Here is a piece about General John Abizaid, who seems in many ways to have a clearer idea of the nature and intentions of the jihadists than do many of his peers. And he may be right that “if ordinary Arabs could see the cruelty and repression of these Taliban-style jihadists, they would reject them.” But I hope he is also reckoning with the power of their ideology, based so firmly on the Qur’an and Sunnah. If he doesn’t combat that, “ordinary Muslims” are likely to continue to be sympathetic to the jihadists. From the Quad City Times, with thanks to Nicolei:
America’s enemies in this Long War, he argues, are what he calls “Salafist jihadists.” That’s his term for the Muslim fundamentalists who use violent tactics to try to re-create what they imagine was the pure and perfect Islamic government of the era of the prophet Muhammad, who is sometimes called the “Salaf.” Osama bin Laden is the best known of the Salafist extremists, but Abizaid argues that the movement is much broader and more diffuse than al-Qaida. It’s a loose network of like-minded individuals who use 21st-century technology to spread their vision of a 7th-century paradise.
Salafist preachers see themselves as part of a vanguard whose mission is to radicalize other Muslims to overthrow their leaders. Abizaid likens them to Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders. He urges us to think of today”s Islamic world, wracked by waves of violence, as akin to Europe in the revolutionary year of 1848. The Arab world’s spasms of anarchy and terror, like those in Europe 150 years ago, are part of a process of social change “” in which an old order is crumbling, and a new one is struggling to be born.
Abizaid’s historical analogies are helpful because they stretch our thinking. The wealthy Saudi jihadist bin Laden begins to seem a bit like 19th-century anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin, who similarly wanted to use revolutionary violence to purge what he viewed as a corrupt order. On this broad canvas of historical change, the time horizon isn’t years, but decades.
If the United States is fighting an ideological vanguard similar to the Bolsheviks “” whose leaders will never surrender or negotiate “” then it will have to capture or kill them. That suggests a dirty, drawn-out conflict in which each side tests the other’s will and staying power. It’s not the sort of war that democracies are usually good at fighting, but among Abizaid’s team of advisers, you hear the same phrase over and over: “A lot of bad guys are going to have to die.”
Yet because the battlefield is society itself, the United States cannot think of the struggle in purely military terms. Centcom’s 1,000 troops who are digging wells and performing other reconstruction tasks in the Horn of Africa may be a better model for success than the 150,000 soldiers hunkered down in Iraq. And because it is a war of transformation, comparable to Europe’s hundred-year process of modernization in the 19th century, the United States must above all be patient.
Abizaid is frustrated that Arab journalists haven’t provided a more critical picture of life in places where Islamic insurgents have gained control, such as Fallujah. He’s convinced that if ordinary Arabs could see the cruelty and repression of these Taliban-style jihadists, they would reject them. “They are the most despicable enemy I”ve ever seen,” he told European and Arab leaders who gathered in Bahrain to talk about Persian Gulf security. “They operate from mosques, they behead people, they have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.”
Abizaid believes the winning strategy, in Iraq and across the Islamic world, is to isolate the Salafist vanguard from ordinary Muslims who want the better, freer life that prosperity and connectedness can bring. That means breaching the gaps between rich nations and poor ones, and preventing terrorists from establishing bases of operations, in the way bin Laden did in Afghanistan. “The clear military lesson of Afghanistan is that we cannot allow the enemy to establish a safe haven anywhere,” he says.