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It’s Time to Call Evildoers Evil

by Sam Holliday

In the current war of Islamic extremists against the West, communication superiority is a prerequisite for success, this essay argues, and the Islamists have seized the verbal high ground. However, the author believes, we currently have an exceptional opportunity to regain the rhetorical initiative and improve our performance in the global struggle for hearts and minds. —Ed .

The apparent renunciation of terrorism by the person who provided the rationale for the global Muslim revivalist movement presents an opportunity for the United States to improve its performance in strategic communication.

In Foundations of Preparation for Jihad, Sayid Imam al-Sharif prescribed a Third Jihad for the Islamization of the world. Al-Sharif founded the Egyptian Islamic Jihad; his supporters assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and he was with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviet Union. He is a medical doctor and was an associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, another Egyptian doctor, who is now Osama Bin Laden’s deputy. Al-Sharif was captured after 9/11 and has been in an Egyptian jail since 2004.

There have been several reports that Al-Sharif will soon publish a book in which he states that the use of terror, and the killing of innocent nonbelievers, in the name of Jihad violate the Qur’an. On July 27, 2007, the Guardian (London) reported him as citing the injunction: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits; for God loveth not transgressors. Qur’an 2:190” In other words, he now condemns the violence that has been an integral part of all three Jihads. This would mean a modification in how to achieve the Great Caliphate.

A caliphate, which combines religious and political authority, is the only form of governance approved by traditional Islamic theology. There have been caliphates in the Middle East since the seventh century. The Great Caliphate is a goal; it would replace all secular governments from Morocco to Indonesia with a single caliphate that would then be able to convert the rest of the world to Islam. This was Al-Sharif’s original vision that has had a major influence on the global Muslim revivalist movement—an effort to achieve Islamic conquest through violence known to its partisans as the Third Jihad.

It has been reported that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s deputy in Al Qaeda, is very unhappy with Al-Sharif’s recantation since it might cause many others to question their basic ideas about the Third Jihad. Also it has been reported that hundreds of other former Islamic militants now imprisoned are prepared to join Al-Sharif in renouncing the use of violence to spread their beliefs and are ready to accept the free flow of religious ideas.

It is too early to know what impact Al-Sharif’s book will have. Yet it is not too early to consider how this renunciation of terror might be used to improve our strategic communication. Our enemies have called their cause Jihad (holy war), and their assassins “mujahiddin” (holy warriors), or Servants of Allah, or “martyrs.” All of these have positive emotional and religious connotations. And all too often, these are the words that the politically correct—and faint of heart—in Europe and America have also used. U.S. officials have refrained from using words with Islamic religious implications that might somehow offend Muslims in general as well as the politically correct in Europe and America. This usage is both inaccurate and dangerous. The leaders of the Third Jihad have exploited this weakness to their advantage.

Our leaders need to make changes in order to capitalize on al-Sharif’s new views, since they can potentially take away the protection of the Qur’an from those who use terror. By accurately stating that we are fighting against evildoers—not holy warriors, we can remove some of the communication advantage that the leaders of the Third Jihad have enjoyed. We must reach out and hold our people, our enemies, and people around the world.

Today the leaders of Islamic militants throughout the world, regardless of their organizational or sectarian affiliation, consider their violent efforts part of the Third Jihad. It is an aggressive revivalist movement that is accepted, respected and supported by peaceful and naïve Muslims. Of course, most of the terrorists that are the foot soldiers of the movement have no such historical perspective, although they share common beliefs. They are in numerous organizations of many sizes and with various tactical agenda. They are motivated by feelings of envy, frustration, greed, prejudice and hatred that are the result of manipulation by the leaders.

After Muhammad’s death in the seventh century, the First Jihad spread under the caliphs (vice regents) west from Medina across North Africa and then into Spain, France and Italy, and east across the Middle East deep into Southwest Asia. Then Islam consolidated its control of the lands conquered. The First Jihad ended in 1492 when Islam was driven out of Spain. The Second Jihad started with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman Turks then implanted Islam in the Balkans and established hegemony over lands from North Africa to India. The Second Jihad was stopped in 1682 with the second unsuccessful attempt to capture Vienna; it was held in check during the Modern Era (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) by European power, and ended in 1924. In 1979 the Third Jihad started with the Shah of Iran being overthrown by Shiite followers of Ayatollah Khomeini. It was given focus in February 1998 with a Sunni fatwa, which declared war on America and its allies. For its leaders, the Third Jihad is just another effort to spread Islam until everyone is governed by “the ways of the Prophet”—and to take down the Great Satan. For the foot soldiers, it is a way to express their feelings. In all three Jihads violence has been an accepted way to eliminate, or convert, non-believers (infidels).

The goal of the Third Jihad is to weaken all of those who oppose the establishment of a single caliphate from Morocco to Indonesia, and to remove the influence of Western Civilization from the Islamic world. This goal of cultural takeover was al-Sharif’s original message. However, many Muslims oppose the Third Jihad and its goal; indeed Muslims are its most numerous victims. Yet they will condemn only “terrorism” but not the goal of a Great Caliphate.

Many Americans and Europeans either do not understand or deny the threat of the Third Jihad, claiming that Islamic terror is caused by our actions in Islamic countries. They stress the differences between Shiites and Sunnis. They often speak of Islamophobia – a term invented to shut down legitimate and vital debate about the threat of the Third Jihad – and narrow their focus to the personal, inner, nonviolent Jihad al Akbar. They are weary, and want to enjoy the good life without effort or worry.

It is clear why our enemies would call their movement a holy war—Jihad. But this puts a positive spin on something that under international law is considered aggression, and for the past 300 years has often been called imperialism.

Therefore, we need to distinguish those who advocate Islamic conquest through violence, i.e. the Third Jihad, from those who merely use Islam for spiritual guidance to improve their personal behavior. Some Islamic scholars consider it impossible to make such a distinction since both a “defensive” Jihad (to regain territory that was once part of a caliphate) and an “offensive” Jihad (to conquer new territory) sanction warfare without limits. They can cite Muhammad himself on this. They point to the refusal of “moderate” Muslims to condemn, and work against, the global Muslim revivalist movement. However, the words Hirabah (unholy warfare) and hirabahists (evildoers who use terror and will incur Allah’s condemnation on Judgment Day) allow this distinction to be made.

It is necessary for most Muslims to be convinced that this distinction can be made in accordance with authentic Qur’anic Islam. The conversion of al-Sharif allows this distinction to be better communicated to all Muslims. The struggle over whether such a distinction can be made illustrates why communications is the center of gravity in irregular warfare—the oldest form of conflict among humans: insurgents using any means available to them to weaken those in authority. The current Muslim revivalist movement has simply changed the battlefield—the result of changes in transportation and communication. Formerly waged within a specific group or in the territory of a single state, we must now face worldwide irregular warfare. This conflict will be won or lost in this new battlefield.

It is long overdue for U.S. officials to use Hirabah (unholy warfare) rather than Jihad (holy war) and use hirabahists rather than jihadists, terrorists, or Islamists. This usage will be understood by, and have meaning for, those who speaks Arabic. There is no way we can prevent our enemy from calling their movement the Third Jihad. But we can attempt to discredit aggressive, unholy warfare using terror being justified by the Qur’an. Also we should refer to Warfare against Hirabahists rather than War on Terror or GWOT (Global War on Terror). To date, our leaders and the foreign policy establishment have not been receptive to this usage. Let us hope that this will now change.

However, the changes needed are not primarily in semantics. They are primarily contextual: how the leaders and people of America and Europe view irregular warfare and what changes they are prepared to make to become more effective in this form of conflict.

We need to condemn in religious terms, rather than in Western secular terms, those whom many in the West called terrorists and those who give them aid and support. No longer should we adopt the language of those falsely claiming they are fighting a Jihad for Islam. Hirabahists is the correct term for those who bombed the transportation system in London on 7/7, those who did the same in Madrid on 11/11, those using car bombs in Iraq, those who killed over 3,000 Americans on 9/11, and like-minded killers around the world who are active participants in the Third Jihad or give aid and support to the hirabahists. If used effectively the apparent renunciation of terrorism by al-Sharif can facilitate such a change.

We must recognize that al-Sharif’s newly stated views do not reflect a total conversion, a renunciation of Islam. Yet they are significant and no doubt genuine. He surely remains a dedicated Muslim, opposes the introduction of Western Civilization into Islamic countries, and would like to have all Jews and Christians convert to Islam. His “conversion” is probably more a pragmatic change rather than a revelation. After all, his main concern is that hirabahists are killing fellow Muslims declared non-believers. He no doubt has noted that such killings are opposed by most Muslims, and thinks it a wise tactical move to focus on the removal of all non-believers from Muslim countries, rather than on the use of terror. Yet, in strategic communication we can make good use of this apparent renunciation of terrorism. He is undermining the theological basis of an integral part of all three Jihads: violence against non-believers by true believers.

We need to encourage all Islamic clerics to issue fatwas (religious edicts) that condemn anyone that uses terror against nonbelievers as an “apostate,” or “kafir” (infidel), to authentic Qur’anic Islam. In their condemnation, the Islamic clerics must state that:

1. Faithful and peaceful Muslims must never support the criminality of those who use terror against nonbelievers since it violates the teaching of authentic Islam.
2. The ongoing attacks on Europe and the United States are not an authentic Jihad (holy war), but a Hirabah (unholy warfare)—which in secular terms is called a “crime against humanity.”

Islamic clerics who will not issue such a fatwa, and “Islamic moderates” who will not state the same, would themselves be considered hirabahists.

Rather than using politically correct words, U.S. officials should be willing to use accurate words—that have meaning for our enemies—when talking about our enemies. There is an emotional, spiritual, religious component to this conflict. They should readily charge that the use of terror in the name of Islam is playing God “in the name of Allah.” Anyone who believes in Western Civilization should consider those who use terror as Servants of Satan, and refer to them as hirabahists engaged in crimes against humanity in violation of authentic Qur’anic Islam. We need to remember that Western Civilization was born in Christianity. Europe was called Christendom for centuries, and during these centuries there was conflict between the Crescent and the Cross. If Christianity is abandoned can the Third Jihad be defeated in today’s world?

The leaders of the Third Jihad will surely condemn al-Sharif. Such condemnation presents an opportunity for U.S. officials to capture the initiative and achieve success by making the distinction between hirabahists and devout Muslims who oppose violence. Apologists will claim that al-Sharif has been tortured into making these statements. But this must be refuted by proof that his change of heart is the result of reflection and debate among those who believe deeply in the authentic Qur’an.

Also we should benefit from knowledge of the process that produced al-Sharif’s apparent renunciation of terrorism—the Egyptian government’s “counter radicalization program.” Al-Sharif and other prisoners have been allowed to meet and discuss religious matters with Muslim clerics who oppose the use of terror in the name of Islam. This program has not converted them into pacifists, Christians, or Jews but into reasonable human beings who want to live without violence in a stable society with more than one set of beliefs.

Communication superiority is a prerequisite for success in irregular warfare, just as air superiority is a prerequisite for victory in conventional war. Although we do not know the depth of Al-Sharif’s “conversion,” his view that the Qur’an prohibits terror has given us the opportunity to improve our performance in strategic communication for the hearts and minds of our own people, of our enemies, and of people around the world. Let us hope that our leaders have the wisdom to seize this opportunity.

Copyright © 2007 Armiger Cromwell Center, 3750 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite 374, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322 Permission is granted to download this essay, or to forward it to friends or colleagues, on a fair use basis. For reprint permission contact Armiger Cromwell Center.

Sam C. Holliday is a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, a former director of Stability Studies at the Army War College, and a retired army colonel. He earned a master’s in public affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in international relations from the University of South Carolina.


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