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Militant Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorist/m

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Disclaimer: There are about 1.3 Billion Muslims in the world today (2004).(cached - pdf) About 1.29 billion are as appalled by the activities of Islamic terrorists as are non Muslims. This is hardly surprising - more of them are dying at the hands of Islamic militants than non-Muslims. A reasonable guesstimate is that about 5 or 6 million Muslims support the ten thousand or so who are actually doing the damage. That's about ½ of one percent; a much lower percentage than, for example, the number of racists or homophobes in our society. It is on a par - numerically - with the problem of paedophilia or holocaust denial. The problem we face is grave. But it is not a problem with all Muslims, any more than paedophilia is a problem with all men or holocaust denial a problem with all Christians.

This is not to say that there isn't any problem at all with Islam in general. There very clearly is, but it is far better described by Muslims (or ex Muslims) than by me. There are now a growing range of informed critiques of Islam by those who have grown up inside it. I strongly recommend Tariq Ali's "Clash of Fundamentalisms" (which is exceptionally good on Islam but weak on Christian Fundamentalism). For a brave attempt from a more naive psuedo right wing perspective it is worth reading "The Trouble With Islam" by Irshad Manji. But to get a feel for the range of internal critical debate, bookmark "Muslim Wakeup"

This page, however, is dedicated to the men (and, increasingly, women) of violence who don't trouble themselves with such navel gazing.

Why M.I.F.T.?

Almost everyone else is talking about the bin Laden financed group Al Qaeda as though it is a single network of Islamic Terrorists. It isn't.(cached) At most it is (or was) a "vanguard" amongst them. There is no co-ordinated network - yet. However, it is true to say that the extreme version of terrorism and the philosophy that supports it, as practised or supported by those associated with Al Qaeda, has been seen by all the others to be so successful that they are adopting it as their own. This common vision is almost certainly beginning to produce the network which others have assumed has been there all along.

In part that success has been assisted by the American Administration, with media backing, in building up this false image of the universality of Al Qaeda. They manufactured the Al Qaeda "brand" initially in order to provide themselves with a legal target on which to focus their prosecutions - beginning with the four suspects they had indicted in respect of the African embassy bombings (cached) in 1998, the first act of the war declared by the "World Islamic Front"(cached) in February of that year. (Which included Bin Laden, who was obviously recruiting like minded Jihadis to the war he had declared in 1996 (cached))

However, ever since then, that legal construct has been used by the administration and media as a shorthand reference to all militant Islamic terrorism. In so doing, they have provided precisely the credibility the fledgling group needed to be taken seriously by all the other exponents of militant Islam. It is one of many strategic errors made so far by the Americans (unless, of course, you are a devotee of one of the many conspiracy theories, in which case you will not see it as an error, so much as a deliberate policy). The American demonisation has provided what former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once called "the oxygen of publicity". I do not intend to continue that error here. Hence M.I.F.T.

The earliest documented radical Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood (cached) was founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, though it doesn't appear to take up arms until the end of WWII. It gave rise to many of the more militant groups which are active today but has rarely been considered, itself, to be on the extreme fringe, particularly with regard to non Muslims. Indeed it has traditionally been

much softer in its reaction to the enemy without than it was to the 'hypocrites', 'renegades' and 'apostates' who existed within Islam (Tariq Ali - Clash of Fundamentalisms p97)

and, initially at least, even collaborated with the then Imperial rulers of Egypt against the common enemy (the Egyptian Left):

Its apologists still try to cover up for the fact that Hasan al-Banna was in regular contact during this period with Brigadier Clayton of British Military Intelligence (ibid p98)

By contrast there have been many groups who fit the MIFT label since Ayman Al Zawahiri (cached) took up Sayidd Qutb's (cached) call to form an Islamic vanguard to lead the struggle - against the triad of enemies:

Communism - now considered defeated in the Afghan Jihad;
The Enemy Afar - Israel, USA and the West in general;
The Enemy Near - Oppressive Domestic Rulers in the Arab World) -

to return to a purer form of Islam.

In nearly all cases this means the introduction, or re-introduction of Shariah(Islamic Law). The fact that Islamic scholars argue (cached) that Qutb was ill educated in the study of Islam and thus reached dramatically diseased conclusions is of little comfort. (We learn from Irshad Manji's book - p165 - that Qutb groped all the way back to the 14th century (Christian calendar) for the inspiration for his own ideas; From a Damascus intellectual - Ahmed ibn Tammiya. This is not an obvious sign of a healthy vibrant intellectual debate!) It is difficult to judge from the outside but their arguments would appear to be of the nature which produced a wave of Christian schisms in the middle ages. Although these divisions reduced the power, scope and reach of the Catholic Church, they did not reduce the overall spread of religion or its authoritarian practice and principles.

The MIFT groups differ in respect of their precise definitions of "pure" and in respect of what constituted morally acceptable tactics in pursuit of their shared goal.

At the "civilised" end of the scale, we might point to fighters like Abdullah Azzam (cached) who became the leading light of the Arab Muslim contribution to the Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He was considered so respectable that he was allowed to recruit and train in the United States and was, eventually, given huge amounts of help by them to sustain their fight.

In Power of Nightmares (cached) Adam Curtis claims that Azzam issued firm instructions against targeting civilians. This is almost supported by oblique references like:

Unlike Azzam, bin Laden saw al Qaeda as an international force, and had no compunction about targeting enemy non-combatants. (link)(cached)

But that reference itself doesn't provide sources. Nevertheless there are plenty of references to the dispute between Zawahiri's vision and Azzam's - with Azzam wanting to stick to military targets. It is alleged that this split eventually led to Azzam's assassination.

Even today there are Islamic Militants who foreswear attacks on non combatants. Islamic Jammat (War Council) 'Yarmuk' (cached) is one such:

We are Mujahideen! We are Warriors of Allah!

We are not fighting against peaceful civilians, especially against peaceful guests.

We are not fighting against women or children, like Russian invaders are doing in Ichkeria.

We are not blowing up sleeping people, like FSB of the Russian Federation does.

At the other end of the scale is Al Takfir Wal Hijra. Philosophically they have taken Qutb's arguments to their logical extreme. They even attempted to assassinate (cached) Bin Laden. Anyone who doesn't agree with their analysis of Islam (for example by supporting democratic elections) is, by definition, not a true Muslim and can be targeted along with the rest of us. They are so extreme they would be comical (think Judaean Peoples Front - Life of Brian) if the wider adoption of their philosophy wasn't so lethal.

Unfortunately, since the bombing of the American embassies (cached) in Africa, in 1998, the Takfir approach (if not their precise agenda) has been in the ascendant. Most Islamic militants now appear to be adopting their ultra-violent tactics.

While it is still not appropriate to regard MIFT as a single united enemy or entity, it is increasingly true that they are showing signs of adopting common purpose and common strategy.

It is difficult to find an authoritative source for a description of their real aims. While all agree that they want to restore the Caliphate, there is disagreement on whether they want the whole world to be part of the Caliphate, or just the Islamic portion (cached). It is easier to find evidence for the latter. You will find plenty of references to the former like these (all emphasis added):

The Islamists, these dreamers tell us, are not aggressors, but defenders; they seek to kill us, not because of what we are, but because of what we do, namely our imperial acts of interference in the Islamic world. It follows that if we pulled back from all involvement in the Mideast, if we abandoned Israel, if we withdrew our forces from Iraq (and, some argue, from Afghanistan as well), and if President Bush dropped his arrogant program of trying to impose Western-style democracy on the Muslim world, then Osama bin Laden and his followers would stop hating us and all would be well again.

On one hand, this argument has always seemed unpersuasive, given the well-known fact that bin Laden aims at the creation of a global Caliphate and would therefore be waging jihad on us, in one form or another, no matter what we did. (link)(cached)

The Islamists recognize compromise and accommodation as signs of weakness, and speak only of temporary truces in a longer run plan to establish a global Caliphate.(link)(cached)

"To claim that he stood for Muslim liberty was preposterous, wrote Mishari Zaydi, a liberal Islamist columnist in Saudi Arabia, since it was well known that al-Qaeda and its emulators denounce democracy as heresy and seek to replace current Muslim governments with a global caliphate imposing by force its extreme version of the faith." (link)(cached)

but despite being "well known", the only reference I can find which could be taken as implying global domination by Islam is this:

The Party, as well, aims at the correct revival of the Ummah through enlightened thought. It also strives to bring her back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam.

It also aims to bring back the Islamic guidance for mankind and to lead the Ummah into a struggle with Kufr, its systems and its thoughts so that Islam encapsulates the world.

which you can find on the wayback copy of the official web site of Hizb ut-Tahrir.(cached) (as it was when I first found it in 2004 - they've dropped it since. Make of that what you will)[Update Sept 2007 - See my blog re Majiid Nawaz leaving and denouncing the group] I suspect that the authors of the previous references are not even aware of the existence of either the site or the group it represents. Indeed it seems that most webbable muslims aren't aware of them either. They are a fringe group on a par with holocaust deniers in the western culture. There may be others, but if you go looking for references to ambitions to Islamic Global Domination you will find hundreds or thousands of references to these "well known plans" and hardly any sites at all where these plans are admitted or spelt out. (and, generally speaking, where you find an Islamic site stating its world view, they are not reticent!) It is clearly unreasonable, therefore, to tar Islam as a whole with such ambitions as it would be to tar Christianity with holocaust denial

Moreover, although Hizb ut Tahrir would appear to offer the obvious ideological basis for the men of violence in their religion, there is no evidence (to date) either that they advocate violence in pursuit of their ambitions or that those who do advocate violence have adopted their party line. As Dr Robert Crane puts it:

They are less frightening than Osama bin Laden only because they have not yet endorsed violence. No doubt, they have not yet been targeted by the religious right in America because they oppose the Wahhabis, even though the Khilafa movement is made to order for Osama bin Laden and is moving in his direction. (link) (cached)

And if you read bin Laden's declarations he is consistently referring to returning things to the status quo ante - the way the (Islamic) world used to be. For example:

"From here, today we begin the work, talking and discussing the ways of correcting what had happened to the Islamic world in general, and the Land of the two Holy Places in particular. We wish to study the means that we could follow to return the situation to its' normal path and return to the people their own rights" (link) (cached)


from Jihad Unspun (cached)

"if America increases or does not reduce the intensity of their aggression, we will respond in an equal manner"


"(we) will target your economic lifeline until you restrain from your aggression and enmity"

and finally

"Our 'terrorism' is against America and if is a struggle against an oppressor to stop it from committing oppression, from supporting Israel who is killing our children. Don't you understand a simple and clear thing?" (link) (cached)

So, yes, there are a small group of Muslims who profess the ambition for a global Islamic State - but don't appear to advocate violence as a means to achieve it - and there are a separate group of Muslims who essentially want to enforce shariah (cached) within the existing Islamic states. They wish to depose the corrupt rulers of those states and to end external - particularly American - influence or interference within those states.

This has implications for how we meet the challenge of their attack on our lives.

On the one hand, if all they are trying to do is to ensure that we outside Islam do not interfere with how those inside it conduct their affairs, it is conceivable that we might come to some kind of accomodation. Not likely, but conceivable. Essentially, if the people in Islamic countries make it clear that they want to be ruled by a Caliphate, who are we to stop them?

The problem arises if the wider Islamic population does NOT show such inclinations and, indeed, tries to resist totalitarian Takfirism. They may ask for our help. Many of us feel we're obliged to give it. Many of us would want to give it, even if we weren't obliged. And the signs are that the wider Islamic population does indeed NOT want the return to medieval Islam promulgated by Takfirists. Though they still show much greater support for "traditional values" (eg sexual repression and gender inequalities) the support for democracy in particular is stunningly high (pdf)(cached) throughout the Islamic world. Furthermore, as that same survey reveals in quite fascinating detail, "attitudes" are strongly correlated with economic well being. The richer the society the more liberal it tends to be. Islamic countries are almost entirely among the poorest.

So, the Islamic public is unlikely to welcome the MIFT ambitions for their own regions and as soon as we agree to offer our help, then we're in the same position as we would be anyway if the Caliphate ambition is genuinely Global. Bluntly, in either case ("Caliphate Islamic but not wanted" or "Caliphate Global") we are in a fight which will only end if either they (the Takfir type who insist on violence as a means of conversion) or we (the rest of the human race - including most Muslims) are permanently erased.

This is a war unlike any recent war. At some point in all normal wars, either both sides realise they can't beat the other and agree to stop (eg the Iran-Iraq war) or one side recognises that is defeated and surrenders, (Germany WWI &II (portal)(cached)) (alternative source - thanks to Katie Kline 2009), or one side recognises that the enemy has them hopelessly outgunned and that they will lose massive numbers if they continue (Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (cached)).

It is probably true that - had the emperor commanded it - the Japanese fighters would have fought to the last man. But there was enough humanity within the Japanese system to recognise the practical futility and moral perversion of such a course.

No such restraints have yet made themselves evident among the Takfirs. As of now, it is prudent to assume that they will not cease to plan and execute lethal attacks against the rest of the human race until they no longer exist.

Again, as Crane puts it:

The larger challenge to global civilization in the twenty-first century is how does one manage conflict with hate-filled extremists who are immune to all tactics of conflict resolution? (link)(cached)

There are no political changes which we could conceivably agree to which would prevent their continued carnage. For example, even if we were to force Israel back to its 1967 borders and set up a Palestinian State under Takfir style approved Islamic rule, they would continue to organise attacks against Israel, America for supporting Israel and anyone else who got in the way of their attacks against Israel.

They want the complete destruction of the state of Israel. They'd be quite happy to see all Jews eliminated as well. But even that wouldn't mitigate their insane rage. The killing will go on as long as they live and either we're not all pure Muslims living under the Caliphate or we're not allowing them to force Muslim populations to submit to such rule.

As well as unlimited ambition, they acknowledge no limits to the means of achieving their ends. They exhibit the ultimate "end justifies the means" psychology/philosophy.

Crane once more:

More important even than the causes of terrorism is its legitimacy. Do ends justify means without limits? A sign of civilizational rise is when limits are not only recognized but applied, and the sure sign of civilizational collapse is when they are not. This would apply both to terrorism and to terroristic counter-terrorism.

Hence they encourage, for example, the potential martyr to blend in with "modern society" by appearing to be anything other than a devout Muslim. Drinking, womanising, drugtaking and gambling are all condoned in the pursuit of Jihad. They are further reassured that all the "sins" they thus commit will be forgiven as a reward for their eventual heroic martyrdom. If you can be persuaded to believe that kind of explanation, its a pretty damn good deal from their point of view. Take as much Western decadent pleasure as you can eat, then wipe the slate clean with a suicide attack against the hated enemy and go straight to Jannat (Paradise).

The evidence is that growing numbers do indeed believe that kind of explanation. This presents the rest of the world with very limited options.

We can eliminate the source of the threat - with a dual strategy aimed at

  • reducing the terrorists' support base/feedstock by addressing those policies which are most obviously promoting support for Jihad and either changing them or justifying them to the point of achieving consensus - other than among the takfirists. And either:
    • detecting and permanently detaining/disabling the terrorists - or killing them; even if this involves "draining the swamp" (as both Mao Tse Tong and Donald Rumsfeld put it) (cached) and even if it involves wrapping the world in a Global Police State to ensure we know where everyone is at all times and what they are all planning to do. Or - instead of that "Scorched Earth" policy:
    • Develop sophisticated technologies and security protocols which can protect us against any conceivable attacks from any hostile source without sacrificing our own liberty or privacy.

The problem for us libertarians is that while the latter (technological solution) is possible, it will require two or three decades to complete. (Although I am trying to address the problem here) All we could hope to achieve in the first decade is higher detection levels which would offer some benefit but would not form a perfect defence. Of course, the sooner we begin such developments, the sooner they will begin to protect us and, so far, all the technological moves have been in the wrong direction.

The first part of the Scorched Earth policy is currently the only option. Which is why, whether we like it or not, we all have a vested interest in Option 1 - the War on Terror. All we can reasonably hope to do at the moment is hold the barrier against the Police State while this part of the struggle goes on.

This is why we must not abdicate responsibility by delegating the problem to the Americans.

This is categorically NOT George Bush's War on Terror, nor even the American's War on Terror. It belongs to all of us because we're all going to suffer the consequences. This gives us all the right to tell those who have been conducting the war so far why they are getting it so badly wrong and why they should listen to us in deciding what to do from now on.

What is it that they are doing "so badly wrong"?

The analysis above essentially makes it clear that we need to be doing 3 things -

  • reducing support for the terrorist causes
  • detecting and detaining or killing the terrorists and
  • developing technological protection.

All the Americans have done to date is concentrate on number two: killing and capturing. This is doing nothing to reduce support for the cause. In fact their methods are achieving the exact opposite - uniting former enemies (against their common enemy) and promoting the Takfir agenda. As Mary Kaldor puts it in her opening essay (cached) in the "Safe Democracy"(cached) debate being organised by

Nothing more clearly illustrates this than the war in Iraq. The main extremist Islamic cell then before the war was a small marginal group called Ansar al-Islam, based in northern Kurdistan. The invasion of Iraq and subsequent failures of the occupying troops have allowed the allies of al-Qaida to become a visible element of the insurgency, to ally with their former enemies, the Ba'athists, and to spread and gain support. Violence is a recruiting agent and a training ground. In western Europe, some immigrant groups have been radicalised by the failure of their efforts to prevent war and elsewhere, the war has strengthened anti-western feelings.

And no-one is talking, at all, about the technology which can begin to protect us.

The question is, can we reach some measure of consensus on this analysis? That's what Chapter 10 is wrestling with.

©Harry Stottle 2004-6

Last Updated 20 Sept 2006

(added refs to Tariq Ali's "Clash of Fundamentalisms" and Muslim Wakeup)

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Do We Exist?
Meaning, Truth...
How Did We Get Here?
A Theory of Behaviour
Survival,Ethics & Democracy
Part 1- From Neolithic to Neocon

Part 2-Leadership
Abortion and Human Rights
Crime and Punishment
War-Part 1-Morality
War-Part 2-Reasons To Be Fearful
War - On Drugs
The 'Rule of Law'