Monday, April 3, 2006

Understanding the jihadists, their methods and their goals

A big reason that I find it so difficult to take seriously the complaints by the Bush administration and other supporters of the Iraq War that the media just isn't reporting all the "good news" that's allegedly out there in Iraq is that I read things like this:  A Hundred Osamas: Islamist Threats and the Future of Counterinsurgency by Sherifa Zuhur (US Army Strategic Studies Institute) Dec 2005.  An HTML version is also available at the Army Professional Writing site.

Military writers who are trying to maintain their reputations as  reality-based analysts of military affairs have no trouble writing things like this:

Certain miscalculations, preventable or not, are now part of the calculus of battle with insurgents in Iraq. Here the U.S. understand- ing of extremist leadership and strategic communications of the Islamists may indicate the nature of battles to come. There is some disagreement about how badly the effort is going, and many hope that the establishment of democratic institutions in Iraq, along with the will of the majority of the Iraqi people, will help turn the tide against the insurgents. At the time of this writing, a high price has been paid.

Writing for military leaders and other military specialists, she's saying there's "some disagreement about how badly" things are going in Iraq.  Not disagreement about whether things are going well or not so well.

She proceeds to recount a number of the reasons that military opinion regards the situation in Iraq as either bad, or worse.

The main focus of her paper, though, is on the global jihadist movement.  Among other things, she doesn't pretend to believe the "that hate us for our values" interpretation of the radical Salafists' hostility to the US:

It goes without saying that we should distinguish those groups and individuals who have perverted Islamic principles from ordinary Muslims. On the other hand, it will not aid us to apply a universal strategy to all extremists and insurgents, or to forgo critical assessments of outcomes over time. And there is no unified or universalgoal forall extremists, whereas Islamist extremists do assert similar aims. For instance, we commonly hear experts state that the goal of terrorism is to terrify. But Islamist extremists aim for much more: withdrawal of Western forces and even businesses from Iraq, Palestine, and the "land of Muhammad," meaning Saudi Arabia; the dissolution of secular governments in the Muslim world, and transformation of Muslim societies, cleansing them of doctrinal innovation. All of this is to occur through the waging of jihad.  (my emphasis)

She also identifies the following problems, the reference in the first paragraph clearly aimed at least in part at the "neoconservatives":

In the last 4 years, nonregionalists primarily responsible for the remapping of counterterrorism moved the discussion of Islamist threats away from regionalist oversight. This meant that more individuals with little in-depth knowledge of the area's complex religio-political, ideological, or cultural history were in charge of developing strategies toward it. They brought in experts, or individuals from the region, but had no ability to discriminate between the different suggestions made or views proffered. Other difficulties arose because of the contradictions between the strategies of nation- and democracy-building and the need to destroy or contain Islamist cells and organizations that may directly threaten Americans and as American interests in the region, as well as allied governments.

Current U.S. grand strategy toward terror is hampered by disagreements about the definitions of global "terror" and the failure to address the specific nature of Islamist-extremist terror in that strategy. In other words, our analysis of the conflict and the defini- tions of the enemy are unclear and remain so. This is true of many governmental agencies, and the media as well. In the wake of the London bombings, Fox News correspondents blasted the BBC for removing the term "terrorist" from their coverage. Others are still debating the conversion of the term "terror" to "insurgency." Next came a disagreement about converting the phrase "war on terror" to the "struggle with extremism."  To some degree, the urgent need for a response to a continuing threat is clouding our vision and statements. Al-Qa'ida's 2001 attacks were vivid declarations of a state of warfare, just like the attack on the USS Cole, unfortunately misread by some. But they were also the logical progression of jihadist efforts underway for nearly 3 decades. Since regional governments tried various tactics which we now mirror (from expulsion to combat, and incarceration to amnesties), we need to review their failures, understand where we may be reinventing the wheel, and build a strategy should we be unable to contain extremist Islamism.  (my emphasis)

Zuhur also emphasizes that the religious element of the jihadists' motivation and world view needs to be taken seriously.  And at the same time the need to understand how modern the current jihadist movement is:

Other reasons for common mischaracterization of jihadis as barbarians with cars and Websites, throwbacks, or medieval monsters have to do with 1) certain non-Muslims' (and even some Muslims') difficulty in comprehending the historicity of the Islamist message which is also revisionist, and expressed in truly modernist language; 2) most Westerners have defined modernity with a secularist lexicon as have many liberal Muslims; 3) some rely on "cultural" definitions of the "Other" that incorrectly posit them as purely non-Western, when most are hybrid. We can see quite clearly that today's jihadists are Western trained and possess technical and analytical skills. They use the Internet, cellular messaging, chat rooms and e-linked faxes more adeptly than larger organizations with physical recruitment centers. The pathologizing of terrorism causes us to say that their minds "work differently" than ours-when the issue is really one of different values and disassociative techniques. In other words, the jihadi believes, or convinces himself, that his immoral acts of violence are moral, but this in no way impairs the modern logic patterns of his brain(my emphasis)

There's a lot more to this informative paper.  Check it out.

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