Friday, September 01, 2006

Test 5

Strong:Update: OK, very flattering, I go to bed and upon getting up, imbibing vast amountsof coffee, and taking a shower, I discover no less than 14 emails asking me please not to delete it. OK I'll leave it up. Your every wish is my command (Except of course for the three emails asking me to make the links in the table of contents clickable that's what the scroll bar is for) :-)

This posting is a test of a system for getting various software programs to work together to produce XHTML 1 DTD compliant markup. In particular the experiment is aimed at working around the limits of blogger's API.

The content is a very late draft of part of a translation into English of series of articles which I'm writing at present and will publish online once I've re-written the series in English for a lay audience. Many of the articles are quite long so I'm experimenting with various navigation methods.

Note: Appearances to the contrary the Table of contents immediately below does NOT consist of clickable links.


Since the attacks upon the U.S.A on September 11th 2001 and the Bush administration's declaration of a "Global War on Terror" the jihadi tendency in contemporary Sunni Islamic activism has received considerable attention from Western analysts, policy makers, media, and commentators. As with Islamic political activism, and Islamic religious activism such Western attention tends to fall into the trap already observed with Islamic religious activism, and Islamic political activism of treating Islamic warrior activism — Jihadism, as a monolithic entity. This failure is caused by the fact that the various strands of Sunni jihadism have some elements in common at least in their rhetoric and has led both to a faulty diagnosis and an almost certainly fatally flawed response. In fact Sunni Islamic warrior activism has arisen in three distinctive contexts and has been guided by three distinct strategic visions. This article, the fourth in the series "Understanding Islamic Activism" provides a framework within which Sunni jihadism can be analysed under the following headings:

  • internal jihadism,

  • irredentist jihadism,

  • external or global jihadism,


The word "jihad" is generally translated in the West as meaning "armed struggle" or "religious warfare" and is often considered, particularly in media coverage and the faulty "clash of civilisations" analysis, to be a core value of Islam. In fact the word means "struggle" or "effort" and refers to the efforts made by a Muslim to make the physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, existential surrender to God's will conveyed by the word "Islam". Muslims distinguish between these individual efforts to lead their lives in the upright and moral way intended for his creations by God — the "greater jihad", and armed resistance to attack — the "lesser jihad" i. That Muslims have a duty to defend themselves and their community, the umma when attacked is made clear in scripture. But the fact that the Qu'rân uses the word "jihad" instead of one of the many Arabic words for armed combat such as; harb (war), sira'a (combat), ma'araka (battle), or qital (killing), clearly indicates that violence is only permissible when absolutely necessary.

That many Western analysts consider Jihad to be a core tenet of Islamii has two causes:

  1. The increasingly influential "clash of civilisations" hypotheses propounded by elements of the Bush administration and writers such as Bernard Lewis.

  2. As a reaction to the violence engaged in by terrorist groups mostly of Sunni or Wahhabi origin influenced by the writings of the Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb notably on and after September 11th 2001.

In common with the other two Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity, Islam's theology of the just war points out that there may sometimes be absolutely no alternative other than to fight if decent values are not to perish. [Surah 22 40-43] but that victory will only come those who [pillars Surah].

The Three Faces of Sunni Jihadism

Of the three strands or types of Sunni Jihadism described below two posit achievable objectives that are at least theoretically achievable. Internal jihadists seek to overthrow régimes they consider to be apostate and to establish properly Islamic states in their stead. Irredentist jihadis seek equally measurable ends — the liberation from non-Muslim rule of territory that is historically part of the Dar al-Islam. It is only the third type of Sunni warrior activism — that espoused by al-Qaeda and organisations inspired by it that has no clear-cut, intelligible or in principle attainable objectives.

Internal Jihadism

This is jihad against nominally Muslim régimes, which the jihadis hold to be "impious", "apostate", or both and are thus licit targets for subversion. Examples of such jihadism are the jihads against the Egyptian, and Algeria, régimes. At the time of writing [May 2005] this variant of jihad has clearly failed to achieve its objectives in either Egypt or Algeria.

Irredentist Jihadism

Irredentist jihadis are engaged in a violent struggle to redeem land considered that was historically part of the Dar al-Islam either from non-Muslim rule or non-Muslim military occupation. Examples of irredentist jihadism are Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and occupation, Chechnya since Czarist times, Kashmir, Mindanao in the southern Philippines, and the irredentist jihadi cause par excellence — Palestine.

The presence of jihadist fighters can result in tension and rivalry between the jihadists and nationalist forces who may not regard the conflict as a jihad at all such tensions are present in the Palestinian struggle and were also clearly present during the Serb war against Bosnian and Albanian Muslims. Moreover there can also be rivalries amongst Islamist forces between those who are 'local' forces and those who are 'international' elements. Thus there were tensions and occasionally outright violence between the Afghan mujahidin and the "Arab" forces that flocked to their aid during the 1980s and similar difficulties were observed during the Serb war in Bosnia 1992-1996. They are now also present in Iraq.

Global Jihadism — al-Qaeda And Its Successors

The global jihad against the West, or more to be more precise against the United States and its allies particularly Israel, initiated since 1998 by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and now also engaged in by autonomous networks inspired by al-Qaeda's example and often with its endorsement is a new form of jihadism. Unlike the internal and irredentist jihads it, in theory at least, concentrates its efforts upon fighting the "farther enemy" and is quite prepared to use completely indiscriminate violence to achieve its aims. Moreover while al-Qaeda's statements occasionally invoke the goal of re-establishing Muslim political unity via a restored Caliphate, there is no evidence that any thought has ever been given to how to actually do this. Nor has it defined any other political objectives at the global level. Consequently it tends to batten onto irredentist struggles in the Muslim world or onto the emerging identity politics amongst resentful and rebellious elements of youthful Muslim populations in the West generally and in Europe above all.

Diverse Approaches and Agendas

Western observers have allowed themselves to ignore the plurality both of standpoint and programme amongst jihadis by concentrating on the fact that some themes notably Palestine, are common in jihadi discourse. This is to ignore the significance of the underlying variance in:

  • objectives,

  • strategies adopted, and,

  • tactics employed.

By the jihadists concerned and is, in effect, to give more weight to a rhetorical commonality than to matters of considerably greater importance. The differences between them in particular the categorical refusal of some groups either to endorse, or to emulate, the indiscriminately terrorist methods of others are of vital importance. Such differences of opinion over the licitness (halal) or illicitness (haram) of particular tactics or targets of jihad have arisen in and amongst jihadis wherever jihad is practiced. They have arisen in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, and now in Iraq. An analysis and actions resulting from that analysis which claims that all forms of armed struggle are "terrorism" and treats all "terrorism" as undifferentiatedly monolithic not only completely fails to notice or comprehend such characteristics of jihadi behaviour it cannot by definition take them into consideration when formulating policy. Such differences matter deeply when assessing their behaviour, their prospects, and, crucially, the levels of legitimacy and support conferred upon them by their host populations.

The failure of analysis at this level is often mirrored by a failure to consider how countering tactics will be perceived both by the jihadis themselves and more importantly by the population amongst whom they swim. The measures adopted as a result of such fundamentally flawed analyses range lack legitimacy in the eyes of the targeted populace and lead those who might be inclined to help to, at the very least, turn blind eyes to jihadi activities and logistics. At its extreme it leads to the consideration of using either terroristic methods or sponsoring of counter terrorist movements by the occupying force. That elements of the Bush administration should, for example, have even considered sponsoring the Iranian terrorist group [Fedayin-e-khalq Mujahedin-e-Khalq] as part of their efforts to secure Iraq's notoriously porous border with Iran is an extreme instance of this and is a prime example of Tuchman's hypothesis that policy makers consistently engage in folly bordering on lunacy.

A competent analysis would at the very least make the distinction between:

  1. A situational resort to armed struggle — one that is primarily determined by the situation such as foreign rule or foreign military occupation.

  2. An ideological resort to armed struggle — one that arises from radical doctrines that incline to violent strategies over non-violent ones despite the possibility of engaging in the latter.

Irredentist struggles are as a rule not engaged in by doctrinaire jihadis, al-Salafiyya al-jihadiyya, whereas both internal and global jihads typically are.

Resorting to Jihad

That the Muslim world has resorted to jihad in defence of the umma has been a feature of the relationship between it and the West. In both the time of the crusades it has resorted to jihad. In more recent times jihad was resorted to both at the start of the Western colonial expansion into the Dar-al-Islam and at the close of the European Imperial period. In Algeria, Libya, Pakistan, and the Sudan resistance to colonial conquest often explicitly assumed the form of jihad.

Secularist Ambiguity — the end of colonial rule and jihad

The ending of colonial rule vis-à-vis jihad is somewhat more complex in that the leaders of the anti-colonial movements such as the FLN (Front Libération Nationale) in Algeria often employed the rhetoric of jihad while simultaneously denying that they were engaged in jihad in its traditional sense. Thus, to continue to use the Algerian example, even though the struggle against the French was primarily military, and even though the FLN's wartime paper was called El Moudjahid ("he who fights the jihad"), the political platform adopted by the FLN in 1956 declared, "the Algerian revolution is not a war of religion". Whatever the FLN's official position its secularist leaders were well aware that in popular opinion the Algerian war of independence was a jihad and were quite prepared to indulge in a level of ambiguity in order to retain the approval of the Algerian "street". This situation continued after independence and 1962 Algeria declared itself to be an Islamic state.

A four stage revival

The ending of European colonial rule in the late 1950s and early 1960s, led to a political truce between most of the Muslim world and the West. Beneath the apparent calm imposed by Western supported secular régimes however the jihadi current of Sunni Islamic activism revived. The revival process was slow, complex, and had four overlapping stages.

  1. The emergence of Egyptian doctrinaire jihadism 1970s — 1980s. During the 1970s and 1980s a doctrinaire jihadi tendency emerged in Egypt based upon the radical thought of Sayyid Qutb especially his concept of takfir;iii

  2. The mobilisation of jihadis for the Afghan war 1979 — 1989. The American and Saudi sponsorship of jihadi mobilisation across the Muslim world for the Afghan war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul and the Soviet invasion and occupation between 1979 and 1989 accelerated the revival and ensured that it had a plentiful supply of battle-hardened and radicalised jihadi fighters.

  3. The Algerian and Egyptian insurgencies. The unsuccessful insurgency against the régime in Algeria after the voiding of the FIS' (Front Islamique du Salut) electoral victory in 1991 un-Islamic regimes, notably and the intermittent insurgency against the Egyptian régime up to 1997.

  4. Global Jihad. Late 1990s to date. The global jihad launched by al-Qaeda initially under the leadership of Osama bin Laden against the West. In particular against America and its allies notably Israel since the late 1990s.

Signposts on the road — Jihadi renascence in Egypt

The first target of the renascent jihadism was President Anwar al-Sadat's régime in Egypt. Sadat's predecessor President Nasser had brutally suppressed the Muslim Brothers from 1954 onwards. Sayyid Qutb was himself a victim of this and spent 10 years in prison. There he witnessed savage brutality towards the prisoners including a massacre of 21 Islamist prisoners in a prison camp in 1957. His experiences radicalised him and while in the camp he wrote "Ma'alem fi 'l-Tariq" (Signposts on the Road), the doctrines he developed are a complete radicalisation of the Brothers' outlook and a revolution in Egyptian Islamist doctrine. The radicalising and alienating effect of brutality and repression are overlooked at the peril of those who benefit from it. Many leading Islamist figures had similar — or worse, experiences to Qutb's in Egyptian jails and prison camps in the 1960s. His ideas circulated amongst the imprisoned Muslim Brothers and other Islamists and the brutal treatment to which they were subjected led many of them to accept his assessment and posited solution. iv

The Sovereignty Of God

Briefly Qutb's doctrine developed two doctrines to argue that Islam was in peril from within and that jihad was necessary to rescue it from apostate régimes:

  1. The doctrine developed by the Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (1262-1328 C.E.) that it was licit to overthrow rulers who are nominally but not truly Muslim.

  2. The doctrine developed by the Indian Muslim thinker Abu 'l-Ala Al-Mawdudi (1903-1979), of hakimiyyat Allah — The Sovereignty of God.

Qutb took these doctrines and developed them to argue as follows:

  • Nasserite Arab pan-nationalism was an attempt to unseat God's sovereignty with that of his creations —the people. It was thus intrinsically anti-Islamic (jahili).

  • The nationalist régime established in Egypt in 1952 by the Free Officers was not therefore a form of Muslim rule, but was infidel (kufr).

  • Because the régime was infidel, to rebel against it was not fitna (illicit sedition) rather it was jihad, the licit defence of the umma from infidel attack.

In 1966 Qutb was executed at Nasser's behest before he could spell out the way in which this jihad was to be carried out, much less organise or lead it himself. But his ideas had been disseminated widely and influenced the new violent jihadi movement that began to emerge from the radical fringe of Egyptian Islamic activism during the mid-1970s.

Neglected Duties

All of the Egyptian extremist movements and/or violent Islamic activist movements inspired by them have been Qutbist. Qutb’s activist philosophy constituted a revolutionary rejection of President Nasser’s socialist pan-Arabist nationalist ideology. A fundamental expression of their rejection both of Nasserism and of the subsequent Egyptian regimes was, and remains, their practice of takfir — the act of denouncing persons, practices, or institutions as “infidel” or “impious”.v To the members of these movements Nasser's régime and President Sadat's government, which succeeded it, were “impious” because they were the vectors that had contaminated the body politic by introducing irreligious and barbaric (jahili) values into the umma vi. Their perception of the régime as jahili was, and remains, predicated upon several factors:

  • A radical rejection of nationalism as un- or anti-Islamic.

  • A reaction to the comprehensive military defeat of pan-Arab nationalism in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

  • A reaction to Sadat's signing of the Camp David accords with Israel and his attempts to repress widespread opposition to his so doing.

  • A reaction to the massive economic hardship caused by President Sadat's infitah (opening) policy in the early 1970s.

  • The disarray that had developed within the religious field.

That Egyptian Islamic extremists oriented themselves by Qutb’s philosophy does not explain why his ideas were taken up by so many young Egyptians instead of remaining as the doctrines of an insignificant fringe. While the factors listed above all played a part in this three are of particular importance:

  1. President Sadat's policies, in particular his policy of infitah (opening) exacerbated the widespread lack of opportunity for young Egyptians, only about 4% of whom could expect a job.vii

  2. The Palestinian issue, successive Egyptian governments had failed to achieve a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Palestinians favour: The military débacle June 1967 under Nasser and Sadat's signing of a separate peace with Israel 1978 — was ascribed to their un-Islamic character. That Sadat, who liked to portray himself as "the pious president", resorted to repression to quell the widespread opposition within Egypt to the Camp David accords was held to be further proof of the un-Islamic character of his régime. The jihadis argued that in order to defeat "the further enemy" (Israel) and liberate Palestine that it was first necessary to denounce and defeat "the nearer enemy" — the infidel Egyptian state.

  3. The popularisation of the idea of takfir outlined in the paragraph above indicates the third key development of this period. — Young radical Islamic activists outflanked the religious establishment by arrogating to themselves an authority in matters of interpretation and judgement that had previously been the sole preserve of the ‘ulama. This usurpation of the 'ulama's rôle has continued to this day a notable example being the declarations purporting to be "fatwas" issued by Osama Bin Laden whose al-Qaeda group is a hybrid of Egyptian and Wahhabi Islamist extremism.

Their arrogation to themselves of ulamic authority coupled with the centrality of the Palestine issue led these young radicals to make doctrinal innovations. The most important of which was that they abandoned the Islam's traditional conception of armed
jihad as a collective duty (fard kifaya), and posited it as an individual obligation (fard 'ayn) incumbent upon each and every one of them. The traditional Muslim doctrine that armed jihad is a "collective duty" means that individual Muslims should engage in it only when the community's authorities — in effect when the ruler or the state, proclaims it to be absolutely necessary. These disciples of Qutb overturned Muslim doctrine on when it is licit to wage armed struggle by reasoning as follows:

  • Islam was under attack by Western interests andWestern values, in particular those of the USA and its ally Israel.

  • This attack had had some successes in particular the creation of the State of Israel in Palestine, which historically was part of the Dar al-Islam.

  • The creation of the State of Israel had led to Muslims being forced to flee from the place where they lived for centuries alongside both Christians and Jews.

  • Those Muslims who remained within Palestine were subject to oppression by the Israelis and it was a sacred duty to free them from this.

  • The state was un-Islamic because many Muslims including its rulers had been seduced by un-Islamic values and had sought to usurp God's dominion by replacing Islamic values with Western ones. The infidel nature of the state's rulers and structures had caused:

      1. The failure to resolve the Palestine issue.

      2. The social and economic ills afflicting the umma not least the decline in moral and ethical standards.

  • The state had now confirmed its apostate character by making peace with Israel signalling that abandoning jihad as a collective duty.

  • Therefore it was their duty to engage armed struggle against the state which was the "nearer enemy" in order to create a pure Islamic 'umma which would be able to successfully undertake the struggle against the "farther enemy", the USA and its allies particularly Israel.

This reasoning was basis of the point of view of two Egyptian Islamic terrorist groups:

  1. Tanzim al-Jihad ("the Jihad Organisation"), the group that waged a campaign of killings and bombings in Egypt between 1981 and 1997 and assassinated Sadat in October 1981.

  2. The al-Jama'a al-islamiyya ("the Islamic Group") who shared broadly the same outlook and who conducted a parallel campaign terrorist between 1992 and 1997.

Violent Islamist activism was suppressed in Egypt following Sadat's assassination. There were further waves of renewed suppression in response to violent challenges to the Mubarrak régime and these ensured that for a time at least, Egypt became somewhat calmer. The second wave of extremist Islamist violence that broke out in 1992 arose from an international context. And was fuelled by rise in irredentist jihadism that was caused by:

  1. Unanticipated fall-out from Western sponsorship of jihadi warriors in the 1979-1989 war in Afghanistan.

  2. Fall-out from the 1990-91 war against Iraq.

The Rise Of International Sunni Irredentist Jihadism

The crystallisation of Egyptian jihadi ideology around 1980 and the intensification of Egyptian jihadi insurgency during the 1990s overlapped with and was intensified by, the second stage of the development of jihadi activism — its internationalisation following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

The Afghan war in doctrinal terms

Doctrinally the war in Afghanistan was very simple and entirely traditional. The Soviet invasion was the conquest of a Muslim country by a non-Muslim indeed avowedly atheistic power, if ever there were a candidate for jihad this war was it.

With such a clear-cut case of infidel aggression against the Dar al-Islam before them even the least radical, most conservative, Sunni Muslims could be mobilised by the call to jihad, and were. Sunni Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula most of whom were of a Salafi outlook flocked to Peshawar viiithroughout the 1980s. They together with a substantial contingent of their brethren from Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco furnished the bulk of the Arab fighters determined to repel this latest assault upon the Dar al-Islam. The Afghan jihad did not entail any radicalisation in doctrine, far from it; it did however have radical results. The consequences of which were either unanticipated, ignored, or both, by the USA and those of its Arab allies who had encouraged the Afghan jihad.

The radicalising effect of the Afghan war

The Afghan jihad had three results the far-reaching consequences of which are with us to this day:

  1. Its success in causing the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 laid the basis for a belief in jihad's effectiveness even against a superpower.

  2. It was a life-changing experience for those who took part in it. As with all modern wars many veterans experienced great difficulty reinserting themselves into their society of origin and adapting to normal life. Many of the returning jihadis compared that for which they had been fighting to the conditions within their homeland and were repelled by the comparison.

  3. It greatly facilitated the formation of what has since become known as al-Salafiyya al-jihadiyya — the jihadi wing of the Salafiyya movement from Morocco to the Philippines.

These three factors, particularly the second and third, fed the local Egyptian and Algerian insurgencies in the 1990s, returning "Afghans" enlisted within the ranks of the native Islamist movements and oriented them towards intransigence. ix The failure of these local jihads to defeat the "nearer enemy" by overthrowing the local "impious" régimes caused a reorientation amongst many of their membership, some such as Karam Zuhdi's al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyya (“Islamic Group”) have denounced violent methods, many others however have not. Instead they have oriented their struggle in a direction, which has culminated in the emergence of the al-Qaeda network as the pacesetter of the most recent and fourth stage in Sunni warrior activism — global jihad against the West, in particular the USA, Israel, and their allies.

Global Jihad

Al-Qaeda's ideology is not a straightforward affair, and it is an error to confuse and reduce it to traditional Wahhabism. To do so is to make two errors:

  1. It ignores the extent to which, under bin Laden, al-Qaeda has broken with the traditional geo-political stance of Wahhabism.

  2. It fails to take account of the crucial rôle of Egyptian radicals in shaping the movement's vision and strategy.

Al-Qaeda's breach with traditional Wahhabism

Under bin Laden, al-Qaeda has broken with the traditional geo-political stance of Wahhabism. x Wahhabism, particularly under the guidance of the House of Saud, has never entered into politico-military opposition to the West. The British helped establish the unified kingdom proclaimed in 1932 by King Abd al-Aziz, and it has been in alliance with the U.S. from 1945 onwards. Ideologically bin Laden himself was originally a sahwist reformer xi whose views were shaped by such reformers as al-Hawali and al-Awda and who, even as late as 1995, xii sought to persuade the Saudi régime to mend its ways.

Saudi society has been under particular strain since the early 1990s and al-Qaeda's jihad is partly the product of this crisis and the concomitant rupture of Wahhabism's traditional relationship with the Saudi royal family and it's geo-political alliance with U.S. Thus far from being a clear-cut product of traditional Wahhabism al-Qaeda's jihad is in fact a product of Wahhabism's latter day fracturing rather than its traditionalism.

Al-Qaeda's ideological breach with "nearer enemy" Jihadism

Al-Qaeda's focus is upon the "far enemy", the "Jews and Crusaders", principally the U.S. In this it differs from the "traditional" jihadi attitude who focus on the "nearer enemy" local régimes in the Muslim world. Although they consider the "near enemy" — local regimes in the Muslim world to be corrupt, despotic, and un-Islamic, and therefore a suitable target for overthrow, "the power that propped up these illegitimate rulers and desecrated the holy soil of Arabia ... was ... the preferred target".xiii In this it differs from the traditional "Qutbist" standpoint that the "nearer enemy" must be defeated first.

Notwithstanding their ideological focus and their spectacular attacks against Western targets al-Qaeda's statements provide no evidence that their leadership has ever given much thought as to how they will achieve any of their stated global political objectives. Rather it has tended either to ally itself to irredentist struggles in the Muslim world or to try to batten on to the emerging identity politics amongst some embittered elements of youthful European Muslims. xiv Egyptian radicalism's rôle in shaping al-Qaeda's theory and practice has been far more important than the aspirational goal of re-establishing Muslim political unity via a restored Caliphate. The centrality of this rôle is exemplified by the fact that Tanzim al-Jihad's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is bin Laden's second-in-command.

Egyptian radicalism's shaping of al-Qaeda

Egyptian radicalism's rôle in the development of al-Qaeda's radicalism, is personified by bin Laden's lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the Egyptian jihadi group Tanzim al-Jihad, in determining the movement's vision and strategy. The key features of which are:

  1. A complete volte-face from the traditionalist Salafi conception of jihad which involved an alliance with the West both against Soviet Communism and secular Arab nationalism to open enmity with its former Western sponsors.

  2. The shift away from dedicating takfiri jihadi energies against "the nearer enemy" (the struggle against insufficiently Muslim local régimes) to "the further enemy" specifically:

      1. Israel.

      2. The U.S. both for its rôle as Israel's principal sponsor and for its support of corrupt and tyrannical régimes throughout the Dar al-Islam.

      3. Western states allied with the U.S.

  3. The reuse of both traditional Wahhabi and modern Salafi categorisation of both Christians and Jews as infidels to be combated, as opposed to earlier conceptions of them as followers of earlier prophets "People of the Book" — Ahl al-Kitab — to be tolerated and protected by the Prophet Muhammad's followers.

  4. A strategic shift of jihad from a single geographically limited locus to the global level. And, as a necessary consequence of this;

  5. a tactical reorientation away from popular-based guerrilla warfare such as that as practiced notably by the mujahidin in Afghanistan, to the urban terrorism which was the characteristic of Tanzim al-Jihad's insurgency in Egypt between 1981 and 1997 practiced by an élite band of warriors.xv

That Western analyses appear to have failed to note the significance this development is a major failure and has led to a series of policies and actions that, far from helping to defeat al-Qaeda's global jihad, are in fact acting as a recruiting sergeant for it.

Western failures

In the lengthy catalogue of intelligence, analysis, policy, and executive failures that have come to characterise the so-called "Global War on Terror" two are particularly worthy of note because their effects have cascaded down through the entirety of the Western effort and contaminated it. These failures are:

  1. The failure to "know your enemy".

  2. Misjudged declarations on the nature of Islam.

The failure to "know your enemy".

The first of these failures — the failure to "know your enemy" groups together all forms of violent Islamic activism together as a single monolithic entity. Accordingly there is only one problem, one threat, and one target: "terrorists".

This simple-minded approach brings several problems in its train:

It makes it almost impossible to establish a definition of terrorism to which all potential supporters of the "war against terrorism" can agree. If non-Western governments are to co-operate with Western governments against terrorists there needs to be common ground firstly as to what terrorism is, and secondly as to whom the terrorists are.

The Palestinian movement Hamas is a good example of this problem. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brothers and thus belongs to the "political Islamism" category rather than the jihadi one. It shares the Brothers' generally "Islamic-modernist" perspective and is thus diametrically opposed to Qutbist and Salafi jihadi movements. While it undeniably engages in armed resistance to the Israeli state, and while such armed resistance can certainly be called jihad, it does so not because it shares the Qutbist and jihadi-Salafi dogmatic fondness for armed jihad but because it considers, rightly or wrongly, that the circumstances and behaviour of the Israeli occupation dictate it. Moreover unlike the doctrinaire jihadis it is not only perfectly willing to ally itself with non-Islamist forces, nor does it share their blatantly sectarian hostility to Palestinian non-Muslims (although it has often resorted to crude anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli rhetoric).

The Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist movement Hizbullah is another example. Hizbullah regularly engages in entirely normal political "horse trading" with the Christian Marronite Phalange party on matters of mutual interest. Nor, the Bush administration's rhetoric notwithstanding, is there much support in Lebanon for disarming Hizbullah — the Lebanese, of all persuasions, remember all too well that it was Hizbullah's armed resistance that forced the Israelis to end their invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

In other words irredentist jihads by their very nature have what are in principle geographically limited, specific, measurable and attainable ends. The liberation or in Hizbullah's case the protection of the territories in question from non-Muslim rule or aggression.

Similarly internal jihad movements have clearly defined objectives — the overthrow by revolutionary means of impious, corrupt, or tyrannical régimes and the constitution of a properly Islamic state within the national territory. The 1979 Iranian revolution demonstrated that under certain circumstances this object is within reach. Thus a movement such as "al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula" (QAP) cannot be regarded as an adjunct to bin Laden's organisation however much its leadership may revere him. Nor can it credibly be regarded as an international organisation, there are many questions surrounding its alleged international ties "intelligence sources" claims about these ties appear to be politically motivated.

"I did not go to Iraq, and I will not go to Iraq. I swore to clear the Arabian peninsula of polytheists. We were … born in this country so we will fight the Crusaders and the Jews in it until we have expelled them …", xvi

In short there has been an utter failure to take account of the single most important fact that differentiates al-Qaeda and its coevals in global jihadism from both the internal and irredentist jihads. Both internal and irredentist jihads derive much of their strength from having geographically defined, clear-cut, intelligible, and in principle attainable objectives — the global jihad does not, and this is a potentially fatal weakness. The failure to realise this, and exploit it, is one of the most reprehensible failures of the American and British led alliance in the "war on terror".

Misjudging Islam

The second failure arises from the attempts of Western political leaders, in particular the American president and British Prime minister, to reassure their audience that the "the war against terrorism" is not a war of religion, That "we" do not hate Muslims and that "ordinary Muslims" do not hate "us". Lauding "the peaceful teachings of Islam" and invoking Islam's "good and peaceful"xvii teachings is to ignore that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have a militant conception of the struggle between Good and Evil, and that all three have frequently justified wars in God's name.

In making such statements Western leaders — the American president and British Prime minister in particular are addressing, and attempting to reassure primarily Western audiences. We, the West, have been attacked by people who inexplicably evil. That they "hate us for our freedoms" and that they have "hijacked" Islam as a religion of peace and that we and "ordinary Muslims" are engaged in a global struggle to root out and destroy this festering source of Evil and that in this struggle "whoever is not with us in the war against terror is against us."

The domestic political objective of avoiding inflaming Western islamophobes is laudable. However by equating all forms of armed struggle by Muslims with "terrorism" such homilies, while comforting to a Western audience, have not been thought through and are entirely incompatible with the goal of influencing, let alone winning, the battle of ideas that has been taking place within the Muslim world since al-Qaeda's rise to prominence. There are several reasons for this:

As was seen in the first article in this series Islam is an orthopraxic religion, and is as Gellner puts it a "blueprint of a social order"1. Islam postulates a community of believers (the umma), contains and transmits a body of legal prescriptions, and contains and transmits a body of moral injunctions. It is in other words intrinsically concerned both with matters of law and of governance. From this it follows that all forms of Islamic activism — be it the quietism of the Tablighi, a remonstrance from "— al-Salafiyya al-'ilmiyya, or the activities government-sponsored "official Islam", are innately political to some extent.

To suggest therefore that Islam is a "religion of peace" that has been "commandeered" by jihadis implies that jihad has no place in the Islamic tradition. This is utterly at variance with the facts. Jihad has a very clear, time-honoured, and rule-bound place. The Qu'rân lays down very distinct rules about when Jihad is lawful, when hostilities must cease, how prisoners are to be treated, and so on. When either the U.S. president or the British prime minister to seek to deny jihad's place within Islam they arrogate unto themselves a rôle as arbiters of true Islam. Thereby pretending to an authoritative rôle in Muslim affairs which, to put it mildly, no Muslim would accept. Making such statements guarantees that official Western addresses to the Muslim world will have little if any purchase on the moral reflexes of its populace.

Al-Qaeda's emergence and Western conduct of its "global war on terror" has triggered a vital and vigorously conducted debate in the Muslim world. What is at stake is whether particular conceptions of jihad are licit in terms of Islamic law. When western spokesmen either say outright or imply that:

  1. All jihadis are inexplicably evil and have suborned a "religion of peace".

  2. All forms of armed struggle engaged in by Muslims are "terrorism".

They deny that any jihad can be licit. When they do so Western policy makers and spokesmen are saying very clearly to that such intra-Muslim deliberations are pointless and that the results therefrom will have no impact whatsoever either on Western policies or actions. To behave in this way is to undermine a debate that is vitally important both for the Muslim world and the West. The danger of behaving in this way is that when such statements are coupled with the many incidents of brutal behaviour by Western and allied forces in the "global war on terror" many Muslims including those within friendly Muslim governments and members of modernist or democratically inclined Islamic movements, may well conclude that "the global war on terror" is precisely that which it professes not to be — a war against Islam.

To consistently undermine all non-jihadi varieties of Islamic activists whenever they point out that there are genuine grievances to be addressed, is to present as a gift the rôle of Islam's defenders to the extremist global variety of jihadism epitomized by al-Qaeda and its offshoots. Categorising all armed struggle by Muslims — even when it arises from opposition to foreign occupation — as terrorism is to strengthen al-Qaeda's thesis that the problem is "the further enemy", i.e., the U.S. and its allies. That the U.S. and its allies will tolerate only the existence of an emasculated and supine umma and that against such people negotiation, arguments, or discussions, are to no avail for such people understand and respect only one language that of brute force.

1 See: Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society (Cambridge, 1981), Chapter 1.

i In its wider meaning, jihad involves hard work to achieve the best in every field of life, to serve and help people, to study hard, to work honestly, to pray for peace. Once, when a Muslim army had returned from battle, the Prophet Mohammed said, "You have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad." Asked what the greater jihad was, the prophet said, "It is the jihad against one's own desires and lusts.".

ii The five duties of the individual believer ("five pillars") are:

  1. Profession of faith in one God:

  2. Prayer.

  3. Alms-giving:

  4. Observance of the fast during Ramadan

  5. Performance of the pilgrimage to Mecca.

iii Takfir see note ***.

iv Significantly the leaders of in the radical movements in 1970s Egypt and some leaders of the violent movements of the 1990s have experienced similar treatment to that meted out to Qutb and his confreres at the hands of the Nasser régime.

v takfir in Qutb’s doctrine, North African doc I

vi The government of the current Egyptian President (Mubarrak) is similarly condemmed.

vii Armstrong 288 et seq

viii Peshawar in northwest Pakistan has long been strategically important because of its proximity to the Khyber Pass.

ix This did not occur in North Africa alone, veterans returning from Afghanistan to Indonesia in the early 1990s turned the Jemaah Islamiya which had grown in response to Suharto-era repression into a much more militant movement.

x Historically, the Wahhabi have called themselves muwahhidun ("unitarians"). This refers to the central religious principles outlined by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century. The term "Wahhabi" was popularised by the Western media in the 1990s as a way of describing the "puritanical" or "strict" version of Islam preached by the Saudi religious establishment, is now widely used within the Kingdom itself.

The term is so overused particularly in the West that it has essentially become meaningless. The practice of using "Wahhabism", "Wahhabi", "Wahhabist" etc, to describe very dissimilar groups and individuals, so long as they adhere to any austere or conservative view of Islam has rendered it devoid of any analytic significance whatsoever. Many of those so labelled disagree strongly with one another on points of religious dogma, practice and political aim.

I am very reluctantly using the term in this guide purely because of its familiarity to a Western readership.

MPS Saturday, May 21st 2005

xi The term " Islamic Awakening" (al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya) refers to the religious enthusiasm and activism in Saudi intellectual circles particularly the universities during the 1970s and 1980s its roots lie in the increasing exposure of Saudi Arabians to the broad political debates in the middle east during the 1960s which were a time of radicalisation and politicisation of the region. Bin Laden himself commented: "when the Saudi government transgressed in oppressing all voices of the scholars and the voices of those who call for Islam, I found myself forced, especially after the government prevented Shaykh Salman al-Awda and Shaykh Safar al-Hawali and some other scholars, to carry out a small part of my duty of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong". See citation in: Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror (New York, 2002), p. 108.

xii His well-known "Open Letter to King Fahd" was published in 1995.

xiii Benjamin and Simon, op. cit., p. 118.

xiv An exception to this is Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (QAP), which tends to emphasise the local struggle against the Saudi régime. With the exception of extensive of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison by U.S: soldiers Its publications such as Sawt al-Jihad and Mu'askar al-Battar have tended to mention Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kashmir only in passing. QAP's membership includes a large number of former Saudi rejectionists, which is why it is more comprehensively hostile to the Saudi regime than bin Laden who has rarely referred to outright takfir of the royal family in his reported writings and speeches.

QAP tends to concentrate its attacks on foreign targets on Saudi soil and for domestic political reasons sought to limit attacks against Saudi targets per se.

In its publications it has publicly argued strongly with other Jihadis that for Saudis fighting the U.S. locally takes precedence over everything else such as joining the jihad in Iraq.

See: Sawt al-Jihad 1, p. 23, 2003 "I did not go to Iraq, and I will not go to Iraq. I swore to clear the Arabian peninsula of polytheists. We were … born in this country so we will fight the Crusaders and the Jews in it until we have expelled them …"

Also see: Sawt al-Jihad 7, p. 23, 2004, and. Sawt al-Jihad, 8, p. 25.

xv There is nothing new about the tactics and techniques used by Tanzim al-Jihad they are very similar to and may well be inspired by those of various European terrorist groups in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

See: John Gray, Al-Qa'eda and what it means to be modern (London, 2003), pp. 20-21; Fred Halliday, Two Hours that Shook the World, September 11, causes and consequences (London, 2002), p. 32. Also see: Olivier Roy, Globalised Islam, op. cit., pp. 41-54 ("Is jihad closer to Marx than to the Koran?"

xvi See note *** above.

xvii President Bush described Islam in these terms in his address to a joint session of Congress on 21 September 2001. Ironically he was criticised for doing so by Christian fundamentalists, who claim, that Islam is a warlike and aggressive faith.

See: URL to section 1

Links to "Test 5"

Create a Link