Terrorist Strategies Against America
By Walid Phares
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2005 Walid Phares
All rights reserved.
THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF JIHAD
When the President of the United States delivers speeches about "them," he calls them "terrorists." When they address the world, they call themselves "the men of jihad." Are the terrorists waging a war whose name we do not want to accept, or is the international community waging a war against terrorism while ignoring its goals and its ideology? This is more than a question of semantics. When asked about "jihad," many diplomats and scholars used to dismiss it as irrelevant in world politics. Today, however, we have to ask whether in doing so we are just ignoring a name or whether we are also turning a blind eye to the enemy's aims, deepest beliefs, and the wellspring of its will. If we do this, are we actually mobilizing against the instruments of terror rather than against the roots of its creation?
To understand who the jihadists really are and what they ultimately want, we need to examine the complex history involved in the term, the ideology behind it, its evolution, and its effect on individuals. We need to understand the historical alliances of jihadists as well as their ideological enemies. Without understanding this past, we can never fully understand our enemy and what the future might hold.
We first need to absorb then later we need to get familiar with the origins of jihad as a word and as an ideology in order to develop an understanding of who the ideological and political users of this concept are today. Osama bin Laden, Ayman Thawahiri, al Zarqawi of al Qaeda, and Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah all invoke jihad; we cannot afford to ignore or dismiss the concept and its history.
Among the many important questions that have to be answered are: Why is there a debate about the concept of jihad? Does it have a single meaning or multiple ones? When did it arise, and why? Who has used it and for what purposes? What is the relationship between jihad and the "infidels"? What is the connection between jihad and peace?
WHY IS THERE A DEBATE?
The first time I read about jihad was in middle school, in my native Beirut, Lebanon. I attended classes in more than one school in different parts of that small multiethnic country. At the time, there was no major media debate about jihad, as everyone had just one understanding of what it was. It was part of history, part of the dominant culture, and so it was never questioned. Decades later, after I relocated to the United States in 1990, I had my second encounter with the word. But this time it was in the center of a public debate and the object of much intellectual and academic wrestling. In the sophisticated elite establishment of America, the term "jihad" brought unease, even before September 11, 2001. But the concern was not about what jihad might mean for the future. High-profile professors, respected journalists, and political activists were trying to diffuse the tension surrounding the word and deflect its historical sense. In most literature, scholarly articles, public lectures, and lobbying and social efforts related to Middle East politics, as well as religious studies and interfaith activities, there was a constant attempt to portray jihad as a spiritual phenomenon that could be and was abused by extremist ideologies and radical political factions who were making it into something it really was not. In the early 1990s, I was stunned to read and hear the western establishment making these tremendous efforts to convince audiences and readers of the benign character of jihad; in the Middle East, for the most part, the term retained its age-old, unreconstructed meanings. Jihad is not benign, and the West's denial of that fact was terribly ironic. By instinct and as a result of my personal and professional background, I realized the enormity of what was happening: The United States was paving the way for its own defeat, by blurring its vision, confusing its mind, and moderating its reactions to the early danger signs, not to mention the terrorist strikes to come. It was clear that the nation turned a blind eye to the historical definition of jihad, the one that would really come to matter.
ONE MEANING: OR TWO?
In my classrooms, in the books I read, on the radio, and on the black-and-white television programs of my childhood and school years, jihad was simple and clear. It was a word that had meant one thing for the last thirteen centuries. It was part of the history of many peoples and of a gigantic region, and was understood by all parties—those whom it was applied against and those who applied it—as a call for action. The concept of jihad was so widespread and so deeply rooted in the culture of the region that many—even non-Muslims—used it as a name for their children. A cousin of mine and other children in my own village shared the name jihad. It was used as commonly as the word "crusade" in the West. In all Arabic stories, legends, and even in cartoons, jihad was omnipresent. No one was trying to hide it, camouflage it, or moderate its meaning. From Morocco to Afghanistan, the word meant only one thing.
In the United States, however, political and intellectual forces were mobilizing to insert a new meaning into the concept and inject that new and reshaped concept into mainstream American thinking. The question is: Why? Why would lobbies want to blur the meaning of jihad in the West, while those who called for jihad east of the Mediterranean had no intention of redefining it? This question can be answered only after we have investigated the various strategies developed by the jihadists and the efforts made by their apologists inside the United States and the West in general.
To understand the ideology of the jihadists, or those who call themselves jihadiyun or mujahidin (and thereby extrapolate their policies, strategies, and future actions), one must first understand the full definition of the word. This is not as easy as you might think, for several reasons.
First, the word itself: Arab linguistics are very complex; furthermore, the field is dominated by schools that are malleable to political pressures. It seems prudent to say that, in addition to mastering the Arabic language, I have also been trained in comparative cultural analysis, the next step after linguistic translation. While you do not need this level of education to understand and interpret the term "jihad," it is the level of knowledge you need to be able to identify the influences and permutations that can exist in Arabic over one single word. My unique perspective provides me with the advantage of a strategic cultural analysis, but at the same time makes it more difficult to relate findings to either western or arab society. That is to say, it is very difficult for a genuinely bilingual person to explain an alien culture and its cultural history to a monolingual society, and vice versa. Linguistic translation is one thing, cultural explanation is something else. Among Arab speakers, for example, the concept of jihad comes naturally. In western or non-Arab, non-Muslim societies, serious academic effort is required to explain the term. And herein lies the challenge. The "translator" may neither be able nor willing to convey the fundamental meaning.
We in the West have been at the mercy of those who where supposed to translate and explain an entire ideology but instead sanitized it and camouflaged it. The same applies on the other side. In western culture, democracy is being taught in the classroom, but it is a historically understood concept. The intellectual translation into Arab Muslim culture depends on the "translating party." In those cultures, its real meaning has been complicated and altered in the madrassas (Islamic religious schools) or when taught by antidemocracy teachers.
A second difficulty is the fact that jihad as a concept has actually mutated to some degree over time. In the early seventh century A.D./C.E., jihad meant a unified set of values in full adherence to what was then the ambient political vocabulary of the time. Jihad was a dual religious and political theme at its very first inception. Centuries later, as the stages of Arab Islamic statehood and doctrines developed, the jihad concept would be reinforced by what was achieved by the Islamic state and the related worldview. In other words, it was strengthened, not weakened. But with the modern age, the rise of international secular ideas, the development of international law, and the surge of different strategic interests among the Islamic ideologies, jihad developed different meanings in different intellectual settings as a way to satisfy various interests. Hence, what was universally accepted in the seventh century or commonly understood in the seventeenth century has become more complex at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Therefore, one has to use the term "jihad" carefully, while remaining faithful to the popular and historical perception of it.
THE LINGUISTICS OF JIHAD
A short lesson in the linguistic history of the term is necessary to further understand its complexity. "Jihad" comes from the root word Jihd, but is not synonymous with it. Jihd means "effort." From that root many other branches were developed in ancient Arabic, depending on the action, context, and the historical meanings that developed as a result of linguistic mutations.
In Arabic syntax, the word "jihad" (Jehaad) means haalat al Jihd, or "a state of jihd." In analytical linguistics, "jihad" transliterates into "a state of permanent efforts." The word was constructed to launch a particular vision. It came from a specific situation, at a specific time, and espoused the need of that time but has continued to develop since. In essence, it was created to change with the relevant historic situation.
Many in the scholarly community in the West admit that the word "jihad" had an initial meaning, but not all interpretations are alike. Some believe the word first had only one sense, while others affirm that it always had two senses. In Arab Muslim culture, the consensus on the meaning of jihad is much larger. It definitely draws from historical accounts and religious citations. But yet again, even in the culture of origin, ideologies and schools produce their own versions. Some stress its intangible meaning; others widen its sense into alternatives and shades. But the comprehensive and widely understood content of "jihad" is universal. It was born during the early stages of the Islamic expansion and developed for centuries as a state and religious concept, before being redefined by an ideological movement at the onset of the twentieth century.
Because of its implications for international politics, the question of war and peace, and most recently its connection with terrorist movements, which have adopted it fully in their lexicon, the concept of jihad has dramatic importance in today's world. Regardless of its ancient use, jihad as practiced by terror networks such as al Qaeda and Hezbollah and regimes such as the Taliban or Iran's mullahs is in conflict with all types of secular and human rights–based laws. But since its users—the radical organizations—and modern doctrines refer to jihad in the most historicist dimension, we are forced to investigate it historically. In other words, even if great powers used the term "jihad" in the past as a tool of war and peace, it nevertheless deserves a historical understanding since the jihadists of modern times fully adhere to its past roots (or so they claim).
Jihad as a concept was initially advanced by the early Muslim leaders at the onset of the establishment of the Islamic state, al dawla al Islamiya. The first recorded use of the concept of jihad as a political word goes back to the early military efforts made by the followers of Prophet Mohammed during their struggle with the Meccan establishment (seventh century A.D./C.E.). According to Islamic history, this occurred after the migration of the faithful from Mecca to Medina in what Muslims believe was the beginning of the Hijra era, or emigration. In fact, the Islamic era starts then, and the foundation of the political entity of Islam can be traced to the Medina era.
The debate about the identity of Islam as a religion and a state has had many streams. Historically, the early Muslims formed a state around their religion. "Al islam deen wa dawla," said the founding fathers: "Islam is a religion and a state." Hence at the time of the inception, theology and politics were molded in one. While I intend to bypass the theological discussion on Islam, it must be noted that, according to historical accounts of both secular and Muslim historians, the Islamic movement was political as much as it was religious. In comparative religion, one could compare it to the biblical march of the ancient Hebrews or the movement of Christian empires. The divine was part of the sociopolitical. The early movement of Muslims, first under their Prophet and later after his passing, advanced both religion and political dynamics. In addition to the five tenets of faith, the organization of the community was centered on structures, movements, decision-making systems, and political agendas.
The five pillars of the faith are (1) witness (Shahada); (2) prayer (salat); (3) pilgrimage (hajj); (4) alms (Zakat); and (5) fasting (sawm). All of these articles of faith are entirely spiritual and in some ways comparable to elements from the previous monotheist religions, Judaism and Christianity. Muslim theologians believe that Islam is the last expression of Abrahamic revelations that started with Adam and Eve and ended with Mohammed. But many secular historians and sociologists argue that early Islam was influenced by Jewish and Christian teachings. This debate will remain in the realm of comparative religions as it deals with metaphysical beliefs and messianic revelations. The question of Mohammed's prophetic character is comparable to the question of Jesus' divine nature and of the Hebrews' covenant with God. It was, is, and will remain a question of faith, above and beyond international relations. The question of jihad, however, is qualitatively different.
Jihad was declared by the early Muslim leaders as a sixth unofficial pillar of Islam. It was conceived as an "instrument of Islam," a sufficient but not a necessary condition for the spread and defense of the religion. In its pure logic, jihad was needed if things were not going smoothly. To simplify, for one to be a Muslim, he or she had to perform the five duties mentioned above. But if the conditions requiring jihad were not present, one could still be a Muslim. What were the necessary conditions for jihad?
From historical accounts, including (but not only) religious texts and references, jihad was a state of mobilization in the interest of the Muslim umma (nation) as it developed its military and strategic dimensions. When Muslims fled Meccan oppression at the hands of Mecca's pagan political establishment, they defined themselves as an "umma." As they settled in Medina, north of Mecca, the followers of Mohammed organized themselves into a political and military institution. They decided to overrun Mecca's ruling institution and replace it with a dawla, a state. It was to become the dawlat al Islam: the state of Islam, soon to become the Islamic state. That theologically grounded choice to establish a government for the new religion was the basis on which the ruler—first the Prophet himself, then his successors—granted themselves the right of sovereignty to manage the affairs of the state for the nation. The protection of, expansion of, and management of the dawlat al umma (the state of the Muslim nation) led logically to the buildup of instruments of governance for war and peace. Jihad, as per all theological and historical references, is a state of juhd: a state of effort at the service of the umma, the state, and Allah. It is a call to mobilize the resources, energies, and capabilities of individuals in the service of the higher cause. Jihad is the sum of all jihds, or efforts. It is triggered by an order given by the legitimate authority. It has a theological force that cannot be canceled except by a legitimate authority.
Nida' al jihad, or the call for jihad, is the highest injunction to gather the forces of the community in the service of the Islamic umma. Originally there was no jihad for one's personal interests. Jihad outside the global effort prescribed by the umma does not exist. Personal efforts to enhance jihad are part of communal jihad. Many analysts and scholars in modern times presented jihad as either personal-spiritual or as collective-political. Muslim scholars' distinction between al jihad al akbar (greater internal and spiritual strife) and jihad fi sabeel al umma (at the service of the community) force modern scholars to draw political conclusions. In fact, Muslim scholars conceive all levels of jihad to be at the service of the global jihadic effort for the advancement of the community. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Future Jihad by Walid Phares. Copyright © 2005 Walid Phares. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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