Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was an itinerant preacher in what would later become Saudi Arabia, whose main notion was that everyone had left true Islam. He decided to preach and try to get them to return to true Islam. When people did not listen to him, he said he had the right to declare a violent jihad against them. Al-Wahhab would go on to found Wahhabism, the sect of Islam that holds sway not only throughout much of the Arabian Peninsula but in many other places in the world as well. The only part of the Saudi version of Wahhabism that has changed from its founders’ teachings is that it no longer calls for violence against wayward Muslims— they just use preaching to convince Muslims to join their version of Islam. And it is this part that the global jihadis disagreed with. They would use violence.

Hasan al-Banna (1906-49) grew up in Egypt when it was occupied by the British–he too believed that the entire Islamic world had fallen away from true Islam. But feeling that the community had been led astray by the occupying British, with their wily control of Egypt’s educational system, he would change this reality by preaching, not violence. To do this, he created the Muslim Brotherhood to reach out to Muslims through social work and preaching. But the Muslim Brotherhood also had a secret armed section that prepared for jihad against the occupiers. As it happened, the British gave up power peacefully, putting in place a Muslim Egyptian king. Al-Banna, however, saw this king as nothing but a puppet, used by the occupiers to maintain their ideological control over Islam. He turned to violence against this “agent ruler,” who finally assassinated him, but not before his movement had caught on. Off and on throughout the 1950s-60s, Gamel Abdul Nasser and others suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood militants. Most of those who remained gave up on violence and/or fled to countries like Syria, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia, but a remaining hard core continued its mission.

Sayyid Qutb, one of al-Banna’s most famous disciples, wrote a 30-volume commentary on the Quran, later condensed to a short manifesto called Milestones Along the Way , in which he added a twist to the ideas of al-Wahhab and al-Banna. He agreed that the entire Islamic world had left true Islam, and that he and his co-believers were the only ones who understood Islam. But he felt the target of the struggle should be the U.S. and Britain, whose notions of democracy directly contradicted his definition of tawhid. Qutb was among those executed in one of Nasser’s crackdowns, but his brother Mohammed Qutb fled to Saudi Arabia and became a university teacher; among his pupils was Osama bin Laden.

For the few thousand global jihadis today, this appears to be authentic Islam. Especially for young men who feel alienated in Europe or in large cities like Cairo or Istanbul, the attraction of authenticity cannot be overstated. They believe that they are sacrificing their lives for the good of the community while avoiding hell. They are taking a stand against evil societies, many of which in fact are corrupt—they indeed face governments that are not responsive to their needs and economies that are not producing jobs. Finally, there is an appeal for revenge and retribution for such things as Abu Ghraib and purported American rapes of Muslim women. Considering how strong some of these appeals are, it should be reassuring to us that only a few thousand people have answered this call.

Al Qaeda is still continuing its war. They have convinced the diverse groups involved in local jihads on various levels—in North Africa, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia—that they have failed in their struggles, and gotten the remaining believers to join with them. There are now far more people involved in Al Qaeda than there were before 9/11, but only because the number of jihadis in general has shrunk considerably. Their post-9/11 strategies include information operations (exploiting the media), using oil as a weapon, and guerrilla warfare.

The global jihadis see this as a two-hundred year war.

Crime: A crime was committed on 9/11. A group of criminals decided to murder Americans. This pinpoints al Qaeda as the main problem, not blaming the entire Islamic world; but it refuses to recognize the deeper roots and global nature of the conflict.

Global Insurgency: Our military sees the conflict as a global insurgency. This provides a global vision that gives us strategies for fighting the war, but downplays the role of nations.

Islamic Reformation: The Islamic Reformation model suggests that it is not about us at all; it emphasizes the role of religion, culture, and history and downplays the economic/social issues, leaving us without a model for the war.

World War IV: Finally, there is the Long War or World War IV model. This emphasizes nation-states and the lengthy nature of the global conflict.

A comparative approach to what happened between 1918 and 1924 when Comintern in Moscow started a global revolution for world domination could be useful.

Already in 1918 the Russian communists concluded a “secret” treaty with German communist Karl Liebknecht stipulating that a Russian army was to march on Berlin in support of a communist uprising in Berlin. If the revolution was victorious, Liebknecht promised to raise a German Red Army of 500,000.

In March, 1919, the Soviets possibly concluded a similar treaty with Hungarian communist Bela Kun and started preparations for a revolutionary offensive against the Entente, and particularly against Poland and Rumania. The Red Army started marching through Ukraine toward Ruthenia but the regime of Kun collapsed and further operations became impractical.

Source: P.Milyukov, La politique extérieure des Soviets, Paris 1937.

One of the most violent Soviet military theoreticians was Mikhail N. Tukachevsky. The Soviets, he wrote, would have to consider war:

“The Communist International must prepare the proletariat for the forthcoming [international] civil war from the military point of view. It must make the proletariat ready for the moment when the world offensive by all armed proletarian forces will take place against armed world capitalism.”
It would not come as a surprise. The Comintern would be a general staff and work out the military problems of socialist war.
Tukachevsky had practical command experience. He led the Red Army in a rapid advance on Warsaw 1920. He then devised a strategy for encircling Warsaw and reach the borders of Lithuania and Germany to stimulate revolutionary movements in central Europe.

Source: M.N. Tuchachevsky, Voina klassov, stat’i 1919-1921, Moscow 1921.

Another leading Soviet military theorist was Mikhail Frunze. He advised the Soviet Union to strengthen itself industrially. It was important to organize communist movements abroad. Thirdly the Red Army must be brought to high efficiency and attain maximum strength. Once the conditions were right offensive revolutionary war had to be waged by the Red Army allied with the foreign proletariat. “The proletariat can and will attack. With it, as its main army, will march the Red Army”.

Source: M.V. Frunze, Yedinaya voyennaya doktrina i krasnaya armiya, Moskva 1921, reprint 1941.

Soviet policy, at least after 1945, was still that of seeking global domination. The union for violent revolution lasted less than 100 years. Can Islamist fight to control the world last 200 years?

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