Academic journal article Military Review

Understanding Today's Enemy: The Grand Strategists of Modern Jihad

Academic journal article Military Review

Understanding Today's Enemy: The Grand Strategists of Modern Jihad

Article excerpt

Editor's note: The following article is a chapter extract from Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War, by Dr. Sebastian Gorka, published here by his permission coincident with publication of the full book by Regnery Publishing, April 2016. Gorka is the Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory at Marine Corps University. We appreciate his gracious permission to republish this highly relevant material.

Just as one must study Carl von Clausewitz, Machiavelli, or Napoleon to understand the modern Western way of war, there are key writers and thinkers that those who wish to defeat our current Jihadist enemy must acquaint themselves with intimately. In order to understand the strategy of today's global jihadist movement, one must understand the work of a handful of Islamists who wrote the most important strategic texts on war against the "infidel." These men are Seyyid Qutb, Ayman al-Zawahiri (the current head of al-Qaida), Brig. Gen. S.K. Malik, and lastly, the late American al-Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki. The works of these "big picture" Islamist thinkers together shape the actions and plans of all of today's jihadist terror groups, from Boko Haram to al-Qaida, from the al-Nusra Front to the Islamic State (IS).

Milestones: All Must Fight for the Caliphate

Qutb, a minor Egyptian government official, is responsible for writing the most influential modern text on jihad. His 1964 book, Milestones (sometimes translated as Signposts Along the Way), has become the field manual for jihadists everywhere and remains a core doctrinal text for the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Qutb was a key member. Written after Qutb visited the United States on an exchange program soon after World War II, the book describes the reasons why the Muslim community has lost its preeminent position in the world and how the godless, infidel nation of the United States must be destroyed in order to rid the world of jahilliyyah, the pagan ignorance of Allah that once again has infected the minds and souls of Muslims across the globe.

In this violent purification of the world and the reinstatement of Islamic greatness through the reestablishment of the theocratic empire that was the Caliphate, the most powerful weapon is a "holy war," or jihad. Most significantly of all, Qutb is explicit in his belief that Islam is not to be understood as just a religion, but instead as a "revolutionary party"' with a politically supremacist mission to mobilize the masses and capture global power for the glory of Allah. Islam for Qutb is not limited to a matter of personal belief. Again and again, in this short book, Qutb repeats that Islam has a mandate to recreate the Caliphate, but this time a theocratic empire that will span the world.

It is no accident that given this understanding, Milestones lifts heavily and frequently from other ideologies which promoted revolution, especially fascism and communism, which is why Qutb (and later Osama bin Laden) frequently used Marxist terminology such as the "vanguard" to explain the special role the small minority of "enlightened" religious revolutionaries has.

Qutb was eventually arrested by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser for his central role in the Brotherhood and involvement in a plot to kill the president, and he was finally executed in August 1966. However, his ideas on jihad and religious war live on and his book is available not only all over the Middle East but also in many Islamic "cultural centers" across the United States. This is a problem because the other places it is most often found is in the possession of high-value jihadist targets on the battlefield and on terrorists apprehended here in the United States.

Qutb's ideas very specifically link insurgent leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of IS with individual terrorists, such as the Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, because each of them concurs with the fundamental analysis in Milestones that:

* Muslims are once again like the pagan Arab tribes of Mecca in the time of Mohammed. …

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