Monday, 1 December 2008

Governance in the Wilderness

At a time when a colleague of mine is still waiting to hear whether a friend of his has survived the Bombay Massacre (and the signs don't look good I'm afraid), it is timely to consider why it happened.

From the New York Post :
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).
Since 9/11, Islamist terror movements have been debating 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.
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."
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.
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.
Ok, so how do we counter this kind of thing? How have we countered it historically?

You see it's nothing new. During the Cold War, such tactics were used to a greater or lesser extent by groups as disparate as the "Rot Armee Fraktion" in Germany, the "Brigatte Rosse" in Italy, the "Sonoro Luminoso" in Peru, the Nihon Sekigun in Japan, and even the various IRA's, "provisional", "real", "Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann" and so on.

It's not much of a stretch to include the Barbary Corsairs, and even the Vikings in one sense: although these were commercial ventures for loot rather than in support of an ideology, terror for plunder, no terror for its own sake, defence against such attacks was equally difficult.

The problem with this philosophy of warfare is that it doesn't work - it contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. As long as the attacks are relative pinpricks, a bloody nuisance (emphasis on the "bloody"), they do not threaten the survival of the state. They threaten civil liberties, requiring greater and greater restrictions on public life to keep them to a manageable level, but as long as the casualty list is an order of magnitude less than the annual road-toll, the brutal facts are that they can and will be largely ignored.

Should they escalate to an unacceptable level though, the reaction is not going to be to capitulate. First will come a greater and greater imposition on the public, more and more restrictions, until finally, when the choice is to become Medievally Islamic or just plain Medieval, the basic barbarianism that was covered by the relatively thin veneer of Western Civilisation will emerge.

All one has to do is study the Thirty Years War to see just what ruthlessness "westerners" are capable of. It is within living memory that Admiral Halsey spoke the words
Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will only be spoken in hell.
And what is more, and what is often forgotten in these more politically correct and civilised times, he meant them, and a lot of Americans agreed with him.

There is a fundamental (not to say Fundamentalist) misunderstanding of the Western Psyche at work here. The Nazis made the same mistake, labelling the "Decadent West" as being too soft to survive the ruthless dog-eat-dog of Fanatical National Socialism. But it wasn't long before the "Decadent West" had been reduced to incinerating schoolgirls in the firestorms of Rostock, Dresden, the great metropolis of Hamburg, and numerous smaller pyres of the innocent and the guilty, mixed together because it was impossible with the weapons of the time to sort them out.

You see, it's not because "we" are saints, incapable of great evil, that we do our damnedest to reduce civilian casualties to a minimum. It's not because we're hedonists either, interested only in the comforts of civilisation. It's because we know that we're capable of enormities beyond their imagination. We hold ourselves in check, continue to take our meds, lest the Berserker Crusader be unleashed.

We rode out the Cold War, which lasted at least 40 years, and could even be said to have lasted since the Paris Commune. Civilian populations in London, in Leningrad, and in Lubeck too endured far worse than mere pinpricks, and their resistance grew stronger with adversity, not weaker.

So what do we do? We endure. Because the alternative is to cry "Havoc!" and let loose the dogs of war. And in the meantime, covert and shadowy units arrange "accidents", and we encourage through appeals to man's baser instincts the treachery that is often such "urban guerillas" downfall. Look carefully on page 23 of the paper, and you'll see the traces of that continuing struggle in pithy one-liners.

How long for? Well, maybe if the Sheikh had read of this little contretemps he might have come to a different conclusion about the ability of Western Civilisation to endure lengthy periods of hostilities. Should it go much longer though, I'm afraid that the evils of "ethnic cleansing" may be deemed "acceptable". And the majority of Muslims who just want to be left in peace will find themselves in a parlous situation, with fanatics on all sides. What is more, as technology advances over the next century, it could be that becoming a Jihadi will result in more-or-less instant termination, be it by airborne laser, or miniature assassin-robots, no bigger than moths. Their target discrimination capabilities won't be perfect, and may not even be very good, but that may not matter too much by then.

Or if things get too extreme... It was Tacitus nearly 2000 years ago who said
ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
Which for the Latin-challenged, is "where they make a desert, they call it peace.".


Battybattybats said...

Firstly my heart goes out to your colleague and his friend.

I don't think the west has a greater capacity for barbarism.

But perhaps a greater understanding of its flaw as a tactic.

Those former terrorist and terrorist-related groups that have achieved many of their goals are the ones that stopped violence and shifted to peaceful politics. Northern Ireland is I think a good example of this.

In the long-term murdering civililians just erodes your own support on your own side. Getting the 'moral high ground' gets you international support and popularity for your cause.

Violent war is in many respects just an extention of political and propaganda conflict.

Our error in the war on terror has been to mess up the propaganda parts in moderate islamic countries in favour of messages that sold well in our own. An error that has vastly helped the recruiting and popularity of the enemy.

But they in their extremism also are isolating many of their own potential supporters and through this policy will turn many islamic people against them. Their stirring up of denominational conflicts in Iraq has upset many who otherwise might have supported them.

In the long run it's all down to the propaganda, to practical support. If they upset too many people they will start internecine factional conflicts that will tear up the Islamic world more than the West, Palestine seeming to be a good example.

Laserlight said...

A friend of mine has complaned about the US government launching the war in Iraq without having proof of WMDs, or an al Qaida link, or whatever she wanted proof of. I pointed out that "Do not annoy us, because we don't really need proof before we kill you" is probably more of a deterrent than "Do not annoy us, because we'll launch an investigation."

Battybattybats said...

""Do not annoy us, because we don't really need proof before we kill you" is probably more of a deterrent than "Do not annoy us, because we'll launch an investigation.""

Only problem is, their side has testosterone too.

And so don't care that much about deterrants like that. It becomes more of a challenge. And there is much that can be gained politically from defying greater powers even if its at the cost of millions of lives and dollers as can be seen so often. Iraq was not cowed by GW1. Zimbabwe has gone through hell and yet Mugabe is still holding a great deal of power.

Whether it's in the schoolyard or the pub or the field on international diplomacy or the zoo the biggest angriest male still attracts challenges by their posturing because some will still hope they can take them down.

Your argument banks on being able to make your enemies cower, but in my observations of cis males that tactic only works on some of the population.

And it's often how much respect the dominant male gets from the other males that determines the outcome, sure a certain amount of fear can keep the flunkies in line but too much and they will side with the scrawny young upstart and suddenly the big old male is deposed as their flunkies turn on them.

Just as one of the great challenges to Enlightenment thinking is the existence of psychopaths and powerpaths who are intrinsicly a problem to the assumption of Empathy which underlies our capacity to understand liberty and equality and fair treatment so too is it a challenge to much Conservative notions of justice that some people are just not able to be deterred by threats of consequence, of retaliation or by displays of raw power.

Betting peoples lives on a 'pissing competition' or 'chest beating' alone is asking for trouble. It doesn't work in the school yard, the pub or the international stage. You need to find ways to prevent irrational people who will cost their countries dearly anyway no matter the detterant for their chance to challenge the dominant gorilla.

Anonymous said...

My sense is that Zoe is talking more about removal than deterrence, Laser. Zero-sum, I'm afraid. And maybe it will come to that. I hope not, though.

I would like to see a comparison between Cold War and Jihad. Fascism and Jihad. What are the similarities; what are the differences? How does historical context affect each?

How well do you think prez-elect Obama's national security team will handle the Jihadi threat? Strengths, weaknesses.

Sorry, turning your blog into a foreign policy preceptorial.

Laserlight said...

Batty, I don't think your zoo and schoolyard analogies hold, because that sort of fight is generally about posturing. If your school's alpha male was known to have killed four other guys, I'd bet the rate of challengers would have dropped.

I'm not saying "we'll kill you on flimsy evidence" is a perfect deterrent, even apart from the moral questions. I'm suggesting it is likely to be more effective than the other option in the comparion, which was "we'll investigate you".

Battybattybats said...

They tried to run me over while I was cycling home from school. My utter refusal to conform was seen as a challenge to them.

And in plenty of animals many challenges do end in death.

And most important of all is the didstance between the leader of these groups and the casualities.

Often the leader sits back and increases their own power while their followers die in droves. And so long as the leader is winning the battle of opinion, in their own side at least, then they will have people willing to die for them.

And if you impose your will over them by killing the leaders without first winning the war of opinion then even your allies will consider you a threat to their independance and the followers will become more fervent, not less.

Your friends cease being so supportive, you lose trust until you risk people siding with your enemies just because they are your enemies and they consider them less a threat than you.

The stubborn idealists like me would rather die than submit to tyranny and the driven ambitious ones will risk everything for the chance to bloody your nose. Especially when even if their country is in ruins around them their personal power and personal wealth increases as often happens.

I suggest to you that "we'll kill you on flimsy evidence' is not a detterant but an encouragement.

The other option "we'll investigate you" entirely depends on the quality of your intelligence service. Which ideally should already have found solid proof before the threat is made. Without it then the phrase is essentially a poor bluff. With it and it's a threat of direct action, of releasing the evidence already obtained and a conflict that will have popular support, thats one that such a state knows they cannot win because all their potential enemies and neighbours would give solid support.

Again it's the battle of opinion that is vital.

So no killing challengers are not good detterants, they are good ways to turn everyone against you.

You know what would have been a good deterrant? Getting much of the Islamic world to consider Hussein a threat to them, as many did consider the Taliban a threat to them.

Instead the flimsy evidence attack crystalised Islamic opinion making many moderates side with the Taliban/Al Qaeda, increasing their power dramatically, it dramatically weakened long-standing military alliances and friendly relationships.

And I'll bet you $100 bucks US that in time it'll have been shown to have dramatically increased state-sponsored terorism as people seek to strike at the USA while distracting attention from themselves.

Something which better external propaganda would have prevented.

Laserlight said...

I will point out that you're not replying to the comparison I'm actually making. I'm saying "respond with violence, or call a committee meeting"; you're saying "respond with violence, or have really good intel, diplomacy and propaganda."

I wish the US did have brilliant, or at least rational, diplo / intel / propaganda (not to mention policies on trade, business regulation, drug enforcement ... the list goes on, and on, and on), but I'm not holding my breath waiting for it.

Laserlight said...

Nica, I hope that it's not "they sting us, and sting us , and sting us, and we wipe them out."
I also hope that it's not "they sting us, and sting us, and sting us, and they wipe us out."

I live close to, and downwind from, a major US Navy base and civilian port--ie, a prime strategic target. I plan to move within two years, sooner if I can afford it, because "glow in the dark" landscape isn't healthy and I'm expecting that by 2020. :-(