United States Action
9/11 and the Inconvenient Truths about Jihad and Islamism
September 11, 2007
But by ignoring the major strategic issues of fighting Jihad and addressing political Islamism, there are numerous convenient fictions contrary to our national security interests (e.g., denying Jihadist threats, misunderstanding Jihadist's ideological basis, monofocus on tactical and military debates) -- all of which ignore the uncomfortable, inconvenient truths and complexities about global Jihad and political Islamism. In effect, American policy and debate remains focused on tactical issues, without a clear agreement on the enemy, or the strategy to fight the enemy, in the world war.
This unwillingness to face the identity of the enemy is the source of our failures in foreign policy, our failures in national security, and our divisions at home. With an ambiguously defined "war on terror", the US media, politicians, and other citizens can define the war and the enemy with whatever political filter that they choose, and they do. This ambiguity is what empowers the Washington Post and the New York Times to give editorial coverage to Jihadist organization representatives.
In the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and 9/11 Commission report, there is essentially no definition of the enemy as Jihadists that would be meaningful in a war strategy and analysis of a global conflict. Buried in the notes of the 9/11 Commission Report is a definition on "Islamism", as a basis of "Islamist terrorism", but there is no analysis on the link between "Islamism" and "Jihad", nor is there any strategy on how to deal with either. The focus of the 9/11 Commission report, like the "war on terror" is in defining "terrorists" and their "ideology" as the enemy, without an actual definition of the ideology or examination of the impact of that ideology on US national security . The remaining key documents that could be used to fight Jihad, like the FTO and SDN lists, are tactical documents for tactical operations, reflective of where the focus has been in the past 6 years.
The September 7, 2007 Osama Bin Laden tape has been dismissed as "propaganda" by the US government, but there is no reference as what type of "propaganda" it is, or the ideology being represented. This is a week after Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and political leaders spoke at or were exhibitors at the Labor Day weekend ISNA conference, where Islamists were key speakers (and where reportedly DHS had an exhibit next to the Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir group). ISNA is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing trial. This is a month after Pakistan President Musharraf called for the "mainstreaming" of the Taliban organization as an acceptable Islamist political organization; this is the same Taliban organization that supported Al-Qaeda training camps used by the 9/11 attackers.
Yet the Osama Bin Laden September 7 video had a very well-defined propaganda message – of political Islamism - attacking democracy, attacking separation of church and state, and calling for the American people to abandon democracy and to accept Islam. Hizb ut-Tahrir's Islamist organization states that its chief objective is to re-establish the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate) by attempting to force nations to "resume the Islamic way of life and to convey the Islamic Call to the world. Its role is to establish the laws of the Islamic Shari'ah and to carry the call of Islam to the world." Osama Bin Laden is the most sought after man by America, while Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organization in the USA that rubs elbows with the DHS at conventions (and Hizb ut-Tahrir's role in promoting Jihadist activity is ignored). But the inconvenient truth is that when it comes to their views on Islamism – Osama Bin Laden and Hizb ut-Tahrir share the same ideology.
The same day as the Osama Bin Laden September 7 video of Islamist propaganda, the London Times reported on the takeover of half of the UK mosques by the Deobandi sect used to inspire the Taliban; in the September 7 reports the London Times quoted UK imam Riyadh ul Haq as stating "adhering to the fundamentals of Islam… is considered extremism and the struggle against oppression is called terrorism." The next day, the London Times reported on Deobandi scholar Justice Muhammad Taqi Usami's views as being "that Muslims should live peacefully in countries such as Britain, where they have the freedom to practice Islam, only until they gain enough power to engage in battle." UK actually provides an example to America as what not to do in regards to political Islamism, and the lessons learned from UK's failures would be of great value to the US national security strategy… IF there was a US national security strategy that addressed Islamism.
At last week's APEC meeting, President Bush called
for a unified effort against
"violent Islamic extremists". Yet it is very clear that, within the
United States or across the world, there is no consensus as to the
definition of the term "Islamic extremist". Until American leadership,
American politicians, and the American people step back to look at the
strategic issues as to who and why we are fighting, this lack of
national and international consensus will continue to undermine our
A. "The War on Terrorism" Versus a Strategy on Jihad and Islamism
"Terrorism" is an ambiguous definition of the enemy, which allows the politically correct phrase "war on terrorism" that seeks to avoid the difficult dialogue and decisions that America must have about who its enemies are, about its stance on political Islamism, and about Jihad as a global threat. Moreover, stating that "Islamic extremist" groups are the main thrust a "war on terror" is simply not enough. Because the ambiguity over the definition of the phrase "Islamic extremists" itself provides confusion and prevents a coherent strategy. It is essential that America define who it is fighting and why, and face the inconvenient truths about the need for a coherent strategy in fighting Jihad and addressing Islamism.
Since 9/11, America has been great at reacting. In part, this is not surprising since 9/11 itself called for action on the part of America's leadership. Reactions are, by definition, tactical. Reactions are also measurable, and quantifiable. After the 9/11 attacks, I recall a business meeting that I attended where a political leader spoke, indicating that it would be program management professionals who would keep the "war on terror" on track, by ensuring that specific war milestones were effectively defined, measured, and traced. The word "Jihad" was not mentioned, nor was the ideology of "Jihad" discussed. Who and what we are fighting has been an assumption that has not been strategically addressed.
Reactive tactical measures fail to examine the larger issues, and only address immediate areas of pain. After 9/11, the public wanted action to find those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and punish them, thus the war in Afghanistan. Then in 2003, there was stated tactical goal to deny Iraq the potential for weapons of mass destruction, thus the war in Iraq. All of these tactical actions lacked an overarching definition of the global enemy, who we were fighting, why, and a strategy to win the global war. Furthermore, it is this tactical monofocus that allows the self-deception that counterterrorism itself, which is the study of preventing/fighting a singular tactic of political violence, can provide a strategic vision for a world war with a global, transnational ideology.
If we are indeed fighting a global war, then it is time to stop and revisit if our tactical actions are consistent with a national security strategy. Without such a clearly defined strategy, American actions and policies risk being contradictory and counterproductive.
To effectively fight the war, America must define and develop a consensus on the following unresolved issues:
1. America's definition on the identity of the enemy and the ideology of the enemy.
Identifying scattered groups or vague generalizations simply provides open avenues for a continuing lack of consensus on war strategy and a clearly shared identify of the enemy. America needs to define and address the supporting ideology of the enemy and its strategy for fighting that ideology, and show that its tactical military and tactical counterterrorism activities are part of that overall strategy.
America has three key documents it is using in the "war on terror": (1) September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) - that basically identifies those responsible for the 9/11 attacks as the enemy (without actually naming them), (2) U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) Listing - which provides a list of foreign terrorist groups, and (3) U.S. Department of Treasury - Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) which lists groups and persons whose property is blocked. While each of these have provided a valuable function for tactical action, these tactical documents do not supplant an overarching strategy and definition of the "enemy" that can be readily understood, agreed upon, and shared among American institutions and people.
The Congressional mandate for military force in response to the 9/11 attacks, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) states that the "President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." What the AUMF does not do, nor does any other subsequent war declarations do, is clearly identify the enemy "nations, organizations, or persons". Furthermore, advisers to the US military have tried to persuade officials that "Jihad" is not a violent tactic.
The 9/11 Commission report does use the terms "Jihad" and "Islamism", but sparingly. The 567 page 9/11 Commission report only uses the word "Jihad" 79 times (once every 7 pages), and provides no real definition for Jihad other than it is a "holy war" (page 55). The term "Islamism" is used once (page 562). The 9/11 Commission's preferred use in defining the enemy is "terrorist", and on occasion "Islamist terrorist".
The 9/11 Commission report does, however, attempt to define an enemy: "Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on 9/11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe." (page 363)
The reality, of course, is that the enemy is more than simply Al-Qaeda and other random Jihadist terrorist groups, and the enemy is the ideology of Jihad itself which is based on Islamist ideological roots. But this "ideological movement" which is the "enemy" is not addressed by the 9/11 Commission report, except, in a notation to explain its use of the term "Islamist terrorism". It occurred to someone on the Commission that they should define what "Islamism" itself means.
So to explain its term
"Islamist terrorist", the 9/11 Commission attempt to define
"Islamism" in the back of the notes on page 562 (Notes Chapter 12,
This is hardly a clear and meaningful definition of the ideology of a mortal enemy whom we are in engaged in warfare.
The 9/11 Commission does state that "Islamism" is the ideological basis for "Islamist terrorism". What it fails to do is provide a coherent definition of "Islamism". Moreover, the 9/11 Commission provides fodder for those who view Jihadist activities as supported by political grievances by viewing "Islamism" as "a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century".
This leads to the second major unresolved issue by America - a coherent definition and position on political Islamism.
First, Americans need a shared definition of what the term "Islamism" is. In a nation with a founding basis in the "separation of church and state", the concept of "Islamism" itself is both confusing and alien to most Americans.
Wikipedia provides a definition of Islamism as follows: "Islamism is a term used to denote a set of political ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system and its teachings should be preeminent in all facets of society. Islamism holds that Muslims must return to the original teachings and the early models of Islam, particularly by making Islamic law (sharia) the basis for all statutory law of society and by uniting politically, eventually in one state; and that western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influence in the Muslim world is un-Islamic and should be replaced by purely Islamic influences."
In short, Islamism is a form of political theocratic governance, which is not compatible with democracy, and defines that all laws and political values are based on Islamist theocratic viewpoints, as defined in the Islamic Qur'an, Islamic Hadiths, and other Islamic law.
If, as stated in the 9/11 Commission report, "Islamist terrorism is an immediate derivative of Islamism", then what should America's view be regarding Islamist organizations, Islamist politics, and Islamist nations? American political leadership refuses to address this fundamental issue, which is another root issue in defining the enemy in this war.
America must ask why Al-Qaeda and other Jihadists use Islamist political statements as the basis and the rationale for their actions.
The use of Islamist ideology by Jihadists was demonstrated once again, on September 7, 2007, in Osama Bin Laden's latest video, where the essence of Osama Bin Laden's propaganda message was the following series of quotes of Islamist propaganda, demonizing democracy, condemning division of church and state, and demanding that Americans abandon democracy and convert to Islam:
"It has now become clear to you and the entire
world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the
interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and
populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations."
To ignore Islamism as irrelevant to either Jihad or a "war on terrorism" is to ignore the very ideology stated by Jihadists in their war on America. Jihadists seek the same global goal as Islamists in the creation of an Islam-based world with a global caliphate. Jihadists and Islamists in politics are simply using different tactics to achieve the same goal.
Nor is the American refusal to address the ideology of Islamism a new problem. Political Islamist nations such as the Islamic Republic of Iran have been at war with America since 1979. Yet for nearly 30 years, America has been unwilling to define rationale for Islamist Iran's venom against America beyond America's support for Shah and for Israel. Iran's Islamist governance and ideology itself is unanalyzed and unaddressed in terms of how and whether Iran's Islamism represents a threat to the United States itself.
Certainly, when America supported Afghanistan Jihadists in their war against the USSR, we also understood the ideology of Islamism then as well. What America has thus far refused to address, even 6 years after 9/11, is the consequences of deliberately not creating a policy regarding political Islamism. This non-decision continues to make problems and complications for America in fighting Jihad and around the world.
Afghanistan's "democratic reforms" are viewed as one of the successes of American foreign policy in the "war on terror". However, it was the Afghanistan democratically elected Parliament that called for the death of an Afghan man because he dared to change his religious views and leave Islam, a man who had to flee the country for his life. What is America's position on such Islamist laws?
Pakistan has Islamist laws that include blasphemy laws that have resulted in the torture and death of Christians. Nor are these isolated incidents: "Mob and police torture Catholic man accused of blasphemy", "Seven Christians arrested in false blasphemy cases and men tortured to extract false confessions", "Muslims torture for hours Christian "blasphemer" now in jail", "Christian sentenced to death, lawyer threatened", "Pakistan's Christian Community Terrified Amid Calls for Execution".
Increasingly our tactical ally Pakistan (with nuclear weapons) is also facing increasing Islamist violence against other Pakistanis and growing Islamist support in parts of Pakistan. Some Pakistani soldiers (paid by US tax dollars) have been reported as being increasingly unwilling to fight Taliban militants, such as the soldier who told reporters "I did not desert the force because I feared death, but I was not sure whether the fighting in tribal district Waziristan was Islamic or not". And Pakistan media and politicians are increasing embracing Jihad. Moreover, our tactical ally Pakistan's leader President Musharraf views that the Taliban can become a mainstreamed political force in Afghanistan (and possibly in Pakistan). This is the same Taliban ideology whose Jihadist camps trained the 9/11 Jihadists that killed 3,000 Americans. What is America's position on mainstreaming Islamist Taliban and Pakistan's Islamist laws?
We have laws against Jihadist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, but Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for world domination by Islam, is a legal organization in the United States, despite the record of Hizb ut-Tahrir's role in recruiting Jihadists in the UK and around the world. The Hamas and Hezbollah Jihadist groups are registered as terrorist organizations in the U.S. State Department FTO list. Hizb ut-Tahrir is viewed as "merely" an Islamist organization; therefore, their calls for Islamist world domination, are accepted as "free speech". This is regardless of the ideological support that such Islamist views provide to Jihadist terrorists in recruiting Jihadist terrorists to attack U.S. and other democratic interests.
The fact that on September 7, 2007, Osama Bin Laden issues a propaganda video on Islamism, the same day that the London Times issues an expose that Islamist ideology has taken hold at half of UK mosques does not generate questions or debate among analysts or the media. Instead, both are largely ignored, and American leadership does not challenge the Islamist propaganda by Osama Bin Laden.
Instead, the tactical debate on the Iraq War military deployments and concepts as John Edward's tactical recommendations on counterterrorism intelligence and treaty organizations are the topics of debate by analysts and American leadership. Meantime, UK Islamic "scholars" are promoting views that Muslims should live peacefully in countries such as Britain, where they have the freedom to practice Islam, only until they gain enough power to engage in battle. If we are to understand many Islamist organizations' views, their main complaint with Osama Bin Laden would be that he struck too soon.
The larger strategy issue of Islamism is not being addressed – neither as an ideology inspiring Jihad nor as a threat to democracies and democratic values. America needs to take a stand on Islamism and define what is and is not acceptable in terms of Islamist organizations in the United States, its allies, and nations that it will do business with. Is Islamism a threat to the United States or not, as Communism was viewed during the Cold War with the USSR? Is Islamism incompatible with democracy or not? Does addressing Islamism's goals require strategic thinking from an economic, ideological, and demographic role for America's security or not? America cannot continue to sit on the fence on this fundamental war strategy issue, and busy ourselves with debating tactical issues, when the national security strategy itself is yet to be decided.
C. Reasons for Resisting a Clear Definition of the Enemy
America is a nation that is dedicated to civil rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. These freedoms are a fundamental part of our identity as a nation. The 9/11 attacks and the religious component of the Jihadist terrorists who made these attacks presents Americans with a unique problem. America is a nation that vigorously defends freedom of religion and civil rights.
Yet the 9/11 Al-Qaeda Jihadists' actions were rooted in a political Islamist view of the world, which conflates religion and politics into a single ideology. The Jihadists' violent actions of terrorism were a tactic to help achieve their specific political Islamist ideological views, as expressed again by Osama Bin Laden in the September 7 video. But both Islamism and the role of religious ideologies in motivating Jihadists remains a subject that the US has no official position on.
Because such Jihadists' ideology further mentions political grievances against America, some commentators have seized on such political grievances as a rationale for why the 9/11 attacks happened. Such commentators have taken Jihadist political grievances completely out of context by not recognizing the Jihadists' ideology itself as the root cause of the 9/11 attacks.
But to examine political Islamism and its impact on Jihadists is an issue that U.S. leadership is unwilling to address because of our innate respect for freedom of religion, and our desire not to offend law-abiding Muslims. Given that America defends freedom of religion, we are unwilling to recognize any religious component within a totalitarian or enemy ideology. And therefore, the role of political Islamism and America's views on it are unexamined, as is political Islamism's impact on Jihad itself.
It is important to recognize why American leadership is so unwilling to speak frankly about the enemy's identity. This inconvenient truth is something our leadership will not clearly address for fear of offending Islamist Muslims, non-Islamist Muslims, Middle East energy suppliers, and tactical "allies" associated with specific military campaigns. Having gone far down the tight-rope walk of fighting an ambiguously defined "war on terror", American leadership is unwilling now to take a stand that would upset the delicate balance of tactical military allies and carefully crafted wording that would require difficult decisions and dialogue. If the unwillingness to define the enemy causes conflicts in strategy, those are just papered-over or ignored as much as possible, so that no one is offended or upset.
Yet the convenient fiction of "terrorism" as the enemy continually smacks against the inconvenient truth that war will (by definition) anger and upset many. There is no such thing as a politically correct war that will cause no offense... not one that any nation will win, for certain. In any democracy, it makes best sense to anger your enemies, and make peace with your own people who you are asking to fight for you. This requires that America define who it is fighting and why, so that we can agree as a nation on the long term war strategy.
In June, AP reported on a GAO report where tactical problems have also been uncovered between U.S. agencies cooperating or communicating during overseas missions. The GAO report in its analysis of specific tactical challenges misses is the big picture - the lack of the overall strategy and definition of the enemy itself in the "war on terror". How can American government have clear tactical operations, when it can not even agree on the definition of the enemy, on the definition of Jihad itself?
Last month, Pakistan President Musharraf called for the political mainstreaming of the Taliban into Afghanistan politics. And the U.S. leadership applauded Musharraf's statementship. This is the same Taliban whose ideology was used by Jihadists in terrorist camps in Afghanistan to kill 3,000 Americans 6 years ago today.
A week ago, DHS Secretary Chertoff used the example of the German Jihadists' foiled attack to prove that there remains a terrorist threat. A few days earlier a representative of the DHS was scheduled to be at a conference of ISNA, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) terrorist financing trial, where the conference had speakers that previously shown support for both Islamism and Jihadist groups It was reported that the DHS booth was near the Hizb ut-Tahrir booth at the ISNA conference.
At last year's ISNA conference, Muslims for a Safe America organization took a poll of ISNA conference attendees: 1/6th of the ISNA conference attendees favored violence against the US government, a majority felt that Muslims were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, a majority felt that US govt knew of the 9/11 attacks in advance and allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen, and a majority felt that Osama Bin Laden's tapes about 9/11 were fake.
Today, in America, the monofocus remains solely on the Iraq war, completing ignoring the rest of the Jihadist and Islamist activity in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States. As has been previously shown, the majority of the American public gets minimal reporting on the other Jihadist activities from the mainstream media, and especially from the broadcast media.
Regarding the Iraq war, one debate is over whether it was tactically sound to achieve its tactical objectives, and the other debate is over tactical troop deployments. Debate on the strategic role of the Iraq war in the overall strategy of a "war of terror" goes no further than the tactical debate over whether or not Iraq had WMDs, and the tactical debate over whether the U.S. had a sufficient tactical plan after defeating the Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army. These tactical debates completely miss the strategic issue on fighting Jihad itself.
Instead of recognizing the debate on the Iraq war in America's national security strategy as part of the larger problem in the failure to define a strategy in fighting Jihad and identifying Jihad as a global enemy, political polarization over the tactical issues monopolizes the discussion. The inconvenient truth remains, however, whatever the outcome in Iraq, Jihadists will still be at war with the United States.
Jihadist failure in Iraq is not enough, and the military battles against Jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan alone are not a global war strategy.
Jihadists are not merely battling for Iraq, but are fighting for the entire world.
"The Solution" as described in Osama Bin Laden's September 7 video is for the world to reject democracy and to convert to political Islamism. That is an inherent part of their political Islamist ideology, which the US still has no policy to address.
Until America develops a coherent strategy for fighting global Jihad and addressing political Islamism, we will not be prepared to fight that longer, larger war declared on America, regardless of our successes or failures in Iraq.
Sources and Related Articles:
Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad - Dr. Walid Phares