Islam, Islamism and Terrorism
De Atkine, Norvell B., Army
The tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent conceptualizing of the war on terrorism have presented a very difficult problem to those responsible for framing the strategy. The basic problem has been one of defining the enemy. After four years, this problem still eludes a clear definition although the national leadership has been carefully moving toward a more definitive description.
The basic obstacle has been one of clearly describing the enemy without seeming to single out the world's second largest religion, Islam, as the cause or facilitator of this terrorism. To differentiate the radical forms of Islam from the mainstream Islamic community, the word "Islamism" was coined to describe an ideological movement using Islam as the vehicle to power. Others term it political Islam, while some journalists and media types still refer to it as Muslim fundamentalism.
In actuality there is a wide gap between the fundamentalists and Islamists. While the fundamentalists may accept many of the views of the Islamists, for example, the law of the land being the Sharia (Islamic law) primarily based on the Koran, (the sacred word of God delivered in Arabic to Mohammed), and Hadiths (sayings and actions of the prophet Mohammed), they do not necessarily share the view that only violence will bring about the reestablishment of the Caliphate (the worldwide Islamic community).
The Caliphate existed in theory until 1923 when Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Empire and established the modern state of Turkey. In actuality it had not existed as a viable entity for more than a thousand years. Petty Muslim states fragmented the Caliphate around 1000 AD. Reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate is one of the consistent views of the Islamists-the concept of the entire Islamic world stretching from Mauritania and Spain to Mindanao, under a ruler who would represent the spiritual as well as the secular; an Islamic nation in which the tribal differences, nationalities and other divisive factors have all been eradicated. In the more ambitious scenario of the radical global Islamists, sometimes referred to as jihadists, the world will never be stabilized until Islam controls it, with the absorption of the House of War (non-Islamic lands) by the House of Peace (Islamic world). As part of this design, the concept of jihad has been elevated to a household word with very little understanding of its nature. Jihad has a much more nuanced meaning than "holy war," but in essence it conveys the manner in which the overall objective of subjecting all the peoples of the earth to Islam would be accomplished. In "Islam and the Modern Law of Nations," The American Journal of International Law, April 1956, reprinted by the Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., Majid Khadduri explained jihad as an intensive religious propaganda program that takes the form of a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political, no less than strictly military. Unfortunately, the same article describes "jihad as a weapon that has become obsolete." It was a typical post-World War II belief.
In his October 6, 2005, address to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush made it clear that terrorism is not the enemy, but rather Islamic terrorism, a concept that had been clearly described in the 9/11 report.
The enemy is not just "terrorism." It is the threat posed specifically by Islamist terrorism, by bin Laden and others who draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority strain of Islam that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts both.
The President was even more specific:
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; still others, Islamo-Fascism. Whatever it's called, its ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment by terrorism and subversion and insurgency of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.
While historically one can go back a very long way in Islamic history to trace the roots of this form of radical Islam, from the philosophy of Ibn Tammiya, the Salafiyah movement, evolving into the more fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine of Saudi Arabia, to the 1940s' philosopher of violence, Sayed Ibn Qutb, its eclectic philosophy defies simplistic definition or description. In this era, the modern apostles of violence, the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, the Egyptian, Ayman Zawahiri, and the Saudi, Osama bin Laden, have used religious texts, borrowing selectively and inventing where necessary traditional Islamic teachings. My intention here is to analyze the current status of the Islamist and the Islamic connection to terrorism and present the political military implications, rather than the theological and textual evolution of global Islamism.
My personal initiation into the terrorist world occurred in 1970 as I was preparing to depart Beirut after three years as a student at the American University of Beirut in the Foreign Area Officer Program. The assistant Army attaché in Amman, Jordan, Maj. Robert Perry, was murdered in his home by Palestinian thugs. I was sent as his replacement. During my time in Jordan, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked four aircraft, landing three on Dawson's Field and holding hundreds of passenger's hostage, an event that culminated in the bitter conflict between the East Bank Jordanians and West Bank Palestinians. Expulsion of the Palestinian Liberation organizations from Jordan led to formation of the Black September organization and a series of brutal attacks on Israelis and Westerners.
My next personal encounter with terrorism, this time Islamist rather than nationalist, was as a spectator at the October 1981 Armed Forces Day parade in Cairo, Egypt. Sitting in the stands about 30 meters from President Anwar Sadat, I observed the surreal assassination of the president and monitored the subsequent abortive revolts in several Egyptian cities. Little did I know the spiritual mentor of that assassination, Sheikh Abdul Rahman, would be before me in court some 14 years later.
Through a convoluted set of circumstances, primarily as a result of my work association with the "Green Beret" sergeant, Ali Mohamed, I was subpoenaed as a defense witness at the trial of Abdul Rahman and nine others at the "Blind Sheikh" conspiracy trial in 1996. Sgt. Ali Mohamed was not a Special Forces soldier but had completed the Special Forces course as an Egyptian officer. He was not a defendant at the 1995 "Blind Sheikh" trial, but was later arrested and convicted for his part in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings in 2000. His rather strange career is told in the Raleigh News and Observer, October 21, 2001, "Al-Qaeda Operative dupes FBI, Army." In preparation for the trial the defense lawyers had become close to the defendants and were far more knowledgeable about the terrorist mind than many academics who are considered experts. I was especially impressed by the lawyer for El Sayyid Nosair. Nosair had previously been tried for the murder of the radical Rabbi Meir Kahane. His lifestyle and personality, as his lawyer put it, was the personification of the famous term coined by Hannah Arendt, the "banality of evil," a personification that applies to the vast majority of Islamist terrorists.
The experience at this trial, brief as it was, allowed me some insight into the terrorist mind-set. I continued to study the Islamist movement over the years, and as a result, I have formed some definite opinions on who these people are and what they think. It is in this context that I offer my analysis of the Islamist terrorist movement.
Islamism-What It Is
Islamism is a totalitarian ideology that seeks to use Islam as a vehicle to power. Its doctrine is a contrived mélange of fascist notions of racial superiority, Marxist techniques of human conditioning and capitalistic entrepreneurship. It conceives a government ruled by the immutable word of God as contained in the Koran that distinguishes it from "man-made" systems of government such as socialism, communism and democracy. It is equally opposed to nationalism, seen also as a Western import, and any belief or movement that tends to fragment the Umma (Islamic community). This would include various varieties of Pan-Arabism such as the Ba'athist movement and the Pan-Turanism of Turkey. In the Hadiths the Prophet Mohammed spoke of the dangers of tribalism, which, in the modern interpretation, is meant to be any ideology divisive to the unity of the Islamic community worldwide. Analysts should not make the mistake of thinking, however, that ideological differences between Arab nationalists and Islamists preclude alliances against common foes. The current tacit alliance between remnants of the Ba'athists and followers of Abu Musab Az-Zarkawi in Iraq is simply a tactical alliance, but nevertheless a deadly one, based on the premise that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend."
What Islamism Is Not
Islamism is not a movement that advocates a return to the seventh century, not even in theology (although they do present the façade of doing so). The Islamists have proven themselves very adept in using the latest in technology, particularly in information warfare and communications. Their use of advanced media technology and sophisticated communications to obtain support for their cause, and their meticulous keeping of records on the many laptops uncovered in Afghanistan, is indicative of their heavy reliance on the latest in technology and the fact that many of the leadership are well-educated in hard sciences.
The Islamist movement is not monolithic; there is no politburo disseminating orders, but rather a generally common mind-set of injustice and hatreds with an embedded sense that only violence will bring about the Islamic state. They are not united in organization or objectives, a continuing issue being whether or not the first target should be the indigenous rulers of the Islamic world or the West, particularly the United States. Moreover, the global Islamists do not really have a clear-cut doctrine, especially one of framing the structure of a government or its domestic programs, relying instead on slogans like "Islam is the answer."
Nor is the Islamist movement wildly popular in the Islamic world. A survey taken by the University of Jordan found a wide majority of Muslims in the Levant and Egypt oppose a fundamentalist view of Islam.
Despite the incompetence and corruption endemic to Arab regimes, there have been no popular Islamic uprisings. When closely examined, even the Iranian revolution of 1979 was a revolt of the bazaaris (middle class bourgeoisie shop owners) and disenfranchised clergy. Moreover, the corruption and authoritarianism of the revolutionary government has cooled the enthusiasm for the Iranian model even among Iranians themselves.
Islamist attacks in Egypt have alienated the public, and in Algeria, bloody and brutal warfare is winding down with the Islamists reduced to sporadic murders. The popular appeal of Hamas in Gaza is not replicated in the West Bank, and Hezbollnh of south Lebanon has remained a basically Shiite movement with its activities generally confined to Lebanon.
On the other hand, it is incorrect to depict the terrorist acts of the global terrorists against Western, particularly American, targets as unpopular. There is a widespread feeling of schadenfreude, a sort of "they had it coming to them" attitude. As an emotional feeling this should be understood, but not confused with actual support. Between the emotion and the deed there is an immense gap.
Events and Trends Triggering the Islamist Movement
The path to Islamism began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, but to some extent the defeat of the Arab armies by the Israelis was attributed to corrupt rulers and European support. Prior to 1967 Arab nationalism was seen by the Arab masses as the answer to the Israeli challenge. The subsequent massive build-up of the Egyptian and Syrian military establishments under Soviet tutelage was envisioned by the Arab masses as the instrument to eradicate the Zionist State.
However, the 1967 humiliating defeat of the Egyptians and Arabs, inflicted by the Israelis in just six days, triggered an intense self-examination and soul-searching, with the beginning of a call for a return to Islamic and Arab roots and a purging of all Western influence. This brought with it the resurgence of militant Islam.
The catastrophic defeat of 1967 was the beginning of the decline of the pan-Arab nationalist movement, the birth of Palestinian nationalism and the belief among intellectuals that the Arabs had lost their way. Seyyed Qutb's writings became immensely popular, advocating complete destruction of existing Arab governments and rebuilding of Islamic societies, a view that got him hanged by the Nasser regime.
Seyyed Qutb was one of the most important of the leading exponents of "offensive jihad." In his book, Milestones, he made it very clear that there is no distinction between "defensive jihad" (defending the Islamic world) and offensive jihad (Islamizing the entire world). His vituperation against the West was particularly venomous, based on his experiences while in the United States. He apparently suffered under the delusion that American women found him irresistible and were constantly seeking to undermine his moral character.
While living in Egypt in the early 1980s, I remember talking to Egyptian officers who related that following the 1967 War, people would berate them if they wore their uniforms in public.
A little known but equally humiliating defeat of Islam was the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. In this war eastern Pakistan was invaded by the Indian Army and broke away from Pakistan to become Bangladesh. It was an inbred belief among the Pakistani officers with whom I associated while stationed in Jordan that the Indians were a non-martial race, and despite their numerical inferiority the Pakistanis would prevail. The subsequent result of that war was a searing humiliation for the Pakistani officer corps and Islamic community.
Societal trends have also contributed to this resurgence of a more militant Islam. Most important has been the increasing urbanization of the Islamic world. This continuing movement of people from farm and village to the city is breaking down the foundation of Arab society-the extended family. A very high proportion of the people moving into cities are young males who are particularly vulnerable to radical philosophies.
An early view among social scientists was that this movement to urban areas would result in an increasingly secular and modern society, but this has proved to be totally wrong. The sense of alienation and isolation from the anchor of village life has resulted in a search for the familiar, and it was inevitably the mosque. Of course this was even more pronounced for those young men studying in the West. Unable to adjust to Western society and alienated from their surroundings, they fell into small groups with a ghetto mentality. The Hamburg terrorist cell is a perfect example of this. From a rather vital but mundane aspect of life in the village, Islam became an all-consuming religious ideology separating them from "others."
Second, the so-called globalization effect of world communications and real-time connection, also once considered to be a force for modernizing, has turned out to be a force for retrenchment. Rather than being an agent for integration into a more liberal society, it has reinforced what Samuel Huntington calls the kin country syndrome. For instance, Arabs living in the West who were once watching the local and national news networks are now watching Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. It has increased the divisions between the civilizations, not closed them. And of course what one sees on Al-Jazeera, despite a façade of sophisticated presentation of straight news, is a heavily overlaid but subtle message of Sunni-centrism and radical Islam, prompting many Shiites in Iraq to term it "the Wahhabi network."
Conditions within the Muslim, particularly Arab, world have also acted as a catalyst for the growth of Islamist movements. Stagnation of the political environment, as well as the economic environment, has contributed mightily to the popularity of the Islamist message. Most of the Arab world is now ruled by political dynasties, many rulers being old and/or bereft of any new ideas, other than those required to keep themselves in power. Ironically, the decadence and incompetence of most of the Arab leadership have prompted a major split in strategy among terrorist groups.
One wing of the Islamist camp advocated attacking the local regimes. To the purists within the Islamist movement there are no true Islamic governments in existence. The Iranian government is Shiite, a branch of Islam considered by the Islamists to be tifkar, a corrupted and heretical sect of Islam to be eradicated. Ironically, the Saud family of Arabia is seen as a corrupt puppet of the United States, despite their efforts to spread the Wahhabi brand of Islam throughout the world. The group that proved to be ascendant focused on Western targets. Palestinian and leading Islamist intellectual, Abdullah Azzam, was probably murdered because of his opposition to the Zawahiri philosophy of global strategy, which eventually was adopted by Osama bin Laden.
Economically, the Arab world has dramatically retrogressed. Subtracting oil as a factor from the equation, the entire Middle East of 260 million people exports fewer goods than the five million people of Finland. Everywhere there is a great deal of unemployment and even more underemployment. This is further aggravated by the high rate of population growth and the total inability of the existing governments to provide an environment for economic growth. Meant to provide jobs, bloated government bureaucracies only deepen discontent and discourage outside investment. On top of this bleak picture is the massive corruption endemic to the Arab world and the inordinate portion of the national coin devoted to "national security," most of which is simply largess to the military leadership in order to maintain themselves in power.
The Underlying Context of Islamist Appeal
As Bernard Lewis has written, "In the course of the 20th century it became abundantly clear in the Middle East and indeed all over the lands of Islam that things had indeed gone badly wrong." Everyone with a cursory knowledge of the Islamic world recognizes the immense contribution of the great Islamic empires to science and medicine, as well as the arts. In fact our civilization, often referred to as the Judaic-Christian civilization, would be more properly termed the Judaic, Christian, Islamic civilization. The golden age of Islam from about 700 to 1000 AD included an immense empire that stretched from Spain to India. Jewish physicians, Persian philosophers, mathematicians and artists, as well as Turkish soldiers with a core of Arab leadership formed a generally tolerant and highly advanced society. A multitude of factors ended this golden age, including a change in trade routes, decline in agricultural productivity, and the increasing factionalization of the Islamic empire, and finally the Mongol invasion with the sacking of Baghdad in 1258. The great Ottoman Empire that followed was Islamic and a great military state, but never achieved the level of societal advancement of the earlier Islamic empires.
The Islamic impression of the West was largely influenced by their belief in the innate superiority of the Islamic civilization, a belief buttressed by the very poor image and demonstrated backwardness of the European powers during the nearly 200 years of the Crusades. With the expulsion of the last of the Crusaders, Islamic society settled into a comfortable isolation secure in the conviction of its moral and material superiority. Basically there was nothing to be learned from the West. The seemingly endless victories of the Ottoman Turks over the Europeans only strengthened this perception.
However, with the beginning of the Renaissance this view of the West was out of date. The lack of trade, communication and interest of the Islamic world with Europe allowed the growth of European power to pass without much concern until 1798. The invasion of Napoleon's French expeditionary forces, designed to cut off Great Britain from its best routes to India, defeated the Ottoman army in a matter of days. The shock was tremendous-in both the East and West. The myth of innate Islamic superiority was shattered. Shortly afterward what might be considered the great European land grab began with the European powers taking control of most of the former Islamic lands. This continued and accelerated following World War I and the mandates awarded European powers over former Ottoman provinces. These various mandates evolved into states, often with very little ethnic, religious or even geographical factors involved in drawing their boundaries. With the end of World War II these newly designed states became independent, along with the added establishment of the state of Israel.
To many Arabs it is a part of their embedded belief that this was all a colonialist plot to divide the Arab world and the Islamic world into small, mutually antagonistic states, with Israel being referred to as the crusader state or Zionist entity. The concept of victimhood at the hands of the West is a staple of their education system and state-supported media, and is often reinforced by Arab governments seeking to project the blame game onto the always available scapegoats.
With the rise of American power and its increasingly close association with Israel after 1967, the West has come to mean the United States. This intensified as the Arab nationalist movement grew in the 1960s, becoming much more virulent with the rise of the Islamists. The primarily leftist ideological underpinning of the relatively secular Arab nationalist movement has been replaced by an injection of the racist, pseudo-religious philosophy of the Islamists.
"Why has this decline happened?" the Islamists ask. The answer is simple and very appealing to the people, especially intellectuals seeking answers that absolve themselves from any responsibility. To the Islamists this long decline was a result of the abandonment of Islam and the importation of alien Western ideologies. As Bernard Lewis wrote, the usual historical scapegoats were resurrected-the Turks, the Mongols, the Jews, the Americans.
The "Successes" of the Islamist Movement
The growth of the Islamist movement was greatly accelerated by the perceived successes of a religiously-based, militant form of Islam, particularly against the West and rulers seen as puppets of American power. To many, the increased emphasis of President Anwar Sadat on Islam, particularly in comparison to his predecessor, Abdul Nasser, resulted in the victory of the 1973 War. Ironically, the assassination of Sadat in 1981 was seen as a great victory of the Islamists over the Munaafiqun (hypocrites). Early in his presidency Sadat had released many of the Islamic fundamentalists as a buttress against the left wing of the Free Officers who constituted a threat to his regime.
Much more galvanizing was the 1979 ouster of the Shah of Iran by Ayatollah Khomeni. This was continued with the ouster of the Russians from Afghanistan by the Mujahadeen in 1989 and was accentuated by the victory of the Talibnn over the warlords and the institution of an Islamic government in Afghanistan. The militancy of the extremist Hezbollah continued this string of successes, claiming credit for the withdrawal of the Israelis from Lebanon in 2000. This was recently reinforced by the withdrawal of the Israelis from the Gaza strip, which was claimed as a victory for the militant terrorist Hamas organization. Whether true or not, there can be no doubt that both evacuations are perceived to be victories brought about by Islamic militants, a feat the secular Arab nationalists were unable to do.
Nevertheless the Humiliation Continues
Despite these "successes," the sense of humiliation continues with more recent developments such as the collapse of the Taliban against the American attack and the two Gulf War debacles with the conventional Iraqi army dissolving in the face of the American invasion. Even though the Islamists considered Saddam an enemy, the invasion by American forces was a violation of Islamic land, making Saddam a lesser evil. The idea recently promoted that removing Saddam was in effect a victory for Islamist terrorism is long on political agenda and short on historical and cultural knowledge, however. As described in the 9/11 Report, while there was no operational support for al Qaeda, there were a series of meetings and offers of assistance in 1997 and 1998. The close cooperation between the AlZarkawi jihadists and the secularist Ba'athists in Iraq today belies the conventional wisdom that they are ideologically incompatible. This was also true in the 1960s between the Muslim fundamentalists and the Communists. Facile statements such as "Islam and Communism are incompatible" proved to be wrong.
Other perceptions and conditioning that continue to feed the gnawing sense of humiliation are the views that most Islamic national rulers are American stooges, continued Indian rule over Kashmir, and the existence of the State of Israel, with implications across the Islamic world.
Who Are the Islamists?
Comprehensive studies done by Marc Sageman in his book Understanding Terror Networks on the beliefs and personalities of the terrorists have refuted many conventional beliefs about the substance of their grievances and rationale for their actions. One argument frequently heard is that the gap between rich and poor in the Middle East drives many of the Islamists to action. Untrue, says Sageman, who found that most of the leadership and Arabs were of the upper or middle socio-economic class. Most of the core leadership were well educated, came from functional families, were not products of an Islamic schooling (meaning not a private religious school), evidenced no particular pathologies, and most were not single young males. Most had families.
There are several common factors, however, one in particular being the factor of relative deprivation. Over 70 percent were recruited from countries other than their origin, many recruited in Europe, such as the previously mentioned Hamburg cell members. Many of the perpetrators of the World Trade Center attack, including Mohamed Atta, were members of this cell that coalesced around a mosque and a radical view of Islam. They were usually lonely, not integrated into local communities, not fully employed at their educational level and socially isolated.
Among the many global terrorists Sageman examined in his study, none were Palestinians. This finding is particularly revealing in that it is a mantra frequently espoused by Western Middle Eastern scholars that a simple change of U.S. policy toward the Palestinian question would somehow eliminate the underpinnings of global terrorist movements. Even one of the leading founders of the jihndist global movement, Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, gave up the specific Palestinian cause for a more general jihad against enemies of Islam. More troubling for those who posit a solution to the Palestinian problem as the solution to the radical jihndist terror campaign is the fact that nothing short of the total destruction of Israel and its people would satisfy them. The idea of a greater balance in U.S. Middle Eastern policy as a solution to the Islamist threat is a chimera.
Islam and the Islamists
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the most delicate issue in this is the connection, if any, between Islam, the religion, and Islamism, the radical ideological movement. To what extent is Islam amenable to terrorist movements? Are there aspects of Islam that lend it to extremism? Unfortunately these crucial questions have been relegated to evasive phraseology designed to avoid the political minefield of being religiously insensitive, or being labeled an Islamophobe. From the outset it can be plainly stated there is nothing intrinsically violent about Islam. Upon my arrival in the Middle East to study at the American University of Beirut, some of my professors urged me to devote more time to the new ideologies sweeping across the Arab world, particularly socialism. Islam was seen as a religion in eclipse, a result of increasing urbanization, education and secularism. 1 always felt it was a rather quietist religion, certainly less outspoken than my Baptist upbringing. Being unfamiliar at the time with Islamic culture I misread the power of Islam in an Islamic society, underestimating its fundamental appeal and strength.
There are those who will boldly state that Islam is the problem. Muslim-born Salman Rushdie, author of the Satanic Verses, opines that until Muslims understand that the problem is within the Islamic community and until they restore religion to the personal sphere, depoliticizing it, it will remain an obstacle to modernization and continue to foster extremism.
On the other side, there are far more writers, generally academics, who tend to cast a hagiographic net around Islam. Books have proliferated since 9/11 ostensibly to correct an anti-Islamic attitude on the part of the American public, an attitude for which in my experience, little evidence exists. Typical of this genre was the book Approaching the Qur'cin: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells, which was required reading for University of North Carolina freshmen. Unfortunately, books of this sort are a part of the problem. They are essentially disingenuous in their portrayal of Islam, omitting certain passages of the Koran or Hadiiths, and creating the impression that Islamist terror is somehow simply an aberration in which the primary practitioners just happen to be Muslims.
In fact there are aspects of Islam as practiced today that do factor into Islamic terrorism. First of all, the Koran is viewed as the uncreated, inalterable word of God for which interpretation, at least within the Sunni community, is not allowed, although, to be sure, the Islamists use the tafsir (details or explanation) in a very innovative way to make their points. Therefore the so-called "sword" verse, which implies unremitting warfare against the unbelievers, reducing them to "tolerated" communities subject to the vagaries of Islamic law as enforced by the various rulers, cannot be reinterpreted as were many of the Judaic Old Testament stories. While this verse can be explained in a kinder, gentler way, it can just as easily be explained exactly as it reads, which is what the Islamists do.
Second, and probably most important, Islam, particularly Sunni Islam, has no central repository of religious doctrine. The leading scholar of Sunni Islam, the Sheikh of Sheikhs, the rector of Al Azhar in Cairo, has in actuality very little authority on the burning questions of the day, such as the religious legality of suicide bombings. Combining that with the fact that most Muslims cannot read the Koran in Arabic, even those that can have great difficulty in understanding the context in which the events depicted in the Koran occurred. For example, the extremely hostile attitude of the Koran toward Jews is used by the modern day Islamist ideologues to bolster their view of Jews as inferior beings. In reality these passages reflect the bitter internecine wars between the contending Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. The fact was that the Jews of the Arab peninsula were Semitic tribes like all the others, but had adopted Judaism as their religion. The militant clerics and Islamists of today fuse the Arab Jewish tribes of the seventh century to the Israeli Jews of today in a sort of racist mythological trace reminiscent of the Nazi theories of race.
Third, as structured, the Koran lends itself to widely differing views on basic issues. Many passages are highly allegorical with mystical references, and in a number of places they are contradictory. Some Muslim scholars would address this by saying the latter revelations supercede the earlier ones. The problem here is that the Koran is not structured chronologically, but rather in terms of length of chapters, and there is no absolute agreement among the scholars on the chronology of the various verses.
The second most important source of Islamic law, the Hadiths, is much more a source of dispute. Supposedly, these stories about what the Prophet said or did were orally transmitted until about 250 years after his death. There is no one set of common Hadiths accepted by all Muslims. The Shiites do not accept many of the Hadiths accepted by the Sunnis. Originally committed to memory by companions of the Prophet, very few Hadiths have been transmitted in exactly the same way. For instance, one Hadith in which the Prophet allowed them to write down what he had said has 30 different versions, not to mention that some of the early companions of the Prophet were convinced that they were forbidden to record anything, believing these stories to be a forbidden rival to God's word in the Koran.
This leaves the field open to the local imams, many with little religious education, self-promoters like bin Laden, and others who, with a distorted or very narrow understanding of the essence of Islam, impart their political and ideological half-baked versions of Islam on their local following. In other words, the understanding of Islam for most Muslims depends on what they hear from their local religious authorities, including those with little or no credentials or with political ambitions. For women, who rarely attend religious studies, their knowledge is drawn from home education and popular religious columns in the newspapers or Islamist television personalities.
Ultimately, like all totalitarian movements whose appetites grow by what they feed on, the global Islamist jihadist movement is expansionist, not just to defend the revived Islamic world, but in fact to subdue the House of War, meaning the entire non-Muslim world. AIi Mohamed, the Islamist terrorist I unknowingly worked with for a number of months, was deadly serious when he kept repeating his stock mantra that the world will never be peaceful or fulfill God's plan until the House of Peace absorbs the House of War. Having spent a number of years in the Arab world, I had become used to the Arab penchant for bombast and blood curdling rhetoric. This is the way perceived much of what Ali Mohamed said. But he was serious, and the jihadists are serious and must be taken as such.
While there are many things we can do in the field of information warfare and cultural diplomacy, our main task is to contain the expansionist drive within the Islamist movement. As history has shown again and again, when totalitarian movements are contained they tend to implode. The radical Islamist worldview can offer nothing to fellow Muslims except promises of renewed glory. Its decline and ultimate demise will not be the result of some hearts and minds campaign or a more balanced policy in the Middle East. It will be brought about by a steadfast United States with a tough policy that does not bend to intimidation, nor allow the facilitators of violence in the Western intelligentsia to minimize Islamist outrages and endemic brutality. These are the same sort of intellectuals who believed the totalitarianism of fascism and communism would bring about the ideal society in which they would (supposedly) enjoy an elitist status, isolated from the brutish realities outside their centers of learning and university campuses. Most important, it is incumbent upon a world Muslim community to recognize the immense harm the Islamist movement has brought to their hopes of a better, more secure life.
In this regard I conclude with a passage from an article by the late Ambassador Hume Horan, the preeminent Arabist of the U.S. Foreign Service, who wrote: .......
Young Arabs, moreover, are failed by their intellectual leaders. Where are the Arab Reinhold Neibuhrs, Christofer Dawsons, Karl Earths, Martin Bubers? Where are the politically engaged intellectuals who can help a young Arab make coherent, responsible sense, of a troubling modern world? They scarcely exist in the Arab world.
In actuality there is a wide gap between the fundamentalists and Islamists ... they do not necessarily share the view that only violence will bring about the reestablishment of the Caliphate (the worldwide Islamic community).
Islamism is a totalitarian ideology that seeks to use Islam as a vehicle to power. Its doctrine is a contrived melange of fascist notions of facial superiority, Marxist techniques of human conditioning and capitalistic entrepreneurship.
Islamism is not a movement that advocates a return to the seventh century, not even in theology (although they do present the façade of doing so).The Islamists have proven themselves very adept in using the latest in technology, particulary in information warfare and communications.
The so-called globalisation effect of world communications and real-time connection, also once considered to be a force for modernizing, has turned out to be a force for retrenchment.
With the rise of American power and its increasingly close association with Israel after 1967, the West has conte to mean the United States. This intensified as the Arab nationalist movement grew in the 1960s, becoming much more virulent with the rise of the Islamists.
The close cooperation between the Al-Zarkawi jihadists and the secularist Ba' athists in Iraq today belies the conventional wisdom that they are ideologically incompatible. This was also true in the 1960s between the Muslim fundamentalists and the Communists. Facile statements suck as "Islam and Communisnt are incompatible" proved to be wrong.
The leading scholar of Sunni Islam, the Sheikh of Skeikhs, the rector of Al Azhar in Cairo, has in actuality very little authority on the burning questions of the day, such as the religions legality of suicide bombings.
Ultimately, like all totalitarian movements whose appetites grow by what they feed on, the global Islamist jihadist movement is expansionist, not just to defend the revived Islamnic world, but in fact to subdue the House of War, meaning the entive non-Muslim World.
By Col. Norvell B. De Atkine
U.S. Army retired
COL NORVELL B. DE ATKJNE, USA Ret., served as an Army Foreign Area Specialist in a number of Middle Eastern assignments, living in the area for eight years. He has traveled extensively in the region for the past 15 years as an instructor of Middle Eastern political-military subjects for the U.S. military. Col. De Atkine graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and obtained a master's degree in Arab Studies at the American University of Beirut. The opinions expressed in the article are those of its author.…
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Publication information: Article title: Islam, Islamism and Terrorism. Contributors: De Atkine, Norvell B. - Author. Magazine title: Army. Volume: 56. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2006. Page number: 55+. © Association of the United States Army Feb 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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