Thursday, July 28, 2005
First, read Donald Sensing's essay "Islamism's War Against the West" (pdf), the best succinct history of the rise of Binladenism (my word, not his) that I have seen. You have to read a lot of books to absorb the learning in this essay. It is 52 double-spaced pages, so print it off and read it on the train or in the Lay-Z-Boy.
Next, read this review essay from The New York Review of Books, "The Truth About Jihad." The author (Max Rodenbeck) is the Economist's Middle East correspondant, and not as reflexively hostile to American foreign policy as the NYROB's typical contributor. Rodenbeck's essay is important not because I particularly agree with his prescriptions -- I don't in the least -- but because he develops the most interesting and analytical comparison of "Binladenism" (his word) and the radical Left of old. Suffice it to say he sees many similarities.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, read Kenneth Pollack's recent testimony (pdf) in front of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations. Pollack is one of very few people writing seriously about Iraq who does not have one of the Four Big Axes to grind (hates/supports Bush, opposes/supports Israel, supports DoD/Supports State-CIA, anti-/pro-American), so you do not immediately find yourself wondering whose ox he is trying to gore. He worked on the Clinton NSC, wrote the book on the necessity of taking out Saddam, and now is a Senior Fellow at Brookings. Pollack argues forcefully that the United States needs to change its approach in Iraq dramatically by adopting tried-and-true counterinsurgency tactics. Pollack's argument is such a stark challenge to the apparent strategy of the United States that serious supporters of the war as it is currently being conducted need to address his points. Any milbloggers out there who want to give it a shot?
Rodenbeck makes many interesting observations to help flesh out the picture. No doubt there are many new aspects of today’s jihadis that show absorption of modern culture despite the aim to return to an original Islam. Many authors like to stress the jihadis’ indebtedness to European totalitarian tactics and terrorist techniques. Also, one certainly expects some common psychological dynamics – human nature being what it is.
However, the susceptibility of Islam to absorb the worst of other cultures, the quickness with which Islamism can spread to any Islamic country, the general sympathy in the broader Muslim population, all reveal a propensity of Islam to the worse attributes of modern European-based excesses. Fascism just fits Islam like a glove. Islamo-fascism is a natural expression of inherent potentialities in an intrinsically supremacist religion founded by a warrior with imperialistic propensities. I believe Islam is still the root cause but the branches are important.
Thanks for some read reading.
Dear Mr. TigerHawk:
Westhawk will take on the "Ken Pollack Challenge".
Like you, we have a high regard for Mr. Pollack's intellect and rationality. We studied his testimony you cited with interest.
We disagree that there is such a thing as a "tried and true" counter-insurgency strategy, and that Centcom is foolishly ignoring a straightforward, well-proven technique, as Mr. Pollock alleges.
Gens. Abizaid, Casey, and Vines realize that the American military presence in Iraq is a severe irritant to the population. Contrary to Mr. Pollack, they don't believe that U.S. soldiers can successfully conclude a COIN campaign in Iraq. Thus, their strategy is to train, as rapidly as is feasible, indigenous Iraqi forces to tamp down the insurgency. Unfortunately, as Mr. Pollack points out, no such Iraqi force existed in the summer of 2003. Two summers later the American training effort has progressed enough for the American commanders to be able to publicly contemplate a significant withdrawal in 6-9 months time.
What about the American offensives in the west, to which Mr. Pollack so objects? The Americans are applying a lesson from the Vietnam experience, namely allow no enemy sanctuaries. While the Iraqi government forces organize, the enemy must not have a place to organize and sustain large-scale standing units, as the Viet Cong and NVA were allowed to do in Cambodia until 1970. Since Fallujah and this spring's offensives in Al-Anbar province, the enemy can muster in only squad-sized units, or worse, one-man suicide attacks. This is not a sign of insurgent success.
The Coalition and Iraqis are trying to implement the "spreading ink stain" analogy; 14 of 18 provinces are secure and increasingly, there are Iraqi units to garrison newly-cleared locations, as Mr. Pollack recommends.
Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Casey are now sufficiently satisfied with the progress of Iraqi training that they feel confident enough to withdraw most conventional U.S. maneuver units early next year, thus turning the effort over to U.S.-advised and supported Iraqi units. They believe that removing the largest part of the American irritant from Iraq will allow the Sunnis cover to accept the political path now offered to them. The pending withdrawal also focuses the mind of the Shi'ites and Kurds to get organized quicker.
If the Sunnis then chose civil war, they can then expect harsh treatment. Better that treatment be inflicted by Shi'ite and Kurdish Iraqis than Americans, as we are sure Mr. Pollack must agree.
The terrorists have to be ideologically differentiated and separated from the orthodox Muslim mainstream. We need a descriptive term for their heresy. It sound like some people want it to be Binladenism. As a Muslim, while not rejecting the use of the term Binladenism, I think that it would be better to label the terrorists as followers of Takfirism or Takfirolatry.
Takfir is the act of labelling someone as an Kaafir (unbeliever) especially if done without due process - in which case, it is/was a forbidden act in classical/orthodox Islam. The idea is that someone may be an unbeliever, and since nobody's perfect, everybody is an unbeliever to some extent. But the label of "Kaafir" cannot be applied to people casually.
Takfirism would then be the label for the heretic ideology that glorified Takfir, and the term Takfirolatry could be used to describe those for whom Takfir was a pillar of their religion, overriding the positive Islamic virtues.
Using and popularizing these terms could be part of a strategy to undermine the terrorists by clearly identifying their religion as un-Islamic.
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