Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
They Said It:
I turn now from the accidental to the essential factors, to those deriving from the very nature of Islamic society, tradition, and thought. The first of these is the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition. … Many attempts have been made to show that Islam and democracy are identical-attempts usually based on a misunderstanding of Islam or democracy or both. This sort of argument expresses a need of the up- rooted Muslim intellectual who is no longer satisfied with or capable of understanding traditional Islamic values, and who tries to justify, or rather, re-state, his inherited faith in terms of the fashionable ideology of the day. It is an example of the romantic and apologetic presentation of Islam that is a recognized phase in the reaction of Muslim thought to the impact of the West. … In point of fact, except for the early caliphate, when the anarchic individualism of tribal Arabia was still effective, the political history of Islam is one of almost unrelieved autocracy. … [I]t was authoritarian, often arbitrary, sometimes tyrannical. There are no parliaments or representative assemblies of any kind, no councils or communes, no chambers of nobility or estates, no municipalities in the history of Islam; nothing but the sovereign power, to which the subject owed complete and unwavering obedience as a religious duty imposed by the Holy Law. In the great days of classical Islam this duty was only owed to the lawfully appointed caliph, as God’s vicegerent on earth and head of the theocratic community, and then only for as long as he upheld the law; but with the decline of the caliphate and the growth of military dictatorship, Muslim jurists and theologians accommodated their teachings to the changed situation and extended the religious duty of obedience to any effective authority, however impious, however barbarous. For the last thousand years, the political thinking of Islam has been dominated by such maxims as “tyranny is better than anarchy” and “whose power is established, obedience to him is incumbent.”
Bernard Lewis, “Communism and Islam,” International Affairs, January, 1954.
LEADERLESS RESISTANCE AND THE “THIRD-GENERATION JIHADIS.”
Believe it or not, the last several days have been clarifying for us on a handful of questions that we have been pondering for almost exactly the last six years. The most important of these is whether the Washington establishment, and especially those men and women who advise the President of the United States, understand anything at all about the threat posed by radical Islam. We have long known that they say things that are untrue. Things like, “Islam is a religion of peace,” and Islamist terrorists have “nothing to do with Islam,” for example. But we haven’t been able to figure out if they actually believe this nonsense, or if they are saying it to appear politically correct, even as they know that these are falsehoods. Bush, Cheney, & Co. said many of the same stupid things, of course, but we always knew where they stood. Their lips said “peace,” but their army said “war.” With the Obama crowd, by contrast, we’ve never been sure. Until know.
This past week, there were three attacks on policemen or soldiers, two in Canada and one in New York City. All were perpetrated by men who had recently converted to Islam. These incidents, in addition to the beheading a couple of weeks ago in Oklahoma, also perpetrated by a recent convert to Islam, suggest a pattern of sorts. Interestingly, this pattern appears to have taken many people who study Islam and terrorism by surprise. Over the weekend, for example, the New York Times reported the following:
The British police arrest four men accused of plotting a bombing on the scale of the Mumbai hotel attack six years ago. The Australian authorities arrest a ring of 12 accused of plotting daring murders, including a public beheading.
In Canada, a gunman assaults the Parliament building and kills a soldier guarding a war memorial, and a motorist strikes two soldiers, killing one — in both cases, perpetrators with tenuous links to Islamist extremism.
And in New York City, a man wielding a hatchet attacks four police officers in Queens, slashing one in the head and another in the arm.
The series of episodes over just the last four weeks is raising new fears about the capacity of the extremists who call themselves the Islamic State to catalyze so-called lone-wolf attacks, conceived and carried out by individuals or small groups around the Western world who may have little or no connection to the Islamic State. . . .
“The Al Qaeda ‘fan boys’ never did this, definitely not in so coordinated a fashion in so close a time,” said William McCants, a scholar of Islamist militancy at the Brookings Institution.
Decades of Qaeda calls for Muslims in the West to instigate their own attacks mostly “fell on deaf ears,” but “the ISIS guys are just really energized,” Mr. McCants said, using an alternate name for the group, the Islamic State.
Analysts say the far-flung plots and attacks mark a change in the nature of the group and its threat to the West.
Now, we realize that most of the surprise expressed here involves the Islamic State specifically and not Islamists more generally. The nation’s establishment terrorism “analysts” had all assumed that the Islamic State just wanted its little ol’ caliphate and otherwise to be left alone, more or less. And they are shocked – shocked! – to find out differently. Their surprise is, we think, somewhat understandable, in that the Islamic State had not overtly advocated attacking Westerners in the West until recently.
At the same time, though, the idea that any of this should have come as a surprise to anyone is patently absurd. Worse still, it suggests to us that the people on whom this nation relies for insight into its most vexing national security problem are both ignorant of the enemy and, possibly even more frightening, derelict in their crucial role in confronting this enemy, i.e. making the nation’s citizens aware of the nature of the threat, presenting them with a plan of action, and enlisting their full cooperation in executing the plan. Sun Tsu famously outlined the danger involved in their ignorance as follows: “If you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
Now, Sun Tsu probably would not be shocked to hear that a great and powerful nation such as the United States could be complacent about this rule. After all, power breeds complacency. But he likely would be at least unsettled to learn that this complacency is willful. Yes willful, which is to say driven by the intellectual and intelligence gathering establishments’ collective refusal to define the exact nature of the enemy out of fear of offending its supporters.
Examples of this abound. Last week, for example, President Obama called the attacks in New York and Canada acts of “senseless violence.” They were, of course, anything but senseless. Indeed, they were, as others have noted, perfectly sensible, at least from the perspective of the assailants. The violence was supposed to induce terror and, in so doing, to advance specific ends advocated by a specific religion; a religion that more or less remains absolved by our ruling class of any and all violence. Like Obama, most members of the ruling class refuse to acknowledge the obvious, that this violence is perpetrated not merely by a few madmen, but by dedicated Islamists who are intent on advancing a specific political ideology that is inseparable from their religion. The culprit here, as you may have guessed, is a combination of political correctness and its handmaiden, multiculturalism. If the enemy is never named, then it can never be blamed. And the ruling class prefers it that way.
You likely have read, heard about, or even have seen the now-(in)famous argument that took place a few weeks ago on the HBO television show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Maher and one of his guests, the neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, had a long and mildly interesting argument with another guest, the hopelessly dim actor Ben Affleck. Long story short, Maher and Harris insisted that Islam itself poses a terrorism risk, not just a handful of crazy practitioners, while Affleck flopped around like a fish out of water, occasionally muttering the words, “ugly” or “racism.”
Harris and Maher scored points with many on the Right in particular, for having the guts to take on Islam, even in the face of the Left’s catch-all argument-stopper, the proverbial “race card.” Even so, their broader argument – that Islam needs a “Reformation” of its own in order to survive peacefully in the contemporary world – is both something of a cliché and somewhat misleading. In a piece for the Jerusalem Post, Ali Sina, a Canadian-Iranian former Muslim and the author of Understanding Muhammad and Muslims, noted the deficiencies even in the argument made by Harris and Maher. To wit:
Affleck is wrong. That does not mean Harris is right.
Harris contended, “Hundreds of millions of Muslims are nominal Muslims, who don’t take their faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS [Islamic State] and we need to defend these people, prop them up and let them reform their faith.”
Reforming Islam the way he envisions it, is an illusion.
His error drives from the fact that he equates Islam to Christianity, and concludes that since Christianity was once upon a time a violent religion and then reformed, Islam can do the same.
Even though at one time the religion associated with Jesus had become violent and intolerant, there is nothing violent and intolerant in his teachings. The Crusades were the response of Christendom to jihad, and the Inquisition was the copycat of mihnah, a practice started by Caliph Ma’mun, which means “inquisition.” They have no basis in the teaching of Christ.
The Christian Reformation aimed to get rid of un-Christian practices. They suggested that the Bible should be read literally and its allegorical interpretations should be rejected.
An analogous reformation also took place in Islam. It is called Salafism.
The Prophet Muhammad reiterated repeatedly that he is the best salaf, the best example to follow and after him, his companions are the best model for Muslims to emulate.
He raided villages and towns, massacred unarmed men, beheaded his captives, raped their women and sold them as slaves. His successors, the so-called “rightly guided Caliphs” and their successors did the same. These are the very things the Wahhabis advocate and Islamic State is doing.
Islamic State is the true embodiment of the Islamic Reformation.
Obviously, this is an issue which requires some delicacy. It is important, as always, to point out that most Muslims in the world do not favor killing infidels; that most Muslims do not favor waging endless war against Western powers; that most Muslims wish only to be left alone to raise their families, to pray to their god, and to live their lives as best they know how. In short, all the usual caveats apply. Most Muslims in the world are good and decent people.
At the same time, the religion to which they profess faith is in many ways quite treacherous. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do, indeed, support sharia law, which is the legal codification of that religion’s tenets – even its dodgiest tenets. Last spring (April 2013) Pew Research released a long and incredibly detailed study on attitudes among the world’s Muslim populations. The report begins with this key bit and moves on from there: “Overwhelming percentages of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to be the official law of the land, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center.”
Among the other key findings, Pew notes that sharia law has the support of better than 70% of the population in ALL the countries of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East – with one exception, Lebanon, where the sizable Christian minority screws up the survey. In Afghanistan, the American protectorate, 99% of people want sharia. Likewise, the idea that “women should obey their husbands” has better than 70% support throughout the Muslim world. Nearly 30% of Egyptians, 40% of Palestinians, and 40% of Afghans (again, the American protectorate) believe that suicide bombing is justified. More than 8 in 10, throughout the Muslim world, believe that homosexuality is immoral. Etc., etc.
It is important to note that Pew’s report does not include any data from Saudi Arabia or Iran – the centers of Sunni and Shiite religious life, respectively. One shudders to think how the numbers in those two countries would look.
Additionally, Pew presents its data somewhat misleadingly, noting that “overwhelming majorities” in all countries reject terrorism and attacks on foreigners/infidels. This is true, but it’s also beside the point. In nearly all of the countries surveyed, terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are viewed favorably by significant percentages of the population, sometimes, 30, 40, 50%. Additionally, and more to the point, in nearly all countries, support for terrorism in general has the support of 10% or more of the population. If we take that 10% as a floor, which is essentially what it is, that means, given that there are roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that there are roughly 160 MILLION ISLAMIC TERRORIST SUPPORTERS worldwide. That may be a small percentage, but it’s also a HUGE number.
Again, this doesn’t mean that all Muslims are bad or that they hate Christians or Americans or anything else like that. Indeed, the numbers show precisely the opposite; MOST want nothing more than peace and quiet. Nevertheless, most also want their countries ruled by their religion. And a great many are perfectly fine with violence being the means by which said governance is achieved. Furthermore, as Pew demonstrates, those whose beliefs are more fervent also support sharia and violence in higher numbers. All of which is to say that anyone who starts his or her analysis of Islamic terrorism from the premise that “Islam is a religion of peace” is either ignorant, dishonest, or is using a highly unorthodox definition of “peace.”
Understanding and publicly acknowledging this simple fact would go a long way toward fulfilling SunTsu’s admonition to know thy enemy. But obvious there is much more that would have to be understood as well. For example, the investigators, analysts and government officials responsible for keeping the public safe and thus for addressing the issues of violence in this country and, as in the cases of the attacks in Canada, on our borders, appear hopelessly lost.
They either declare, as noted above, that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, or they insist that each and every perpetrator is a “lone wolf,” which is to say someone acting alone, without any coordination from a central authority. The irony in all of this is that while the description is largely correct – these are “lone wolves” – the implications that the government seems to draw from that description are as far from correct as possible, the exact opposite, in fact.
In a weekend piece for National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy, the former prosecutor who handled the FIRST World Trade Center bombing case, noted that by crying “lone wolf,” the powers that be are actually divulging far more than they think they are, indicating a far greater threat than they believe. He put it this way:
So rote have the airbrushed news accounts of these incidents become that we could recite them in our sleep — which is exactly the condition those who write them hope to leave us in. We are to believe it is beside the point that the assailants happen to be Muslims. Sure, some may have been “inspired” by the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, but journalists, taking their cues from government officials, stress that the murderers lack “operational” ties to any recognized terrorist organization. So, presto, each is sloughed off as a “lone wolf.”
That once useful term of art is now used to convey two carefully crafted, politically correct narratives. For government officials and investigators, the “lone wolf” label has come to mean the atrocity in question cannot be categorized as “terrorism,” no matter how many “Allahu Akbars!” are shouted as bullets fly, bombs blast, or heads roll. For the commentariat, “lone wolf” signifies that the Muslim in question — whether a lifer or a “recent convert” — has “self-radicalized,” spontaneously becoming a wanton, irrational killer.
These two story lines transparently suggest that the government has quelled al-Qaeda and that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Though President Obama frequently makes both claims, they are delusional.
“Lone wolf” is actually a surveillance-law concept that signifies the antithesis of the government’s newfangled “no terrorism here” usage. Moreover, the term is utterly useless to our understanding of how, and by what, Muslims are “radicalized.”
The “lone wolf” concept goes back to the alarm that gripped the nation right after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. That alarm was heightened by the discovery that incompetent surveillance practices prevented the government from interrupting the plot. So after 9/11, national-security surveillance law was overhauled.
Unlike ordinary criminal investigations, which focus on penal law offenses, national-security investigations target agents of “foreign powers.” Legally, an international terrorist organization qualifies as a foreign power. So if investigators can show a person is tied to an outfit like al-Qaeda, they can get court permission to eavesdrop on him.
As a practical matter, though, many terrorism investigations do not unfold that way. Sometimes, investigators develop evidence that someone is preparing to conduct terrorist activity (e.g., he buys explosive components, he cases a bridge) before they can figure out whether he is connected to a known terrorist organization. Since involvement by a foreign power was the necessary predicate for national-security surveillance, the government’s inability to establish al-Qaeda’s role in the plot would result in the denial of authority to eavesdrop on the apparent terrorist — even though he might be on the verge of striking.
To prevent such a critical intelligence gap, Congress enacted “lone wolf” surveillance authority as part of the PATRIOT Act (see here, pp. 5–6). Significantly, the statute makes precisely the opposite assumption that government officials now make when they label someone a “lone wolf.” The law says that if a person is engaged in what appears to be terrorist activity, the involvement of a foreign terrorist organization should be presumed and need not be established. So as conceived and codified, the lone-wolf designation means the government should regard a suspect as a terrorist, not strain against all evidence and logic to regard him as a non-terrorist.
Lone wolves are, of course, precisely whom the terrorists want conducting their war against the West. They are “easy.” They don’t require funding. They don’t need instructions. They can’t be traced to anyone anywhere, thereby precipitating law enforcement or military action. And they can still do the job of inducing terror.
More than two decades ago, we began discussing terrorism in these pages and started warning of the impact that terrorists – foreign and domestic – could have on the country and on the markets. Shortly thereafter, in the spring of 1998, we penned a piece about domestic terrorism and about the unique techniques that the so-called “militias” had developed, which had law enforcement officials scared to death. We mentioned a great deal of this same material again in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing – which, not surprisingly is all but forgotten today and is almost never mentioned by media or analysts among the “lone wolf” terrorist incidents in recent years. Everyone remembers Nidal Hasan, the “lone wolf” who shot up Fort Hood five years ago, killing 13 men and women, in what the military cynically called an episode of “workplace violence.” But few take the time to remember the Boston Marathon atrocity, and the victims of those “lone wolves.”
In any case, while some of this will be familiar to you, it is worth remembering at this point in time. Two decades ago, the radical, militia movement, during its brief moment in the spotlight, made a significant contribution to the world of political violence via the creation of a unique and experimental organizational structure. This structure did not serve them particularly well, but it was adopted, in whole or in part, by many Islamic terrorist groups, including the post-9/11 al Qaeda. This structure is known as “leaderless resistance.” It had been bandied about in right-wing circles for some three decades before Louis Beam, a former Klansman and one of the Patriot Movement’s leading theorists, penned a 1992 article putting more flesh on the proverbial bone. In 1997, Jeffrey Kaplan, a professor of religion at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, discussed the concept in an article published in the quarterly journal Terrorism and Political Violence. He put it this way:
The concept of Leaderless Resistance is nothing less than a fundamental departure in theories of organization. The orthodox scheme of organization is diagrammatically represented by the pyramid, with the mass at the bottom and the leader at the top . . . This scheme of organization . . . is, however, not only useless, but extremely dangerous for the participants when it is utilized in a resistance movement against state tyranny. Especially is this so in technologically advanced societies where electronic surveillance can often penetrate the structure revealing its chain of command. . . .
An alternative to the pyramid type of organization is the cell system . . . . Since the entire purpose of Leaderless Resistance is to defeat state tyranny (at least insofar as this essay is concerned), all members of phantom cells or individuals will tend to react to objective events in the same way through usual tactics or resistance. Organs of information distribution such as newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events, allowing for a planned response that will take many variations. No one need issue an order to anyone. Those idealists truly committed to the cause of freedom will act when they feel the time is ripe, or will take their cue from others who preceded them.
According Kaplan, all of this fits very well with radical religiosity and religion-inspired terrorism. Leaderless resistance, Kaplan noted, was merged with another Patriot concept called the “Phineas Priesthood,” which was developed by another Patriot theorist, Richard Kelly Hoskins, thereby positing a new order of religious assassins who would protect the movement and punish the oppressors. All of this, Kaplan wrote, was synthesized into the ultimate violent, leaderless, religious movement by yet another Patriot icon, David Lane, who wrote the following:
So, let’s go on to strategy. Resistance to tyranny within an occupied country necessarily forms into certain structures. Most basic is the division between the political or legal arm, and the armed party which I prefer to call Wotan as it is an excellent anagram [sic] for the will of the Aryan nation. The political arm will always be subjected to surveillance, scrutiny, harassment, and attempted infiltration by the system. Therefore the political arm must remain scrupulously legal within the parameters allowed by the occupying power. The function of the political arm is above all else to disseminate propaganda . . .
Wotan draws recruits from those educated by the political arm. When a Wotan “goes active” he severs all apparent or provable ties with the political arm. If he has been so foolish as to obtain “membership “in such an organization, all records of such association must be destroyed or resignation submitted.
The goal of Wotan is clear. He must hasten the demise of the system before it totally destroys our gene pool. Some of his weapons are fire, bombs, guns, terror, disruption, and destruction. Weak points in the infrastructure of an industrialized society are primary targets. Individuals who perform valuable service to the system are primary targets . . . Wotan has a totally revolutionary mentality. He has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his cause.
In September, 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the New Yorker published a piece titled “The Master Plan,” which was littered with quotes from a fellow called Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian “theorist of jihad” who had been a member of Al Qaeda’s inner council and who, from his “hideout in Iran,” ”began writing his defining work, ‘Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance,’ which is sixteen hundred pages long and was published on the Internet in December, 2004.” Here is an excerpt.
In Suri’s view, the underground terrorist movement—that is, Al Qaeda and its sleeper cells—is defunct. This approach was “a failure on all fronts,” because of its inability to achieve military victory or to rally the Muslim people to its cause. He proposes that the next stage of jihad will be characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups (what he terms “leaderless resistance”), which will wear down the enemy and prepare the ground for the far more ambitious aim of waging war on “open fronts”—an outright struggle for territory. He explains, “Without confrontation in the field and seizing control of the land, we cannot establish a state, which is the strategic goal of the resistance.”
On April 6, 2012, the Wall Street Journal, in its “Life and Style” section ran another piece on al-Suri, this one by David Samuels, a contributing editor to Harper’s. Samuel’s piece, titled “The New Mastermind of Jihad,” confirmed the influence of al-Suri’s ideas, adapted in part from the American militia movement. Samuels put it as follows:
Mr. al-Suri’s plans for a wave of “individual jihad” in the West are contained in “A Call to a Global Islamic Resistance,” a 1,600-page book that he published on the Web in 2005, shortly before he was apprehended in Pakistan with a $5 million CIA bounty on his head. The manifesto combines strikingly clearheaded historical analysis with trenchant commentary on what he saw as two decades of strategic and operational failures by jihadists. The destruction of the World Trade Center was a short-term public-relations success for al Qaeda, Mr. al-Suri conceded, but American cruise missiles had made short work of the group’s havens in Afghanistan, and Western special forces and intelligence agencies had decimated the ranks of its fighters and crippled the global jihadist movement.
What Mr. al-Suri learned from the Afghan debacle and from al Qaeda’s subsequent defeat in Iraq was that jihadists were all but helpless in battle against modern Western armies. In place of old-fashioned hierarchical terror organizations, which had failed, he called for a global struggle in which shadowy motivators and facilitators would prompt jihadists to train and arm themselves in independent, self-generating terror cells that would target Western civilians. His goal: a relentless campaign of exemplary acts of violence under a single ideological banner, culminating in the use of weapons of mass destruction. . . .
One of the chief exponents of Mr. al-Suri’s brand of jihadism was the Yemini-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who helped to motivate Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to kill 13 colleagues in November 2009 at the U.S. Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Mr. Awlaki was also instrumental in producing a slick, downloadable English-language magazine called Inspire, which contained bomb-making recipes along with long excerpts from Mr. al-Suri’s writings.
Lone wolf Hasan, you say?
In March of this year, The National, a newspaper based in the UAE, ran a story noting what many of us already suspected, namely that the Syrian resistance movement – al Qaeda, ISIS, and the rest – have been heavily influenced by Abu Musab al Suri. Indeed, the paper reported that:
A top Sharia official in Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda formal affiliate in Syria, has acknowledged for the first time that his faction is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab Al Suri, a Syrian jihadist who fought the Assad regime in the 1970s and 1980s, before becoming one of the world’s most renowned jihadist ideologues. The acknowledgement did not spark much media attention, but is hugely significant for understanding the ideological underpinnings of Syria’s jihadist groups.
Did we mention yet that no one really knows where Abu Musab al Suri is these days? Many believe that he was released from Bashar Assad’s prisons in late 2012. Others believe that Assad is still holding him, fearing the impact he might have on the now interminable Syrian civil war. For our part, we’re not really sure that it matters. The damage, so to speak, has been done, and the impact of “leaderless resistance” on the jihad is now indelible.
For a long time after 9/11, everyone, it seemed, was waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Most people assume that it never did, since there have been no further large scale attacks. Of course, “most people” forget that the anthrax attacks that killed five people in late 2001 were never solved. Likewise, most people forget that John Allen Muhammad and Boyd Lee Malvo, the DC Snipers, both claimed to be motivated by and to share a respect for al Qaeda. “Most people” forget Hasan, the Tsarnev brothers, and nearly two dozen other Muslim attackers who have killed for religious reasons on American soil since 9/11.
It doesn’t really surprise us, in short, that the so-called experts in terrorism were taken by surprise by the events of the last week, in Canada and here in the United States. But it does concern us. The next phase of the global jihad – the so-called “third generation” – seems nebulous and random. But it is neither. It is very well defined, if poorly recognized. But then, that’s the point of the whole business, to ensure that it’s not recognized or acknowledged, at least not by the people who could do something about it.