Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad

Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad
By Walid Phares

In the years that followed 9/11, two phenomena characterized the Western public's understanding of the terrorists' ideology. The first characteristic stemmed from the statements made by the jihadists themselves. More than ever, Islamist militants and jihadi cadres didn't waste any opportunity to declare, clarify, explain, and detail the meaning of their aqida (doctrine) and their intentions to apply Jihadism by all means possible. Unfortunately for them, though, those extremely violent means changed the international public opinion: the public now was convinced that there was an ideology of Jihadism, and that its adherents meant business worldwide.

From Ayman al Zawahiri in Arabic to Azzam al Amriki in American English, via all of the videotapes made by "martyrs" in Britain, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the public obtained all the evidence necessary. Against all the faulty academic literature of the 1990's, the statements by the jihadists themselves were very convincing.

The second phenomenon of help to the public was the surfacing of a new literature produced by alternative scholars, analysts, journalists, experts, and researchers who, from different backgrounds and countries, filled in some of the gaps is "jihadi studies." Producing books, articles, and blogs from Europe, India, the Middle East, and North America, a combination of Third World-born and Western-issued scholarship began to provide the "missing link" as to what Jihadism is all about. These factors came together to shift the debate from "Jihad is spiritual yoga" to "Why didn't we know it was something else as well?" And this triggered in response one of the last attempts to prevent jihad from being understood.

In the 1990's, apologist literature attempted to convince readers and audiences in the West that jihad was a "spiritual experience only, and not a menace." [1] That explanation has now been shattered by Bin Laden and Ahmedinijad. So in the post-9/11 age, a second strategy to delay public understanding of Jihadism and thereby gain time for its adherents to achieve their goals has evolved. It might be called the "good cop, bad cop" strategy. Over the past few years, a new story began to make inroads in Washington and the rest of the national defense apparatus. A group of academics and interest groups are circulating the idea that in reality jihad can develop in two forms: good jihad and bad jihad.

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The practice of not using "Jihad" and "Jihadism" was lately defended by two academics at the National Defense University [2] who based their arguments on a study published by a Washington lobbyist, Jim Guirard.[3] On June 22, 2006, Jim Garamone, writing for the American Forces Press Service, published the study of Douglas Streusand and Harry Tunnel under the title "Loosly Interpreted Arabic terms can promote enemy ideology." Streusand told CNN that "Jihad is a term of great and positive import in Islam. It is commonly defined as striving or struggle, and can mean an internal or external struggle for faith." [4]

The article was posted under the title "Cultural Ignorance Leads to Misuse of Islamic Terms" by the US-based Islamist organization CAIR. [5] Since then the "concept" of deflecting attention away from the study of Jihadism has penetrated large segments of the defense newsletters and is omnipresent in Academia. More troubling though, is the fact that scholars who have seen the strategic threat of al Qaeda and Hezbollah have unfortunately fallen for the fallacy of the Hiraba. Professor Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics in Washington wrote recently that "Jihad has been hijacked" as he bases his argument on Jim Guirard's lobbying pieces.[6] Satisfied with this trend taking root in the Defense intelligentsia of America, Islamist intellectuals and activists are hurrying to support this new tactic.

The good holy war is when the right religious and political authorities declare it against the correct enemy and at the right time. The bad jihad, called also Hiraba, is the wrong war, declared by bad (and irresponsible) people against the wrong enemy (for the moment), and without an appropriate authorization by the "real" Muslim leadership. According to this thesis, those Muslims who wage a Hiraba, a wrong war, are called Mufsidoon, from the Arabic word for "spoilers." The advocates of this ruse recommend that the United States and its allies stop calling the jihadists by that name and identifying the concept of Jihadism as the problem. In short, they argue that "jihad is good, but the Mufsidoon, the bad guys and the terrorists, spoiled the original legitimate sense."[7]

Comments

SocietyVs said…
"jihad is good"

Not for those dying under it's cruel tactics - and one could even include countries as their targets - namely Israel. I think the very idea of 'jihad' is outdated and needs to be taken out of the religious mind and left in the political hands to protect their lands...it's so weird that this is an actual teaching in mosques worldwide - violence can be 'approved' for the right 'cause' (idea)...this is easily abused.
Abu Daoud said…
Actually the idea that violence is in general BAD is not found in the ME according to my experience. That idea is quite Western, and recent at that. --I mean the presupposition that violence is bad.

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