Jihad, Islamism, and the Challenge of Anti-Freedom Ideologies
By Jeffrey Imm
As previously discussed, large segments of America and the West have a continuing dangerous denial on Jihad. But what of political Islamism itself? How does it factor into a blueprint strategy in addressing our national security issues?
In the documentary "Islam versus Islamism", anti-terrorist Muslim Dr. Zuhdi Jasser states: "a majority, I believe, look at the lens of politics through an Islamist lens... if we hand them the mantle of religion that they seek to exploit for their own geopolitical issues all over the globe, then we are going to really lose this war."
Any blueprint strategy for national security must define Jihad, must address it within the national security threat, and must also define a national policy on the ideology of political Islamism... a topic where there is a deafening silence from among American political leadership. Instead of referring to ambiguous terms such as "extremists", it is vital to refer to the specific political ideology of Islamism and examine its impact on Jihad, on national security, and on American foreign policy.
Islamism and its influence continue to grow in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where the United States has been laboring to develop democratic institutions. Islamism is vital to Pakistan's identity and its struggles with pluralism. Islamism is fundamental to such closed societies as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Islamism continues to grow through the Arab nations, Asia, Africa, and Europe. And as the recent Holy Land Foundation trial shows the influence of Islamist organizations continues to grow throughout the United States.
How is the West to fight a war against Jihadists without a policy on political Islamism itself?
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Wikipedia defines "Islamism" as "a term usually used to denote a set of political ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system and its teachings should be preeminent in all facets of society. It holds that Muslims must return to the original teachings and the early models of Islam, particularly by making Islamic law (sharia) the basis for all statutory law of society and by uniting politically, eventually in one state; and that western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influence in the Muslim world is un-Islamic and should be replaced by purely Islamic influences."
The 9/11 Commission report mentions the term "Islamism" once in its 567 pages, buried in the footnotes on page 562 (Notes Chapter 12, Note 3), to define Islamism as follows: "an Islamic militant, anti-democratic movement, bearing a holistic vision of Islam whose final aim is the restoration of the caliphate." This same footnote refers to Islamism as "a political/religious phenomenon" where Islamists differentiate themselves from Muslims.
In summary, Islamism is a political ideology based on a theocratic version of Islam and Islamic law as the basis for all aspects of life, government, and society. It is an "anti-democratic" movement, and it is another of the anti-freedom ideologies that Western society has found itself facing in the past century. Rather than a "nationalist" movement, Islamism seeks the "restoration of the caliphate", and Islamism is an internationalist political ideology. Islamism has numerous branches, as Islam itself has numerous branches; in this case there are branches of Islamism political ideology including groups based on Wahhabism and Salafism (Sunni), Deobandism (Sunni), Muslim Brotherhood philosophies (Sunni), and Khumeinism (Shiite).
But while there has been significant discussion regarding the branches of Islamist political organizations, the strategic challenge remains in addressing the impact of political Islamism -- as an overall ideology -- on Jihad and on our national security.
Jihad as a Tactic of Islamists
Jihad, or Islamic "holy war", is a tactic employed by some Islamists. Not all Islamists use the tactic of Jihad, but use other non-violent tactics to further their anti-freedom ideology. But all Jihadists believe in the ideology of Islamism. If we are to be precise in our national security blueprint strategy, then the "violent Islamic extremists" (NSHS page 20) that we view as the enemy are, in fact, Islamists practicing Jihad. In a meaningful strategy, the use of meaningful terms is essential. Denying Jihad or denying Islamism only ensures that we cannot identify the enemy or the ideology driving the enemy.
A famous Islamist was quoted on October 22 as viewing his political Islamist vision as seeking: "The greater state of Islam from the ocean to the ocean, Allah permitting. This quest is extremely dear, and infidelity on all its levels - international, regional and local - is combing its efforts to prevent the establishment of the state of Islam."
That famous Islamist is Osama Bin Laden... who chooses Jihad as his primary tactic, but who also uses propaganda and other tactics. In Bin Laden's October 22 message, he also decries the efforts of those who "prevented the setting up of the state of the Muslims" in Afghanistan, Sudan, and calls for "the Mujahdeen in Iraq" to unify for the cause of this Islamist vision. Note that Bin Laden does not call for Jihadists to fight in the cause of "Jihad", but "to perform Jihad" for Islamism.
If Islamism is the cause of Jihadists, then how can the ideology of Islamism itself not be a factor to address in the "War on Terror"?
Islamism and the "War on Terror"
In Iraq, clearly Bin Laden's message was not only one of calling for unity of "Mujahdeen", but also one of calling for unity behind a common cause of Islamism, despite "mistakes" in tactics and infighting. Rather than merely a sign of weakness, the October 22 Bin Laden message provides further evidence of the belief among Sunni Jihadists in a shared Sunni Islamist ideology. Where this vision of united Islamism in Iraq fails is in the clashing of Islamist Sunni and Shiite branches, which is the basis behind the ongoing sectarian clashes. But does this mean that the Islamist ideology has no impact on the war effort in Iraq?
On October 16, Reuters published a news story about Shiite Islamism in Iraq entitled "Shi'ite tribal leaders in Iraq say Islamism on rise". In the report, four tribal leaders spoke on the basis that they would be kept anonymous due to fear of reprisals. One tribal leader said "fear rules the streets now... We cannot speak our minds, people are not allowed to oppose them. They would immediately disappear or get killed." The article goes on to address increasing Islamism in Iraq and reports that street committees intended to watch for Al Qaeda attacks are being used to spy on possible Islamist-deemed infractions and report them to militias. A tribal leader quoted in the news story says: "Some say the Shi'ites are lucky because they are now ruling Iraq, but that is wrong. It is the Islamist Shi'ites who are ruling Iraq." What will truly have been accomplished in Iraq if Islamists (Shiite or Sunni) continue to gain power in Iraq and within Iraq's government? What are the benchmarks in measuring such challenges in the war strategy in Iraq, if America fails to have a policy on Islamism in general?
In Afghanistan, America has seen what an Islamist government can and will do. We experienced it first hand with the Islamist Taliban government's support for Al Qaeda in the attacks on the United States in 9/11. Yet, as previously reported, the U.S. State Department supports the Karzai governments outreach to the Taliban and invitation to allow the Taliban to join the Afghanistan government. This is the same "democratic" Afghanistan government that made a man flee his country because he changed his religion. How will we achieve victory in Afghanistan when we have no policy on Islamism?
On October 15, the UK Guardian reports about Afghanistan that "British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means", and that a British official states, and quotes a senior British official: "It is conceivable you could have chunks of the Taliban breaking off and giving up violence". While some in UK believe "Afghanistan is lost", UK diplomats agree with the U.S. State Department that a non-violent Islamist Taliban could be negotiated with to "stabilize" Afghanistan. These are the results of a failure to have a policy on Islamism. What is to prevent a "non-violent" Taliban from restoring Afghanistan into the Islamist nation that was the base camp for the 9/11 attacks on America?
These comments are merely a reflection on the tactical operations in these theaters of war, not in the ideological aspects of allowing an anti-freedom ideology to reclaim power in nations where we seek to establish "democratic institutions". As Dr. Walid Phares writes in his book "The War of Ideas": "Islamist electoral victories without reform in their ideological agendas, will ineluctably lead to the establishment of exclusionary Islamist states, unleashing jihadi war in the region."
Islamism and the U.S. Allies in the "War on Terror"
In Pakistan, the recent news stories about the attacks on Benazir Bhutto and the struggles of the Pakistani government against various Jihadist groups masks a more fundamental challenge. Political Islamism is part of the identity and the law in Pakistan. News reports have frequently described the beatings, torture, and killing of Christians due to Pakistan's Islamist "blasphemy" law. In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is more popular than President Musharraf. This is the same Pakistan that supported Afghanistan's Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks. It is the same Pakistan where even Benazir Bhutto's 1980's and mid-1990's governments supported the Taliban. It is the same Pakistan where President Musharraf has called for the Taliban to reform into becoming a mainstream political organization. It is the same Pakistan where Taliban commanders are moving out of the hills and into the suburbs of Islamabad and Peshawar.
But America's concern is with Pakistan fighting "terrorists". How successful is such a tactic going to be when a meaningful portion of Pakistan supports political Islamism? How meaningful will the results of Pakistan's "war on terror" be when we have no policy on the growth of Islamism in that nation? If Pakistanis have to choose between Islamism and an alliance with the United States, what is their decision likely to be?
Similar issues could be raised with U.S. "ally" Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9/11 attackers came from, or various other Islamist nations with which the U.S. has friendly relations.
Moreover, our ally, the United Kingdom, has reported that over half of its mosques are run by Deobandi Islamists. As the London Times has reported, Deobandi "Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani argues that Muslims should live peacefully in countries such as Britain, where they have the freedom to practice Islam, only until they gain enough power to engage in battle." This is the same UK where its citizens have attempted three mass-casualty terrorist attacks on the United States homeland.
If America is to fight global Jihad, how can it not have a policy on Islamism itself, and how does that align our diplomatic, trade, and economic support for such nations? Certainly, American diplomats have no desire to offend such nations, especially those nations where the U.S. has significant trade and financial reliance. But the idea that fence-sitting on Islamism will allow us to "fight terrorists" and still retain such relationships will only continue to undermine our very national security concerns that were awakened by the 9/11 attacks themselves.
As Muslim Dr. Zuhdi Jasser suggests, if America does not stand up to Islamists, how will it win this war?
Facing Anti-Freedom Ideologies and Their Impact on American Security
In addressing an anti-freedom ideology, it is essential that a blueprint strategy be examined to address all aspects of the threat and solutions to addressing the threat. As seen on October 25, the United States is perfectly willing to use economic sanctions in pressuring the Islamist nation of Iran to stop Iran's efforts to seek nuclear weapons.
But even in the case of Islamist Iran, our approach is tactical, rather than strategic. America is reacting to a specific threat from Islamist Iran regarding Iran's nuclear proliferation goals. Despite Tony Blair's suggestions that Iran's ideology is similar to 1930's fascism, there is not a clearly defined policy on the position of Iran's Islamist ideology as an overarching threat to freedom. We are reacting to the actions of Iran in its nuclear proliferation and Iran's efforts to providing weapons to various terrorist groups. However, the facts are that the Islamist ideology of Iran has not significantly changed in nearly 30 years. Iran's threat to freedom is well-known and documented, just as the Taliban's threat to freedom was well-known and documented prior to 9/11.
America's historical isolationist views regarding anti-freedom ideologies demonstrate a reactive foreign policy. It took Pearl Harbor for the U.S. to truly confront the global threat of fascism. It took USSR's nukes for the U.S. to truly confront the global threat of communism. Despite being the pillar of freedom for the world, America's foreign policy towards anti-freedom ideologies has been reactive, an approach that America has been able to survive - thus far.
Even the American awakening on Jihad took the 9/11 attacks to get America to react. But unlike Pearl Harbor and unlike USSR's nukes, in this case, America has been unwilling to clearly define the ideology behind the threat... other than "terrorism"... or "violent Islamic terrorism". There remains a refusal for America to awaken to the ideology of Islamism and address it as an anti-freedom ideology, just as fascism and communism was recognized.
Facing anti-freedom ideologies has historically required sacrifice and effort from the American people. It has changed the way we viewed the world, and it has changed our lives. It has changed our economic and personal priorities. We did what was necessary to protect America from anti-freedom ideologies. But what was the alternative? Deny the threat of fascism? Deny the threat of communism? So then how can we deny the imperative to address the political ideology of Islamism?
Islamist Finance and American Business
In many parts of the United States and the West, facing the impact of addressing the ideology of Islamism is extremely unpopular. This is certainly the case in the financial marketplace. The Wall Street Journal and other financial organizations have participated in or sponsored conferences on "Islamic Finance". In an effort to promote "Sharia-compliant securities", "[t]he Wall Street Journal is delighted to be associated" with UAE's Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) week to promote Sharia-compliant finance, according to Michael Bergmeijer, managing director, Dow Jones consumer media group. This is for a conference in November in Dubai. The Wall Street Journal apparently thinks Sharia-compliant securities is good for business.
But who do such Wall Street professionals think that Sharia-compliant securities are really supporting? Alex Alexiev asks this question in his recent article "Islamic Finance or Financing Islamism?" Just as in the 1930s, there are American businesses that are blind to anti-freedom ideologies in their business strategies, even if such ideologies seek the destruction of the very freedoms that allow such capitalist environments to exist.
Certainly, this illustration of Wall Street's views on Sharia are but the tip of iceberg in the energy, petroleum, and military industries, which deal with Islamist nations on a routine basis. But without a policy on Islamism, how can the American public be surprised?
Efforts to Silence Debate on Islamism
There are numerous ongoing efforts to silence the debate on Islamism including some political scientists in academia, misguided press organizations, and apologists for Islamism. This effort at "mind control" regarding an anti-freedom ideology is one of the more disturbing developments of the 21st century.
One approach to blunting the debate on Islamism is "divide and conquer" - focusing on only fractions of the problem, so that the ideology itself cannot be seen as a whole. At the beginning of October, French political science scholar Dr. Olivier Roy told AKI that the war on terror was not a global problem, but merely a number of regional conflicts. Dr. Roy is well known as a scholar of Islamic movements, and is the author of "The Failure of Political Islam". In a previous speech Dr. Roy states that he believes that Islamism has moved to "Islamo-nationalism", and is focused on nationalistic issues. Moreover, Dr. Roy believes that Islamists are willing to negotiate. In this case, Dr. Roy "over analyzes" his subject with the focus on the detailed branches of individual Islamist groups, much like the tactical approach taken in addressing terrorism. But what Dr. Roy misses, ironically, is the "big picture" that Islamism represents an anti-freedom ideology that the West must come to terms with, not simply negotiate with in various regional conflicts. It is comparable to a potential 1930s viewpoint that fascism was unique to individual European countries, and therefore fascism as an ideology itself was no threat. Dr. Roy's arguments also deal employ the misdirection of Islamism as a nationalist ideology.
Arguing that Islamism is merely a tactic to pursue nationalism is a common approach in silencing debate on Islamism as an ideology. This is the argument made by those justifying support for the Jihadist group Hamas, for example, whose organization has been represented in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Basically, both the Washington Post and the New York Times apparently view Hamas as a nationalist organization, rather than as the U.S. Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that Hamas is. Therefore, since in their view, Hamas is a legitimate nationalist organization, such major media feel no compunction in providing Hamas propaganda as editorials. The free press should not serve as an apologist or as a platform for anti-freedom ideologies. However, since there is no agreed upon U.S. policy on either Jihad or Islamism, such media decide to treat Hamas as a legitimate nationalist organization, despite the well-documented anti-freedom Islamist ideology that Hamas represents.
The recent Holy Land Foundation mistrial also demonstrates this widespread acceptance of Islamist organizations such as Hamas as "nationalist" underdogs. As the Dallas Morning News reported, juror William Neal "had difficulty calling Hamas a terrorist group." He is quoted as saying: "Part of it does terrorist acts, but it's a political movement. It's an uprising...I believe they were benefiting the Palestinians and others who needed charity." When the ideology of Islamism is not debated, when Islamism is tolerated as a nationalist means to an end, and when there is no US policy on Islamism, this type of denial that defends such Islamist anti-freedom organizations as Hamas will be the result.
The nationalist argument to silence debate on Islamism is misleading. As Dr. Walid Phares points out in his book "The War of Ideas": "Islamists may well operate in the midst of a specific nationality (Arab, Turkish, Asian) and in the context of a particular country (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia), but their aim is for the whole umma, which theoretically would include all 52 Muslim states." Moreover, Dr. Phares states that "many in the West confused the jihadi movement and its overarching Islamist current with a reaction on behalf of 'underdogs' - victims of colonialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment. The same misguided application to jihadis of the rationale of economic factors was also committed with regard to national identities."
Addressing Islamism and Defending Muslims' Freedoms
America was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, which it continues to prize as one of its top freedoms. Addressing an anti-freedom political ideology like Islamism is only an issue regarding freedom of religion to the extent that America continues to defend the freedoms of non-Islamist Muslims to practice their religion as they choose without intimidation, threats, and violence from anti-freedom Islamist organizations.
Muslim Dr. Zuhdi Jasser has the right to freely practice his religion in the United States without threats and harassment by Islamist organizations... as do all other American Muslims. The idea that organizations that support Islamist ideologies represent all Muslims is no doubt an insult to Muslims like Dr. Jasser. The idea that America can not take a stand on anti-freedom political ideologies for fear of "offending Muslims" is indeed offensive to America as a free nation that defends such freedom of religion.
Still there are Islamist propagandists who try to leverage American's great respect for freedom of religion as a mean to silence criticism of their anti-freedom ideology. In the October 24 issue of Middle East Times, Ohio pro-Islamist Abukar Arman writes a propaganda editorial claiming that Steven Emerson and other anti-Jihadists are "Islamophobes", and calling Steven Emerson and others as "Grand Wizards". This type of propaganda claiming that those who challenge Jihad and Islamist organizations are "Islamophobes" are not restricted to such propagandists. The Washington Post published similar comments regarding The Investigative Project on September 29, as a result of IPT's investigation of Esam Omeish.
But the fact remains that those fighting Jihad and those challenging anti-freedom ideologies like Islamism are not anti-Muslim. They simply seek to defend the United States and to defend the freedoms that we hold dear, especially freedom of religion, that Islamism denies. It is vital that Americans not fall into the propaganda trap from Islamists and Islamist apologists that support an anti-freedom agenda. In a piece of irony in Abukar Arman's propaganda editorial, he quotes Aldous Huxley in a 1936 speech where Huxley complains of labeling individuals who support ideologies as "fascist" or "communist", which are merely "principles" in Huxley's speech. History would soon prove the fallacy of the world's delays in facing such anti-freedom ideologies, as it will again on the issue of Islamism today.
In a free world, principles matter. And in a free world, facing up to anti-freedom ideologies proves the courage of our convictions. The question remains, will Americans have the courage of their convictions to face up to the ideology of Islamism?
Failing to address the ideology of Islamism, its anti-democratic thrust, its rejection of freedom of religion, its rejection of pluralism, its rejection of democratic values will only lead to an ever spiraling vortex of conflict with Islamist organizations and nations, regardless of our tactical operations.
Sources and Related Stories:
October 15, 2007 - The Dangerous Denial of Jihad's Threat - Jeffrey Imm, Counterterrorism Blog
Documentary "Islam Versus Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center"
Wikipedia Topic: Islamism
9/11 Commission Report Footnote on "Islamism"
October 22, 2007 - "Bin Laden Sounds the Call of Defeat in Iraq (updated 10/23 with transcript)" - Andrew Cochran, Counterterrorism Blog
October 16, 2007 - Reuters: Shi'ite tribal leaders in Iraq say Islamism on rise
October 15, 2007 - Guardian: UK backs plan to split Taliban from within
October 12, 2007 - AFP: Taliban leader Mullah Omar boasts Kabul forced to bargain with insurgency
October 2, 2007 - AFP: US backs Karzai's offer to talk to Taliban
October 2, 2007 - Afghanistan's Taliban: US Tactics - Defeat or Negotiate? - Jeffrey Imm, Counterterrorism Blog
March 30, 2006 - Gulf News: Asylum-seeking convert must not escape: MPs
October 25, 2007 - Daily Telegraph: Afghanistan is lost, says UK's Lord Ashdown
Wikipedia: Blasphemy law in Pakistan
September 12, 2007 - CNN: Poll: Bin Laden tops Musharraf in Pakistan
Pakistan Poll Results
April 17, 2007 - Pakistan: Seven Christians arrested in false blasphemy cases and men tortured to extract false confessions
October 26, 2007 - The Asia Times: Pakistan's nut that won't crack
August 13, 2007 - Pakistan President Seeks Mainstream Taliban - Jeffrey Imm, Counterterrorism Blog
October 21, 2007 - Newsweek: Pakistan: Where the Jihad Lives Now
Status of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia
October 19, 2007 - The Gulf Times: Blair accuses Iran of backing terrorism
October 11, 2007 - Iran police warn 122,000 over unIslamic dress
September 14, 2007 - Report: Muslim Brotherhood U.S. Front Groups a Threat - Jeffrey Imm, Counterterrorism Blog
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, CR NO. 3:04-CR-240-G, Attachment A - List of Unindicted Co-conspirators and/or Joint Venturers
Evidence submitted in the Dallas federal courtroom shows that ISNA was established in 1980 by American members of the Muslim Brotherhood
July 18, 2007 -- Family Security Matters: Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad -- Walid Phares
The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy by Walid Phares, February 20, 2007, pages 18, 191
October 25, 2007 - AP: US levies harsh sanctions against Iran
September 8, 2007 - London Times: Our followers "must live in peace until strong enough to wage jihad"
October 24, 2007 - Middle East Times: Commentary: On propaganda and Islamophobia in the US -- Abukar Arman
September 29, 2007 - Washington Post - Va. Muslim Activist Denies Urging Violence
September 27, 2007 - AMEInfo: DIFC and The Wall Street Journal launch Islamic and Ethical Finance Conference
"Islamic Finance or Financing Islamism?" - The Center for Security Policy, October 2007, No. 29, by Alex Alexiev
October 2, 2007 - AKI: Terrorism: 'War on terror' not a global fight says expert
Olivier Roy: "The Failure of Political Islam"
October 30, 2006 - "Islamism's failure, Islamists' future" - Olivier Roy, openDemocracy
June 22, 2007 - Reuters: Hamas scores publicity coup in U.S.
June 20, 2007 - Washington Post: Engage With Hamas - We Earned Our Support - Ahmed Yousef
June 20, 2007 - New York Times: What Hamas Wants - Ahmed Yousef
April 30, 2007 - U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization Listing
September 4, 2007 - AP: Hamas bans public prayer in Gaza
October 23, 2007 - Dallas Morning News: 'There was not enough evidence'
September 17, 2007 - 9/11 and the Inconvenient Truths about Jihad and Islamism - Jeffrey Imm
August 13, 2007 - Australian ABC News: Indonesian group rallies for world Islamic rule
August 7, 2007 - Jyllands-Posten: Islamic group incites war on West
October 10, 2007 - U.S. National Strategy for Homeland Security
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