Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jihadism and radical Islamism

Our government may be focused on making war on Iraq and Iran.  But jihadist terrorism is a long-term problem, being made more long-term every time the Bush administration attacks another country.

"Terrorism" for the administration is mainly a slogan to gin up public support for attacking states that Bush and Rummy and Deadeye Dick want to subjugate.  But at least for those who do want to know something about the real problem, there are some real terrorism experts out there talking about it.

One recent example is this report authored by Daniel Benjamin, Aidan Kirby and Julianne Smith, all presently with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): Current and Crosscurrent of Radical Islamism (April 2006).

Their paper covers a number of topics relative to the problem of jihadist terrorism and radical Islamism more generally - and Islamism isn't synonymous with "terrorism".  For instance, one section is called "Little Understood and Profoundly Feared: Suicide Bombing".

Suicide bombing

They remind us that suicide bombing isn't exclusively an "Islamic" measure:

The tactic of suicide bombing, of course, predates the attacks of September 11. It has been used to considerable effect by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, Hezbollah and various Palestinian groups. But since the coordinated suicides of the 19 hijackers, the tactic has taken on an iconic quality and immediacy for Americans - shared by Europeans after the Madrid and London bombings - that it did not have before. The urgency of the issue of suicide bombings has been heightened by the spectacular rise in recent years of the incidence of such attacks due to the spread of jihadist terror, above all in Iraq.

They argue that there is no simple explanation for people undertaking suicide operations.  "Many factors may play a role, but there is no single type of the suicide bomber".

They focus on the group context of suicide missions.  Some suicide bombers have religious concepts of self-martyrdom.  But many suicide bombers have been secular-minded.  The Tamil Tigers mentioned above are a secular group, for instance, and they pioneered the tactic.

While inner motivations, to the extent they can be known, can take various religious forms or also secular ones or personal ones, the suicide bombing we've been seeing is also heavily influenced by a particular kind of social network which seems very alien to Americans or most western Europeans

But people who undertake such operations do tend to come from an immediate environment where such actions are deeply honored.  This gives the individual the sense that his sacrifice will be remembered and respected highly by his family and friends and community.  This focus calls for what they call "network analysis" to understand these ties to shape counterterrorism measures against it.  They also write:

[Ami] Pedahzur has discussed how the valorization of martyrdom has led to the emergence of “cultures of death,” and, within these communities, “hubs” emerge which drive terrorist - and especially suicidal - activity.  (For instance, motivated by the death of a teammate, a soccer team in a Palestinian neighborhood was recruited, trained and assisted by their coach to commit seven suicide bombings.) [Marc] Sageman, moreover, has addressed at length how members of a particular circle of radicals motivate themselves to perform acts that might otherwise be inconceivable if contemplated without any peer intervention. The admixture of in-group love and out-group hate has a powerful explanatory value.

The dispersal of the jihadist organizations

In their introduction, they talk about the transformation of jihadism since 2001 from organizations like Al Qaeda into a movement:

Complicating the picture was increasing evidence of the decline of the core al Qaeda group. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior leaders were apparently contained in the forbidding border region of Pakistan; other senior leaders were in Iran, where they seemed to be largely, if not completely, restrained. Top operatives were being hunted and captured with considerable efficiency, preventing the organization from reviving its network and carrying out terrorist strikes. The juxtaposition of a weakened al Qaeda and continued terrorist activity - and a seemingly thriving radical milieu - has  compelled observers to think hard about the state of terrorism today, which little resembles anything in the past half century of non-state violence.  (my emphasis)

The latter is a reminder that jihadist terrorism needs to be understood in its specific context.  There's no easy equation of jihadism with, say, the Rote Armee Faktion (RAF) (aka, the Baader-Meinhof gang") of Germany in the 1970s.

But the suppression of the organization of Al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has brought an end to jihadist terrorism.  On the contrary, it has spread.  As the authors put it:

Networks have loosened and, in some cases, atomized.  But the activism continues, fueled by the spread of jihadist ideology.  Increasingly, we see that the key actors are not the established radical organizations, which are under severe pressure from police and intelligence services, but “self-starter” cells, which operate largely without outside direction.

They draw two major conclusions from this:

First, that the transformation of the terrorist threat from one that emanated from a network of organizations to one that is rooted in a social movement indicates the durability of the phenomenon. If individuals are turning to violence without the familiar blandishments and psychological seduction of traditional terrorist recruitment, then the ideas of the global jihad must have a dangerous resonance in the Muslim world. Second, while important progress has been made in exploring the pathways of radicalism, we are still very much in the early stages of understanding the challenge before us.  (my emphasis)

Integrating Muslim minorities in Western democracies

Benjamin, et al, provide a useful description of the questions of assimilating Muslim minorites in European democracies and the US.  It's thankfully free of the annoying and/or frivolous cant that so often appears in these discussions.  The caution against generalizing too much about the situation from one EU country to another.  But some of the problems are similar in different countries:

Today, Muslims in Europe, many of them now citizens,frequently live in ghettos, receive
second-rate schooling and suffer much higher un- and under-employment than the general
population. Unemployment is 10% higher among British Muslims than the national average and,
in the case of the Netherlands, the figure has reached 60%.

It has been observed that much of the jihadist threat to Europe and America come from individuals in Europe who become extremely frustrated with the situation their fellow Muslims experience in Europe.  Mohammad Atta's cell that executed the 9/11 attacks was based in Hamburg.  The 3/11 subway bombers in Spain and their plot were also homegrown.  That was also true of the London subway bombers, as well.  Spanish authorities have concluded that the 3/11 bombers were not directly connected to Al Qaeda.  The question seems to be still open in the British case.

The make some important distinctions between the situation in the EU and the US:

From a transatlantic perspective, it seems clear that Europe faces the more profound integration challenge.  This is true for a number of reasons: First, Europe has a much larger Muslim minority than the United States.  Second, in contrast to the European experience, Muslim immigrants in the United States have historically been better educated than the norm, and, in fact, Muslims in the United States typically earn more than the average American. Third, there is the issue of political culture and identity formation. The United States, a nation of immigrants, has made it easier for Muslims to forge a hybrid identity (“Muslim-American”), something that is far more challenging for Muslims living on European soil. (This is not to say that the United States does not face its own problems with Muslim discontent, as we shall see below. However, thus far, it is fair to say that the Muslim community has been a bulwark against the spread of radicalism in the United States.)  (my emphasis)

This observation about American Muslims is also informative:

One of the challenges in assessing the success of integration of American Muslims is the diversity of the community. There is a much greater ethnic heterogeneity among American Muslims thanis found in the communities of individual Europe states. However, according to journalist Paul Barrett, who has also done extensive research into the Muslim communities in the United States, a handful of consistent themes seem to animate many of the debates. First and foremost, there is concern over American policy towards Israel, especially in the context of American policy toward the rest of the Middle East. There is a sense that Israel and Jewish interests play an outsize role in shaping American foreign policy. And there is an acute sense of victimization based not so much on direct experience but the plight of Muslims elsewhere in the world.  (my emphasis)

They use the Atta cell as an example here:

Among individuals who actually do commit violence or seek to do so, there appears to be a greater sense of the inseparability of global and local grievances. Many Dialogue participants [a series pf conferences] have echoed the generalization of former German Chancellory counterterrorism official Guido Steinberg’s assessment that “Local motivations are key in what we call the global terrorist threat, but these local factors have diminished in recent years and are being replaced by international inspirations, by the international jihad.” As one European participant put it, “recruitment takes place at a local level, but the motivations that guide the group can be both local, such as unemployment, discrimination, etc., and global, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.” In Steinberg’s formulation, the intermingling of local and global was reflected in “the cell from 9/11, for example, which was actually a combination of the Hamburg cell - educated, sophisticated individuals - and Saudi muscle (tribal, disenfranchised individuals).” As a  functional matter, moreover, this mixture is essential because “members of the Diaspora are key to the success of terrorist operations, their education is necessary for the preparation and organization of attacks.”  (my emphasis)


They discuss how the Internet has become increasingly important to the jihadist movement:

A number of different trends have characterized the presence of terrorist networks on the Internet in recent years. Perhaps the most dramatic has been the sheer proliferation of terroristrelated websites. All major terrorist organizations, including both religious and nationalist movements, are now represented on the Internet, the largest complement of these belonging to al Qaeda.  After losing its sanctuary in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has utilized the WorldWide Web so extensively that analysts describe thephenomenon as a migration from physical space to cyberspace.

Jihadist groups use the Internet for the kind of sophisticated communication strategy that we've seen employed in Iraq, such as online posting of beheadings.  According to this report, shutting down Web sites has proved to be of limited utility because the Web sites often reappear very quickly.  But monitoring them can have intelligence value, of course - as long as enough analysts sufficiently proficient in Arabic are available.  The report cautions:

As Gabriel Weimann, points out, "It is not enough to just know Arabic and it’s not just Arabic speakers we need. The numerous dialects of Arabic are an issue, and even then it’s not enough to just know the dialects. We also need to know and understand the culture. We need to understand the people and their practices and their traditions."

The jihadists' skill and creativity in using the Internet is a strong reminder that while they may look to centuries past for many of their social and religious values, today's jihadists are very willing to embrace and use modern technology:

Internet use by terrorists has become much more wide-ranging as more sophisticated technology has become available. Where they once accessed the Internet for purposes of communication or financial transactions, international networks now conduct every aspect of the global online jihad, including presenting targeting guidance, propaganda, psychological warfare, recruitment, networking, fundraising, data-mining and intelligence collection, the distribution of instruction manuals and even highly sophisticated Web-based training in bomb-building techniques.

Chat rooms allow individuals around the globe to converse, air grievances and transmit radical ideologies. As one participant pointed out, Internet exchanges allow for the development of a surprising degree of intimacy. In addition, some online ‘gatherings’ serve as virtual mosques, which are led by a new breed of self-appointed imams, whoare often self-educated and dismissive of mainstream Muslim tradition. ... And, as noted above, the Internet has had a profoundeffect in creating a new sensibility that fuses local and global grievances - the plight of the Chechnyans, for example, with the indignity of unemployment in the Parisian suburbs - thus heightening the possibility of radicalization.  (my emphasis)


The remaining sections of the report cover the importantance of transatlantic relations in combatting the radical Salafist (jihadist) groups, and the risk coming from individuals trained in the methods of jihad in the Iraq War.  Of the latter, they write:

A series of arrests over the last year suggests that even before hostilities in Iraq diminish, the heat of the events there may be felt far afield.  In Spain, more than a dozen radicals said to be affiliated with insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been apprehended, and in Germany, there have been a number of arrests of members of Zarqawi's Ansar al-Islam network.

The issue is likely to remain a key concern for European security officials for a long time to come, but it is also a looming problem for the United States.  In a real sense, much of Europe is within America's security perimeter.  Visa waiver programs and other measures designed to enhance the ease of travel between Euirope and the United States clearly make this threat a transatlantic challenge.

[NOTE:  Quotes from the paper are in italics.  The original posting failed to include italics on one paragraph of the quotes.  The post has now been corrected.  I apologize for any confusion that may have resulted.]

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