It may not be too late to save the career of a Pentagon analyst of jihad threats whose frank and honest work has gotten him into trouble. Bill Gertz in his weekly “Inside the Ring” column (1/11/08) reported that “Pentagon and military leaders, along with lots of working-level officials, are quietly rallying” in support of Major Stephen Coughlin (USAR), whose plight I have discussed, earlier here. Gertz also makes clear in no uncertain terms, dismissing some rumor mongering, that Coughlin was being accused “falsely” of talking “out of school to the press.” As is his wont, Gertz gets to the heart of the matter:
But defense and military officials supportive of Mr. Coughlin said the real reason is that critics, like Mr. Islam. want him sidelined because they oppose his hard-to-refute views on the relationship between Islamic law and Islamist jihad doctrine. Those views have triggered a harsh debate challenging the widespread and politically correct view of Islam as a religion of peace hijacked by extremists.
Major Coughlin’s “hard to refute views” are elaborated in his 333 pp. thesis, To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad, which was accepted recently by the National Defense Intelligence College, and made available online (here). Coughlin, in a subsection entitled, “A Doctrinal Basis Exists for the Jihadi Threat,” demonstrates how mainstream Islamic publications—an appendix to Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language (“The Call to Jihad”), written by Saudi Arabia’s Chief Justice, and a 2005-2006 12th grade Saudi school textbook, as well as a standard text of Islamic Law, the Al Azhar-sanctioned non-Saudi, non-“Wahhabi”, Reliance of the Traveller—make clear the obligatory requirement, sanctioned by Islamic Law, to wage jihad when non-Muslim forces enter Muslim lands. He then asks, logically,
So how does one explain the prevailing assumption that Islam does not stand for such violence undertaken in its name with the fact that its laws and education materials validate the very acts undertaken by “extremists” in Iraq?
Moreover, Coughlin observes,
… the first “radicalizing” lesson that Saudi youth receive that motivates them to travel to Iraq and fight Coalition forces does not come from “extremists” groups like Al Qaeda, but rather is taught as part of Saudi Arabia’s standard secondary school curriculum.
And as my own 2004 discussion of Egyptian school textbooks illustrated, formally teaching Arab Muslim children jihad hatred is a long and ignoble tradition, hardly unique to Saudi Arabia.
Coughlin’s thesis subsequently re-examines the “merit” of Osama Bin Laden’s 1996 jihad fatwa in light of this evidence. Consistent with the independent conclusions of Raymond Ibrahim’s Arabic to English translation and brilliant textual analysis of previously unavailable writings by both Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, which demonstrates the soundness of their Islamic arguments for both jihad, and jihad martyrdom—Coughlin provides this understated assessment of the better known 1996 Bin Laden fatwa:
Hence, groups like Al-Qaeda can reasonably claim that they are simply executing the same legal requirements that Muslim governments require their students be taught. An analysis that relied on Islamic law to assess bin Laden’s claim that Islamic law supports his 1996 fatwa would most likely have generated different results than an analysis that ignored it.
Perhaps even more importantly, Coughlin observes that the “close fit between Bin Laden’s assertions and accepted Islamic Law” is a cause for serious concern. He elucidates five compelling reasons for this:
…first, we do not understand the Islamic components to the WOT [War on Terror]; second, Muslim adversaries conceptualize the threat in authentic Islamic terms that; third, appear to drive their decision making thereby; fourth, making an Islamic vision a component of adversaries’ doctrine which; fifth, the Underlying Causes model does not account for and cannot compensate for by reference to alternative academic (behavioral, sociological, economic, psychological, or anthropological) models.
Coughlin then places “Al Qaeda-ism” in a larger, more general context I have discussed elsewhere (while providing historical background on the Caliphate), by citing ominous polling data tabulated December/January, 2006, and published this past April, 2007. These data, as Coughlin notes, reveal that substantial pluralities (at minimum), to significant majorities of both Arab (i.e., Moroccan, Egyptian) and non-Arab (i.e., Indonesian, Pakistani) Muslims know and concur with Al-Qaeda’s stated goals to (re-) impose “strict” (explicitly identified) Islamic Law (Shari’a), and re-establish a transnational Islamic Caliphate. Specifically, 79% of Pakistanis, 76% of Moroccans, 74% of Egyptians, and 53% of Indonesians wished, “To require strict application of Shari’a law in every Islamic country.”; 74% of Pakistanis, 71% of Moroccans, 67% of Egyptians, and (the lone “plurality”) 49% of Indonesians desired, “To unify all Islamic countries in a single Islamic state, or Caliphate.” Thus Coughlin states aptly,
Because Islamic law matters to Muslims, in the WOT, it should also matter to us.
Offering a way forward which escapes the current frustrating shackles of absurd, hand-waving pieties dressed in politically correct, pseudo-academic garb, Coughlin suggests,
Given both our inability to develop a descriptively accurate understanding of the nature of the enemy and our broad frustration with the current state of affairs in the WOT, it may be time to ponder deeply what was meant when Majid Khadduri [in his seminal “War and Peace in the Law of Islam”] said that “the universality of Islam, in its all embracing creed, is imposed on all believers as a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political, if not strictly military” that Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik said was the point [ in “The Qur’anic Concept of War”] where Qur’anic concepts of war are won—at the war of will phase. To break from the slow submission cycle that leads to the destruction of our confidence, a recommitment to a process driven by facts along with an associated commitment to ruthlessly go wherever those facts may take us, is recommended. With IPB [Intelligence Preparation for the Battlefield], we already have a methodology capable of taking us down that path.
But unlike his critics within the Department of Defense—most notably, Mr. Islam, who while bringing jihad-supporting groups to the Pentagon, simultaneously wishes to shut down reasoned analysis of jihadism—Coughlin maintains that it is not the objective of his thesis,
…to get readers to believe the positions asserted but rather to convince them to submit those assertions to an intense threat analysis in furtherance of generating facts able to service a functional threat model of the enemy in the WOT
Coughlin concludes his thesis with apposite humility, and uncompromising clarity:
If, in furtherance of creating a working threat model, points in this thesis are successfully challenged, this thesis will still have served its purpose. Having said that, it is the position of this thesis that it will not fail if decision makers and analysts return to an IPB [Intelligence Preparation for the Battlefield] methodology that begins with an unconstrained, undelegated, systematic, factual analysis of the threat doctrine that the enemy self-identifies as being driven by Islamic law. Following such a process has the benefit of meeting professional standards for competent analysis. This thesis cannot succeed, however, if the response is to outsource it to subject matter experts willing to volunteer their information under the sole condition that it be accepted both uncritically and unconditionally. This is not only true because such an approach fails to meet the professional standard, but also because it fails the standard that will lead to defeat in the WOT.
Testimonials from both retired military, such as Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, and perhaps even more importantly, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, who currently commands the 1st Marine Expeditionary Corps, have confirmed the unique value of Coughlin’s presentations (based upon To Our Great Detriment). Lt. Gen. Helland proclaimed in a letter that Coughlin's briefing for Marines bound for Iraq,
..hit the mark in explaining how jihadists use the Koran to justify their actions. Your [Coughlin’s] presentation has armed service men and women with more intellectual ammunition to take the fight to the enemy.
Diana West has captured the obscene warping of Department of Defense (DOD) priorities Coughlin’s firing epitomizes, and how Congressional oversight may be in order:
This high-level effort to, in effect, deny the connection between Islamic law and what the military calls the "enemy threat doctrine" should ring bells, not just in the military, but in Congress, which obviously has Pentagon oversight responsibilities. When such advice brings the military's woefully belated education on jihad to a halt, it becomes shockingly clear that the Pentagon is more concerned with political correctness than protecting the nation.
And Fred Lucas of Cybercast News Service subsequently reported (1/16/08) that indeed, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), co-chair of the bi-partisan House Anti-Terrorism Caucus is seeking to find out why Major Steve Coughlin (USAR)—the Pentagon’s lone expert on the nexus between Islamic Law and jihad terrorism—was fired.
We want to get to the bottom of this. We are contacting everyone to see who we can talk to. "This sounds like another example of someone protecting national security and being told to shut up. If we don't get over being politically correct, we won't be here as a country.
But cautious optimism, at best, is in order. As Lucas notes:
Myrick stressed that any congressional inquiry is in the early, talking stages, but she has contacted the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Homeland Security Committee to inquire about investigative hearings into the case.
While any inquiry by Congress would be significant, the Anti-Terrorism Caucus is only a group of House members that can hold a meeting and ask questions. It does not have authority to take action or issue subpoenas, which congressional committees have.
Myrick said the Pentagon is requiring any congressional requests to go through the Defense Department's Legislative Affairs Office before Coughlin would be available to speak to anyone.
Regardless, hope springs eternal that the Pentagon will come to its collective senses, retain, and promote the man whom Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (Ret.) assessed, rightly, as perhaps, “…the most knowledgeable person in the U.S. government on Islamic law.” McInerney, for one insisted that, “The secretary of defense should ensure that he stays at DOD.”