JIHAD: A Double-Edged Sword?


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Introduction

What causes Islamist terrorism?

Is it fabricated? Right-wing terrorism is more prevalent in the US than jihadism. In the ME, Islamic jihadism is the main motive. But is it fueled by money, or genuine grievance?

Large civilian populations in the Middle East and Central Asia flirt with the conspiracy theories that suggest US financing for Islamic militants to destabilize the region; and furthermore, Israeli Mossad complicity. They can’t be blamed – much of the conspiracies proved historically true, such as the 1952 coup against democratically elected PM Mossadegh of Iran (Kinzer 52).

Is there a difference between violent Jihad and military resistance? Can we really lump al Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah into the same category? Are their motives the same?

Or is genuinely result of occupation?

There are arbitrary cases (lone-wolves), but without US presence, and the lost of Palestinian territory, would Islamic terrorism exist? Those who think it is religiously or ideologically motivated, might argue yes. I don’t think so, given that terrorism increased sharply, and unprecedentedly during US invasions in 2003 and so forth (Moghadam 40).

Below is a further analysis of Islamic jihad and political violence in the Islamic and Arab worlds.

Research & Review 

Islamic terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon. It was not until the early start of the millennium in which large swaths of Islamic terrorist attacks occurred (Moghadam 70). Furthermore, religion has often been a force against violence within the most fundamentalist strains of Islam: Salafism. For this reason, it a seeming relationship between the events surrounding the early second millennium, that is, the 9/11 attacks and ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the surge of violent jihad (Moghadam 71).

One of the first themes offered in the literature is the important divide between Islamic jihadi groups, primarily in the Salafi mold. The literature presents a Salafi explanation for indiscriminate attacks that result in civilian deaths. Faulting the enemy for “mixing among them”, which is taken from hadiths. This echoes the justification of modern warfare, particularly the state of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014, which is argued to have been executed in disproportionate force. Israeli leaders claim civilian casualties are the fault of violent terrorists who also, “mix among them” – them being civilian Palestinians. This raises further doubt regarding the legitimacy and reasoning of hadiths, particularly in their application to contemporary times. That these authorities are not drawn of the Qur’an, raises skepticism about the legitimacy of rejecting flexibility within interpretations of Islam. It underscores the need for openness for the sake of preserving Islam in the modern world. Furthermore, the literature offers numerous examples of forgeries and discrepancies in the hadith collections (Wiktorowicz 218). Not to mention, it would almost seem contradictory that members of the Muslim community would openly identify with practices of the state of Israel, which often uses the same justification against Palestinians, most of whom, are Muslim.

Furthermore, the literature suggests that Salafi movement advocates for offensive, militaristic means of spreading Islam, based on the Salafi interpretation of hadiths, the Sunnah, and the Qur’an, but contradictory accounts from these sources offer a challenge to this perspective by portraying Islam as practiced by the Prophet himself as peaceful, rhetorical, and defensive (Wiktorowicz 216)..

With regards to the differences between Salafis, the literature does well to cover the spectrum of opinions and interpretations. It carefully dissects the differences as well as the similarities within the Salafi camp. An example is the hadith commonly invoked to justify indiscriminate offensives. The literature furthermore emphasizes two “dangerous” characteristics of Salafism that are made evident, which is firstly, its inherent self-righteous “certitude”, or dogma rather; and secondly, its lack of legitimacy and cohesion within its sources of authority, particularly in the validity of hadiths (often forged), accounts of the Prophet, and interpretations of the Qur’an. The emphasis on objectivity within Salafism underlines the almost intrinsic tensions within Islam, and perhaps all religions, between preservation (tradition), tolerance (moderation) and modernization (development). 

Some of the research methods within the literature are historical case studies of Salafism, with sources being more anecdotal. An empirical study, perhaps through survey data, could help gauge modern Salafi movements and trends, one that is comprehensive and does not focus solely on suicide attacks. This could provide a more insightful analysis of place of Salafism today, and whether or not the movement has grown more or less unified. Furthermore, surveys from non-Salafi movements could help gauge opinions within the larger ummah towards Salafism, and whether its legitimacy has gained or suffered. Also, gathering information from databases like the Global Terrorism Index or the Political Stability Index, provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, might help gauge the trend of violence in Salafism, and whether or not the purists are gaining or losing ground in the resistance towards violence.

The differences between Salafis is mainly its application to the temporal world, and not in religious beliefs. The lack of empirics to support this claim make it difficult to assess. It is however difficult to collect these forms of data from regions where Salafism is prevalent, for reasons of security and instability. But the Salafis are split on their interpretation of apostasy, which highlights the religious division. Differences within the Islamic community in interpretation of scripture and tradition run deep. That religious purism is often a mechanism for suppressing violent incursions, is perhaps another reason for growing tensions between the Islamic community, and the political leaders therein. The inconsistencies in practice, as well as the contradictory understandings of Islamic duty, whether the source if Qur’anic or from hadiths, is perhaps evidence of emerging contentions in interpreting Islam, not only in its applicability, but in its definition of submission.

If indeed the primary differences among Salafis is in the application of their creed to modern times, then perhaps it is wiser for US foreign policy to focus less on the religious creeds since they often challenge violent jihad, and more on applicability, thereby reducing the security threats. Since much of the literature was conducted before the rise of the Islamic State, it would appear that the claim of distinctions between violent and non-violent Salafis has less legitimacy, considering the large influx of Salafi fighters in both Iraq and Syria since 2011.

Salafism is the primary ideological motive for Islamic terrorism. The fact that suicide attacks have been at a low constant until the early 2000s, where they rose beyond dramatically even to unprecedented levels, suggests a connection between growing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, and terrorism (Moghadam 48).

The motivations of Islamic jidahist movements are complex. That jihadists prefer foreign fighting, and are seemingly more effective as a result, underscores this notion. Who are the jihadists targeting and why?

The data gathered to measure the differences in brutality and effectiveness between domestic terrorists and foreign fighters is rather vague, and the method is questionable, which reflects the difficulty in retrieving data on this particular issue (Hegghammer 13). A variety of variables can influence a terrorist’s propensity towards domestic or international terrorism. The motives can range from fearing less reprisals abroad due to less political development; but it can also be because the targets of foreign fighters are often authoritarian governments, which exist outside the West.

Conclusion

The literature on terrorism is vast by no means. Increased terrorism over the past two decades however has raised interest in the field. While research has been offered, increased interest suggests a glimmer of hope in the thickening of the literature, and the improvement of research methods, however deteriorating circumstances in areas where terrorists are most active have only narrowed these hopes. The primary goal of most research in this field is to analyze the motives of Islamic jihadism, how they are expressed, and their consequence. While the literature often suggests little theological divergence, increased violence and radicalization signifies the potential rise more contention in the Islamic community over both the applicability of Islam but also of its core tenants and traditions, often invoked as justifications for violence or decadence.

Because the Middle East and other regions of the world where Islam is prominent are insecure, it limits the scope of research in this area. Furthermore, the cultural and historical intricacies of these regions highlight the need for more qualitative research that more recognizes the complexity of Islamic civilization. Survey research would help gauge public opinion on a more intimate level. From a quantitative angle, perhaps a study measuring the differences in motives for violent jihadism, or rather, a study of the frequency of violent jihadism across different states with different customs, might help paint a more vivid picture of the Islamic jihadism as it exists today, and its unprecedented rise.

That violent jihadism has increased dramatically following the post 9/11 US interventions in the Middle East is reminiscent of the guerilla tactics employed by communist forces resisting US interventionism in the Cold War, particular during the Vietnam War (Atran et. al). To restate a common theme in the literature, realizing the relentlessness of the jihadist cause might shift US focus from containing Islamism to reducing interventionism. But how could US interventionism be measured in relation to the rise of violent jihadism? Perhaps a measure between the level of foreign direct investment by the US in various predominantly Islamic countries and the frequency of terrorist attacks might be one method of gauging the relationship. Various perspectives have been offered on the causes of violent jihadism in the world. Some emphasize the violent nature of Islamic scripture, which is contested by the literature on purist Salafis as well as the relatively stable societies of Indonesia and Malaysia. Others point to the prevalence of natural resource wealth, or the oil curse as it is called. And finally, certain research has focused on the relationship between authoritarianism and violence. But there are many cases where non-oil rich states exhibit high rates of violent jihad, such as Uzbekistan (Kleveman). Furthermore, countries with lower rates of authoritarianism like Tunisia and Lebanon exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the entire Middle East. Little research has been done on the relationship between foreign interventionism and violent jihad. Judging by the data offered in the literature, such research might prove critical in assessing the place of Islamist jihad in today’s world.

References

Assaf Moghadam, “Motives for Martyrdom: Al-Qaida, Salafi Jihad, and the Spread of Suicide Attacks,” International Security 33 (2009): 46-78.

Scott Atran, Hammad Sheikh, and Angel Gomez, “Devoted actors sacrifice for close comrades and sacred cause,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (2014): 17702- 17703.

Kinzer S. “All the Shah’s men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”. John Wiley & Sons; 2003.

Kleveman, Lutz. “The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia”. Grove Press (2004).

Thomas Hegghammer, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting,” American Political Science Review 107 (2013): 1-15.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Anatomy of the Salafi movement,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29 (2006): 207-239.

The Obama Doctrine – from Tehran to Havana


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I think its a beautiful thing to see a US-Cuban rapprochement.

A full reconciliation of relations may be naive, but the so-called “Obama Doctrine” has made normalizing relations, with some of America’s most bitter “rivals” historically, part of the agenda.

The Nuclear Deal with Iran (which American 12republicans are sworn to reverse, along with every other progressive measure – immigration, healthcare, etc.); Obama’s sympathy with the Palestinians; his less hawkish tendency in the Middle East – these are part of what has been called the Obama Doctrine.

Though it has been vague. This is partly because Obama is an elusive figure. Early on, some called him a socialist. But it appears that before anything, Obama is a classical liberal – of the Neo-Liberal Institutionalist approach of international relations.

His emphasis on “trade relations” with Cuba underscores his belief that capitalism & democracy are the path to civility. Instead of military pressure, Obama has wielded the tool of diplomacy and pragmatism. I recall Fareed Zakaria’s article which labeled this era the Age of Pragmatism.

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I must say that, while I understand that few presidents or US leaders can be critical of Israel, some are, more than others. Still, not enough is done. Palestinians are reduced to extremists calling for the removal of Israel; while Western leaders ignore the ongoing reality – Israel is actually removing the Palestinians. Thus, instead of tacit support of Israel, the US should play a neutral role, and allow the natural course of Middle Eastern self-determination to unfurl. The same applies for the rest of the Middle East. This approach could be an extension of what Obama is trying to do. Perhaps it could further democratization efforts in the region – but more importantly, it could create stability.

Book Review – Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & The Great Games by Eric Walberg


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Walberg, Eric. Postmodern imperialism: geopolitics and the great games. SCB Distributors, 2011.

Recent history has introduced a period of heightened military conflicts, uprisings and contentions. This has resulted in many shifts in global patterns. Competitiveness between empires has intensified and further complicated the quest for understanding the global political dynamic. In his book, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & the Great Games, author Eric Wahlberg seeks to clear the air. The author’s main premise is to illustrate the shift from a bi-polar global dynamic, once dominated by the US on one end and the Soviet Union on the other, to a unipolar world, where the US is largely uncontested in its position as the global hegemony. Proxy wars, insurgent movements and radical militants have filled this void, which, as the author argues, has pinned the US and its main ally against anti colonial movements, Israel, against a loosely defined cooperative of movements and states, as well as a ambiguous enemy – the terrorist.

The author presents a historical backdrop from which he draws his assertions. This stretches from the earliest expression of the Great Games to their modern manifestations, as the Wars on Terror, and the neoconservative crusade for democracy. The consequence is increased exploitation of resources and the rise of untraceable insurgent networks that target their national governments as much as western societies. The double-dealings and inconsistencies of the West are evident here, which taints the reputation of western civilization. This is underscored by the author’s sympathies with the anti-capitalistic Soviet philosophical foundation.

The book is divided into five segments, organized chronologically, in which the author elaborates on the historical backdrop of the Great Game dynamic which has led to the current landscape. Wahlberg begins with the 19th century onset of the great games as played out between the British and Russian empires, followed by the communist revolution, WWII, the Cold War and the post 9/11 era. The author focuses on the British tactic of pinning forces against each other, a strategy which has been arguably adopted by the US in modern times, evidenced by its double-dealings with authoritarians and the radical insurgent movements threatening to depose them.

The three major sections in the book are categorized as GG I, II and III. GG stands for Great Games, and each numeric represents a period in time, in respective chronological order, beginning with the games as they panned out in the early 19th century, onto the WWII period, and finally, to GGIII, the post-cold war era. GGI refers to imperialism that took place during the nineteenth century until WWII. GGII covers the Cold War in which the two global superpowers, the USA and the USSR, competed for global influence.  GGIII is focused on the post-Cold War era beginning in 1989 to the present. Imperialism cannot be discussed without dissecting the role of the British Empire, a main focus of the author throughout the book. The British assumed hegemonic power by constructing a global economic network which would serve the interests of the core to the misfortune of the periphery, and where diplomacy failed, the use of military power was utilized.  The key focus of the book is the Middle East and Central Asia, “the heart of Eurasia”. It has been argued that the Eurasian heartland is a key geographic location; in other words, he who that controls the heartland controls the world.

The author suggests that in modern times, Islamic movements have replaced communism as the new anti-imperial force. The two primary agents of imperialism, argues Wahlberg, is an alliance between the US and Israel. The war on Iraq, and subsequent interventions in Libya and Egypt, are expressions of this new imperialism, and perhaps fall right into the hands of the main players in the global Great Games. The author suggests increasing tensions and growing insurgencies as a direct result of a stubborn imperial alliance between the US & Israel. Rising tensions in the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia are indicators of this reality. The US’ inconsistent foreign policy will only further retaliatory measures. The players of the great game must decide once and for all what is of greater priority; playing a fair game, or winning.

An Open Letter to Liberal American Jews


Dear brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith, my name is Danny Krikorian and I am a Syrian-Armenian American.

My ancestors are originally from Palestine and Armenia. My roots are deep in Jerusalem.

I am writing you because we have reached a peak in levels of hatred in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, and I believe the most crucial force in combatting this hate could be you. Why?

First and foremost, I must add that I have a Christian father and a Muslim mother. As a Syrian with this religious diversity, I was given freedom as a thinker to discover the world on my own. For this I am ever so grateful.

Eventually I came across Jewish literature. I was blown away.

To me, Judaism is genius and has produced geniuses.

From Einstein to Freud, Arendt to Woody Allen, Larry David to Seinfeld; the list is endless.

But what I have been encountering is startling. The “liberal” tradition of Judaism has been challenged, especially in the twentieth century, by this paranoid sense, spurned by WWII & the Holocaust. Ever since Israel was created, in the words of prominent Jewish scholar Avi Schleim, the Jews have experienced the greatest threats to their existence; an unprecedented instability. The irony – Israel was created as a form of refuge, but has essentially intensified conflict. Fanatical right-wing ideology has almost replaced the Jewish left. I think this is partly due to one major reality…liberalism and Israel are incompatible.

You see at one point a Kingdom of Israel was fathomable, at a time where all civilizations were dominated by kings, emperors, gods and pharaohs. But in today’s world, where principles of human rights, democracy and self-determination have become the bedrock of modern society, these Israeli-ideals seem out of place.

Not to mention, they are also inconsistent with the Jewish creed. What do I mean? Well, according to Jewish theology the three oaths commanded by God that the Jews remain loyal to their nation-states after the destruction of the second temple. God also forbade the recreation of Israel.

So while in ancient time the menace against God was polytheism; in the modern world, the are now two menaces against God (socially-liberal monotheism) which are: “disbelief” (polytheism, paganism, atheism, fanaticism) & “Zionism”. In fact, the two are inseparable. Zionism has replaced liberal Judaism, and has essentially made Jews feel like they do not belong to the religion without loyalty to the modern Israeli state. This has politicized Judaism, and been the premise for all military measures taken against the Arab people. Arab independence movements that followed the Ottoman collapse brought hopes of a new opportunity for prosperity in the Arab world. This would be interrupted by the colonial establishment of Israel in the heart of the Middle East.

This is an especially useful tactic, but now you’ve got the modern Israeli state echoing what it believes to be the voice of God; the God of the Israelites.

As a liberal monotheist, I am in favor of modernized political systems that respect all religions. In my home country, Syria, this tradition is known as “secularism”. The word has a different meaning here in the West, where it is perceived as the force against religion.

I believe that ideologies like Zionism, Christian Evangelism, and Islamic Wahhabism, to be frank, are all similar in orientation. They all share the common thread of hate and violence, and all have transformed their positions of believing in God into being the voices of God on earth. This is dangerous and threatening, to the Middle East, as much as it is to the liberal traditions of the West. This is because the West, namely America, has entangled itself in this conflict between Zionism and Judaism, Israelis and Palestinians.

The important thing to keep note of is the difference between portrayals of reality, and what could be reality.

I hope that be expressing my sentiments here, that the Jewish people can begin to understand, and spread the message that Judaism and Israel are not mutually exclusive, and that the human rights of Palestinians must be spoken of before any mention of a religious state.

Social liberalism, economic prosperity and freedom of expression are not compatible with the principle of zionism. Let us stop exporting our ideologies abroad. The Middle East was safer for Jews before the establishment of Israel. All Middle Eastern tyrants were born after this event. The Middle East is a religious holy land. Exporting democracy to that region is ignorant of its culture. Furthermore, exporting zionism is ignorant of its religious diversity and of religious history, be it Jewish, Christian or Islamic.

We can however preserve American democracy and western liberalism by rejecting the fascist ideals of Christian Evangelism and Zionism which are so intertwined, and have dominated the conservative Republican Party.

Furthermore, we can begin to address our own problems here in America, such as Islamophobia, police brutality, racism and the vast disparity in income between rich-and-poor.

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America is Saddam


When “patriotic” Americans vilify others countries and their leaders, like for example, Saddam ‪‎Hussein‬, you forget one thing. When Saddam‬ dropped mustard gas on the Kurds; when he murdered his own people and sent their bodies cut up in boxes to Middle Eastern families; remember this picture?

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