One World Under Allah | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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One World Under Allah 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:00 pm

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.

Aren’t these differences based more on different men proselytizing their own personal beliefs and/or interpretations of Islam than on a singular desire to unite all Muslims under one Islamic system?

In [Global Jihadism] I’ve spun each of these different schools of thought around one individual, so they do become sort of cult of personality-type schools. Most aren’t calling for the establishment of a local caliphate, although they all buy into that narrative. The only ones actually demanding a global caliphate immediately are the global jihadist scholars. They are creating these separations between themselves and other scholars in order to maintain their following.

The Caliphate at its widest extent covered Northern Africa, Spain, the Middle East through the Pakistan/Afghanistan region to Indonesia. Is this what Global Jihadists are striving for, to bring this same swath of territory under Islamic rule?

Yes. You have to build into this. First, they are okay with emirates, which are smaller versions of the Caliphate. They discuss, ‘When do you establish an Islamic state versus an Islamic emirate?’ And ‘If you are an emir, what does that mean?’ They think of Afghanistan and Iraq as emirates. Anywhere where there is a jihadi presence they look to establish some sort of an emirate or island of sharia. The goal is to slowly bleed these out, then tie them together and take over the historic geography that was ruled at one point under Islamic law—the swath you are talking about. Their bigger goal is global domination. They are happy to subordinate Christians and Jews to second-class citizens—no need to destroy them, just subordinate them. Marx wanted a global communist state. The jihadists want a global sharia state or caliphate. They don’t think they can have that anytime soon, but for now whatever was under Islam, they want it back—North Africa, Al-Andalus, all the way to Indonesia.

Can you briefly address what you call the “awakening” of the ‘60s and its three interconnected phenomena?

The movement began in the early 1920s with the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which bubbled into this sense that the solution to all social and political ills was to be found in Islam, specifically the pure and fundamental components of the Sunni and Salafist version of Islam. Turning more into a political/social movement, it culminated with Sayyid Qutb, an educated Egyptian government official well versed in English literature and culture. Qutb studied in the US from 1949 to 1950 and came away believing that America was nothing short of a hotbed of perversion, racism, and exploitation. Returning to Egypt he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and began to write prolifically about the potential threat of the invasion of Western culture into the Islamic world. His writings stirred up the hornets’ nest and caused the Egyptian government to aggressively crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Sayyid Qutb was executed and his brother led an exodus of highly educated, ultra conservative followers from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to expand the Brotherhood’s civil infrastructure bureaucracy. Going to Saudi Arabia was a match made in heaven. By the early `60s, a vacuum appeared among the Islamists in Egypt with many imprisoned, executed or fled to Saudi Arabia. After the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, Arab states were collectively humiliated, emasculated, and embarrassed. It became apparent within Islamist circles operating at the time—including that of Aman al-Zawahiri, who was in his formative age in Egypt during the `67 War, and of Sayyid Imam Sharif—that the Arab governments were impotent and could not, even as a unit, defeat the tiny state of Israel. Reenergized, they began to take matters into their own hands. By the early `70s you’ve got Zawahiri’s group, the blind Shaikh’s group, and a number of other popping up to fill the vacuum. These young upstarts came in very aggressively with a new wave of jihadist terrorism shooting out of Egypt.

In 1979, three major events converged. First, the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan. This was a global call to Muslims facilitated by the US, UK, the Saudis, and many European countries—all enemies of Soviet Communism pouring money into Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence and doing everything they could to move resources and Muslims from all over the world into Afghanistan’s battlefield to fight the Soviets. The Saudi government bought plane tickets for these kids. Second, you have the Iranian Revolution where the Shi’a, the Sunni’s archenemy, get their own state apparatus represented by an extremist, Jihadist form of Shiism, the goal of which is to export the revolution of Shi’a Islam—the worst scenario for hardcore Sunnis. Third, you have Osama Bin Laden 0.1—Juhayman al-Utaibi, a Saudi jihadist who seizes the Grand Mosque in Mecca to show it is possible to overthrown Arab regimes. He sets an important model to potential jihadists—this upstart, hardcore jihadi attempts to unseat the Saudi regime, or at the very least, expose the hypocrisy of the Saudi establishment scholars. Establishment scholar, Shaikh Bin Baz, the Saudi Grand Mufti at the time, has to make a choice—side with the regime or with this revolutionary movement embodied by Juhayman? He chose the regime and passed a fatwa allowing French Special Forces to enter Saudi Arabia, temporarily converting them to Islam so that they could enter Islam’s holiest of holy places. This was the death knell for establishment scholars. Juhayman was captured and killed. His banner passed onto Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi, who took Juhayman’s ideas and turned them into a robust set of arguments that became the backbone of the global jihadist movement.

Why is it so difficult to define jihadism?

There is generally a broad acceptance of the doctrine behind jihadism. One of the core doctrinal points for global jihadism is Al-Wala wal-Bara—loyalty to all that is in accordance to sharia and disavowal of all that stands in your way of implementing sharia. Most agree with this concept, even mainstream Salafists. But the question is what do you mean by “disavowal”? Don’t speak to Jews and Christians? Don’t live around them? Kill them? There is a spectrum of how you apply this doctrine. You can be a mainstream Salafist, hate the West, think most Arab governments are illegitimate, and think that eventually it would be great to destroy them all, but not any time soon, or not by violent tactics but through political means. So they all agree with the doctrine of Al-Wala wal-Bara, but how to apply it in the real world. I wouldn’t consider people of that bent an enemy of the US; I think they are a potentially powerful ally. But they believe in the same doctrine that groups like al Qaeda does. That is the level of complexity here—it is less what you believe and more of how you apply it.

You suggest the jihadist movement be viewed as a tremendously successful entrepreneurial initiative and talk about the “branding” of the jihadist movement. Can you explain?

It is one of the world’s most successful self-fulfilling prophecies in the sense that Bin Laden, in 1996, talked about this global untied front, a worldwide organization. Represented by a few hundred people and networks in a lot of countries that had some money, it was an organization, not a robust social movement or ideology. But the more they talked about it as being such and the more we responded to it as such, the more it became what they said it was. Even after 9/11, al Qaeda was best described as an organization. This is an important point: By 2003-4 al Qaeda transformed from a terrorist organization that used media propaganda to talk about itself into a media organization that used terrorism to keep it relevant. This represents a tremendous shift in prioritization regarding who they think they are and what their goal is. 9/11 checked the box for “We’re the best terrorist group on the block.” But their goal isn’t just to blow stuff up; their goal is to change people’s minds about policy. It’s fundamentally a religious movement—using religion to get political change. The way to do that is create a social movement with a robust ideology. All these disparate jihadist themes, books, scholars, attacks, and groups have been slowly consolidated into a coherent phenomenon that today we understand as Global Jihadism. Its taken a long time, a lot of it was ad hoc, but it has cemented over the past few years into a really powerful movement.

Global Jihadism lists a large number of Jihadist books and writings that are now appearing in English, a lot of which is available over the Internet. How important is the Internet to the jihadist movement?

The jihadists didn’t know how important it was, using it out of novelty at first and later out of necessity after we took out their training camps in Afghanistan. They needed a way to continue to train, educate, and inspire the new kids. Soon they realized it wasn’t just a place to download stuff that operated in one direction, but a new sphere in and of itself—one of the only places where they could try to apply sharia law. The Internet became a virtual state, a virtual emirate, allowing them to consolidate their strength and feel as if they were accomplishing something. From 2003 to 2005 they were buzzing around the Internet, something clicked, and it became the most important weapon in their arsenal. Now it is their primary vehicle for distributing their ideology, communicating globally with one another, informing the movement, reassuring one another that they exist. Sitting there feeling isolated in Chechnya and under attack you see on the Internet your brothers in Saudi Arabia wage an attack, claim responsibility, and say, “We are doing this on behalf of our brothers in Chechnya”—this is very powerful. This crosstalk helps each group feel emboldened and perpetuates this sense that the jihadists movement is globally united and coherent.

What are jihobbyists?

The Internet has expanded the number of opportunities that somebody has to participate in jihad without having to cross the threshold—it’s hard work to get people to leave their jobs, wives, and lives and go blow themselves up in Iraq or Afghanistan. Short of that, there are a lot of things one can do to get somebody hooked. Over the past five to eight years, al Qaeda has expanded the number of ports of entry into jihadism. Their goal is to you get in on any level, get you hooked and wanting to move up the chain eventually to culminate in your committing an attack. It is very Marxist, according to your ability, whatever you are good at, you can do.

A young college student is a little interested, finds these things intriguing, wants to learn more and the end effect is similar to that of gateway drugs.

Totally. On the Internet you get whatever it is you are looking for. If you want to see people get their heads cut off, or see a thousand Humvees get blown up in a row, you can find it. If you want to read a 1,500-word book on the history of jihad, or learn Arabic, or how to use a graphics program, all of this is available. The Internet has become this one-stop shop for whatever level of intellectual sophistication you are on and you can come play.

The great debate going on right now is about Afghanistan: More troops, a lot more troops, less troops, or keep the status quo. No one is saying the US should pull out completely. Why is Afghanistan the recurring nightmare and what should be done there?

There is a deep sense of anger among the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan toward the US. After the Soviets left in 1989, we left them high and dry. The region collapsed into a state of civil war, and tribal leaders, criminal syndicates, warlords, and drug cartels moved in. It became a bloodbath, a place of anarchy with a gravitational pull attracting a lot of Pakistani jihadists and causing a lot of trouble for the Pakistani government. We let the region fall apart causing a lot of deep-seated resentment and mistrust. After 9/11 we said, “You are going to work with us again.” They have been trying to take care of the situation by themselves and things are very gray. The Taliban had been on our payroll during the Soviet invasion when we were funding the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency and now they are told they are the enemy. The US comes in and starts dictating who is good and who is bad. It just doesn’t work like that.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very familiar with the terrain, have a longstanding relationship with many of these tribes, there is mistrust within the tribes toward the US and Pakistani governments, there is no history of centralized government within Afghanistan and that is one of the first things we try to set up—a strong sense of government. There are a lot of layers at work that don’t lend themselves to stabilization. Historically, no one has been able to stabilize or centralize control of Afghanistan.

Isn’t that in part, due to our inconsistency? They say we have been at war in Afghanistan for eight years. US and British forces began offensive air strikes there in 2001, made inroads and then the focus shifted to Iraq, leaving Afghanistan minimally resourced in terms of reconstruction aid and military presence. Compared to Iraq, this could not be seriously called a war. Now with Iraq surged and calm, and the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, all eyes are turned toward them.

Senior military commanders were saying mid-2000s that Afghanistan was the forgotten war, even while we were at war in Afghanistan. The fact is it had been undermanned, under-funded, under-resourced, under-prioritized, and under-addressed by the Bush administration. This is not a political statement, it is a reality. As Iraq starts to improve, starts to stabilize, we turn our attention back and realize that we have been absentee landlords and that the force on the ground were doing the best they could, but just didn’t have the power that they needed from the onset. So now we’ve got mistrust from the Afghan people, not just because we pulled up our tent poles in ’89, but also because we go in and destabilize the place and address the situation half-heartedly. Now they are living in if not as bad, even worse living conditions and they are forced to make a choice: “Am I with the Taliban or am I with the US?”

What are the connections between al Qaeda and the Taliban?

That is one of the most complicated and most asked question I get. The Taliban has proliferated, and looks and smells different wherever you find it between Pakistan and Afghanistan. You’ve got Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban, neither of which isn’t a coherent organization. Then you’ve got al Qaeda. On top of that you’ve got a push from Kashmiri groups moving into the game, and now Punjabi groups. I can’t disaggregate this very cleanly, but in some ways the Taliban and al Qaeda are indistinguishable, and in other way there remains some historic tension. Then there are nationalist issues. You’ve got your old al Qaeda guard, which are mostly Egyptians and Saudis. Then you’ve got your young upstarts, which are mostly Libyans—guys like Abu Yahya al-Libi, Abu Laith al-Libi before he was killed—who have a long history of working with the Taliban. They seem to get along swimmingly, whereas there is tension with the old guard Egyptians. It is a complicated relationship and often it comes down to the individual leaders themselves that determines the nature of the relationship and level of cooperation.

It sounds amorphous.

It has always been personality dependent. Their new leadership is a lot smarter, more lethal, and extreme than any previous leadership incarnation. Getting rid of Bin Laden and Zawahiri will see a rise in lethality and creativity from al Qaeda, not less, once these young Libyans get in charge. They are highly strategic, thoughtful, and nefarious in terms of their ideology, much more extreme than Zawahiri or the current leadership. The movement is getting smacked in Iraq right now, they are embellishing their ties with Al-Shabab in Somalia, their North African Maghreb franchise is sputtering about, but the guys in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are on the upswing right now. The high command has been pretty quiet. But the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani Kashmiri groups that are closely coordinating with al Qaeda are being very very aggressive. We don’t know how much command and control al Qaeda has over them, but we do know there is coordination. The attack on the Pakistani Pentagon, followed by the simultaneous bombings, then the more recent massive suicide strike by the group called Jundallah, which is a Baluchi-based terrorist group who attacked senior Iranian Shiite generals who were trying to have a conference on Sunni/Shiite relations. These Baluchi guys are not al Qaeda, but they fight like al Qaeda. They’re hardcore Sunnis who don’t buy into the global jihad, only buying into the local jihad. Meanwhile, al Qaeda supporters are heralding these guys as one of their own. So we are seeing a lot more chickens coming home to roost and they are doing it a lot more aggressively and sophisticatedly, making it a crazy and complex world right now.

In Global Jihadism, you suggest that the jihadis will be their undoing, and you quote Napoleon: “If your enemy is busy shooting himself in the foot, don’t get in the way.”

At the end of the day, al Qaeda is its own worst enemy. Nothing they do presents a positive image of where they can take the world. Everything they stand for is negative and revolves around killing. That message doesn’t resonate with most Muslims. The problem is, we have put the Islamic world in a position where they have to decide, are they with al Qaeda or with the US, rather than are they with al Qaeda or against al Qaeda. The latter is a much easier decision for people to make. On top of that, al Qaeda has been backing off considerably, trying to piggyback on existing grievances and social issues, trying to make themselves look less extreme and more mainstream. “We’re the only people willing to fight on behalf of the common Muslim man” is the new mantra for al Qaeda. The key is to show just how extreme and awful they are, which involves simply reflecting the mirror back on them and getting most of the Islamic world to understand what a minority group al Qaeda really is. We just keep getting in the way, in part by invading two Muslim countries.

I agree that invading Afghanistan was necessary, but we had to get it right. And now we’ve put ourselves in a position where Muslims look at us and Afghanistan and say, “Well, there are the Americans mucking it up again.” Even al Qaeda has historically said, “The Soviets had a stomach for bloodshed and massive casualties. We can respect that. When they got a hold of us, they would torture the hell out of us. They were a worthy adversary.” About the Americans they say, “These guys are sissies. It’s just a matter of time before they pull out. Let’s just bide our time, inflict as much pain as possible, and wait for them to leave and then we’ll have our fun.” The key is we need aggressive military action to stop this spread of Taliban and al Qaeda, and push them back up into the hills where they won’t have any control over major population centers. At the same time, we need to use all instruments of national power to help delegitimize their message, engage, rebuild, present the positive vision of where we want to take the world, which is what the US has historically been known for doing, because it is inherently appealing to people. And get out of our enemies’ way. Let them destroy themselves because they are experts at that.

The current administration has not spent enough time talking about al Qaeda’s ideology and body of propaganda, and is not responding in any meaningful way. Most of what they have talked about has been kinetic responses to groups. There is this body of believers who may never do anything, in terms of blowing something up, but are deeply committed to this ideology and promoting it in other ways. Unless we take a comprehensive approach, this ideology will continue to grow. We can play whack-a-mole with terrorists as long as we want, but the fact is the body of thought and the guys who promulgate it will keep this alive. When addressing global jihadists, the devil is in the details.

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