Most people in the western world are now viewing Islam as little more than a violent and intolerant religion bent on destroying everything non-Muslim. And most people couldn't be more wrong.
It would not fit the view of the average North American if I were to suggest that the real Islam promotes peace, tolerance and above all, social stability. It does, however fit the view of Abu Bakr Naji, a leader of the violent jihadi movement and a thorn in the side of the US in Iraq, even if he would like to see that change. Naji knows that his struggle is against the traditional, peaceful Islam as much as it is against the US led military occupation in the Middle East. While Naji represents a real threat to the US attempt to control the Middle East, he is also analogous to western public personalities like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson. They, like Naji, attract a following by employing extremist rhetoric, twisting facts and by appealing to the prejudices and fears of those willing to listen.
Naji, along with jihadis Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Mus`ab al Zarqawi, are all intent on establishing a caliphate. What is often ignored is that these are intelligent, well educated people under no illusions as to the vulnerabilities of their movement. Naji in particular, has written a strategy and large parts of it demonstrate that the US invasion of Iraq, while in advance of his plans, was a move which played into that strategy. Naji states:
The jihadi movement had been unsuccessful in the past because the superpowersFrom a recent study which analyzed Naji's writings, including his 2004 book, The Management of Barbarism:
propped up these proxy governments and convinced the masses through the media that they were invincible. The solution, Naji says, is to provoke a superpower into invading the Middle East directly. This will result in a great propaganda victory for the jihadis because the people will 1) be impressed that the jihadis are directly fighting a superpower, 2) be outraged over the invasion of a foreign power, 3) be disabused of the notion that the superpower is invincible the longer the war goes on, and, 4) be angry at the proxy governments allied with the invading superpower. Moreover, he argues, it will bleed the superpower's economy and military. This will
lead to social unrest at home and the ultimate defeat of the superpower.
Naji does not suffer under the illusion that the jihadis can defeat the United States in a direct military confrontation; rather, the clash with the United States is more important for propaganda victories in the short term, and the political defeat of the United States in the long term, as its society fractures and its economy is further strained. Naji observes that this strategy was used with great effect against the Soviet Union and that it will work against United States.One of the problems encountered by the jihadis is that some of their more violent acts tend to become Muslim-on-Muslim attacks. This has an effect of inflaming the general Muslim community and turning them against the jihadis. Zawahiri recently cautioned Zarqawi against conducting attacks which could kill Muslim civilians. The jihadis are acutely aware that a majority of religious leaders oppose their methods and when Muslims, not involved in the fight, are killed or wounded, those same religious leaders galvanize their followers and become leaders, in their own right, of a formidable opposition.
The same study analyzed this effect, including what effect the presence of US troops has on the jihadis:
Thus far, direct engagement with the United States has been good for the jihadi movement. As Naji argues, it rallies the locals behind the movement, drains the United States of resources, and puts pressure on the regimes that are allied with the U.S.And recommends:
The United States should avoid direct, large-scale military action in the Middle East. If such fighting is necessary, it must be done through proxies whenever possible. Buying off tribal leaders, as Naji advocates, may be effective in some regions.This is not a new idea. Colonel T.E. Lawrence took it to the extreme by uniting many tribes and sheikdoms into a formidable fighting force in World War I. Lawrence did it by empathizing with and understanding the Arab vision and then empowering the Arabs themselves. Since the invasion of Iraq, not one American has stood out enough to demonstrate an understanding of the people they hope to win over. The "hearts and minds" effort is dulled by a failure to empathize with the desires of Iraqis and an ignorance of the effect the occupation has on their lives. US troops remain isolated from the general population and when they do interact, all too often it is couched in hostility and confrontation.
Again, from the study:
Although jihadi ideologues recognize the utility of the long term, eternal struggle, they are absolutely serious about establishing Islamic states in the near term. Leading ideologues like Zawahiri and Naji are not thinking within the confines of the nation-state. They are less interested in overthrowing a ruler and replacing his apostate regime with an Islamic regime than they are in establishing small enclaves across the globe in regions that are not well-policed.A little understood mindset in the Middle East is the view of government. Democracy in many areas holds no sway. A Bedou for example, whether he be Iraqi, Saudi or Omani is, first and foremost, a Bedou. While Bedouin tribesmen will take note of government, they view their independence and freedom to pursue their lifestyle as all important. The same can be said for urban Arabs in many cases. Government to most Arabs is the simple provision of services. Community leadership comes from local religious leaders. Some of the concepts being bandied about by the Bush administration are so totally foreign to the average Iraqi that they serve only to raise suspicion. Religious leaders see their authority being impinged upon and immediately choose the side of the fight that will leave leadership intact.
the U.S. must recast its ineffectual public diplomacy efforts. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to elicit pro-American feelings in the Middle East by making public pronouncements about the true nature of Islam or the virtues of democracy.
The study quoted above clearly indicates that a radical change is required if the situation in Iraq is to be resolved. Aside from the fact that the invasion of Iraq was totally unnecessary, the study shows that the insurgency is growing and will continue to gather willing recruits unless the US changes its methods and visibly diminishes its military posture.
Some may choose to argue with the points made by the study released this month, except that this one came from an institution which can hardly be described as left-wing. Entitled Stealing Al Qa'ida's Playbook, it comes from the Combating Terroism Center, United States Military Academy, West Point.