfall of a societal order they believe is complicit in white genocide. (Related terms: ethno-nationalism, Great Replacement Theory, white supremacy)
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  • Alt-Right
    or Alternative Right is a right-wing ideological movement that began as an online phenomenon that was then formalized by Richard Spencer Spencer founded the now defunct website Alternative Right, which was “dedicated to heretical perspectives on society and culture…informed by radical, traditionalist, and nationalist outlooks.” The movement and its proponents reject mainstream conservatism while amplifying “digital hate cultures”—i.e., online content that intentionally promotes hate speech and prejudiced narratives—through websites, chat boards, social media platforms, and memes. The movement stands for protecting white identity through the medium of white supremacy and white solidarity. Specifically, the movement opposes multiculturalism and activism for the rights of nonwhites, women, Jews, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other minorities. (Related terms: Identitarian/Identitarianism, white supremacy)
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  • Antifa
    is a far-left movement created to directly respond to far right and fascist groups, particularly neo-Nazis. Antifa organizes protests and counter-protests of the far right and have been known to instigate violence against both the far right and law enforcement. Antifa is a leaderless and non-hierarchal movement and, as such, not all antifa groups engage in the same tactics or embrace the use of violence.
  • Antisemitism
    refers to discrimination, hostility, persecution, and prejudice targeting Jews.
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  • Anti-Zionism
    refers to the opposition to Zionism, the belief that the Jewish people are entitled to self-determination in their own nation-state, specifically the Jewish State of Israel.
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  • Baqiyah
    is an Arabic word for “everlasting/enduring” or “it shall remain.” ISIS supporters and propagandists often use the term in an effort to project strength despite territorial loses. ISIS members also use the term as a hashtag on social media to solicit financial and emotional support, including prayers or donations.
  • Bay’ah
    is a pledge of allegiance to an Islamic leader. In the context of terrorist organizations, leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates have pledged bay’ah to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has in turn pledged bay’ah to Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. ISIS has similarly instructed Muslims worldwide to give bay’ah to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Related terms: bai’at, bay’a)
  • Caliph
    is a political, military, and administrative ruler of the Muslim community, serving as a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The succession of Muhammad is a source of theological dispute within Islam, particularly between Islam’s Sunni and Shiite sects. (Related terms: caliphate, khilafah)
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  • Caliphate
    (Arabic: khilafah) is the term for an Islamic state governed by a caliph serving as successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Ottoman Caliphate (1517-1924) is considered by many Sunni Muslims to be the last legitimate caliphate. (Related terms: caliph, khilafah)
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  • Counter-narrative
    is messaging that offers an alternative view to extremist recruitment and propaganda. Messaging can provide an alternative answer or path to potential recruits who may be seeking guidance or meaning. Counter-narrative messaging may also seek to deconstruct extremist narratives and expose logical flaws.
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  • Counterterrorism
    is the combined efforts of policy-makers, law-enforcement agencies, government officials, businesses, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent and combat terrorism. (Related terms: CT, counter-extremism, CVE, terrorism)
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  • Dawlah Islamiyyah
    is Arabic for “Islamic state.” When used by jihadists, it may be a reference to the Islamic State (ISIS). (Related terms: Dawlah, Dawla, Daesh)
  • Emir
    is an Arabic term meaning leader or ruler. The term is typically used to describe leaders of legitimate countries but has been used by some extremist groups to describe the leaders of their extremist or terrorist organizations.
  • Ethno-nationalism
    is a form of nationalism based on one’s ethnic identity. Ethno-nationalists may profess or perceive that their ethnicity is threatened by other groups and therefore justify violence to preserve the livelihood of their own ethnicity. (Related terms: accelerationism, Great Replacement Theory, racism, white supremacy)
  • Extremism
    is the holding of extreme political or religious views, often advocating illegal, violent, or other forms of extreme behavior.
    • Islamic Extremism
      is an ideology that advocates the reorganization of society around fundamentalist Islamic principles opposing tolerance, diversity of thought, and individual liberty.
    • Far-Left Extremism
      is an ideology that advocates anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and pro-socialist ideals. Left-wing extremist groups seek to bring about societal change through revolutionary tactics. Proponents view themselves as advocates against oppression. Includes violent nationalist organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and extremist Puerto Rican separatist groups that were active in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
    • Far-Right Extremism
      is a form of conservative ideology that typically supports neo-Nazism, racism, and xenophobia.
    • Special-Interest Extremism
      is a form of violent extremism focused on changing attitudes on specific issues—such as animal rights, environmentalism, or pro-life ideology—rather than a wider societal shift. U.S. examples include the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, which have engaged in vandalism and terrorist activity.
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  • Fisq
    is an Islamic concept meaning sin or disobedience of God. In some interpretations of Islam, fisq is considered the first stage of rebellion against God, the second being “kafir,” and the third being “taghut.” (Related terms: kafir, taghut)
  • Foreign Fighter
    is a militant who travels from his or her home country to fight alongside a non-state organization. Contemporary usage often refers to individuals who travel to link up with a terrorist organization abroad. (Related terms: foreign terrorist fighter, hijrah, muhajir)
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  • The Great Replacement Theory
    is an ethno-nationalist theory warning that an indigenous European—e.g., white—population is being replaced by non-European immigrants. (Related Terms: accelerationism, ethno-nationalism, racism, white supremacy)
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  • Hawala
    is an ancient remittance system developed in South Asia. An alternative to banking, the hawala system is often used to process legitimate remittance transactions. Terrorist organizations have, however, occasionally exploited the hawala system to launder money without easy detection by law enforcement.
  • Hijrah
    is an Islamic term meaning “migration.” The term historically refers to the journey undertaken by the Islamic prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina. In an extremist context, the term “hijrah” has been used to describe a foreign fighter’s journey from his country of origin to terrorist-held territories abroad. (Related terms: muhajir, muhajirah, muhajiroon, muhajirun)
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  • Homophobia
    is used to describe the fear, discrimination, and persecution of gay people.
  • Ikhwan
    is Arabic for “brothers.” The term may refer to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose full name is “al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun.”
  • Identitarian/Identitarianism
    is an ethnocultural transnational movement that sees its main purpose as defending and restoring Europe’s “identity” and ethnic purity from perceived Islamization and multiculturalism. The movement—which seeks to discriminate against people of non-European origin and eventually exclude them from democratic participation—originated in France and Italy and has spread into southern, central, and northern Europe as well as the United States. Each contingent of the movement believes older conservatives have grown complacent in protecting their countries from foreign “invasion” and multiculturalism. (Related terms: Alt-Right, White Supremacy)
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  • Islamism
    is the belief in the need to establish a political order organized around sharia (Islamic law). Islamists may advocate the establishment of a sharia-based society through violent or non-violent means. (Related term: Islamist)
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  • Jihad
    is an Islamic term that is translated varyingly as “struggle,” “striving,” or “holy war.” Violent Islamic extremist groups typically translate the term as “holy war,” brandishing the word as a justification—and rallying cry—for engaging in violent conflict with non-Islamists. (Related terms: mujahid, mujahideen, jihadist, jihadism)
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  • Jihadism
    is the belief in the need to employ jihad to pursue Islamist objectives. The founders of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, as well as Sayyid Qutb, each professed the belief that jihad against non-believers should be an individual obligation upon every Muslim. This interpretation rejected prior understandings that Islamic scholars were responsible for invoking jihad. (Related terms: mujahid, mujahideen, jihad, jihadist)
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  • Kafir
    is an Arabic word meaning “nonbeliever” or “infidel.” In some interpretations of Islam, a kafir is considered the second stage of rebellion against God, the first being “fisq” and the third being “taghut.” (Related terms: fisq, kaffir, kufar, kuffar, kufr, kuff, taghut)
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  • Kharawij
    (Kharijites) were members of an early Islamic sect whom the prophet Muhammad referred to as false Muslims. The Kharawij were considered extreme in their religious interpretations and were thus dismissed by the majority of the early Muslim community. The Kharawij were known, for example, for excommunicating fellow Muslims whom they considered insufficiently pious. ISIS’s opponents have on occasion equated the terrorist group to the Kharawij in an effort to highlight ISIS’s extremist practices and undermine its claims that it represents a legitimate and acceptable strain of Islam. (Related terms: takfir)
  • Khilafah
    (English: caliphate) is the term for an Islamic state governed by a caliph serving as successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The succession of Muhammad is a source of considerable theological dispute within Islam. The Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) was considered by some to be the last legitimate caliphate. (Related terms: caliph, caliphate)
  • Khomeinism
    describes the Islamist, populist agenda promoted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which continues to inspire the Iranian government and various proxy extremist groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and several Shiite militias in Iraq.
  • Martyr
    is an individual who dies or suffers for his cause. The term is used in the context of certain extremist strains of Islam to describe an individual who dies carrying out a violent act of jihad, e.g. while in armed combat or by carrying out a terrorist attack. (Related term: martyrdom)
  • Martyrdom
    is the act of dying or suffering for one’s beliefs. In an extremist context, individuals may be willing to carry out terrorist attacks to pursue what they perceive as a state of martyrdom. (Related term: martyr)
  • Mujahid
    (English: jihadist) is someone who believes in jihadism, that is the belief in the need to employ jihad to pursue Islamist objectives. (Related terms: mujahideen, jihad, jihadist, jihadism)
  • Mujahideen
    (English: jihadists) is a term used to refer to individuals who have taken up violent jihad. The term was popularized in the 1980s in reference to the Afghan fighters in the Soviet-Afghan War. Members of violent Islamic extremist groups have since taken up the term to refer to their guerilla fighters. (Related terms: mujahid, mujahideen, jihad, jihadist, jihadism)
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  • Muhajir
    is someone who travels from his country of origin to terrorist-held territories, or to other territories governed by Islamic law. (Related terms: hijrah, muhajirah, muhajiroon, muhajirun)
  • Murtadd
    is an Arabic word for an individual who has rejected Islam. Some Islamic extremists believe that a so-called murtadd, like someone designated as a kafir, is deserving of the death penalty. (Related terms: apostate)
  • Neo-Fascism
    is a political movement that seeks to establish a racially or ethnically homogeneous society under a leader entrusted with authoritarian power. (Related term: neo-Nazism)
  • Neo-Nazism
    is a movement that endorses the racist, fascist, xenophobic ideology of Nazi Germany. Neo-Nazis typically view Jews as their primary enemy. (Related term: neo-fascism)
  • Qutbism
    is a pan-Islamic ideology founded by Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. Qutb’s ideology has spawned or inspired numerous Islamic extremist groups and leaders, including al-Qaeda founder Ayman al-Zawahiri. Qutbism supports a policy of violent jihad against all established governments until non-Muslims either convert to Islam or pay a religious tax, called jizya. (Related term: Qutbiyyah)
  • Racism
    is the belief that particular races are superior to others and that a person’s intelligence and moral capacity may be determined by his or her race. (Related terms: racist, white supremacy)
  • Radicalization
    is a process by which an individual becomes increasingly extremist in their political, religious, or social ideologies. (Related terms: radical, radicalize)
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  • Rafidah
    is an Arabic word meaning “rejectionist.” The term is commonly used by Sunni extremists as a pejorative to describe Shiite Muslims. (Related terms: rawafidh, rafidha)
  • Salafism
    is a fundamentalist Islamic movement that strives to practice Sunni Islam as it was practiced by Muhammad and his closest disciples. (Related terms: jihad, Salafi, Salafist, takfir)
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  • Sexism
    is the ingrained belief in the superiority of one sex or gender over another. Sexism may manifest in misogyny, prejudice, and implicit or explicit forms of discrimination.
  • Sharia
    is an Arabic term for Islamic law derived from the Quran and the hadith.
  • Shaytan
    is the Arabic word for “devil.” Extremists have at times used the term as a pejorative for their political opponents.
  • Shirk
    is an Islamic concept in which an individual worships anything other than God, i.e. the practice of polytheism or idolatry.
  • Takfir
    is the process by which one Muslim characterizes another Muslim as a non-believer. This designation carries with it a death sentence, according to certain interpretations of Islam. (Related terms: kafir, kuffar, kufr, kuff, takfeer, takfiri)
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  • Taghut
    is an Arabic word for a tyrant who rules based on manmade laws. In some interpretations of Islam, a taghut is the third stage of rebellion against God, the first being “fisq” and the second being “kafir.” (Related terms: fisq, kafir, tawaghit)
  • Terrorism
    is broadly defined as the use of violence by a non-state actor to pursue a political end or to intimidate civilians.
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  • Ultranationalist/Ultranationalism
    is an extreme nationalism that promotes the interest of one state of people above all others. Ultranationalists not only endorse fanatic loyalty to their nation, but they also demonstrate aggressive hostility towards people of other nations. Those who express statements that are allegedly defamatory towards the integrity of one’s nation could also face retaliatory actions from ultranationalists. At times, ultranationalism is championed by a charismatic, authoritarian leader who inspires intense devotion from their followers due to the zealous commitment for the protection of their nation and its prescribed values. The ultranationalist movement ultimately seeks to assert dominance over other nations due to an inherent belief in superiority over others. (Related terms: Far-Right Extremism)
  • Volksgemeinschaft
    is a German term for “ethnic community,” literally “people’s community.” The term was prominently featured in Nazi propaganda as Adolf Hitler sought to create an ideal German society as a Volksgemeinschaft, a racially unified and hierarchically organized body in which individuals submitted to the will of the nation state. Contemporary German far-right extremist groups, notably the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), maintain that the Volksgemeinschaft is under attack and needs to be protected. Furthermore, they believe that immigrants in Germany are an affront to their community, fueling anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and racist rhetoric.
  • Wahhabism
    is a sect of Islam originating in Saudi Arabia in the early 18th century. Wahhabism dictates a literal interpretation of the Quran and introduced the concept of takfir, whereby some Muslims could be classified as kuffar (non-believers) and thereby subject to execution. (Related terms: kafir, Salafism, takfir)
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  • Wilaya
    is an Arabic word meaning “province.” The term is used by ISIS to name the territories where the group operates around the world, such as “Wilayat Ninevah” in Iraq or “Wilayat Khorsan” in Afghanistan. By naming these territories as provinces, the group seeks to reinforce the narrative that it is operating as a governing caliphate.
  • White supremacy
    is the belief in the supremacy of the white race over all others. (Related terms: Accelerationism, Ethno-nationalism, Great Replacement Theory, racism)
  • Zakat
    is an annual donation or tax used for charitable or religious purposes. Extremist and terrorist organizations have often exploited the concept of zakat to solicit donations on behalf of their organizations.

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Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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