Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Know Thy Enemy

Disdain for the enemy because he doesn’t fight by our methods or according to our military traditions is an MO for disaster. And yet, failure to understand fully the ramifications of the asymmetric, fourth generation, and irregular warfare that is now the norm in the war against radical Islam unfortunately is all too common among our academics, policymakers, and war fighters alike. Denial that today’s Islamist jihadi warrior is a proper ’soldier’ by Western definitions is an exercise in cultural arrogance that accomplishes little beyond exposing a myopic vulnerability that an agile, adaptive, and aggressive enemy will and does exploit.
At the early September 2007 counter terrorism conference held at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark called for terrorists to be classified and prosecuted as criminals, arguing that they do not deserve the title of ‘warriors’. While it is understandable that a much-decorated professional soldier such as Gen. Clark would find it distasteful to acknowledge that a fanatic Salafist suicide bomber shares anything with him, much less the honorable status of ‘warrior,’ treating an enemy determined to destroy us as a mere transgressor of societal rules amounts to willful ignorance of the magnitude of the assault that has been mounted against us.
We underestimate the Islamist Salafist warrior at our peril. History is littered with the remnants of civilizations and empires that have come to grief when they proved incapable of recognizing and adapting to meet the challenge of asymmetric tactics launched against them by fighters dismissed as mere barbarians, colonialists, or tribals.
Today’s Islamist jihadi perceives himself in the proud heritage of Muhammad’s early warriors, fighting in the way of Allay to spread the sacred word of God on earth. That their traditions allow for slaughter of what we view as ‘innocent civilians,’ suicide operations, or the deployment of fighters who wear no uniform and pledge allegiance to an Islamic emir instead of a national army is irrelevant to the deadly threat their ranks pose to liberal democratic society.
Were the radical Islamist threat merely some criminal gang of narcotraffickers or smugglers, or even the anarchists of our day, there would be every justification for dealing with it as a law enforcement problem. The Islamist rennovatio that began in the 20th century, however, is merely the latest iteration of an ideologically complex and committed campaign against Western civilization that has lasted 14 centuries. It is a mature, systematic, and lethal alternative to civil society, liberal democracy, and rule of law, as we know them.
The noble image of the Muslim warrior is grounded in centuries of martial tradition, infused through and through with eschatological belief and images. That tradition has its origins with the nomadic Bedouin of the Arabian desert, whose perennial mounted raids against the merchants’ camel caravans, under the banner of the Prophet, suddenly became divinely sanctioned campaigns that promised Paradise and immortality to the fallen. Muslim jurists and philosophers over the ages developed a theological concept of ‘holy war’ (jihad) as deeply reasoned and circumscribed by legalities as ever was Aquinas’ more familiar theory of ‘just war.’
This is by no means to say that every rag-tag street fighter recruited by Al-Qa’eda in Iraq follows the warrior creed of Muhammad’s early legions. Nor can mass slaughter of Muslim civilians, video-produced beheadings, or any of the other atrocities made all-too-common by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi be considered genuine ‘jihad’. But it is to say that Western liberal democracy faces an enemy whose tactics, however unfamiliar or unconventional by our standards, are calculated to exploit our weaknesses-the definition of asymmetric warfare. Those tactics have proven effective in at least a limited context: Hizballah suicide bombings against U.S. targets in Beirut accomplished a pull-out of U.S. forces from Lebanon; Iranian hostage-taking elicited sales of American missiles intended to win their release; and the 11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings succeeded in swinging the presidential elections of Spain and ensured that country’s subsequent withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. On a more insidious level, the aggressive demands of an expanding and increasingly radical Muslim population in Europe have won cultural and legal concessions unthinkable a decade or two ago.
Let us not underestimate the Islamist jihadi enemy. Linguistic sophistry does not change his determination, enmity, or skill in achieving his objectives. Nor will belittling his very real offensive prowess and skills compensate for a failure to understand his culture, history, and religion. A criminal is a willing member of society who transgresses against its lawful regulations for his own personal gain; arrest, indictment, prosecution, and punishment are appropriate measures to deal with criminals.
An Islamist jihadi is an ideologically motivated warrior who rejects our entire concept of society and commits his life to its destruction because he believes that his deity orders him to do so. The proper response to a declaration of war is mobilization of the totality of society’s resources to fight back. Only with an informed acknowledgement of the enemy’s strengths as well as weaknesses can we hope to prevail in the war against the Islamist jihad.

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