THE SIX STAGES OF THE 20 YEAR 'GLOBAL CALIPHATE' FANTASY
From the New Yorker :
Even as members of Al Qaeda watched in exultation while the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon burned on September 11, 2001, they realized that the pendulum of catastrophe was swinging in their direction. Osama bin Laden later boasted that he was the only one in the group’s upper hierarchy who had anticipated the magnitude of the wound that Al Qaeda inflicted on America, but he also admitted that he was surprised by the towers’ collapse. His goal, for at least five years, had been to goad America into invading Afghanistan, an ambition that had caused him to continually raise the stakes—the simultaneous bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in August, 1998, followed by the attack on an American warship in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in October, 2000. Neither of those actions had led the United States to send troops to Afghanistan. After the attacks on New York and Washington, however, it was clear that there would be an overwhelming response. Al Qaeda members began sending their families home and preparing for war.
Two months later, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had given sanctuary to bin Laden, was routed, and the Al Qaeda fighters in Tora Bora were pummelled. Although bin Laden and his chief lieutenants escaped death or capture, nearly eighty per cent of Al Qaeda’s members in Afghanistan were killed. Worse, Al Qaeda’s cause was repudiated throughout the world, even in Muslim countries, where the indiscriminate murder of civilians and the use of suicide operatives were denounced as being contrary to Islam. The remnants of the organization scattered and were on the run. Al Qaeda was essentially dead.
From hiding places in Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and the tribal areas of western Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s survivors lamented their failed strategy. Abu al-Walid al-Masri, a senior leader of Al Qaeda’s inner council, later wrote that Al Qaeda’s experience in Afghanistan was “a tragic example of an Islamic movement managed in an alarmingly meaningless way.” He went on, “Everyone knew that their leader was leading them to the abyss and even leading the entire country to utter destruction, but they continued to carry out his orders faithfully and with bitterness.”
In June, 2002, bin Laden’s son Hamzah posted a message on an Al Qaeda Web site: “Oh, Father! Where is the escape and when will we have a home? Oh, Father! I see spheres of danger everywhere I look. . . . Tell me, Father, something useful about what I see.”
“Oh, son!” bin Laden replied. “Suffice to say that I am full of grief and sighs. . . . I can only see a very steep path ahead. A decade has gone by in vagrancy and travel, and here we are in our tragedy. Security has gone, but danger remains.”
In the view of Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian who had been a member of Al Qaeda’s inner council, and who is a theorist of jihad, the greatest loss was not the destruction of the terrorist organization but the downfall of the Taliban, which meant that Al Qaeda no longer had a place to train, organize, and recruit. The expulsion from Afghanistan, Suri later wrote, was followed by “three meager years which we spent as fugitives,” dodging the international dragnet by “moving between safe houses and hideouts.” In 2002, he fled to eastern Iran, where bin Laden’s son Saad and Al Qaeda’s security chief, Saif al-Adl, had also taken refuge. There was a five-million-dollar bounty on his head. In this moment of exile and defeat, he began to conceive the future of jihad.
In Suri’s view, the underground terrorist movement—that is, Al Qaeda and its sleeper cells—is defunct. This approach was “a failure on all fronts,” because of its inability to achieve military victory or to rally the Muslim people to its cause. He proposes that the next stage of jihad will be characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups (what he terms “leaderless resistance”), which will wear down the enemy and prepare the ground for the far more ambitious aim of waging war on “open fronts”—an outright struggle for territory. He explains, “Without confrontation in the field and seizing control of the land, we cannot establish a state, which is the strategic goal of the resistance.”
Suri acknowledges that the “Jewish enemy, led by America and its nonbelieving, apostate, hypocritical allies,” enjoys overwhelming military superiority, but he argues that the spiritual commitment of the jihadis is equally formidable. He questions Al Qaeda’s opposition to democracy, which offers radical Islamists an opportunity to “secretly use this comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to spread out, reorganize their ranks, and acquire broader public bases.” In many Arabic states, there is a predictable cycle of official tolerance and savage repression, which can work in favor of the Islamists. If the Islamists “open the way for political moderation,” Suri writes, they will “stretch out horizontally along the base and spread. So they once again exterminate and jihad grows yet again! So then they try to open things up once again, and Islam stretches out and expands again!”
The Bush Administration has declared a “war of ideas” against Islamism, Suri observes, and has had some success; he cites the modification of textbooks in many Muslim countries. This effort, he writes, must be countered by the propagation of the jihadi creed—and this is what his book attempts to do, offering a minutely detailed account of the tenets of Salafi jihadism. Suri urges his readers to reject their own repressive governments and to rise up against Western occupation and Zionism. Although the leaders of Al Qaeda have long excused the slaughter of innocents, and many of its attacks have been directed at other Muslims, Suri specifically cautions against harming other Muslims, women and children who may be nonbelievers, and other noncombatants.
Suri addresses the issue of Israel, writing that “the Zionist presence in Palestine” is an insult to Muslims; but he also excoriates the secular Palestinian National Authority that governs the country. “Armed jihad is the only solution,” he advises. “Every mujahid must wage jihad against all forms of normalization—its institutions, officials, and advocates . . . destroying them and assassinating those who rely on them . . . while paying attention not to harm Muslims by mistake.”
There are five regions, according to Suri, where jihadis should focus their energies: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Yemen, Morocco, and, especially, Iraq. The American occupation of Iraq, he declares, inaugurated a “historical new period” that almost single-handedly rescued the jihadi movement just when many of its critics thought it was finished.
The invasion of Iraq posed a dilemma for Al Qaeda. Iraq is a largely Shiite nation, and Al Qaeda is composed of Sunnis who believe that the Shia are heretics. Shortly before the invasion, in March, 2003, bin Laden issued his own list of targets, which included Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—not Afghanistan or Iraq. Presumably, he regarded the chances of a Taliban resurgence as remote; moreover, he was aware that an Iraqi insurgency could ignite an Islamic civil war and lead to ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority.
Al Qaeda’s twenty-year plan began on September 11th, with a stage that Hussein calls “The Awakening.” The ideologues within Al Qaeda believed that “the Islamic nation was in a state of hibernation,” because of repeated catastrophes inflicted upon Muslims by the West. By striking America—“the head of the serpent”—Al Qaeda caused the United States to “lose consciousness and act chaotically against those who attacked it. This entitled the party that hit the serpent to lead the Islamic nation.” This first stage, says Hussein, ended in 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad.
The second, “Eye-Opening” stage will last until the end of 2006, Hussein writes. Iraq will become the recruiting ground for young men eager to attack America. In this phase, he argues, perhaps wishfully, Al Qaeda will move from being an organization to “a mushrooming invincible and popular trend.” The electronic jihad on the Internet will propagate Al Qaeda’s ideas, and Muslims will be pressed to donate funds to make up for the seizure of terrorist assets by the West. The third stage, “Arising and Standing Up,” will last from 2007 to 2010. Al Qaeda’s focus will be on Syria and Turkey, but it will also begin to directly confront Israel, in order to gain more credibility among the Muslim population.
In the fourth stage, lasting until 2013, Al Qaeda will bring about the demise of Arab governments. “The creeping loss of the regimes’ power will lead to a steady growth in strength within Al Qaeda,” Hussein predicts. Meanwhile, attacks against the Middle East petroleum industry will continue, and America’s power will deteriorate through the constant expansion of the circle of confrontation. “By then, Al Qaeda will have completed its electronic capabilities, and it will be time to use them to launch electronic attacks to undermine the U.S. economy.” Islamists will promote the idea of using gold as the international medium of exchange, leading to the collapse of the dollar.
Then an Islamic caliphate can be declared, inaugurating the fifth stage of Al Qaeda’s grand plan, which will last until 2016. “At this stage, the Western fist in the Arab region will loosen, and Israel will not be able to carry out preëmptive or precautionary strikes,” Hussein writes. “The international balance will change.” Al Qaeda and the Islamist movement will attract powerful new economic allies, such as China, and Europe will fall into disunity.
The sixth phase will be a period of “total confrontation.” The now established caliphate will form an Islamic Army and will instigate a worldwide fight between the “believers” and the “non-believers.” Hussein proclaims, “The world will realize the meaning of real terrorism.” By 2020, “definitive victory” will have been achieved. Victory, according to the Al Qaeda ideologues, means that “falsehood will come to an end. . . . The Islamic state will lead the human race once again to the shore of safety and the oasis of happiness.”
Al Qaeda’s version of utopia has drawn the allegiance of a new generation of Arabs, who have been tutored on the Internet by ideologues such as Suri and Naji. This “third generation of mujahideen,” as Suri calls them, have been radicalized by September 11th, the occupation of Iraq, and the Palestinian intifada. (Suri wrote this before the current struggle in Lebanon.) Those jihadis fighting in the conflict in Iraq have been trained in vicious urban warfare against the most formidable army in history. They will return to their home countries and add their expertise to the new cells springing up in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many European nations.
Al Qaeda’s apocalyptic agenda is not shared by all Islamists. Although most jihadi groups approve of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America and Europe, their own goals are often more parochial, having to do with purifying Islam and toppling regimes in their own countries which they see as heretical. Many of these groups would be happy to see Al Qaeda disappear, so that their campaigns can be understood as nationalist guerrilla struggles with specific political goals.
This rupture has grown increasingly apparent in the past five years. Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, publicly denounced the September 11th attacks and condemned Al Qaeda’s use of suicide bombers, even though the tactic was employed in the 1983 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the barracks of American and French troops in Lebanon, both of which are believed to have been carried out by Hezbollah. After September 11th, leaders of the Egyptian Islamist organization, Gama’a Islamiya, which has worked closely with Al Qaeda in the past, publicly condemned Al Qaeda’s tactics and its goals of worldwide jihad. Even some of Zawahiri’s former colleagues in the Egyptian terror group he formed, Al Jihad, argue that Al Qaeda has undermined the cause of Islam by instigating anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and the West.
It is notable how seldom these ideologues refer to the words of bin Laden or Zawahiri, the nominal leaders of the movement, perhaps because the declarations of Al Qaeda’s leadership are directed more at Americans and Europeans than at the jihadis. “Beware the scripted enemy, who plays to a global audience,” David Kilcullen, the counterterrorism strategist at the State Department, wrote in a paper now being used by the U.S. military in Iraq as a handbook for dealing with the insurgency. Al Qaeda, he wrote, propagates a “single narrative” aimed at influencing the West; but each faction within the jihadi movement has its own version of this narrative, often sharply different from the message being put forward by bin Laden and Zawahiri.