Westminster Institute Conference [May 25, 2011]: Fighting the Ideological War. Strategies for Defeating al-Qaeda.
by Ibn Warraq
The overall philosophy or mission of the conference was to educate the public and the government about the ideology of our enemy which is, as the Westminster Institute announced, “well-organized, well-funded, and grounded in the authority of religious texts. The United States therefore has a particularly difficult battle to fight. It is engaged with an enemy who cares first and foremost about the ideological battle””rebuilding a distinct Muslim identity, strengthening the ummah, and defeating the West, both materially and spiritually. Without directly confronting the ideology driving such groups as Al Qaeda, the United States will never be able to defeat the threat of terrorism. Drawing on the expertise of those who were directly involved in the fight against past totalitarian ideologies and of those who are intimately familiar with the ideology and strategy of the current enemy, this conference will draw lessons from the past for today”s fight against Al Qaeda and associated movements.”
Patrick Sookhdeo, author of Global Jihad, and Adjunct Professor at George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, inaugurated the conference with a lucid presentation of the underlying problems in fighting Islamic Terrorism, and offered some tentative solutions. In what follows, I have taken Sookhdeo’s talk as the basis of my analysis. I have added further examples that were not in the original talk, and have fleshed out some of his arguments. Thus the present article should be seen as my own take on the problem, though of course heavily derived from Sookhdeo, and certainly in the spirit of his presentation.
Sookhdeo’s talk was divided into three parts: Confusion, Understanding, and Prospects.
First, he pointed out that our policy makers were confused about what the terrorist ideology was, and thus were unable to take the necessary measures needed to defeat it.
Michael Hayden, who was the Director of the CIA until 2009, declared in 2008 that there had been “significant setbacks for al-Qaida globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’, as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.” However, as Sookhdeo insisted, “al-Qaeda and radical Islam remain significant and in some cases a growing threat. Al Qaeda has continued to strike in the West and even on US soil, has established new bases and is consolidating existing strongholds, is recruiting new generations of young Muslims and Muslims living in the West. Successes such as the death of Bin Laden will not have a fundamental impact on the underlying issues which continue to make Islamic radicalism a significant force.” In May 2010, the White House released the document “US National Security Strategy, 2010” [NSS, 2010], which declared that “We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa”ida, and its terrorist affiliates”. But nowhere in this document is there a mention of the whole Islamist culture and ideology which justifies terrorism; instead we have a vague enemy called “violence and hatred”: “For nearly a decade,” NSS 2010 tells us, “our Nation has been at war with a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”.
As Katherine Gorka of the Westminster Institute underlined in November 2009, “The 9/11 Commission Report, released in July 2004, clearly stated the nature of the perpetrators and the ideology that was driving them. As Stephen Coughlin, an expert on radical Islam, has recently pointed out, the 9/11 Report used the word Islam 322 times, Muslim 145 times, jihad 126 times, and jihadist 32 times. In sharp contrast, The National Intelligence Strategy of the United States, issued in August 2009, uses the term Muslim 0 times, Islam 0, and jihad 0. Similarly, The FBI Counterterrorism Analytical Lexicon, the purpose of which is “˜to standardize the terms used in FBI analytical products dealing with counterterrorism,” uses the term Muslim 0 times, the term Islam 0 times, and the term jihad 0 times.”
On August 6, 2009, John O. Brennan, Barack Obama’s assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said “Even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent”¦.Using the legitimate term jihad, which means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.”
This can only be characterized as appeasement; and what legitimate grievances do Al-Qaeda represent?