Addict (drugaddict) wrote,



                      by Mary Habeck

Who is  the enemy,  and what  is this  thing called jihadism
that everyone  has been  talking about? Jihadism is a modern
word, not  something from  the Quran. Jihadis, or jihadists,
call themselves  salafi jihadi or salafiyya jihadiyya (-iyya
in Arabic  is equivalent  to -ism).When I first saw the term
in early  2002, I  thought it perfectly described the people
we're fighting  and that  the ideal  name for  the  conflict
we're involved  in might  be a  war on  jihadis, or  war  on
jihadism. However, the root of jihadism is "jihad," which is
actually a good word within Islam.

Jihadis are  a small  minority within  the Islamist movement
that believes  violence must  be used in order to create the
perfect   Islamic   state.   Within   jihadism   there   are
disagreements about  at whom  this violence should be aimed,
how it  should be  carried out, what it will accomplish, and
what the Islamic state law will look like when it is finally
created. Here,  I address  those jihadis  who agree  with Al
Qaeda and affiliated groups on several important issues.

Only a  very small  minority of  Muslims believe in violence
and are  willing to participate in it, which--in addition to
great FBI  work--explains why  no attacks  have been carried
out in  the U.S.  since 9/11,  and why  there have  been few
attacks in Europe or other places.

Jihadist ideology  can be  reduced to unusual definitions of
four Islamic words (tawhid, jihad, caliphate, and da'wa) and
a few  simple concepts.  The jihadis  believe,  first,  that
they're the  only true Muslims in the world, the saved sect,
the victorious  party; that  they're the  only ones going to
Paradise. Second,  they  believe  that  hostile  unbelievers
control the  world and  have only  one purpose  in life, the
destruction  of   Islam.  In   fact,  according  to  several
histories put  together by  jihadis, the  entire purpose for
the founding of America was to destroy Islam. Thus, thirdly,
jihadis feel  that war  against the  hostile unbelievers  is
permitted,  because  they've  been  attacked  and  aggressed
against for at least ninety years, since the May 1916 Sykes-
Picot Agreement (which divided the Middle East into areas of
influence for  France, Great  Britain and others). Bin Laden
frequently references  that agreement.  Other jihadis have a
more expansive vision of this war, believing it began either
with the Crusades or fourteen hundred years ago or even with
the creation  of man.  To them,  history has been a constant
fight between the believers and unbelievers, light and dark,
truth and  falsehood. Thus, for jihadis, all their wars have
been defensive.

Finally, jihadis want to create an Islamic state for all the
reasons that  Islamists do--so  that Islam will be correctly
practiced, so that sharia law will be imposed, etc--but also
to carry  on this  eternal war.  Eternal  war  is  the  only
foreign policy  they envision  for the caliphate, or Islamic
state. When  the war  ends, it will be Judgment Day, the end
of time. This is a dark, Manichean vision of the world.

As noted,  the jihadis  have  very  specific  views  of  the
concepts of tawhid, jihad, the Islamic state, and da'wa.

Tawhid, the  belief that  there's only  one god  and only he
deserves to  be worshipped, is as central a concept to Islam
as the  concept of  the Trinity  is to Christianity. Neither
term actually  appears in  the sacred  texts. But  tawhid is
understood from  everything that  is contained in the sacred

Most Muslims  believe that--if  one worships gods other than
the true  God--it is up to God to judge the unbeliever after
death. God  might have  mercy on  the unbeliever or he might
not, but  it's his judgment, not something for other Muslims
to decide.  The jihadis  agree that  one should only worship
the true God, but they also believe that tawhid includes the
idea that  God is  the only  law giver, only he--not people,
kings, or  states--has  sovereignty.  Therefore,  if  anyone
claims to  have the right to make laws, he's actually making
a religious, not political, statement. He's saying "I'm God.
I know  better than  God. Here's  my vision  for how  humans
should act."  In fact,  they have committed Shirk, the worst
sin within  Islam. The jihadi believes that he has the right
to immediately judge that person and send him to hell--there
must be judgment here and now.

This implies  that democracy  is a  foreign religion,  not a
political system.  The jihadis  feel that attempts to impose
it are  in fact  efforts to  convert Muslims  to a different
religion.  In  Iraq  before  the  elections  I  saw  posters
proclaiming that  "Anyone who  votes in  these elections has
declared themselves  an enemy  of God  and  is  following  a
foreign religion.  Election booths are the places of worship
for the  foreigners." If  this makes  little sense to us, it
didn't make  much sense  to most  Iraqis, either.  This is a
minority, Wahhabi  view, not  the widely accepted vision, of

Jihad is  one of  the most  complex terms within Islam, with
multiple definitions  that seem  to contradict  one another.
The term  began as  one thing and became something different
within some  hundred years  of Mohammed's  death, and in the
19th and 20th centuries it evolved again.

Jihad means  struggle or  to strive  hard for  something. It
doesn't mean  warfare. There's a different word for war, and
when Mohammed  wanted  to  talk  about  war,  he  used  that
different word. There are two separate ways jihad is used in
the Quran. One is striving to understand the Quran itself or
to follow  God more  closely, the  other  is  struggling  or
fighting against  the unbelievers.  After  Mohammed's  death
there was  an outburst  in Islamic  fervor that  led to  the
conquest of  vast swaths of territory from Spain all the way
to India within two hundred years. At the time it was viewed
as a miracle, and therefore the term jihad began to change.

Success bred  the idea that jihad was mostly about fighting.
The  Hadith,   which  were  collected  100-150  years  after
Mohammed's death,  are all  about fighting.  The  notion  of
internal struggle  almost disappeared.  One small group, the
Sufis, did  keep the  idea of  internal struggle  alive, but
none of  their ideas  were  incorporated  into  the  Hadith.
(Today, 80  percent  of  the  Islamic  population  has  some
connection to  Sufism.) Over  the four or five hundred years
that Islamic  law was  codified,  the  notion  of  jihad  as
fighting dominated and turned it into just-war theory.[1]

Two separate  kinds of  fighting were distinguished. One was
an individual  duty, that if Muslims were attacked, everyone
in the  community must  join in the defense. The other was a
communal duty,  that if  there  were  a  certain  number  of
Muslims out  on the  frontiers carrying out offensive raids,
that was  good enough  for the  community. So  it  has  both
offensive and defensive aspects.

The notion of an internal struggled remained within the Sufi
community until about the 19th century, when Sufism began to
spread  widely  and  to  influence  and  affect  just  about
everybody's thinking  about the  subject. The  notion of the
internal struggle became more and more important, and by the
20th century  and certainly  today, if you ask a Muslim what
jihad is about, they will say "First, it's about an internal
struggle to  follow God  more closely, and only second is it
an external  struggle  about  defensive  fighting  if  we're
attacked. Jihad  as fighting  is a  matter for  the state to

The jihadis hold that all this evolution over time is wrong,
that there was only one true definition of jihad, and it was
fighting  right   from  the   start.  They   attributed  bad
intentions to  the  Sufis  (claiming  they  were  afraid  to
fight), as  they do  to all  their enemies.  That's actually
purposeful, because  within  Islamic  law,  good  intentions
excuse almost  everything. Thus  to jihadis  everyone has to
have bad  intentions. This is one of the reasons we may have
trouble understanding  them, and also explains why they have
just as  much trouble  understanding us.  If one has to read
bad intentions  into everything  one's enemy  does, one will
never understand what they are about.

Jihadis also believe that eventually they will repel all the
people who  have taken  their lands, and that then they will
have to  go on the offense, because the war cannot end until
the entire  world has  been conquered  for their  version of
Islam. This  is  the  defining  point  of  the  ideology  of
jihadism. To  them, jihad  is a  matter for  each individual
since there is no authentic Islamic state to declare war. If
you decide  not to  join them,  you've declared  yourself an

There are  a wide  variety of  views within  Islamic society
about what  kind of  governance is  Islamic. That is because
Muslims define  an Islamic state as a majority Muslim state.
If a  majority Muslim  state decides  on  a  given  form  of
governance, it  must be Islamically correct. On Islamic law,
most Muslims will say "I think my laws should be Islamically
inspired." The  Iraqi  constitution  in  fact  states  this,
meaning moral  laws, because for most Muslims the only sense
of morality  comes from  within Islam.  So non-Islamic  laws
means immoral laws. Certain specific matters like divorce or
inheritance law  are generally  widely understood, but other
matters are  vague. There  is no  idea of  a correct form of

A recent  Newsweek article,  "Caliwho? Why is President Bush
talking about  an Islamic  caliphate? And what does the word
mean?" made  it sound as though President Bush had just made
the word  up.[2] In  fact, it has been around quite a while.
What most  Muslims understand  about  it  depends  on  their
country. In  Iraq, they  understand the  Abbasid  caliphate,
which was  centered in  Baghdad and  which saw the height of
Islamic civilization, in their opinion. In Syria, they think
the height  of Islamic  civilization was when it was focused
in Damascus.  If you  ask the  Turks,  it  was  the  Ottoman
caliphate. The point is that there were numerous caliphates,
and each  country has their own notion therefore of what the
caliphate was.  What is  agreed upon  is that  it happened a
long time ago and can't be brought back.

The jihadis,  on the  other hand, have very specific and yet
maddeningly vague  ideas about  the caliphate, which to them
is the only correct form of governance for a Muslim. It will
have a  caliph,  territory,  and  the  jihadis'  version  of
Islamic law.  As to institutions, it needs only two: an army
and an institution to promote virtue and prevent vice. There
is no  vision of  economic, social  or foreign  policy, or a
legislature, just the caliph, territory, and Islamic law.

There are specific laws, rules, and regulations within Islam
covering on which foot one should enter a room, how to brush
your teeth,  how long  your beard should be, how often women
should shave,  and yet  they do not know what the state will
look like. That is because Mohammed didn't create a state or
institutions, just  a community  of believers.  The  jihadis
refuse to recognize that and insist they must have a state.

One gleans from the jihadis' writings that after their state
comes to  control some  territory and  imposes its vision of
Islamic law,  then somebody  will rise  to prominence and be
recognized by  everyone as  the caliph.  This will  turn the
state into  the caliphate,  the only  purpose of which is to
spread the  jihadist version  of Islamic  law so everyone is
practicing it  and to  then make  sure within the state that
everyone is  correctly practicing  sharia. What  the Taliban
created in  Afghanistan is a good image of the kind of state
the jihadists  believe they need to create in the caliphate.
In fact, Bin Laden and Mullah Omar may have been within days
of declaring  Afghanistan the  caliphate before  9/11, which
was supposed to expel the U.S. from all Islamic lands.

Within Islam  itself, da'wa means the call to Islam given by
Mohammed: a  call to  turn away  from false  gods and to the
worship of  the one  true god. Most Muslims today also think
of it  as missionary  work, either  in  other  countries  or
possibly in day-to-day conversations.

Jihadis have  a very  different view.  Because they  believe
that the  entire Islamic community has fallen away from God,
their da'wa  is aimed  first and  foremost at other Muslims,
not the  unbelieving world.  Muslims who  won't answer  that
call must  be killed.  One group  in Algeria  actually calls
itself  the   Salafist  Group   for  Da'wa   and   Fighting.
Ironically, then, many Muslims are giving money to charities
the whole purpose of which is to turn them into jihadis. The
money is  not going  off to  convert the unbelievers, but is
being aimed  against them.  This goes  on quite a bit in the

It is vital to understand that the jihadis' war is first and
foremost against  other Muslims, who are the majority of the
victims. This  war has  ideological, political, and military

Ideologically, the message is aimed almost entirely at other
Muslims. In  1996, Bin  Laden put  out a "Declaration of war
against the  U.S." that  was incomprehensible  to anyone who
hadn't spent  several years  reading Islamic  theology, law,
and history. That declaration was aimed at other Muslims, to
convince them  to join  up. The  1998 declaration,  with its
short bullet points, was aimed at the West.

Politically, the  jihadis are  creating a  caliphate on  the
backs of  other Muslims, forcing them to follow their vision
of sharia.  When the  Taliban imposed its version of sharia,
the people  of Afghanistan  and Muslims  generally were  far
from happy  with it,  seeing it  as  counter  to  what  they
understood Islam  to be.  Fallujah was a religious city even
before the  Wahhabis showed  up, but  once that  version  of
Islamic law  was imposed  on them,  and after  the Americans
left in  April 2004,  the jihadis began cutting off people's
hands and beheading people. They haven't been able to regain
a foothold  there because  the citizens,  having experienced
life under  that version  of Islamic  law, do  not  want  it

Militarily, most  of the  people who have been killed by the
jihadis have been Muslims. In Iraq, a few thousand Americans
have been killed and tens of thousands of Muslim Iraqis. The
jihadis don't  care if  50 Muslims  are killed  in a bombing
that kills  one American  because  to  them,  those  Muslims
aren't Muslims.  If you're  not  supporting  the  Americans,
you're collaborators and nonbelievers. The jihadis have been
fighting a  war with  us, however. That's the one we tend to
take interest in.

Most of  the ideas  I've been discussing have to do with the
jihadists that have signed up or began with Bin Laden and Al
Qaeda. The  main difference between them and the rest of the
jihadis is  this first point on prioritizing who the enemies
are going to be. Ninety percent of jihadis believe, based on
a Quranic  verse, in  taking on the local enemies before any
far enemy. In the early 1990s,when Bin Laden began to change
his mind  about who  he should be focusing his attack on and
became convinced  that it  was the  U.S., he  had no Quranic
justification. So  he had  to  go  back  to  a  13th-century
theologian named  Ibn Tamiyya  who argued  for taking on the
greater  unbelief   first.   With   Ibn   Tamiyya   as   the
justification,  Bin   Laden  called  the  U.S.  the  greater
unbelief, the  bigger enemy. Without U.S. support, all those
lesser enemies  or near  enemies, whether it's Israel or the
Saudi government, would collapse. Bin Laden did not win this
argument with  the rest  of jihadis: hardly anyone signed up
with him  in his  global jihad  against the  U.S., only four
small groups.  Otherwise, he  was marginalized  and still is
today within the jihadi community.

As to war plans, to the jihadis, the only correct way of war
is to  follow the  method of  Mohammed, who  had a specific,
God-given plan. Within Islamic history there was one perfect
moment of  time and all of the rest of history is an attempt
to recreate that. So this God-given plan is eternal and must
always be  followed. The jihadist version of Mohammed's plan
goes something  like this:  Mohammed started  off in  Mecca,
gave da'wa  to the  residents there,  and was  rejected.  He
attracted a  tiny vanguard  of  believers,  but  mostly  was
rejected and  reviled, forced to migrate to Medina. There he
found welcomers  (ansar) who took him in, sheltered him, and
were convinced through his initially peaceful preaching that
Islam was  a good  idea. Then  he was permitted to carry out
attacks to  begin an  external jihad  against  his  enemies.
Defensive attacks  became offensive raids, winning over more
and  more  territory  and  more  and  more  supporters,  and
eventually Mecca fell almost without a fight.

This explains  much about Bin Laden's life. He began life in
Mecca, where  he had  notions that  people should follow him
but no  one did.  He won  a small group around him, but then
was persecuted and forced to migrate first to Sudan and then
to Afghanistan.  Once there  he tried  to attract people and
began carrying  out attacks  on those people in other places
that had  been oppressing  him. He  believes that eventually
he'll be  able to return to Mecca, which will fall without a

The basic  ideas of  jihadism come  from three main sources.
Ibn Abd  al-Wahhab, an  18th-century preacher,  revived  the
definition of  tawhid discussed  earlier. He  also  believed
that  there   were  no   believers  left   except  for  him.
Accordingly, he  would try  to win people over by preaching,
and if  they wouldn't  listen, he  was allowed to kill them.
This encompasses  most  of  what  you  need  to  know  about
jihadism. Notice that his jihad was not against unbelievers,
but against  other Muslims.  One of  the first things he did
when he had enough followers was to gather them together and
head off  to Najaf,  in what would become Iraq, and burn the
shrines there.  Hatred of  the  Shi'a  is  built  into  this
ideology right from the start.

Hassan al-Banna  (1906-49) had  a very  different notion  of
where this  jihad should  be focused. He agreed that one has
to practice  Islam correctly  in order  to truly worship God
and that  most of the world had fallen away from true Islam.
But he  believed in  preaching to  win over  other  Muslims,
reserving violence  for the occupiers. He founded the Muslim
Brotherhood, which  immediately began to take on the British
occupation  of  Egypt.  Unfortunately  or  fortunately,  the
British left  peacefully before al-Banna could carry out his
violence. But  they put  in place  rulers who to the jihadis
were agent rulers for the British empire. Al-Banna turned to
violence against  these agent rulers. They assassinated him,
but not  before this  notion  had  caught  on.  Off  and  on
throughout the 1950s and 1960s Gamel Abdul Nasser and others
had to  suppress these  militants, who  would flee  to other
countries like  Syria, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia and start
new organizations.  Maintaining this  notion of fighting the
occupation is their main purpose in life.

The Muslim  Brotherhood in Egypt maintained this until 1966,
when some  thousand of  their leaders  were rounded  up  and
executed and  the group  renounced violence.  But every such
movement  has   its  splinter   groups,   and   the   Muslim
Brotherhood's disagreed with this renunciation of violence.

Sayyid Qutb, the most famous Muslim Brotherhood member, came
to the  U.S. in 1948 to study in Greeley, Colorado, where he
was so  disgusted by the decadence and repulsed by the lives
of Americans  that he  became  a  radical.[3]  Returning  to
Egypt, he  joined the Muslim Brotherhood and was imprisoned.
While in  prison he  wrote a  30-volume  commentary  on  the
Quran,  later   condensed  to   a  short   manifesto  called
Milestones Along  the Way,  in which  he reiterates that the
main enemy  is  liberalism.  Liberalism  and  democracy,  he
argued are  a direct challenge to Islam as a way of life and
the belief  that God  should be the only law-giver. Qutb was
among those  executed in 1966, but his brother Mohammed Qutb
fled to  Saudi Arabia and became a teacher; among his pupils
was Bin Laden.

Let's look  briefly at  some of  the  jihadist  groups  that
evolved from these concepts. Today, Hamas is just a new name
for the  Muslim Brotherhood  in Palestine.  Notice how these
groups evolve  over time.  They begin by attacking soldiers,
government officials,  and when  that  doesn't  achieve  any
results, they  find  justification  to  begin  killing  men,
women, and  children. Likewise,  the late  Shamil  Basayev's
people who  carried out the 2004 Beslan school siege started
off attacking  Russian soldiers  and  government  officials,
then teachers, ordinary citizens, and finally any Christians
in Russia.

Al-Jihad was  one of these splinter groups that didn't agree
with the Muslim Brotherhood's renunciation of violence. They
killed Anwar  Sadat in 1981, and nothing changed. Who next--
what about the tourists, who, they reasoned, were supporting
the apostate  ruler? So  Al-Gama'a  al-Islamiyya  and  Jihad
Talaat al-Fath  carried out a spectacular attack in Luxor in
1997, after  which ten  thousand members were rounded up and
imprisoned. But  seven years  later they  renounce violence,
are let  out of  prison,  and  splinter  groups  immediately
carried out  attacks in  Sharm el-Sheikh  and the Sinai. One
part of  Gama'a al-Islamiyya  argued that  killing  tourists
doesn't work,  however, and  they need  to wipe out the real
support for  the Egyptian government: the U.S. This explains
the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

Al Qaeda  really began  with this  notion  of  the  U.S.  as
occupiers. Although  they didn't  carry out  the 1996 Khobar
Towers attack,  they  obviously  supported  it.  They  began
changing their minds about the right methodology in the mid-
nineties looking  to strike  repeated blows  at the  US, who
they now  saw as the "greater unbelief." After all, the U.S.
had left  Beirut,  Aden,  and  Somalia.  They  thought  that
jihadis everywhere  and the  Islamic  community  would  join
them, and  with an energized community, nobody would be able
to stand  in their way. But none of those things transpired.
It took  them about  two years  to adjust to that and try to
devise another  plan, which  was to  recreate Afghanistan in
northern Pakistan  and start  over.  They've  now  recreated
their Islamic state in northern Pakistan, where they have 22
camps at  last count.  They're turning out jihadis just like
they did during the 1990s, and they've gotten a peace treaty
signed with the Musharraf government, the likely duration of
which may  be measurable  in  months.  Destroying  this  new
Islamic proto-state will be a problem, since no one wants to
invade  the   difficult  terrain   of  ungoverned   northern
Pakistan. Al  Qaeda has  been trying  to take  over  chaotic
places like Somalia, Darfur, and al-Anbar province, and this
is a very frightening proposition.

There is  one ray  of hope.  Atlanta writer  Lee Harris  has
written about  what he  calls fantasy ideologies,[4] such as
Nazism, fascism,  and communism.  These are  ideas and  even
states in  some cases  that are  based  on  fantasies.  When
people try  to put  these fantasies  into action,  to create
states based  on them,  those states may last for a while--I
see the  current conflict  as a  two-hundred  year  war--but
eventually   they    will   collapse    under   their    own
contradictions, or  when they  are challenged. They're based
on a  false reading of human nature, of how the world works.
The Taliban  state could only survive as long as nobody took
it on. So while in the short term I'm pessimistic about some
of these  issues, in  the very long term I'm very optimistic
about our chances for victory.


[1] See Islam's Trajectory, David Forte, FPRI E-Note, 9/2006
and Islam,  Islamism, and  Democratic Values,  FPRI  E-Note,
Trudy Kuehner, 9/2006.

[2] Lisa  Miller and  Matthew Philips,  Newsweek,  Oct.  12,

[3] See  John Calvert,  "The Islamist  Syndrome of  Cultural
Confrontation," Orbis, Spring 2002.

[4] "Al  Qaeda's Fantasy  Ideology," Policy  Review,  August
2002, and  Civilization and  Its Enemies:  The Next Stage of
History, Free Press, 2004.

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