If America Halts Its War Against Terrorism, Our Enemies Won’t Return the Favor
In the battle against al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadists, the West is doing a less than satisfactory job of understanding its enemy. There is a line in Sun Tzu’s famous work The Art of War that states: “If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” Although The Art of War was written in the 6th century BC, its message applies to the battle facing us all today. If the West truly knew its enemy, it might reconsider some of proposed actions relating to the war in Iraq.
Congress, for example, has begun to make its intentions for the Iraq war, and by association the war on terror, abundantly clear. The war in Iraq is seen as futile and the Senate has introduced legislation indicating that it is not in the best interest of the United States to deepen its military presence in Iraq. Proposed legislation includes Senator Obama’s call for the phased redeployment of our forces from Iraq to begin no later than May 1, 2007; with a similar bill introduced in the House. Senator Clinton has gone a step further, calling for troops to start withdrawing from Iraq in 90 days. And we now expect a bill to prevent US forces from engaging in activities other than fighting al-Qaeda, training Iraqi forces and securing the borders of Iraq.
To be fair, there have been many blunders surrounding the Iraq war plan. The government has acknowledged that the war in Iraq was not grounded on accurate intelligence. Although around 550 shells filled with Sarin and mustard gas were uncovered in Iraq, large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were never found. In addition, the pre-war Iraq war plan was ill-conceived. In his book Fiasco (Penguin, 2006), Thomas Ricks details the Pentagon’s failure to come up with a Phase 4 plan, which would have included post-invasion operations including security, stabilization and reconstruction.
These errors aside, the fact remains that Iraq continues to host an insurgency that is bent on destroying American forces. While many view the insurgency as being comprised of nationalist Iraqi Sunnis and former Ba’athists, the insurgency has been co-opted by foreign jihadists fighting under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Qaeda in Iraq. The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, issued a statement on February 3, 2007 indicating:
We [hereby] inform the Sunnis of a [new] plan called the Plan of Honor, which is more comprehensive and more perfect [than the existing plan] and includes not only Baghdad but all parts of the Islamic State [of Iraq]… [This plan] will end with Bush announcing the failure of his [security] plan and signing an agreement of defeat… The goals of the plan are: to defend our people and our honor; to rout out the invaders and eradicate the remaining pockets and bases of heresy; to butcher the wounded Crusader tyrant and take advantage of the collapse of morale among [the Crusader] soldiers and commanders; to unite the ranks of the mujahideen and to strengthen the foundations of the Islamic State [of Iraq].
While al-Baghdadi’s statements seem to echo the typical rants of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, it also highlights the willingness of our enemies to do anything to harm us. Congress’ intent on halting troop increases and even calling for the phased withdrawal of our troops from Iraq increases our enemy’s confidence. If Congress understood the long-term goals of groups like the Islamic State of Iraq, their intentions might be different.
Although the war against Islamic extremism is relatively new, radical Islam’s vitriol and hatred of the West has existed for centuries. To understand this hatred, it’s worthwhile to actually read the works of those ideologues whom jihadists derive their worldviews from. In this capacity, Mary Habeck provides an excellent analysis of extremist thought in her book Knowing the Enemy (Yale University Press, 2006).
Two of the four ideologues that Habeck introduces develop ideas about the West’s policy towards Islam and how Muslims should react. The first is Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian intellectual who is considered to be the leading theological inspiration for the Muslim Brotherhood and many other jihadists. In his famous book, Milestones, Qutb dedicates an entire chapter to the notion of jihad. In that chapter, he talks specifically about the idea of the West adopting a retreatist policy towards Islam.
It may happen that the enemies of Islam may consider it expedient not to take any action against Islam, if Islam leaves them alone in their geographical boundaries to continue the lordship of some men over others and does not extend its message and its declaration of universal freedom within their domain. But Islam cannot agree to this unless they submit to its authority by paying Jizyah, which will be a guarantee that they have opened their doors for the preaching of Islam and will not put any obstacle in its way through the power of the state… Indeed, Islam has the right to take the initiative. Islam is not a heritage of any particular race or country; this is God’s religion and it is for the whole world. It has the right to destroy all obstacles in the form of institutions and traditions which limit man’s freedom of choice.
Clearly, Qutb believed that even if the West left Islam alone, its war with the West would not subside. Indeed, Qutb argues that it is the duty and right of Islam to take the initiative and spread its ideology to non-Islamic governments, by force if necessary. For Qutb, Islam frees individuals from servitude of other men, i.e. democracy.
One other jihadist ideologue who speaks directly to this idea is Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fathi Yakan, a prominent Islamic scholar and follower of Sayyid Qutb, wrote a book entitled To Be A Muslim, where he quotes a speech given by al-Banna,
Our task in general is to stand against the flood of modernist civilization overflowing from the swamp of materialistic and sinful desires. This flood has swept the Muslim nation away from the Prophet’s leadership and Qur’anic guidance and deprived the world of its guiding light. Western secularism moved into a Muslim world already estranged from its Qur’anic roots, and delayed its advancement for centuries, and will continue to do so until we drive it from our lands. Moreover, we will not stop at this point, but will pursue this evil force to its own lands, invade its Western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts by the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world.
The notion of an Islamic expansionist policy is more than a fringe movement; instead, it is promulgated by some of the most influential 20th century Islamic thinkers. Habeck adds that “al-Banna believed that once enough Muslims returned to the true form of Islam, they could then spread the faith through jihad.” Thus, two of al-Qaeda’s theological inspirations, Qutb and al-Banna, state that Muslims must go on the offensive and attack the West, even if unprovoked.
There have been a number of arguments made for why Islamic fundamentalists hate us and why they attacked us. President Bush, in his speech to a joint session of Congress in 2001 suggested that, “they hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Others argue that radical Muslims attacked us because of our support for Israel. Still others, like Dinesh D’Souza, argue that the cultural left and individuals such as Britney Spears are the real reason why Islamic fundamentalists want to attack us.
While there are grains of truth to all of these arguments, they all fail to explain why radical Muslims have fought the West for centuries. The idea that Islamic radicals hate “our freedoms” paints the most accurate picture. Indeed, our notions of freedom directly contradict their understanding of Islamic theology. Western ideas of freedom include the freedom to pick and choose which religions and beliefs we want to follow, the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom to live our lives in the manner we see fit. Freedom, to Qutb and al-Banna, means one has the freedom to choose to submit to Allah, pay the jizyah (tax levied on all non-Muslims), or die. In essence, anything that gives humans law-making ability is expressly forbidden.
The argument that Muslims hate us because of our support of Israel is valid, but insufficient. Muslims claim the land of Palestine because it was once part of the Islamic caliphate. For Muslims, reclaiming the lands of Islam is a necessity in order to re-establish the Caliphate. The presence of non-Muslims in Palestine is bad enough; the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine is even more troubling. However, the US’s support for Israel didn’t start until 1948. What are we to make of the years of violence in the name of Islam against Western countries prior to that?
Finally, the argument that cultural left in America and the flamboyance of individuals such as the aforementioned Ms. Spears causes Muslims to hate us is simply shallow. Indeed, America’s perceived decadence and our desire to idolize morally-shallow pop stars are abhorred by Muslims. However, they are more of a manifestation of American notions of freedom that Muslims hate rather than the sole reason. It would be a grave mistake to argue that the likes of MTV, Entertainment Weekly, or more adult oriented media are the reasons why 9/11 occurred.
In reality, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, even Hollywood’s most flamboyant individuals are all manifestations of a greater problem that radical Muslims have against the West. Radical Muslims detest these things because in their eyes, they see these things as an affront to God’s sovereignty and running counter to God’s laws. Because Western countries are grounded on democratic values, radical Muslims see them as an obstacle to their goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate. Once again, the Islamic notion of freedom, as expressed by Qutb and al-Banna, is that one has the freedom to submit to the will of Allah. If he or she chooses not to do so, they either must pay the Jizyah or be fought. As such, Islamic radicals will not stop attacking us until their goals are achieved.
This is a very important dichotomy for Western countries to understand, most notably the United States. Although it’s only one front in the war on terror, the war in Iraq is crucial for keeping our enemies occupied and keeping them from attacking the homeland. Various arguments can be made about how to move forward with the war in Iraq. However, calling the mission in Iraq futile and employing a policy of retreatism in Iraq and elsewhere will not stop the fighting.
Most critics of the war on terror fail to mention that the United States has not been attacked since 9/11. If we pull out of Iraq, it may secure the lives of our soldiers abroad. But the long-feared possibility of another attack on US soil will become increasingly more possible and innocent American lives will be put in the crosshairs of these and future extremists.
In addition, with an encouraged enemy and a front closed in Iraq, our enemies will have greater resources and personnel to use in other regions. Bearing in mind the thought that jihadists will “take the initiative”, the insurgents fighting in Iraq may heed the call to fight in Afghanistan or other areas where American forces are deployed, thus putting American troops abroad in greater danger. The greatest use of our greatest advantage, our armed forces, is to remain on the advance against the enemy.