Warning:  This article may offend sensibilities because it deals with jihadist norm entrepreneurship.  Obviously, this is a fantasy teaching case to make a point.

What is norm entrepreneurship?

A small literature has emerged on norm entrepreneurship.  Norm entrepreneurs seek to change social norms.  If they are successful, they can cause ‘norm bandwagons’ and ‘norm cascades’.  Norm entrepreneurs are the central actors during the first stage in the life cycle of a norm, the norm emergence.  Just think of Princess Diana’s campaign to eliminate landmines.  Or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaigns to overthrow racial oppression in America. [i]

Al-Bagdadi is a gifted orator and ‘norm entrepreneur

Ibrahim al-Badr was studying religion and education at the University of Baghdad when he had a brilliant idea.  He had been reading about how norm entrepreneurs are necessary precursors to revolutionary change.  He had been particularly impressed with a noted Stanford University psychology professor who said that “human beings are capable of totally abandoning their humanity for a mindless ideology, to follow and then exceed the orders of charismatic authorities to destroy everyone they label as “the enemy”.  Ibrahim wanted to become that charismatic authority. 

Islamic fighters use extreme violence to change social norms.

His idea was to become a norm entrepreneur promoting religious violence and death for infidels.  His innovation was to combine medieval unreason with modern weaponry.  His plan was to follow what the literature calls the ‘norm life cycle’.  Like any entrepreneur, he needed a platform.  To do that, he proclaimed himself as Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and formed a so-called “Islamic State”.  Next he needed to generate a “cascading affect” whereby more and more people accepted his legitimacy, in effect switching loyalty competitor Al Qaeda, and reaching a “tipping point”.  Finally, Ibrahim needed to have his followers internalise the idea such that they accepted it as common and every day.

He used tried and tested methods to dominate the market.  Anonymity was essential.  The absence of the ability to be identified allows for the emergence of otherwise unordinary behaviours.  He segmented into in-groups and out-groups (scapegoats) and fomented hate speech to create intolerance.  His tools included:  killing prisoners of war; summary executions and public floggings; assassinations of judges, public officials, and security forces; terror and indoctrination; death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to his way of thinking; cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups; banning of art, music, and literature; forcing women to wear full-face veils; capital punishment, and the destruction of rivals; child soldiers; sexual violence and slavery; attacks on journalists; suicide bombing; beheadings and mass executions; destruction of cultural and religious heritage; and organ trafficking.


To what extent do you believe this case is imaginary?

Does this case abuse the term “norm entrepreneur”?

Is it justified to use terms like “segmentation” and “market” regard to this case?

Can you think of other entrepreneurs who abandoned their humanity for a mindless ideology?

Don’t all entrepreneurs seek to reach that magic tipping point where customers turn toward your product?

Was Ibrahim’s innovation radical or incremental?

[i] Adut, A. (2004). Scandal as norm entrepreneurship strategy: Corruption and the French investigating magistrates. Theory and Society, 33(5), 529–578.; Alford, R. (2008). The Nobel effect: Nobel Peace Prize laureates as international norm entrepreneurs. Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 49, p. 61, 2008, Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009/5.; Carr, A., & Baldino, D. (2015). An Indo-Pacific norm entrepreneur? Australia and defence diplomacy. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, 11(1), 30–47.; Davies, S. E., & True, J. (2017). Norm Entrepreneurship in Foreign Policy: William Hague and the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Foreign Policy Analysis, 13(3), 701–721.; Fairbanks, Lauren Elise (2011) “Peddlers of Hate: The Existence of Norm Entrepreneurs as a Necessary Precursor to Genocide” in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Political Science, Utah State University (USA); Harris, J. D., Sapienza, H. J., & Bowie, N. E. (2009). Ethics and entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 24(5), 407–418.; Ingebritsen, C. (2002). Norm Entrepreneurs: Scandinavia’s Role in World Politics. Cooperation and Conflict, 37(1), 11–23.; Majic, S. A. (2018). Real men set norms? Anti-trafficking campaigns and the limits of celebrity norm entrepreneurship. Crime, Media, Culture, 14(2), 289–309.; Murithi, T. (2016). The African Union as a Norm Entrepreneur: The Limits of Human Protection and Mass Atrocities Prevention. Global Responsibility to Protect, 8(2–3), 227–248.; Rushton, S. (2008). The UN Secretary-General and Norm Entrepreneurship: Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Democracy Promotion. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 14(1), 95–110.; Szollosi-Cira, L. (2018). New Zealand as Norm Entrepreneur: The Case of Human Rights Since 1945. In International Political Science Association. Brisbane, Australia.; Wexler, L. (2003). The International Deployment of Shame, Second-Best Responses, and Norm Entrepreneurship: The Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Landmine Ban Treaty. Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, 20, 561. ; Wikipedia, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ; Zimbardo, Philip (2007), The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House, p. 15;

(By U.S Army -, Public Domain,

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