July 25, 2006
No Cry for Jihad: On Religious War, Part 2By J.R. Dunn
Part 1 is found here.
According to religious war theorists (they've clearly earned such an appellation by now), what's occurring in southern Lebanon is another step in the advance of jihad. Israel, battered on all sides, back against the wall, has been goaded into a reckless attack on a Jihadi stronghold, and is now hurtling toward the abyss.
From one end of the Middle East to the other, the Arab street is ablaze. Muslim governments stand en bloc behind Lebanon and Hezbollah. Millions of Jihadis, overwhelmed by religious frenzy, are making their way toward the front, ready for the final reckoning. Iraqi Shi'ites have turned en masse against Coalition forces, driving them out of Basra and the southern provinces. Iranian forces have crossed the border in an unstoppable tide. The green banner glows on the world's horizon, heralding a triumph unseen by the Muslim umma since the heyday of Saladin....
Well, not quite. In fact, nothing at all like this is happening. Hezbollah is hunkering down under a rain of Israeli ordnance with no outside support whatsoever. Led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Arab League has expressed sympathy for Lebanon, disgust for Hezbollah, and complete lack of interest in becoming involved.
No discernable cry for Jihad has gone up from anyone. Ahmadinejad of Iran, who spent the last six months calling for the annihilation of Israel, has been reduced to pleading with the UN to do something. Syria has made a few belligerent noises but is otherwise inert. It appears that for the first time Israel possesses carte blanche to deal with a major threat. We may yet see one of the most brutal, vicious, and implacable terrorist organizations removed from the board, to the eternal benefit of Israel, Lebanon, the Middle East, and the world at large.
This would seem to be a serious blow to what might be called 'classical' Jihad theory. Considerations of Islamic brotherhood, the duty of Jihad, and other religious imperatives have played no detectable part. For strictly political reasons, the Arab world's heavyweights have decided to sit this one out. A desire to see the Shi'ites put in their place, Iran given a bloody nose, and the mullahs' chief overseas expeditionary force destroyed has easily overwhelmed any dogmatic considerations.
As many of us have long suspected, there appears to be strict limits to the influence the Koran has on the basic elements of human nature.
But the imminence of religious warfare is one of those ideas that depends more on attitude than evidence. If it didn't happen this time... there's always the next crisis down the road. We haven't yet reached the point where the Muslims are characterized as cleverly pretending not to be fanatics in order to lull the West into dropping its guard. But that will come. It always does.
So, to get a clear picture of where we stand, it may prove worthwhile to go over in detail some of the mythology exposed by Hezbollah's comeuppance.
Apart from these efforts, open debate on the nature of Islam and its possible improvement is occurring across the Islamic world, particularly in the West.
What Islam is, all such fantasies put aside, is a faith with a number of problematic doctrines, particularly as involves its relations with other creeds, a scripturally—based propensity for violence, and an outmoded tribal code of law and behavior given a religious imprimatur.
The result is a religion having a very rough time navigating the shoals of modernity. All religions have to give somewhat in order to adjust to the modern worldview. Some, like Catholicism and Judaism, accomplish this without major catastrophe. Others, "mainline" Protestants being the most prominent contemporary example, are flirting with extinction.
Islam is somewhere in the middle. It certainly shows no signs of disappearing, but its internal pains are greater than they strictly have to be, leading to serious confrontations with the world at large. Jihadism, in whatever form, is an expression of the tension gripping the Muslim umma — a rejection of modernity and all its works, paramount among them its most successful example, the United States.
Clearly, there's nothing in any of this predicating open religious conflict with the mass of believing Muslims. Most Muslims have adapted to the modern world in all senses but the religious, and some have made this leap as well. Ambivalence exists on both sides in many of the areas in which Muslims have settled, and occasional crises are seen along the lines of the Danish cartoon uproar, which appears to have been designed to create a division between religious communities. This faded out leaving no evident permanent damage, and little in the way of inflamed hostility exists outside of areas where it's been aggravated by local prejudice and renegade imams, as in the UK and France.
But a civilizational conflict can still boil up. It can be stumbled into, as occurred in 1914 at precisely this time of year, when Europe strolled into an apocalypse that ruined its traditional culture, destroyed three empires, and killed tens of millions. And nobody wanted it to happen. The leaders of Europe, with few exceptions, were convinced that they could once more wiggle out of the crisis, as they had so many others, right up until the first week of August.
Nothing would please the Jihadis more than for such a conflagration to be ignited. That's what they've been working toward all along, the situation the 9/11 strikes and all the outrages since were supposed to create. Religious warfare, the war of creeds, the style of warfare in which human beings are at their abject worst. For five years the Jihadis have been calling the umma to the road to glory, but the umma has so far proven deaf.
The reasons for this are probably as varied as human nature itself. For the first time, many Muslims really have something to lose. Modern communications and transportation have to some extent created a global community where the prejudices and preconceptions of the past have no place. It may well be that the Jihadis, with their relentlessly medieval rhetoric and getups — the beards, the sheik costumes, and so forth — are a little too much for the educated Muslim to take. The latter—day secessionist groups of the South have a similar effect.
But a large part of it is simply the fact that the West did not take the bait. After 9/11 and the other strikes, the U.S. and its allies did not fall upon the umma seeking an eye for an eye. From the beginning this war was fought in the classic Clauswitzean sense, a war of limited if expansive aims: destruction of the Jihadis, the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the installation of representative governments. Wars fought for rational reasons seldom blow up into conflagrations. There was a moment, perhaps, right after 9/11, when the U.S. might have taken out after Islam with the fury of the Reconquista. But it passed, and it's a good thing that it passed.
Overcoming that impulse was one of this country's great victories, the depth of which will remain unknown to all who are not Americans.
But we can do even better than that — with a little imagination and brio we can not only undercut Jihadi hopes based on the belief that we'll inevitably act as badly as they do, but negate them completely through a strategy that encourages the mature tendencies already in evidence in the Muslim world.
The core elements of such a strategy is to locate the gaps between the Jihadis and the Muslim umma, pry them wider, so that they at last become impossible to bridge, and after isolating the Jihadis, destroy them without damage to Islamic society as a whole. Is this possible? Can we deal with the Jihadis while not harming the umma? And just as important, without alienating Muslims further than events have already done? The record says yes.
Two major fields of action are open to us in this effort: marginalization and reform.
It's too little known in the West that Islam has its own history of dealing with its
Such takfiri are normally give short shrift, whether Kharijite, Wahhabi, or Salafist. Three incidents have occurred in the modern epoch in which takfiri who threatened the stability and cohesion of the umma were massacred out of hand. A fledgling Wahhabi republic was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1818. Ibn Sa'ud, founder of the Saudi royal house, turned against a group of his own supporters, the Ikhwan, when they went over the line in the early 1930s. And in 1979, a group of Salafists under Juhayman al—Utaybi seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in a quixotic attempt at fomenting an uprising. Saudi security forces shot dead every last one of them.
Clearly, Islam is not as open to radical behavior and ideas as many would like to think. The Jihadis inhabit a contiuum well outside the mainstream of accepted Muslim thought. As such, they have already succeeded in marginalizing themselves. A little effort put into widening the gap could pay enormous dividends.
The Jihadis are already physically isolated — Waziristan and Somalia aren't the center of anything. This is traditional among Islamic radicals —— Muhammud ibn Abdul Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect, confined his activities to remote areas of the Najd. But times have changed, and distance means little, as the exploits of David Hicks and Johnny Walker Lindh have revealed. The Jihadis use modern telecommunications to contact their followers, spread propaganda and disinformation, and manipulate the world media. There have even been attempts, through the doctrine of 'dispersed networking' to utilize the Internet as a tactical tool. Simply running the guilty parties out will not be enough. Marginalization must also proceed in the sociopolitical sphere, a more difficult process which may take some time.
What is required is a psychological warfare campaign operating against all levels of Jihadi—umma interaction: doctrinal, social, and political. All active Jihadis, from Osama bin Laden on down, must be targeted through all forms of media, constantly and unrelentingly. A perfect example of this is the Zarqawi video, in which the Lion of Anbar was revealed as a schmuck who couldn't figure out how to fire a machine gun. When he was finally tracked down and killed a few weeks later, his 'martyrdom' lacked the expected impact, in large part due to the impression created by that very video.
Much the same can be done with other Jihadis, no matter where they're operating. Nor does it matter whether there's any actual footage — CGI (Computer Generated Animation) as any filmgoer is aware, is capable of near—miracles today. Imagery can be created that cannot be distinguished from real footage without close professional examination. This technology should be taken advantage of. The possibilities are limitless, from ObL putting away the contents of a bottle of Jim Beam to his directly blaspheming the Almighty. I'm not at privy to current psywar operations, if any, but it seems evident that all Western efforts up until now (the Zarqawi film excluded) have been woefully lacking in imagination. Otherwise we'd be hearing a lot more commotion from the Jihadis.
Ridicule can be a potent weapon, as was seen in WW II, when the Western Allies sent Spike Jones, the LooneyToons menagerie, and the Three Stooges against the Axis. The Jihadis by their very nature give us a lot of potential material. It's already been noted how absurd they look. It wouldn't take much to push this element straight over the edge into slapstick. (In the same way the Allies did with Hitler after the fall of France in 1940. When informed that the French had agreed to his surrender terms, Hitler stomped his foot once in triumph, a gesture caught on film. A British propaganda genius relooped that footage 'at the point where the fuhrer's stance looked most effeminate' and made it appear as if he was dancing an insane little jig. To this day, most people truly believe that Hitler actually danced that jig.) The Jihadis should be made to dance at every opportunity.
Their previous lives are not off limits either. There are numerous photos of ObL in a Beatle cut wearing striped bell—bottoms. They should be given wider circulation, as opposed to the sickening 'white sheik' photo that has become the ObL photo of choice for most of the Western media. (What ruins that one is the eyes — cover his lower face next time you see this shot.You will be chilled.) Did Zawahiri leave behind any snapshots? The other goons? Has anybody bothered to look?
As is true of all fanatic movements, there's a convoluted and potentially useful
He fled home to Egypt a confirmed bachelor, to pass his late nights creating the philosophy that so well serves the Islamists today. The fact that Jihadi hypermasculinity is a facade (not to mention its near—explicit homoeroticism), will not come as a revelation to most Westerners, but it might be an amusing novelty in the Islamic world. (Consider in this light the news of the sexy lingerie discovered in the ruins of Zarqawi's final hideout. Fact or disinformation? No doubt very effective, either way.)
On a more serious level, there are matters of doctrine where the Jihadis are at odds with every other living Muslim. This cries out for exploitation. The concept of takfir is well known throughout Islam. It is considered to be a shirk, a gross sin. This point should be hammered relentlessly, as an element that renders the Jihadis enemies of the Islamic community. Similarly, the concept of Kharijism is commonly understood as shorthand for religious xtremism. A large number of Islamic websites exist explicitly linking the term to the Jihadis. No doubt Islamic scholars could come up with a lengthy list of similar possibilities.
In growing numbers, Islamic scholars and imams are condemning the terrorists and their tactics. One of the most recent cases involved Islamic clerics at Al—Azhar University in Cairo, one of the oldest universities in the world. Dr. Mohammad Rafat Othman announced that the Islamic Research Academy, had found that the practice of suicide bombing was forbidden to Muslims. (He left a loophole concerning Israel, but that's not surprising.) This needs to be encouraged, with other Islamic figures persuaded to follow suit. At the very least it must be more widely reported — most of these statements get next to no coverage in the U.S. media.
Material created for such campaigns can be distributed via Internet, videotape, DVD, CD, and for that matter, by comic book for more backward areas. The jihadis have utilized all these media in distributing their propaganda, sermons, and lectures. They have, to put it bluntly, been allowed to monopolize them.
Why this has occurred is far from obvious. The current administration is unimpressed by media of any sort, does not trust public communications, and is not good at it. They make the necessary provisions only as a case of last resort (as with the appointment of Tony Snow) and otherwise ignore it. The Bush administration's point figure in the field of anti—Jihadi propaganda is Karen Hughes, a political technician with no background in Islam or the Middle East. According to recent reports, Hughes has opted to treat the assignment as an arena for the standard run of political shenanigans. It's impossible to picture Ronald Reagan or FDR overlooking such opportunities. Of course, efforts of this nature may well be classified, with the necessary orders given out in secret to the intelligence community shortly after 9/11, in which case we can expect a detailed paper covering all possibilities sometime in 2012.
We have possession and control of one of the most potent vectors of psychological warfare every created — the Internet. And we're leaving it to be exploited by the enemy. We have to do better than this. We are the midst of a decades—long conflict, one in which over the long run, the military aspects will be strictly secondary. This war will be won on the political and social fronts. There is no sign that this is understood at every level of government. That being the case, it may be a moment for public action. There are plenty of think tanks and foundations devoting themselves to terrorism and the Middle East. Perhaps it's time that one of them took a more active hand.
Reform is something that must come from within the Muslim umma. It is not something we can originate, instigate, or oversee. But it is something we can support.
It can be argued that the concept of reform is in and of itself alien to Islam. We've noted that most Islamic 'reform' movements, beginning with the Kharijites and continuing down to the present day, were reactionary cults obsessed with recreating the 'golden caliphate' of the Successors. But such attitudes are not unique to Islam.
Reform, as we understand it, is a modern concept, one that appears only with the realization that change is not necessarily a threat and can be other than chaotic. In the West, reform was a product of the Enlightenment, one novelty among many, that became more entrenched and broader—based only as time passed and actual political and social reform efforts were seen to bear fruit. This is a situation where the past can indicate, but not dictate.
There are a number of encouraging signs within Islam. Foremost among them is Islam Hadhari, Premier Badhawi's program to reform Islam on a humanist basis. Badhawi explicitly stated that the program is designed to answer accusations that Islam is a religion of extremism, and intends the program to serve as a model. Considerable debate has occurred over Islam Hadhari throughout the Southeast Asian Islamic communities. Other attempts at reforming Muslim law in Morocco and India are more limited, but may have even greater influence.
None of these efforts is occurring within the core Muslim region of the Middle Eastern Arab states, which is not to say that debate isn't taking place in those areas as well. Much of it is being carried out in Internet chat rooms under the radar of government censorship and official disapproval. It's here that outside support would prove to be of greatest value.
International conferences and meetings of reform—minded individuals should be the next step. These could be held in Western venues or alternately in more tolerant Islamic states such as Malaysia. Out from under the fierce eye of government and religious authorities, networks can be created, alliances forged, and commitments renewed. Such events can also benefit reformers by revealing that they are not alone, that others share their hopes and ordeals.
American conservatives should understand the importance of such a program —— it's exactly how the conservative movement wrested the country from the liberal elite beginning in the 1960s. Universities would be the natural venue for such an effort, but to ask the current run of administrations and faculties to take the lead in such efforts is probably too much to hope for. This is another area where private foundations should step in to set up programs not only for conferences, but also research, publications, and so on.
It has been suggested that an Islamic reform movement will emerge first in the West, specifically the United States, and this is a factor that should not be overlooked. Muslims raised in the U.S. are used to public debate and aware of its purpose and effect. A widespread public conversation among U.S. Muslims —— and their Christian, Jewish, and secular fellow citizens —— as to the future of the faith and how to secure it could be a keystone contribution. Such debates, taking place within the Muslim community and in public forums, could be recorded and distributed across the Muslim umma. The simple fact of American Muslims speaking out in public would in and of itself negate the bulk of Jihadi propaganda.
Such programs could be funded and organized by Muslim groups, other private
What's forgotten is how effective the organization, and its magazine Encounter, were in providing a platform for the democratic capitalist vision. We may have a need for yet another, similar organization to provide cover for Islamic intellectuals, often beleaguered between suspicious governments and hostile fundamentalists.
An examination of the Western experience in reform shows a slow, steady movement with no lack of failures and dead ends. The American record from the days of the muckrakers through the Progressive era to the New Deal and its various offshoots bears this out.
The Muslim experience will be no different. They will make mistakes, they will falter, they will do things we do not like. This is a product of human nature, and not enemy action. What matters is that a long overdue effort has at last begun. Aided by the revolution in international communications, the Muslim world is at last opening up. Muslims may be formulating, without even knowing it, something resembling a universal creed. We must be in a position to influence it in favor of humane and enlightened values.
We have won the first campaigns, and our victories continue — Zarqawi is dead, Hezbollah is being disassembled, you can't pick up a newspaper without reading of another terror group in the bag, and yet little attempt is made to extend those victories, to spread their effect in time and space and increase their impact on related events. Often enough, they're never mentioned again. It's as if we're ashamed of winning.
There's no point to this. The men we are destroying are throwbacks and psychopaths, representative of nothing. Their organizations embody only chaos and hatred, even of their own coreligionists. We have liberated millions, and created the possibility of the self—liberation of millions more. There is no shame in any of this, and that is what we need to get across to the world in general and the Islamic community in particular.
And when it's over, and the Jihadis are at last eliminated, the healthy majority can then make its peace with modernity and the rest of the world at its own pace. This will be difficult, and it will take time —— perhaps even decades.
But consider the alternative — a world of vaporized cities, of casualties in the hundreds of millions, of entire countries gone to the wall. A world in which the United States no longer exists as a democracy, or an example to anyone, but as a garrison state more complete than any other in history. The world of Orwell's 1984 with the eternal enemy state Eurasia replaced by Jihadia, the entire Muslim umma in arms, fighting a war of annihilation, a war that never ends.
It's not a choice. That is not the world we wish to bequeath to the generations to come. Our grounds for agreement with the great majority of Muslims begins with that point. As for our disagreements —— they can wait for a better day.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor.