by Jeffry R. Halverson
Master narratives provide important insights into the cultures and societies that analysts and diplomats encounter on a daily basis. Understanding how those narratives are utilized by factions hostile to the interests of the United States can be the difference between successful diplomacy and international catastrophe. Given the current geo-political climate, master narratives employed by Islamist extremists are among the most important. Many of those narratives are recorded and analyzed in the book, Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). This paper addresses an additional master narrative employed by extremists, albeit less frequently than those included in the book.
The Tariq ibn Ziyad master narrative relates the conquest of Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) by the Berber commander, Tariq ibn Ziyad, in 711. The master narrative posits a champion archetype (Tariq) as a conquering hero who ventures to a new land, strikes down the infidel tyrant (King Roderick), and ushers in a kingdom of righteous and just rule. The master narrative, as it is utilized by extremists, typically exists in a radically simplified form. It ignores many of the inconvenient details of history that problematize the message of the extremists, such as the role of Tariq and Musa‟s Jewish allies.
The Tariq ibn Ziyad master narrative is viewed an exemplary model for jihadist action against “infidel” or “apostate” dictators and governments, especially in the West. Due to the historical connections of the narrative to North Africa, the master narrative is most commonly found among Islamist extremists in that region, such as al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).