Make no bones about it, whether or not the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was one of the growing number of “jihobbyists” --- ordinary folks with some sort of grip who scan the Internet and get lured in by the well-crafted marketing of Global Jihadist websites, or was influenced by a Virginia mosque’s radical imam, the Global Jihadist movement is touting his actions as a coup for their cause. No sooner did the first word of the massacre break, did the English-language pro-al Qaeda websites light up praising the news of yet another “victory for Islam and al-Qaeda.”
This latest “news” item joined other newly released Internet cheers for the escalating violence in the Middle East and Central Asia. Seventeen people on a bus heading to a wedding are killed when a bomb explodes. A suicide bomber detonates himself and kills seven. Fifteen people are wounded when a car bomb blasts through the parking lot of a recreational facility. What looks and sounds a lot like Iraq has furiously surfaced in Pakistan, as the global jihadist movement focuses its attention on what some Western regional analysts have coined AfPak. Pakistan and Afghanistan and the amorphous border meant to separate the two states instead conjoins them in what has become the world’s latest most conspicuous war theater. The ill-defined border between the two countries, coupled with terrorist attempts to hemorrhage Afghanistan’s instability into Pakistan, is joyously wedded to jihadist hopes of reestablishing an Islamic Caliphate representative of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest expanse. And anyone the world over can read about the violent struggle or join in actions to facilitate the advent of this empire on the Jihadist Internet hotline.
College students, members of the US military, anyone with time on their hands looking to connect to something greater than themselves will find a certain camaraderie on jihadist websites, which in effect act as a "gateway" to greater participation in jihadist activity. Such activity can range from helping manage a website, to writing a blog, to bomb making and beyond. It has been said that the shooter at Fort Hood possibly used the Internet in this way, although that has not yet been substantiated to any satisfaction. Yet many other acts of terrorism have been connected to perpetrators interacting with these sites where radical Islamic religious messages are coupled with instructions to make bomb, or videos of Global Jihadist snipers taking out “infidel” Western forces.
Just as it watched a leaderless, unstable Iraq ignite under waves of sectarian violence stoked by outsiders—internationally roaming jihadists, the world’s eye has been on AfPak, where this emboldened, self-corporatized horde are bleeding their incendiary tactics into Iran. Proselytizing a fanatical, puritanically violent interpretation of Islam that flies on the face of true Islam, Internet chattering of their successes inspire budding radicals from Kashmir to Chechnya, Somalia to the US, Great Britain to Indonesia. Now the chattering has turned to the US, where one man seemingly acted independently to kill 13 people and wound another 29 on what is supposed to be safe haven for American soldiers and their families.
Or did he?
The roots of this Jihadist movement can be found in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century, with the rise of Sunni Salafism, according to al Qaeda expert and former director of research at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Jarrett Brachman. His recent book, Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice (Routledge), provides a virtual who’s who of global jihadists and attempts to clear up the confusion surrounding the vague, varying, and self-serving ideologies that feed an ever-growing array of Islamic jihadist groups. Senior Editor Lorna Tychostup interviews Brachman and asks him to demystify the complexities of the Global Jihadist movement and the reasons behind its violent tactics—directed equally against Muslims judged by this extreme minority as adopting Western ways, as they are against the rest of the world. Also discussed is the Global Jihaidist movement’s use of the Internet, who according to Brachman, view the Fort Hood massacre “as the opening shot in what they hope to be a long and bloody war in the United States.” Brachman’s blog: www.jarretbrachman.net.
Lorna Tychostup: You break down the Salafist movement into seven categories, a spectrum from Establishment Salafists to Global Jihadists. What are the differences between these groups?
Jarret Brachman: Establishment Salafism is the official Saudi state religion, which is Sunni based. Establishment scholars are the official scholars of the Saudi state to whom the regime looks for support and legitimization of their own rulings and decisions. “Establishment” is not my term but that of a religious hardliner and is a bit pejorative. Al Qaeda has moved to reject such breakdowns they feel are attempts to fragment the Salafist movement. Since insurgents are desperate to blend into the population around them, their goal is to limit the number of distinctions that can be made between the people and them. My article, “Abu Yahya’s Six Easy Steps for Defeating al-Qaeda,” explains the strategy laid out by senior al-Qaeda member, Shaikh Abu Yahya al-Libi, where he says to make these sort of artificial distinctions across Salafism is an effective way to highlight how extreme the global jihadists are versus mainstream “establishment” Salafists who believe that the Saudi regime is legitimate. Salafists are constantly striving to have more sharia or Islamic law implemented, they understand it is a process, and feel the application of sharia in Saudi Arabia sufficient. Jihadis accuse them of being sellouts and say, “You can’t work your way toward establishing Islamic law, you just have to establish it.” As you move more to the right, you get legendary Salafist scholars like Yemeni Shaikh Rabi al-Madkali, Saudi Shaikh Bin Baz, Shaikh al-Albani who acknowledge the sins of the rulers, saying they are minor, and acknowledge Arab regimes as legitimate. What separates the categories has to do with perspectives on the legitimacy of Arab rulers and whether you support, unseat, revolt, or use violence against them.