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Winning the War Against Future Jihad
By Walid Phares
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2008 Walid Phares
All rights reserved.
REDEFINING THE WAR
Half a decade after 9/11, eighteen years after the end of the Cold War, and fifty-two years after the founding of the United Nations, the question arises again: How can the Free World survive and how can it win in a confrontation with an authoritarian, hegemonic enemy?
For the last seven years, some democracies have begun responding to the ideological attack they have been under—even as their soldiers fight on the battlefields, their civilians are killed by terror attacks, and the political debate wears on the nerves of citizens and taxpayers in the West. The dominant establishment seems to disagree on why the war started, on the steps leaders have taken or not taken, and on how to end the conflict. Peoples throughout history have consented to extreme sacrifices and deprivations in the hope of ultimately winning the wars imposed on them. But in the War on Terror the public seems lost in such questions as, Could we have avoided the war? and, since 2001, Have we made the right decisions?
But the mother of all questions remains unaddressed: How can we still win this global war and defeat the forces of Jihadism? This is the center of today's debate. One camp says we have to fight the war but isn't telling us how to win it, while another says we were wrong to engage the enemy—we have made the enemy stronger and are losing the conflict. The latter camp, however, isn't telling us how we should have engaged the Jihadists differently or how we should do so in the future. Within the West, unfortunately, narrow political interests prevent the development of strategic policies. The focus is more on who sits in the White House, 10 Downing Street, or the Élysée Palace than on global, relentless, and long-lasting steps to end Jihadi terrorism and its derivatives.
THE FREE WORLD CAN STILL WIN
In this book I argue that modern and free societies can win the War on Terror, including the conflict with Jihadism. I will try to demonstrate that the public has not been served well by the intelligentsia, who miseducated and misinformed them and who are mired in one sterile debate after another. But since the start of the great counteroffensive in 2001 by the United States, the coalition of the willing, and the new dissidents in the Middle East, breaches have been opened in the defenses of global Jihadism. Now we can see the real state of affairs inside their realm. And with a better understanding of their ideology, we have begun to understand their strategies within the West. We are now at a critical stage. The conflict can evolve in either of two directions: the Jihadists break down the democracies, or the forces of freedom defeat Jihadism. From the confrontation with Salafi and Wahabi powers and organizations in Iraq, the Arab peninsula, Sudan, elsewhere in Africa, and south Asia to the clash with the Khumeinist axis of control in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, the frontiers of terror are endless. From London to Mumbai and from New York to Madrid, the cells of the urban Jihad are growing, menacing security and stability.
I argue that if the engaged democracies can "see" the global map of Jihadism, they can defeat it. However, this ultimate victory in the War on Terror will require a clear vision, determination, coordination, and perseverance by leaders and the public. But the gigantic task, which will consume efforts and talents and require greater sophistication and education, rests on a simple equation: If we want to win the War on Terror, we have to defeat the phenomenon of Jihadism. It will require a reconstruction of strategies, a new discourse with citizens, and a revolution in thinking. Can we in the Free World gain this victory? Yes, if we adopt a new direction.
DEFINING IS HALF OF WINNING
Defining the threat is already halfway to victory. Since 9/11, there has been a war over the definition of war among the various parties to the conflict. The stakes are high. The faster a party can frame the conflict, the quicker that party can isolate its enemy by dominating the debate. In modern times, and with high technology, winning the framing can bring victory on the ground. The radical forces, particularly the Jihadi networks, have learned quickly from past Communist propaganda and the first post-Soviet decade that with speed and overwhelming media they can shift the center of debate, enabling them to project themselves as the legitimate defenders of their societies and their foes as the aggressors. The tactics of Salafists and Khumeinists reflect a principle of psychological war known in the Arab world as Darabani wa baka, sabaqani wa ishtaka: "They hit me and cried, beat me to court, and sued me." The propaganda of the Jihadists, whether through regime-backed media or dispersed groups, operates on two main principles: Be first to frame the conflict, and demonize the other side as the attackers. That's how al Qaeda, their allies, Wahabis within regimes, Muslim Brotherhood operatives, Tehran's intelligence network, Syria's Mukhabarat, Hezbollah, and their allies have operated on satellite TV and online, in forums around the world—and how they won the 1990s War of Ideas and are winning it still.
In each conflict, the Jihadist attempts to isolate one major target. The different groups of Jihadists, despite their inner crises, tensions, and subconflicts, focus one set of arguments against one particular target, be it Israel, France, Southern Sudan, or Kurdistan. In each conflict the Jihadists, through multiple groups extending around the world, close in on the target. The target is demonized, isolated, and marked for punishment by "all." The Free World watches these witch hunts passively. While the global Jihadi propaganda machine launches its political offensives, encircling and weakening the morale of its adversary, the democratic camp divides over "the issue," if it is even aware of the threat, and ends up losing more ground. The Jihadi camp has a better knowledge of the weakness of democracies than the latter has of Jihadists, which brings us to another advantage the terror groups have over the Free World.
Under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, public opinion, coalitions, free media, polls, debates, and other features of liberal democracies are irrelevant: Either they do not exist, as under the Taliban and in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Cuba, or they are manipulated by antidemocracy forces, as in Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In full-fledged democracies, the process of setting a national agenda is complex and difficult and dependent on whoever manages to persuade the public of its views. And this is precisely where the Jihadists have been winning for years: using the mechanisms of democracy and basic freedoms in liberal societies to win the battle of framing the conflict. With huge funds at their disposal, the enemies of pluralism use media, intelligentsia, and academia to spread propaganda that labels Western governments as the bad guys in international relations. Once so branded, all efforts by the Free World are doomed to fail. Once a government, or even a country, is successfully labeled by its foes, it loses international support, the opportunity to rally allies, and most important, the confidence of the public. Hence, the first battle is over the image of the foe. When fighting India in an effort to erect an emirate in Kashmir, the world Jihadi machine accuses New Delhi of human rights abuses, war crimes, and aggressiveness. The world watches. When the Jihadi engage Russia with the aim of establishing a Wahabi principality in Chechnya, the same techniques are applied. And the world watches. Then comes France's turn (over the hijaab and the rioting in the suburbs): France is demonized, and the world blasts French political culture. Likewise Great Britain, in its battles against the terrorists after 2005: It is British political culture and government that are made responsible for the violence. In other, similar reversals of blame, it was the rebels in Sudan, not the Islamist regime, who were made responsible for the genocide; the government in Lebanon, not Fatah al Islam and Syria, who was blamed for the violence there.
And, of course, this is how America found itself blamed on the morning of 9/11—portrayed as the aggressor rather than the victim. In the very first hours after the strikes, a formidable conglomeration of media, Internet, and propaganda operatives, from the heart of the Middle East to the American Middle West, explained the roots of the attacks and attempted to deflect the U.S. response, and perhaps even with time reset the national and international agendas. From bin Laden's (and later Ahmadinejad's) speeches, to Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi's "sermons" on al Jazeera, to the "academic analysis" by Ivy League professors, the sentence was rendered swiftly: It was America's fault—Western plundering and meddling in Islamic lands prompted the attacks, and of course, at the center was the Israeli-Palestinian problem. America was blamed for the Arab-Israeli conflict, for Iraq's situation since 1991, for having forces in Saudi Arabia, and even for European colonialism and the Crusades. An old Middle Eastern proverb aptly describes this distorted portrayal: Aanze walaw taret, meaning, "It is a goat, even if it flies!"
"THERE IS NO THREAT"
The first line of attack by the Jihadist propaganda was to deny the threat altogether and thereby convince the democracies (their decision makers and the public) that there is no global threat menacing the West and the Free World. In order to achieve this goal the propaganda machine moved quickly on two tracks: One was to accuse the West, or at least the corporate powers on the one hand and Christian-Zionist lobbies on the other, of concocting the idea of a threat, so that business or political interests appeared to be the cause of the war. This is a sort of preemptive strike to cut off the international campaign at the start. The advocates of such arguments are found among the Trotskyites, the extreme left-wing and some self-declared progressive forces within the West, and, strangely enough, also the racist-motivated extreme right wing.
This assertion that a threat is nonexistent is developed directly by the apologists for Jihadism. They are found mostly in academic circles, and their argument is that Jihad is essentially spiritual; thus the Jihadists are a force for spiritual change. This argument was dominant in the mainstream thinking in the West until 9/11. With the ensuing exultant videos of celebrating Arab crowds, violent attacks in European cities, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first wave of Jihad apology receded as the Salafi ideologues and cadre, including al Qaeda, demonstrated to the world that a Jihadi ideology existed, and it was manifestly violent.
At this point, a second wave of arguments claimed that if indeed there is violence it is caused by U.S. policy, past colonialism, and other Western sins. We'll explore some of the latter in this chapter. A third wave of arguments—which I call the save-Jihad doctrine—was produced by Wahabi and Muslim Brotherhood clerics and conveyed via lobbyists in the United States and the West. It basically said that the real Jihadists aren't the problem, only those who conduct nonsanctioned terror activities. Again, one after another, these attempts to deflect Western anger came up against the hard reality of the statements and the actions of the Jihadists themselves. The apologists used all their resources to convince the world that Jihad is not a war enterprise and that Jihadism is not a threat, but the Jihadists proved all these apologetics wrong. And yet the clash of arguments is still going on both in the West and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. The efforts and resources of the apologist scholars and the Jihadi tacticians are gigantic. If successful, their efforts would make the War on Terror seem like a quixotic campaign against an imaginary enemy, and would lead the West to let its guard down for another decade, if not more; such a defeat in the War of Ideas would cause the conflict to last another generation, for it is clear that Jihadists will continue to use terror as a tactic.
"THERE IS NO WAR!"
A more daring attempt to defeat the identification of the problem was a campaign to deny that the War on Terror or the campaigns by the Jihadists are in fact a war. Even after 9/11 in the United States, 3/11 in Madrid, 7/7 in London, as well two major campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the car bombs, massacres, and blowing up of mosques and churches by Jihadists (not to mention the Islamic courts coup in Somalia, the terrorist assassinations and explosions in Lebanon, the bloody assault on the Beslan school in Russia, the discovery of terror cells in Canada, Australia, and Germany, and the bombings in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Turkey, and Israel), critics incredibly persist in saying the war is a mirage. Such an attitude has no parallel in history. No ostrich politics has dug so deep to oppose one specific conflict.
Peace movements, including the most left-leaning (worldwide) and the most extreme conservative isolationist (in America), have traditionally opposed war, but never maintained that it didn't exist. Recent fierce opposition to the so-called War on Terror seems to have reached intellectual hysteria; the opponents claim that the confrontation is nothing but a conspiracy to secure oil, scare politics, or the work of some sort of cabal. The "there-is-no-war" party in fact demonstrates the determination by the Jihadophile camp to block the awareness of the American people and other Westerners, and the rest of the Free World.
Such blindness gives the opponents of the West the opportunity for initiatives and surprises and, ultimately, the power to dictate the course of the conflict. The European theater in the Jihadi campaign illustrates this dimension clearly. Until 2007, most European governments, following the advice of the intelligentsia and of Islamist lobbies, dropped the term "War on Terror," not to replace it with a more efficient description, but to pull back linguistically, culturally, and ideologically. As a result of this tactical intellectual defeat, the terrorist groups were emboldened, the militant networks grew less fearful of authorities, and mobilization for urban intifadas in Europe proceeded. The Europeans opened the floodgates to further legitimization without—as they had been led to believe would happen—containing radicalization.
A WRONG FOREIGN POLICY
As all arguments refuting the reality of a clear danger and a real war collapsed, the apologist camp retreated to another line of defense. The critics advanced the idea that terrorists are attacking the West because of a negative, faulty, and irresponsible U.S. and Western foreign policy. They charged Washington with plunder, unilateralism, and unfairness in its attitudes and long-term strategies. The first charge was about the biased U.S. backing of Israel. They portrayed the United States as ideologically committed to the Jewish state and under the domination of the Jewish lobby. Washington, they said, rejected the Palestinians and all other Arabs, or at least treated them less fairly than its ally Israel. Another charge was America's constant support for Arab regimes portrayed by the Jihadists and other radicals as "authoritarian" and opposed to democracy. An additional charge was that the United States maintained troops and bases in the region. Jihadists and Jihadophiles in the West claimed that al Qaeda's and others' radical strikes against the United States were directly linked to this matter, though their only evidence was bin Laden's statement to that effect. Last was the argument over sanctions against Saddam's regime. For years, and increasingly after 9/11, critics said that U.S. and British policies of economic sanctions and no-fly zones in Iraq actually caused terrorist attacks.
A thorough comparative analysis of these accusations reveals the pro-Jihadi lobby's hidden strategic agenda: distracting attention from the Jihadi projects in the region. A simple deconstruction of the volley of arguments shows the real equation behind the charges. The Americans' constant support of Israel, although an undeniable fact over the past decades, isn't eternal, isn't unconditional, and doesn't exclude support for other countries and other players in the region. Between 1947 and 1966, U.S. policies weren't fully supportive of Israel's actions. In 1956, during the Suez crisis, President Dwight D. Eisenhower forced Israel, France, and Great Britain to pull out of the Sinai immediately. Until 1966, it was France that provided Israel's best weapons, not America. By the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, Washington was providing very advanced military systems to moderate Arab governments, sometimes in opposition to Israeli concerns. In reality, if the United States maintained a strong support for the state of Israel it was because of the nature of the Israeli political identity: a Jewish pluralist democracy.
One can add two more reasons, both rational: In the Cold War, Israel was counted in the Western bloc, and Israel supporters in America pressed the right buttons in their advocacy of the Mediterranean nation. Most other ethnic pressure groups, including Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, tried to emulate it. Ironically, the charge that the United States supports only Israel conflicts with the second charge, that Washington supports Arab authoritarian regimes. When examined closely, the Jihadi argumentation becomes clear. What they are saying is that the United States should support the Arabs over Israel in general but not their authoritarian regimes. And since all Arab governments are portrayed as repressive by the Jihadists, therefore (in Salafi and Khumeinist fantasies) Washington's best policy should be to fully support the Jihadists!
Excerpted from The Confrontation by Walid Phares. Copyright © 2008 Walid Phares. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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