Forty years after Mathiesen wrote the ‘politics of abolition’ his work can enhance our understanding about radicalisation and de-radicalisation of social movements and terrorist groups. In ‘the politics of abolition’ Mathiesen explains the mechanism of two social factors that moderate the most contested goals and means of abolitionists groups. Due to these mechanisms, abolitionist movements often split into one rather moderate and one ‘radical’ current. The Islamist movement is an empirical example for the split the model predicts. Jihadism (e.g. al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups) represents the most radical form of contemporary Islamism, while nationalist Islamism (e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood) and non-jihadi fundamentalism (mainstream Salafism) can be considered less radical because these currents either dismissed their abolitionist goals in favour of political integration, or reject terrorist violence as a means to enforce abolitionist goals. The communiqués and public statements of al-Qaeda give insight into the discourse within the Islamist movement. A sample of jihadi media is reviewed in this article as to compare al-Qaeda’s political positions with those of other Islamist movements and organisations.