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Terrorism, especially that committed by Islamic fanatics, continues to be a threat to the world. For that reason instead of presenting my own thoughts today I’m presenting a book review. Though I recommend everybody read the book, I believe this review contains good information that everybody should know about this problem.
Knowing the Enemy, Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror by Mary Habeck. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2006. 177 pp plus notes, glossary and index.
Mary Habeck is an associate professor, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. I thought that I knew and more or less understood the motivations behind the attacks on embassies in Africa, the USS Cole, the 9-11 attacks etc. However this book showed me that my previous understanding only scratched the surface.
Habeck is careful to distinguish between most of Islam and the small group of fanatics who carry out the terrorist activities. She shows that people like Osama bin Laden draw on out-of-mainstream understandings of Islam to create a version of the religion that sees violence against any who reject it as a positive good. Their ultimate objective is Shari'a rule of the entire world, beginning with Islamic lands. And their definition of an Islamic land is any land ever ruled by or paying tribute to an Islamic ruler. That includes Spain, the Balkans, even Russia.
In the minds of those fanatics the very existence of any system of government other than the caliphate is an assault on Islam. That is because it tempts people to not join the "true" religion and government. Therefore they hate every country on earth, even countries most would regard as Islamic. In their view true Islam requires a land ruled by the caliph strictly by Shari'a, God's rule. To them any other form of government is idolatry since it puts man's will before that of God. They regard democratic self-rule as a serious evil.
The ultimate objective of the jihadis is a worldwide caliphate in which Shari'a is the law of the land. That is their definition of freedom and nothing else will do. They believe that democracy, kings, and all other non-Islamic forms of government will eventually be replaced as people see how wonderful life is under the caliphate. They regard any western presence in Islamic land as an assault. Bin Laden even considered the US aid to Somalia in the early 1990's as an attack because it put representatives of an infidel government on Islamic land. This may be difficult for the western mind to understand, but understand it we must if we are to protect ourselves from the fanatics.
We must also understand that this viewpoint antedates the establishment of Israel and the oil states. It cannot be blamed on Israel, though that country is today regarded as the start of western colonization in Islamic lands.
There is a lot of what I would term groupthink and wishful thinking among the jihadis. For example, bin Laden believed that the 9-11 attacks would cause Muslims world-wide to rise up and join the "true" Islam and that the US would fold and leave Arabic and other Islamic lands. When his predictions did not materialize he had to change his tune but that has not changed the minds of the fanatics. They just ignore the fact that his predictions did not come true. They are not what we would consider reasonable people and will not be deterred by reason or even by battlefield losses.
The Islamist mindset is briefly summarized as, "Because history is dominated by the struggle between good and evil, jihadis assert that all Muslims are called by God to participate in the fight physically if possible, or at least by word or financially acting as God's sword on earth to deal with the evildoers and their wicked way of life." This becomes a duty even if such a fight makes no actual progress toward the caliphate. In their view, if a jihadi dies while killing or attempting to kill the enemy, he gets a reward beyond comprehension in this world.
With the jihadis having the described mindset, it is easy to see why they are such a danger. We cannot reason with them, nor can we gain by negotiations (except for brief periods while they re-arm). Any treaty they make they consider useful only to advance their cause. Furthermore, they believe they can break treaties pretty much whenever it suits their purpose to do so.
Habeck briefly suggests some things we can do to effectively fight the jihadis, though she is clear that a complete plan is beyond the scope of her book. She believes (and I agree) that we must deny them a land to rule as we did in Afghanistan. We must intercept their finances to deny them the more potent weapons they crave. And we must counter their preaching and recruitment by showing what a marginal part of Islam they are.
I strongly recommend this book.