Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror
By Mary Habeck
Mary Habeck, an associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University has published a book that has been billed as an authoritative study of jihadist ideology. The book, Knowing the Enemy, published by the Yale University Press, has generally received good reviews, at least insofar as it gets at the explicit teachings and ideology of what Habeck has termed jihadism. While I would certainly agree that Habeck has done a good job of explicating this ideology and sharing with us the ideological nuances that distinguishes one group of jihadists from another, the usefulness of the book might be said persuasively to end there.
Her failure, and it results in almost laughable recommendations on how to confront jihadism which she tosses in at the end of the book, is her inability or unwillingness to apply a rigorous and scholarly discipline to her own underlying theme made explicit throughout the book: Jihadism draws on historically traditional Islam for much of its ideology and creed. In making this connection, Habeck’s scholarship is half-baked, meaning literally half done. The part of the thesis drawing the line to traditional Islam and the Islamic sources is what one might call scholarship. But then this military historian does something akin to veering across several lanes on a highway to get to the exit ramp without as much as pausing to look in her rear or side view mirrors.
After making it clear to us that jihadism has deep and historical roots in Islam, Habeck feels compelled to proclaim that jihadists have perverted “traditional” Islam to suit their purposes, have moved contrary to the flow of “modern Islam”, and are heterodox in their condemnation of all of those who oppose them and in their use of terror against non-combatant citizens. But making these statements time and again in conclusory fashion does not make it so and she provides almost no source material or analysis of how the jihadists are in fact heterodox. If anything, her scholarship, as opposed to her polemics, establishes their pedigree.
Moreover, Habeck’s constant refrain that modern Islam opposes the jihadist ideology comes with neither evidence of any institutional showing that such “modern Islam” exists outside of Islamic ivory towers nor a showing of any mass appeal of religious Muslims who are either liberal in outlook or tolerant of the West. At best Habeck buries in her footnotes a handful of “Islamic scholars” who would attempt to westernize Islam as proof of an “alternative” institutional Islam. Her only proffer of evidence that the peaceful alternative she terms “modern Islam” exists is in the form of an empirical declaration she herself repeat several times throughout the book that jihadist ideology has not yet moved the billions of Muslims to enlist in actual combat or active support of the jihadists. While I will address each of these failures, let’s first examine what she does say that might make the book worth reading.
To begin, Habeck’s analysis purports to take the Muslim terrorists seriously. She rejects the facile notion that social, political, and economic factors explain the existence or the ideology of the terrorist groups. She even questions the standard explanation that the Israel-Palestinian problem coupled with the US support of the Zionists explains the jihadists hatred of the West and the US in particular. An anti-US ideology has been extant in Islam, she explains, at least since 1950, which predates any real US involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. And, to the extent that the US and Israel are mere stand-ins for the jihadist reaction to western colonialism and imperialism, Habeck points to the indelicate fact that the “modern” father of the jihadist movement is Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim Ibn Taymiyya, who lived in the 13th century and was more interested in ridding Islam of the pseudo-Islamic Mongols than fighting the Christian West or the Jews. And, Ibn Taymiyya’s ideological heir, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in the 18th century, developed his own authoritative call to jihad at a time, according to Habeck, “when Islam seemed triumphant.” (p. 6) Most of you will recognize this name and its association with the radically anti-western brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, which is the main school of thought taught in the religious institutions or madaaris (plural of madrasah) of Saudi Arabia and preached in their mosques.
To her credit, Habeck has indeed made a real contribution to the growing body of scholarship that has applied a far more objective eye to violent Islam than the old school orientalists and arabists. She begins her examination by asking why they do what they do, focusing especially on the 9-11 attack. Her overriding goal in this first chapter is to describe the three schools of jihadist ideology which she then uses to explain the varying strategies used by the jihadists. One group sees the locus of the problems of Islam today with the Muslims themselves. This group believes that Islam was corrupted by the earliest Caliphates or “successors” to Mohammed. While it was these imposters who did the most to spread Islam and create the Muslim empires that at their peak occupied the Middle East, the Near East and great parts of Europe, including Spain, the jihadists recognize quite accurately that much of the Islamic empire was awash in non-Islamic religious and political practices. For this group, the Muslim dictators who are either openly secular (like Egypt’s Mubarrak) or are only fraudulently Islamic (the Fauds of Arabia) and who use either nationalism or pan-Arabism to substitute for a true Islamic world state are the source of the corruption in the Islamic world today.
A second group of jihadists takes the view that the corruption of Islam only really began in earnest with the likes of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his wholesale secularization of Turkish political, military and social life. Since Ataturk was the forceful heir to what remained of the last Islamic Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, the destruction of Islamic rule in Turkey becomes this group’s watershed event and the resurrection of an Islamic Caliphate its strategic goal.
Finally, the third group, and the one closely aligned with al Qaeda, believes that with the revelation of the Qur’an by Muhammad, the forces of evil, be they Christians and Jews, or liberalism and democracy, have aligned themselves against the forces of good, Islam, in an epic battle between batil or falsehood and kufr or unbelief on the one side and al-haqq or the truth and tawhid or the belief in one god, Allah, who has no partners and no intermediaries, on the other. Because it is this last group, which views the just war as one waged most directly against the greatest evil or purveyor of the most evil ideas, the attacks against the US gain an explicable focus.
Next Habeck sets out to bring a solid historical context to the various jihadist ideologies. Here she traces the founding ideological fathers of jihad all the way back to the period immediately following Mohammad’s death. She begins:
The ideas supported by the jihadis did not spring from a void, nor are all of them the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principle dogmas that they assert – that Islam is the one true faith that will dominate the world; that Muslim rulers need to govern by shari’a [Islamic law] alone; that the Qur’an and hadith [authoritative Islamic tradition] contain the whole truth for determining the righteous life; that there is no separation between religion and the rest of life; and that Muslims are in a state of conflict with the unbelievers – have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Mohammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy (ulama) today. Scholars have also traced the evolution of even the more extreme jihadist beliefs from the interpretations Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), through the thought of Muhammad ibn “Abd al-Wahhab (1703/4-1792), Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935), Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949), Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903-1979), and Sayyid Qutb (1903-1966). (pp. 17-18)
After framing the results of her historical studies of jihad ideology and the studies of others as falling within a long, esteemed, and sacralized tradition of Islam, Habeck examines the father of jihad ideology, Ibn Taymiyya:
Ibn Taymiyya asserted that these rulers [the Mongols who captured large parts of the Islamic empire during his lifetime and who subsequently converting to Islam in the late 13th century] were acting immorally and contrary to the Qur’anic text, which said that Muslims were only truly the “best community” when they “enjoined the good and forbade the evil.” This injunction he took to mean that Muslims had to follow and implement all the commandments, both positive and negative, laid down by [Allah] and explained by Muhammad (and as interpreted by the legal experts); not the least of them could be ignored or disobeyed. Ibn Taymiyya argued that since the Mongol rulers failed to carry out the entire shari’a of [Allah] and even pretended that their own system of law was superior in certain regards, they were not fulfilling this key requirement. Such rulers were clearly infidels and not Muslims at all, and as unbelievers had to be fought and killed.
Given the times in which he lived, it should come as no surprise that Ibn Taymiyya also supported the resumption of armed struggle against anyone outside the fold of Islam. [Habeck doesn’t make it clear here but the “resumption” is of the wars begun by Muhammad himself and the Caliphs immediately following his death.] He would, in fact, become known as one of the foremost proponents of the Islamic duty called “jihad.” (pp. 19-20)
After searching for some external justification for jihad and either failing to capture the Mohammedan contribution to, if not grounding for, this doctrine, or worse consciously ignoring it, Habeck veers off into an absurd defense of what she deems the proper role of jihad:
It seems appropriate to stop here and attempt to understand this difficult concept before going further. Jihad is derived from the Arabic root for “struggle” and not from the usual word for war. This gives a clue to the significance that the Qur’an and the hadith assign to it, for jihad was never meant to be warfare for the sake of national or personal gain, but rather the struggle for the sake of [Allah] and on his path alone. (p. 20)
Habeck’s attempt to “elevate” jihad beyond a “usual” war for “national and personal gain” and set it apart as a kind of mythic or simply spiritual “struggle” by Muslims against apostasy by linking it to some trans-national or trans-personal goal is transparent. When you take into account, which Habeck does not do here at all or adequately elsewhere in her book, the fact that Islam proper does not recognize national boundaries but only the ever expanding Islamic rule to establish a world obedient to Islam, it becomes clear that Islam’s trans-national and trans-personal war is war with an existential reality nonetheless. This is evident from Islam’s earliest beginnings as Mohammad sought to expand his holdings beyond Medina and Mecca. Mohammad’s war of conquest was followed up by his father-in-law, who succeeded him as the first Caliph, and by the subsequent Caliphs, with a vengeance. It likewise appears that today’s jihadists abide by the same notions of an Islamic world state. So the question arises, is a war for national or personal gain less “justified” than a war for religious or ideological cleansing?
With this effort to elevate or at least sanitize “historic” jihad, Habeck then goes off road altogether:
Jihad thus has two basic meanings: the first deals with the internal struggle to follow [Allah] and do all that [h]e has commanded. The second is to engage in an external struggle (fighting) with others to bring the Truth (Islam) to mankind. (p. 20)
But as quoted above and repeated elsewhere throughout the book, Habeck informs us that the murderous side of jihad is in fact supported by explicit teachings of Mohammad. She also informs us in the chapter entitled “From Mecca to Medina” that the authoritative histories of Mohammad’s life suggest that he was not merely an advocate of jihad but a practitioner. Of course she wishes to “balance” these unfortunate facts with counter sources and interpretations but she is unable to dismiss violent jihad as outside of traditional Islam, as she herself reveals.
Returning to Habeck’s discussion of jihad where we left off is also instructive and evidence of more of the same. She begins here inexplicably:
Jihad was never supposed to be about the forcible conversion of others to Islam – although under some rulers it became that – but rather about opening the doors to countries so that the oppressed peoples within could hear the Truth and, once Muslims conquered the land, have the privilege of being ruled by the just laws of Islam. The best way to translate “jihad” is therefore not “holy war” but rather “just war” – a war that is justified for Muslims because it is meant to free other people from falsehood and lead them to truth. (pp. 19-20)
But Habeck’s premise that “Jihad was never supposed to be about the forcible conversion of others to Islam” is an unsupported and unsupportable attempt to make a distinction where none exists in practice. According to Habeck, the warring Muslims under Mohammad and the successor Caliphates who were true to jihad as “just war” were merely conquering the wayward and ideologically and spiritually oppressed peoples of the Middle East and Europe, informing them of the “truth” of Islam and “opening the doors” to their conversions. Of course, if they failed to convert or agree to live in the submissive status of a dhimmi, they were killed even on Mohammad’s good days. Indeed, there are plenty of Islamic sources that would allow the murder of all infidels without an “open door” policy to convert. Thus, Habeck herself explains:
International law has very strict rules and definitions about how to distinguish civilians from soldiers and what constitutes legitimate military targets during time of war. The traditional Islamic understanding of belligerents did not follow these modern distinctions. Instead all four schools of fiqh [authoritative jurisprudence] agreed that all male unbelievers beyond puberty (generally age of thirteen or fourteen) could be killed during jihad, regardless of whether they belonged to a formal military organization – even regardless of whether they had weapons. This does not mean that all males had to be killed: rather that, as a group, they were legitimate targets in time of war. The only exceptions to this rule were monks, old men (only in some of the schools of fiqh), the insane, and the disabled. Men from these groups, as well as women, children, and slaves were considered nonbelligerents who would not normally be killed unless they took up arms themselves, contributed money for the war, or incited fighting against the Muslims. Intentionally killing unbelievers who fell into one of the prohibited categories was not a serious sin, but rather an action that could be expiated by confession and prayer. Incidentally killing them – as well as Muslims – by using a weapon that killed indiscriminately, or because they were mixed in with combatants, was not even blameworthy. (Emphasis in the original.) (pp. 126-127)
In addition to the intentional targeting of civilians, Islamic sources promote the use of terror. Here, Habeck is forced to grudgingly admit what is explicit in the Qur’an of Muhammad and the authoritative traditions collected by the generations following his death:
There is, finally, the problem of terrorism. Based on one verse in the Qur’an as well as a few ahadith, the jihadis are convinced that creating fear in the hearts of the unbelievers is not only a sound tactic in their war, but one that is supported by Islamic law. (p. 132)
What Habeck cannot bring herself to tell us we learn from her pregnant silence: No Islamic legal ruling or interpretation has ever mustered the authority to overrule or contradict these statements of the Islamic Law of War. In fact, the best Habeck can do is manage the following:
It is worth reemphasizing that the jihadist commitment to offensive warfare, their belief in terrorizing entire populations, their views on prisoners of war and booty, and their deliberate targeting of innocents have not found widespread support among the vast majority of the Islamic world. (p. 133)
Habeck’s failure goes well beyond her refusal to critically assess her empirical declarations of widespread Islamic rejection of terror and jihad – a failure especially highlighted by the absence of widespread protests by the Muslim political or lay leadership or by the masses, by the fact that recruitment continues unabated for the terrorists, by the fact that terrorists continue to find safe haven in the “Arab Street”, and by the fact that known terrorists either win full electoral support as in the case of Hamas or substantial electoral support as in the case of Hezbollah. What is really at work here? Why is Habeck so conflicted?
The explanation made explicit in Habeck’s pre-ordained and pre-packaged conclusion is quite simply that she is struggling to create some distance, even if ever so slight, between today’s jihadists and their historical antecedents, which are Islam proper and the life of Mohammad and his successors. Habeck’s effort to be “nuanced” and to make the point that the Muslim terrorists draw from historical and traditional Islam on the one hand, a fact no scholar could ignore, while at the same time proclaiming that these jihadists have perverted key Islamic concepts on the other hand, a subjective speculation without serious supportive scholarship, has failed but not for lack of effort. Moreover, it is a transparent effort to distinguish jihadism from its birthplace, Islam, and from its mentor, Mohammad, an effort that starts with little factual evidence and ends with even less critical analysis.
Another example of Habeck’s effort to cleanse Islam of jihad appears in the same second chapter where she attempts to make the case that “modern Islam” reinterpreted itself against the extremist “revivalists.” But what Habeck ignores is that the only example she has for “modern” Islam are the intellectual writings arising out of the 20th century when Europe and the West dismantled the Ottoman Empire and created a bunch of Arab nation-states in the Middle East. The fact that many Arabs embraced modern nationalism and abandoned any serious Islamic faith and that Islamic intellectuals attempted to square this modernization with Islam is wholly understandable and predictable. This was pursued with some real vigor by the Turks who attempted to secularize their new nation and even by the Muslim intellectuals of India who were forced to live side by side with the dominant Hindus (800+ million Hindus versus 130+ million Moslems) – a ruling class that were not just unbelievers but pagans of the first order who reject the belief in one G-d, a sin of which even the Christians and Jews are not guilty.
Initially, there are two fundamental points that need to be clarified about this “modern Islam” to which Habeck refers time and again as an opposing force juxtaposed against violent or jihadist Islam. First, as Habeck makes clear when she writes as a scholar and not a polemicist, violent jihad is an integral part of Islam with roots back to the Qur’an, the Hadith, the Shari’a, the Sira, the early Caliphates, and the leading intellectuals of the accepted orthodox schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
Second, modern Islam, something Habeck tries to create out of 20th century cloth, is ideologically new and far less connected to historical or traditional Islam. The effort by the intellectuals to make it both Islamic and modern requires re-writing and ignoring all of the warlike clauses of the Qur’an and of the Islamic literature and history while highlighting only its peaceful parts.
But the arguments for such a peaceful reading have far less integrity than the violent ones. And the reasons are many. The time in Mohammad’s life after he came to power in Medina, conquered Mecca, and began his march outward from there is the time when all of Mohammad’s and Islam’s warlike jihadist ideology flourishes in actu. This was Islam in the ascendancy. The earlier time when Mohammad was not yet in power, when he lived subserviently in Mecca under the rule of pagan tribes, he is quoted in peaceful and tolerant terms. But traditional Islam itself recognizes this change or abrogation. Once Islam came to power a new order existed in the world with a dominant Islam not to be willingly subverted again.
The moderns wish to argue that if you take Mohammad seriously and literally, as the jihadists do, you cannot alter his teaching or abrogate his peaceful words. But this logic fails the test of reason. First, the historical divide and the point of Islam’s ascension to power have been accepted as authoritative tradition. Second, it is logical to suggest that once Islam freed itself from the dominance of the pagan world and took power, its methodology is sacralized for all time. Third, when confronted by a man who lived both a peaceful and a violent, murderous life, we are speaking here of Mohammad of course, it will be hard to construct a peaceful ideology or religion when all of his words and deeds are considered divinely ordained. Here the moderate or liberal Muslim falls on his own interpretive sword. At best, faithful Muslims will be peaceful when it suits them and violent and murderous when it suits them. At worst, just plain murderous.
Finally, there are two additional points to be made about Habeck’s “modern Islam” of the 20th century. First, in addition to the fact that Habeck wishes to confine “Islam” proper to the teachings and practice of largely secularized Muslims of the 20th century, the so-called modernization of Islam has produced what exactly? The “modern” and secular countries of the Middle East? These countries have essentially relied upon a strong military dictatorship to either rule outright or to control the limited democracy granted approved parties. As in the case of Turkey, certainly the most modern of all such Islamic countries, the army has been the constant regulator and preserver of “Kemalism” utilizing coups and threats of coups to control the Muslim factions, which have grown stronger over the years, suggesting even Ataturk’s great experiment to tame the Muslim masses with modernity is coming to a not-so-successful end.
Even assuming the best about these countries and the so-called modernization of Islam propounded by many government-sponsored Islamic “intellectuals” and clerics, the fact remains that these intellectuals and clerics no more speak for the Islamic masses than their fascist governments. It would be quite the scholarly task to draw any kind of legitimate line from the published writings or speeches of this privileged class to the now infamous Arab Street, much less the Islamic masses.
The second fundamental point to be made about Habeck’s “modern Islam” is her oft-repeated empirical claim that “most Muslims” around the world reject the jihadist ideology. But this statement is only supported by the statements of the privileged intellectual and clerical classes who have a vested interest to reject an Islamic resurrection against their masters, the secular dictators who rule over most of the Muslim dominated world. And indeed, surveys, when carefully analyzed, suggest her claim is, if not false, irrelevant because the numbers who are at least sympathetic to jihadist ideology and goals are objectively staggering.
We will take one example of two well-publicized Pew surveys of worldwide Muslims, one in the Spring of 2005 and one in the Spring of 2006. Notwithstanding the public relations spin the Pew staff put on the results in an attempt to trumpet the reduction of worldwide Muslim support for terrorism, a more critical and less politicized analysis of the numbers reveals the following: Between 13% - 43% of the respondents from Muslim and European countries were willing to justify suicide bombings against civilians (from “often justified” to “rarely” as opposed to “never”). The amount of support among European Muslims is numbing: French Muslims, 35%. Spanish Muslims, 25%; British Muslims, 25%; and German Muslims, 13%. Moreover, confidence in Osama bin Ladin as a world leader among Muslims in most Muslim countries remains extremely high; more than half of the respondents willing to answer did so affirmatively. One has to keep in mind that these results reflect the number of Muslims willing to tell a stranger that they support wanton murder and believe in bin Laden. Given the well-publicized suspicion and fear Muslims have of the intelligence services, secret rendition programs and the like, one must suspect a fair amount of under-reporting.
But Habeck ignores this more careful analysis of the survey data and says instead, citing absolutely no data: “That the vast majority of Muslims have not taken up arms suggests that the extremists have failed to win their argument.” (p. 110) But on its face this is a non sequitor. First, even if the jihadist ideology calls for all Muslims to take up arms or to actively support jihad, the fact that most Muslims remain passive does not in the least suggest a failed effort. In America where you have a patriotic country of free men, only a small proportion of its youth are prepared to enlist in an army during a crisis of war as we see today. And, this is an army with all of the creature comforts and benefits that the Islamic jihadist army lacks, assuming you discount the lure of 70 some odd virgins.
Second, that more than a third of the Muslims in Muslim controlled countries express support for jihad is mind-boggling. Even in Europe, the numbers are about one in four. The mere fact that Muslims are willing to voice their support for such wanton violence in such numbers is enough to suggest that the jihadists have won the battle over the hearts and minds of worldwide Muslims because they preach an authentic, undiluted Islam. Keep in mind that there are over 1.3 billion Muslims. If 25% support jihad at least in speech, you have quite a base from which to draw your active supporters.
Third, Habeck and the Pew surveys suffer from one very critical blind spot. They do not specifically assess the attitudes of young Muslim men between the ages of 18-40. Let’s take the Pew numbers. Assuming that the vast majority of old people and most women will be less inclined to violence, this suggests that among young Muslim men, whose testosterone levels are in overdrive and whose hatred of the West and of its feminization is well documented, support for violent jihad against the West is sky high. Because the Pew surveys don’t break out the sex and age, other than to tell us that the respondents are of adult age, we can only assume that given a normal distribution curve, the numbers of fighting age males in favor of jihadist violence would be at least double what was reported.
But you will find none of this type of analysis from Habeck, a scholar with all the data and resources at her disposal. Instead, throughout the book she will tell us that jihad has a real pedigree in Islam and tradition, but at the same time suggest that it has perverted key concepts which the vast majority of the Umma have rejected. Thus, in discussing an aggressive form of offensive jihad that attacks the West without provocations as opposed to a defensive jihad that merely attacks the West because it views the Muslim world under attack, she writes:
The question of offensive jihad is even more complex and controversial. The most widely respected Islamic authorities: the six accepted collections of (Sunni) hadith; the authoritative commentators on, and exegetes of, the hadith and Qur’an; the leading ancient experts on Islamic law; and the four schools of Islamic fiqh [jurisprudence] all assume that Muslims have a duty to spread the dominion of Islam, through military offensives, until it rules the world. . . . [‘Abdullah] ‘Azzam’s [the Islamic spiritual and political leader of the mujahideen in Afghanistan] definition of offensive jihad follows this traditional understanding of jihad . . .. Once, again it must be emphasized that ‘Azzam’s explanation of offensive jihad is simply a recounting of the interpretations of the most respected traditional Islamic authorities. To deny this fact would be to deny one of the main reasons that jihadis have gotten a hearing in so much of the Islamic world today. (Emphasis in the original.) (pp. 116-117)
This would of course seem almost self-evident. You could reach the same conclusion without all of the scholarship by just using common sense. That is, with all of the tyranny and abuse in the world, why haven’t other religious groups formed worldwide terror movements? Why are Jews and Christians, for example, almost unanimously opposed to the violent outbursts by their co-religionists who typically act alone or in numbers so few they represent a true anomaly? The obvious answer is that such terror is not a part of the weltanschauung of these religions. The same cannot be said of Islam.
But notwithstanding Habeck’s own scholarship and the empirical evidence and common sense, she refuses to give up her role as a polemicist for the position that “modernity” can prevail even in the Islamic world. Following her remarks quoted immediately above, she proclaims with sheer abandon:
However, the vast majority of Muslims today have renounced this concept of a continuous offensive against the unbelievers. They believe that Islam will spread peacefully and without conflict and that military jihad today is reserved for defensive purposes alone. (p. 117)
Aside from the fact that she posits no evidence of this “renouncement”, she fails to reflect back on her own assessment just concluded that a defensive jihad includes the armed struggle against actual invasion of a Muslim country by infidels, against the occupation by infidels of land that used to be Muslim or that currently has a majority Muslim population, or even against ideologies that attack the Islamic creed. (pp. 110 -116). While Habeck would have us believe that the latter two options for defensive jihad are newly conceived jihadist notions, she fails to account for what she describes only a few pages later as the traditional doctrine of going to war for the purpose of “opening the nations for Islam.”
Here, Habeck once again plays footloose and fancy-free. In what is a now typical pattern, Habeck initially recognizes the very traditional notion within Islam that obligates war when necessary to force all countries to allow Islam to be preached and practiced freely within their borders, what is termed “opening the nations for Islam”. But Habeck then inexplicably declares that the jihadist rendition of this “traditional view” of jihad is somehow more prone to actual violence than traditional Islam’s version of this same concept because jihadism has become a kind of “liberation theology” (pp. 119-120). But a liberation theology is exactly what Islam was when Mohammad began his post-Medina conquests and what it remained for 1400 years as it sought to conquer, to convert, or to dominate the world of infidels.
And, not to belabor the point but to counter Habeck’s insistent reference to the jihadist “perversion” of traditional Islamic concepts, the “perversions” are not so much perversions but interpretations that differ from the privileged class of state-sponsored intellectuals and clerics who know that if they preach a more traditional Islam which supports jihad in opposition to their tyrannical benefactors, they will either be killed, jailed, or effectively exiled into the oblivion their more militant brethren are willing to suffer in order to achieve their end.
And, the masses, while certainly mostly passive like the masses everywhere, are sufficiently supportive that 25% of all adult men and women, including the senior citizens and “oppressed” women among them, are prepared to go on record as supporting violent jihad. Finally, as we look at Afghanistan, Iraq, London, New York, Detroit, New Jersey, Madrid, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestine Territories, and more, there does not seem to be a shortage of recruits. And not just any kind of recruits; but recruits prepared to go on suicide missions. Imagine trying to recruit for the American army if your best pitch was not an opportunity to learn new skills or receive a college education but rather that you will most certainly die while killing civilians, including women and children, and for compensation you will enjoy a heavenly brothel of virgins once you accomplish your task. It takes a certain deep seated world view for the jihadist leadership to get this message across as well as the evidence suggests they have.
Finally, we turn to Habeck’s recommendations. They are as I said at the outset, laughable, and this is so in light of Habeck’s own scholarship. In order, they are: (1) Use the military but mostly the police in an internationally coordinated way to deprive the jihadists of places, money and time to organize, plan, and train to carry out the attacks. (2) Deny the jihadist preachers a forum for da’wa or recruitment by forbidding them a pulpit in Mosques, clamping down on their “charity networks” used to finance jihad, and working “with moderate and liberal Muslims to prevent extremists from taking over mosques and to help them in educating their youth to differentiate their religion from that of the fanatics”. (3) Solve the Israel-Palestine problem. (4) A public relations campaign that would change the name of the war from a War Against Terror, which is a mere tactic, to the War Against Jihadism or possibly the War on the Khawarij or Heterodox. This would be an effort to delegitimize the jihadists in the eyes of the more moderate Umma . And, (5) establishing democracy among the Muslims in a fashion that would not “disturb[ ] the practices and beliefs of Islam”. (p. 177)
We’ll deal with these one by one. Habeck’s first strategy seems to be generally a good one although I believe a more effective strategy would include a blend of international intelligence and an aggressive reward and punishment diplomacy to encourage countries to work with the US on intelligence gathering and disrupting the terrorist communication and financial networks, together with the liberal use of military might wrecking any semblance of a physical infrastructure and weapons and training base, which would also demonstrate to the faithful that the war against the West will be met with a vengeance unsurpassed by the jihadists themselves. This would be more appropriate than Habeck’s emphasis on police work.
And, indeed, this point highlights Habeck’s internal inconsistency. While she would have the West use its military “as sparingly as possible”, Habeck does confirm that forcing the fight on the jihadists’ home territories is a good strategy, mentioning Afghanistan but not Iraq. But for Habeck, given her thesis, this approach seems counterproductive. Since the theme throughout the book has been that there is a “moderate Islam” just waiting to stand up and be counted (although she certainly has done no counting), her main policy suggestion is to deprive the jihadists of recruiting calling cards (and these are all reflected in her proposed solutions (2) through (5)).
The more carefully reviewed evidence, however, suggests that because jihadism is in fact traditional Islam modernized to war against the ideological threat posed by the West against Islam proper, there is no way to keep faithful Muslims out of the war. If this is true, any Muslim who sticks his neck out of the mosque to yell some obscenity at the West should be considered an enemy combatant and killed or captured and held for the duration of the war. If you kill enough of them consistently enough, those disinclined to fight in the first place will find a way to reform their religion. Reformation will certainly not be accomplished by the West and an army of Madison Avenue PR executives.
Given Habeck’s discussion of “defensive jihad” being a traditional and sympathetic calling for most Muslims, she still needs to explain to us why she would have non-Muslim infidels fighting on any Muslim soil. One would have thought that she would take the position that only Muslims should fight Muslims on Muslim soil to deprive the jihadists of a recruiting tool. That she ignores this suggests that she recognizes at some level that there will always be a good supply of recruits to the jihadist calling precisely because it is so much a part of Islam.
Her second proposed solution is sensible enough until she gets to the heuristic aspect of it. If the West has to work with the “moderate and liberal Muslims” to educate their youth, it will not work. The youth are rebellious to begin with. They know hypocrisy when they see it. How in the world can you teach the youth about Islam and its true history and then convince them that your liberalized and modernized version is authentic. Islam was born in violence; it will die that way. Any wish to the contrary is sheer Pollyannaism. The same way the post World War II German youth were taught by their German teachers and political leaders to despise the fascism of their fathers, with strict laws extant still today restricting even speech that casts doubt on the Holocaust, so to must the Muslim youth be taught from the cradle to reject the religion of their forebears. But as long as President Bush and other “democracy builders’ continue to praise “traditional”, “peaceful” Islam, once these young people begin to study their faith seriously they will reject out of hand the liberalizing propaganda of the modernists among them.
Habeck’s third solution is another give away to her inability to take her own scholarship seriously. After reading the entire book, but just before arriving to this paragraph, the only mention of the Israel-Palestinian problem is in passing. And, if we take Habeck’s scholarship seriously, the problem in Palestine is not the Israel-Palestine problem; it is the Jewish problem. The jihadists and indeed Islam proper cannot accept and will not accept a nation of Jews in dar al-Islam. Israel most certainly is located in the heart of the land of the Umma. While secular and traitorous tyrants might come to the conclusion that since they cannot militarily defeat Israel, prudence would dictate entering into a peace treaty with the Zionists, this approach is not Islamic. As Habeck tells it, traditional Islam simply does not recognize a permanent treaty with infidels. Egypt’s Anwar Sadat of course was assassinated by members of his own army for violating this tenet. As long as Israel exists, there will be good cause for jihadists to run to enlist. Moreover, when the Palestinians went to the polls in the first free and fair election in the Arab world, they chose Hamas, a group whose charter, policies, and actions deny Israel’s right to exist.
Habeck’s third solution doesn’t merit more than its mention.
Finally, Habeck’s democracy solution. Here, she writes,
If democracies can flourish in Islamic lands without disturbing the practices and beliefs of Islam, the entire jihadist argument will collapse. While there are many reasons to hope and work for democracies in the Middle East – that they might end despotic regimes, create the conditions for economic development, end oppression and corruption, and so on – the real possibility of a complete defeat of the jihadis must also be taken into consideration. (p. 177)
While Habeck immediately recognizes that ideologically and culturally, Islam and Arabs are not inclined to walk in the traditions of the liberal west, she turns to other countries like Japan or India for their unique culturally-sensitive versions of democracy as models. Little needs to be said to this other than the obvious. None of the models have a world view that demands a world state obedient to their own ideology. Indeed, before democracy took hold in Germany and Japan, the World War II era imperialists were utterly and totally vanquished and physically destroyed in war. Only then, out of the ashes of a physical and spiritual annihilation, could reformed societies be built. Habeck ignores this reality and is content to plant the sweet seed of democracy and let it flourish toward peace and reconciliation. Dear Professor Habeck, Islam and its faithful are not interested in your flower power. Now what?
For a solution, I will leave you with this piece of advice written by Tom Miller, a veteran and former history professor turned novelist:
[Habeck’s] prescription for dealing with [jihadist ideology] isn't much better than a placebo. For an honest and unflinching approach to dealing with this cancer, skip Habeck's final chapter and re-read Ralph Peters' New Glory. After arriving at a similar understanding of the threat posed by the jihadists, Peters proposes the only solution that's likely to work in the real world: "We will have to keep on killing them until they are decisively discouraged or destroyed. There is no immediate alternative."
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