Cole Bunzel

Hoover Fellow

Cole M. Bunzel is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. A historian and Arabist, he studies the history and contemporary affairs of the Islamic Middle East, with a particular focus on violent Islamism and the Arabian Peninsula. He is the editor of the blog Jihadica and has written widely on the ideology of Sunni jihadism, including such monographs as From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (Brookings Institution, 2015), The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States (Carnegie Endowment, 2016), and Jihadism on Its Own Terms: Understanding a Movement (Hoover Institution, 2017). His current book project, which draws on an array of rare manuscripts and other primary sources in Arabic, provides a new account of the history and doctrine of Wahhabism, the puritanical Islamic revivalist movement that arose in central Arabia in the 18th century.

Bunzel received his MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and his BA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University. At Princeton he received the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, the university’s top honor for graduate students, as well as the Bayard and Cleveland Dodge Memorial Dissertation Prize for best PhD dissertation in Near Eastern Studies. He has been a research fellow in Islamic law and civilization at the Yale Law School, and is a nonresident fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism.

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Recent Commentary

Analysis and Commentary

Jihadi Reactions To The U.S.-Taliban Deal And Afghan Peace Talks

by Cole Bunzelvia Jihadica
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

On September 12, 2020, the Taliban and the Afghan government began negotiations in Qatar over the political future of Afghanistan. In accordance with the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29, the negotiations are expected to produce “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” between the warring Afghan parties, as well as an “agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.”


The All-Mawla TIRs: An Analytical Discussion With Cole Bunzel, Haroro Ingram, Gina Ligon, And Craig Whiteside

interview with Cole Bunzelvia Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
Thursday, September 17, 2020

Hoover Institution fellow Cole Bunzel joins a panel to discuss three Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) about the leader of the Islamic State, Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla.


Cole Bunzel: Collapsed Caliphate? Understanding The Islamic State In 2020

interview with Cole Bunzelvia AEI
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Hoover Institution fellow Cole Bunzel discusses the Islamic State, its ideology, and its operations as well as how it interprets its own successes and failures, and lessons the Trump administration should draw from past counterterrorism operations.

Blank Section (Placeholder)Analysis and Commentary

The Islamic State's Ideology: History Of A Rift

by Cole Bunzelvia Analysis
Monday, June 1, 2020

This paper situates the Islamic State's ideological instruction and training documents collected as part of The ISIS Files project within the broader debate between Islamic State scholars over the acceptability of takfir (excommunication). Among other artifacts, the paper examines controversial treatises issued by the Islamic State’s Committee for Research and Fatwas on the legitimate bases for takfir.

Analysis and Commentary

Caliph Incognito: The Ridicule Of Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi

by Cole Bunzelvia Jihadica
Thursday, November 14, 2019

The last week of October 2019 was an eventful one in the history of the Islamic State. On October 25, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its leader and caliph, blew himself up during a U.S. special forces raid on his compound in Idlib Province, Syria. The next day, official spokesman Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir, a potential successor to al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in nearby Aleppo Province. On October 31, the Islamic State confirmed the fatalities in an audio statement read by al-Muhajir’s replacement, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who went on to announce the appointment of a certain Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “commander of the believers and caliph of the Muslims.” The adjective Qurashi in their names denotes descent from the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh, one of the traditional qualifications of being caliph.

In the News

After Baghdadi, A Candidate To Lead ISIS Emerges

quoting Cole Bunzelvia CNN Politics
Monday, October 28, 2019

What remains of ISIS -- the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- is yet to acknowledge the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who died in a raid by US forces in northern Syria on Saturday.

Featured AnalysisFeatured

Social Reform In The Kingdom: Between “Westernizers” And “Guardians Of Virtue”

by Cole Bunzelvia The Caravan
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

“These astonishing things that have been happening in the Land of the Two Holy Places … if King Abd al-Aziz were to come out of his grave and witness them, he would not believe that this is his kingdom that he worked so hard to establish and unite.” So lamented Abd al-Muhsin al-‘Abbad, an outspoken Wahhabi cleric, in a late 2017 assessment of the social reforms being implemented in Saudi Arabia. The king in question was the founder of the modern realm, Abd al-Aziz ibn Sa‘ud (d. 1953), who is also the father of the present king, Salman, and grandfather of the new crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman (MbS).

EssaysBlank Section (Placeholder)Analysis and Commentary

Jihadism On Its Own Terms

by Cole Bunzelvia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In this essay Cole Bunzel argues that jihadism, the modern movement in Sunni Islam identified with al-Qaida and the Islamic State, is best understood on its own terms, rather than in terms of terrorism, violent extremism, or the larger Islamist movement. Examining the jihadis’ own writings and ideas and emphasizing their self-perception as a distinct movement—“the jihadis,” “the jihadi current”—he explains the nature and contours of their movement as it has developed during the past decades to the present day. As jihadism grows increasingly popular, it has also become increasingly divided.