By AMIR TAHERI
Last updated: 3:24 am
July 1, 2008
NO one should feel safe without submitting to Islam, and those who refuse to submit must pay a high price. The Islam ist movement must aim to turn the world into a series of “wildernesses” where only those under jihadi rule enjoy security.
These are some of the ideas developed by al Qaeda’s chief theoretician, Sheik Abu-Bakar Naji, in his new book “Governance in the Wilderness” (Edarat al-Wahsh).
Middle East analysts think that the book may indicate a major change of strategy by the disparate groups that use al Qaeda as a brand name.
The Saudi police seized copies of the book last week as they arrested 700 alleged terrorists in overnight raids.
Naji’s book, written in pseudo-literary Arabic, is meant as a manifesto for jihad. He divides the jihadi movement into five circles – ranging from Sunni Salafi (traditionalist) Muslims (who, though not personally violent, are prepared to give moral and material support to militants) to Islamist groups with national rather than pan-Islamist agendas (such as the Palestinian Hamas and the Filipino Moro Liberation Front).
All five circles are at an impasse, says Naji. Some accept the status quo while hoping to reform it. Others have tried to set up governments in a world dominated by “infidel” powers, and have been forced to abandon Islamic values. Still others failed because they didn’t realize that the only way to win is through total war in which no one feels safe.
NAJI claims that the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924 marked the start of “the most dangerous phase in history.” Those events put all Arab countries, the heartland of Islam, under domination by the “infidel”- who later continued to rule via native proxies.
In Naji’s eyes, it is impossible to create a proper Islamic state in a single country in a world dominated by “Crusaders.” He cites as example the Taliban – which, although a proper Islamic regime, didn’t survive “infidel” attacks and opposition by Afghan elements.
Instead, he says, the Islamic movement must be global – fighting everywhere, all the time, and on all fronts.
SINCE 9/11, Islamist terror movements have been de bating grand strategy. Osama bin Laden had theorized that the “infidel,” led by the United States, would crumble after a series of spectacular attacks, just as the Meccan “infidel” government did when the Prophet Muhammad launched deadly raids against its trade routes. Yet the 9/11 attacks didn’t lead to an “infidel” retreat. On the contrary, the “Great Satan” hit back hard.
That persuaded some al Qaeda leaders that a new strategy of smaller, slower but steadier attacks was needed. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, has advocated such a strategy since 2003, arguing that the jihad should first target Muslim countries where it has a chance of toppling the incumbent regimes.
Now Naji takes that analysis a step further – suggesting that low-intensity war be extended to anywhere in the world with a significant Muslim presence.
Islamists in the “wilderness” must create parallel societies alongside existing ones, Naji says – but not set up formal governments, which would be subject to economic pressure or military attack.
These parallel societies could resemble “liberated zones” set up by Marxist guerrillas in parts of Latin America in the last century. But they could also exist within cities, under the very noses of the authorities – operating as secret societies with their own rules, values and enforcement.
But they could also take shape in Western countries with large Muslim minorities: The jihadis are to begin by giving areas where Muslims live a distinctly Islamic appearance, by imposing special styles of dress for women and beards for men. Then they start imposing the shariah. In the final phase, they create a parallel system of taxation and law enforcement, effectively taking the areas out of government control.
The “wilderness” will provide the cover for bases for jihad operations. Jihad would be everywhere, rather than in just one or two countries that the “infidel” could hit with superior firepower.
IN a notable departure from past al Qaeda strategy, Naji recommends “countless small operations” that render daily life unbearable, rather than a few spectacular attacks such as 9/11: The “infidel,” leaving his home every morning, should be unsure whether he’ll return in the evening.
Naji recommends kidnappings, the holding of hostages, the use of women and children as human shields, exhibition killings to terrorize the enemy, suicide bombings and countless gestures that make normal life impossible for the “infidel” and Muslim collaborators.
Once parallel societies are established throughout the world, they would exert pressure on non-Muslims to submit. Naji believes that, subjected to constant intimidation and fear of death, most non-Muslims (especially in the West) would submit: “The West has no stomach for a long fight.”
The only Western power still capable of resisting is the United States, he believes. But that, too, will change once President Bush is gone.
NAJI makes it clear that the United States is the chief, if not the exclusive target, of jihad at this time. He mentions Israel only once, as “America’s little female idol.” His only reference to Palestine is in a historical context.
Naji asks jihadis to target oilfields, sea and airports, tourist facilities and especially banking and financial services. He envisages “a very long war,” at the end of which the whole world is brought under the banner of Islam.
He identifies several Muslim countries as promising for establishing “the governance of the wilderness”: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. The implication is that “wilderness” units already exist in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia and Algeria.
Naji’s theory is built on the concept of terror as the main organizing principle of the mini-states he hopes to set up everywhere in preparation for the coming Caliphate. He claims that the Prophet himself practiced the tactic by making his enemies in Medina, where he ran his version of the “wilderness,” pay “the maximum price” for any deviance, and through constant raids on trade caravans belonging to his enemies in Mecca.
IN a simple language, Naji of fers a synthesis of the themes that appeal to different jihadi groups. With anti-imperialist sentiments, missionary dreams, ethnic and class grievances and puritanical obsessions, he mixes a deadly cocktail.
Naji’s message is stark: Western civilization is doomed. Its last bastion, America, lacks the will for a long war. The “infidel” loves life and treats it as an endless feast. Jihadis have to ruin that feast and persuade the “infidel” to abandon this world in exchange for greater rewards in the next.
Amir Taheri’s next book, “The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution,” is due out this fall.