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Al Qaeda's Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror
Why Should We Care?
To most Americans, the "war on terrorism"—the popular euphemism for the series of U.S.-led military campaigns all over the world—had a distinct starting point in the spectacular terrorist strikes against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.
In reality, however, these strikes were milestones in what was already an ongoing global war. The Islamists' quest to dominate Islam and control the Muslim world, as well as to cordon off the Islamic world from Westernized modernity until it could be taken over by the Islamists through a fateful jihad, has been unfolding in various degrees of intensity since Napoleon set foot on Egyptian soil in the late eighteenth century. At present, the primary "front" of the Islamist jihad is the Hub of Islam—the Middle East along with South and Central Asia—where the jihadist movement is trying to confront Western modernity while preserving the Islamic sociopolitical character of society. Rather than adapt to the ethos of the information age and globalization, the jihadists see controlling and dominating the West as their only salvation.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the jihadists resolved to pursue three historic axes of advance into lands within reach of the Hub of Islam, lands that have been claimed by Islam since its ascent: the Caucasus (the historic avenue into the heart of Russia and Eastern Europe), the Balkans (the historic road to Western Europe), and Kashmir (the entrée into the Indiansubcontinent). By the mid-1990s, the Islamists were already escalating their jihad in each of these regions. During the same period, the United States was involved in conflicts in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan-/Pakistan—a series of entanglements that were problematic for U.S. interests at the time and quite counterproductive, in retrospect. In each of those regions, Washington was pursuing near-term political interests while disregarding historic and global megatrends. So the idea that Washington "discovered" the jihadist menace on 9/11, and has since been leading the global campaign to defeat and reverse the phenomenon, simply ignores the crucial role played by key regional powers who have battled Islamist-Jihadism for more than a decade.
Critical, in these years, was Russia's role in combating Islamist terrorism on the Caucasus jihadist front, in a drawn-out conflict commonly referred to as the "war in Chechnya." For the Russians, the importance of containing the jihad in the Caucasus went beyond their desire to control this small republic, with a population of slightly over a million and a land mass smaller than the state of Vermont. The rebellion in Chechnya may have begun as an indigenous nationalist movement, but it was soon co-opted by the international Islamist movement as an element of its global jihad. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the jihadists were well on their way to transforming the Caucasus into a springboard for strikes into Russia and Europe, and a site of sociopolitical transformation that threatened to affect the entire Hub of Islam and beyond.
In order to comprehend the process that has become known as "Chechenization," its role in the Islamist-Jihadist movement, and what it tells us about the potential vulnerabilities of jihadist activity elsewhere in the world, it is critical to examine the course of the Islamist jihad as it has played out in the Caucasus in the last decade.
Chechenization is a relatively new concept, still whispered about by experts on Islamist-Jihadist terrorism and attacked by Western politicians, mainly American, who are loath to face the reality of the conflicts their countries are mired in—or to acknowledge Russia's preeminent role in the worldwide war on terrorism.
Chechenization refers to the profound transformation of a predominantly Muslim society from its traditional, largely pre-Islamic structure to one dominated by Islamist-Jihadist elements that historically have been alien to that society. Chechenization involves not only the Arabization of that society's value system, social structure, and way of life, but a near-complete abandonment of a society's own cultural heritage in favor of subservience to pan-Islamic jihadist causes, even if those causes are detrimental to the self-interest of that society.
The process of Chechenization—which is now arguably at play in significant parts of Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Indonesia, as well as several Muslim communities in both Central Asia and the Balkans—was named for the jihadist campaign in Chechnya in the mid-1990s. There, the national liberation struggle of a secularized Muslim population, inspired by a rich historical legacy of quests for self-determination, was taken over from within by the Islamist-Jihadists—transforming the liberation struggle into a regional anti-Russian terrorist jihad, at the expense of the Chechens' own self-interest. The process—which included the intentional destruction of Chechnya's own socioeconomic infrastructure and the forfeiting of Chechnya's ability to benefit from agreements with Moscow—could not have been accomplished without lavish funding from charities based in Saudi Arabia and several Persian Gulf states. Since the mid-1990s, the radicalization and transformation of Muslim societies from within has bred and nourished the waves of the Islamist-Jihadist terrorists, which not only kill their own kin but also strike out at the heart of the West.
Today, the Chechenization of other regional conflicts, subversions, and insurgencies around the world is fast becoming the key to al Qaeda's rapid expansion and further consolidation, despite the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The Islamist-Jihadists see Chechenization as the profound transformation of a "jihad front" (to use their own term) from a besieged community on the defense to a springboard for the expansion of their fateful onslaught on Western civilization. The first cycle of Chechenization saw the jihadists' struggle for the heart of Asia and the Caucasus cross a major milestone. The Islamists were no longer intent merely on consolidating their hold over the Muslim states of South and Central Asia, or on "liberating" traditionally contested territories such as Russia's northern Caucasus, Indian Kashmir, and the state of Israel. Rather, the Islamist-Jihadists launched an offensive into Russian territory aimed to transform the very shape of Eurasia. Given the strategic and economic potential of the Caucasus and Central Asia, it was the sponsoring states of this Islamist-Jihadist upsurge—not the peoples of the Caucasus—who would reap the primary benefits of this strategic upheaval.Chechen Jihad
Al Qaeda's Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror. Copyright © by Yossef Bodansky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.