LE Monde diplomatique 08.10.2021
Two sides of jihad
Presented and translated by Hamed Fadlallah / Berlin
Since the rapid withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban taking control of the capital, Kabul, the debate is still fierce in the press, media, and research centers in Europe, especially Germany, about foreign and security policy, and controversy over lessons learned, and how to deal in the future with violent regional conflicts.
Here we review the article of the French Professor of Political Science at the European University Institute in Florence, Oliver Roy, who published many articles and books on secularization and Islam, entitled “Two Faces of Jihad,” which was published in Le Monde Diplomatique (German edition) on October 8, 2021.
To the text:
After the return of the Taliban, the West fears that it will once again become the target of Islamist attacks. But those who view tensions in Afghanistan or Mali only through the prism of international terrorism fail to grasp the complexity of local conflicts.
Everything that is happening today in the Muslim world is very quickly connected to the problem of terrorism: after the fall of Kabul on August 15, the media and many observers have repeatedly questioned the possibility of expecting more Islamist attacks in the world again; After the Taliban returned to power.
A few of them asked two other questions: How did the Taliban manage to bring the Afghan capital under their control without firing a single shot? Has the Taliban ever been directly involved in violence outside the country?
They (the Taliban) gave shelter to Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 2001, and paid for it with the loss of power after a war that lasted a few weeks. But the Americans never accused them of being aware of the preparations for the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
This focus on armed violence makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon of extremism, as well as the processes that lead a terrorist to act. Because it assumes the continuity of religious extremism through the declaration of jihad, and then on to international terrorism – as if these steps must necessarily follow each other.
Whoever thinks this way thinks that every reference to Islamic law and every call to holy war is a harbinger of attacks on a global scale.
The only criterion for the West’s political dealings with Islamist movements is the alleged proximity of these movements to terrorism. This affinity, in turn, is defined by the “severity” of the religious frame of reference—perhaps even greater than the actual scope of the use of force.
Lessons from Syria, Mali and Chechnya
The general rule is: the more an Islamist group talks about Sharia, the more it is suspicious of great-power policies and the greater the terrorist threat it poses. The principle of preventive war derives from this: to attack the Islamists before they take any action.
Anyone who deals more closely with jihadist movements will understand:
First, this assumed continuity is unreasonable, and second: it leads to regional wars, which at best are futile and at worst will lead to the internationalization of local conflicts, manifested in global jihadist forms.
This analytical framework also obscures any political approach that would make it possible to avoid the dead end of terrorism and reintegrate armed groups into the game.
The answer to the question of why reintegration is necessIG “is simple”: Islamist movements that have a base in society and mobilizing power will not allow themselves to be weakened by counter-terrorism and militIG operations alone.
Afghanistan and Mali provide evidence that a counterinsurgency that relies solely on armed violence will not succeed. The same applies to the strategy of keeping radical forces in check until a stable, democratic, and rule of law state capable of good governance is established. All attempts in this direction failed.
Hardly anyone asks about the reasons for these disappointing experiences. At most, cultural arguments are used: the rule of law is said to be a Western model, unsuitable for Muslim societies. What is really ignored is that many of these societies – including Afghan society – have their own state traditions, which could pave the way for a constitutional state.
Terror, of course, is a reality. Al-Qaeda considered it the only reason for its existence, and linked it to the “Islamic State.”
Islamic Jihad systematically. However, jihad is not closely related to terrorism—neither theologically (there is an Islamic legal tradition that regulates the use of force) nor political (the Afghan mujahideen never attempted international terrorist acts against Soviet targets).
The notion that terrorism is a reaction against Western armed intervention in the Middle East (as al-Qaeda has always argued) is not wrong, but it is not sufficient. It does not explain why different wars provoke completely different reactions – why, for example, the war in Chechnya, in which the West was not involved, and the Bosnian war, in which NATO fought alongside Muslims, increased the solidarity of young radical Europeans, not With the war in the Sahel, where the French army has been deployed since 2012
So one should take a closer look. There is no automatic link between domestic jihad and international terrorism. The Taliban, for example, have never exported violence from Afghanistan to other countries, while jihadist groups have claimed responsibility for most of the indiscriminate attacks against civilians or Shiites in Kabul during the Americans’ 20-year presence, most recently the local branch of the Islamic State, after the August 26 attack on Kabul Airport.
The case of Mali is all the more surprising, although France is at the forefront of the front fighting terrorist groups in the Sahel, and its army is loudly celebrating its successes in hunting terrorists – recently after the murder of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the emir of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. ; And although Paris supports the Mali state, to stand on its own two feet and so does the colonial history: no terrorist has yet felt motivated or motivated to take action against the French presence. How can this be?
In terms of their motives, nearly all of the perpetrators spoke of Syria or Iraq (such as Salah Abdeslam, who has been on trial since September 8, 2015 as the prime suspect in the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks). Or like the French authorities’ support for the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo and its publication of cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
There are few Malian immigrants in France and they belong to ethnic groups that do not participate in jihad. Also, there is no large terrorist crowd among the immigrants coming from Iraqi cities, such as Fallujah or Mosul.
But why are many young Maghreb immigrants active for Syria and Iraq and not for the Sahel region, even though it is geographically closer to the homeland of their parents? Why does he not refer to the “new converts” and those who renounced their former religions, from Normandy or from Britain or from the island of La Reunion never to Mali, but always to Iraq or Syria, where the French armed forces played a secondIG role?
In any case, the French war in Mali had not yet prompted a terrorist to attack French soil.
The solution to the puzzle becomes clear when one differentiates between local and global jihad, although there can be overlap between the two levels. Local jihad means that a group wants to establish an Islamic emirate over a specific area in which Sharia is applied and in which the emir is at its head. The only group that has recently declared a caliphate – the leader of the nation, the global community of Muslims – is ISIS. The activities of these local organizations are carried out primarily and in a broader sense in the tribal areas. It is the product of local tensions and shifts in power, where various factors can play a role: reprisals by vassal clans against the tribal aristocracy, conflicts over water and land, the inability of the state to address corruption and violence, and the rise of new generations that are more “culturally uprooted”; Those who have distanced themselves from traditional rules and norms.
Not to mention the invocation of Islam to overcome local fragmentation and the denial of state legitimacy, but also of other institutions such as clan and tribal leaders and religious Brotherhoods.
Everywhere, from northern Nigeria through Mali, Chad, Sudan, Egypt’s Sinai, Yemen and northeastern Syria even to the Afghan and Pakistani tribal areas, the formation of jihadist groups has always had its roots in the political anthropology of the societies involved.
The emergence of local jihad preceded and accompanied global organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. The two groups share the same analysis: victory can never be solely local, either the liberated areas are quickly retaken or the new state structure abandons global jihad in order to gain recognition from the great powers. First of all, the West must be brought to its knees so that there is a chance to unite the different emirates into one.
Given this logic, local jihadists must decide whether to retain their independence (as the Taliban will) or join one of the two organizations by swearing allegiance to an emir of al-Qaeda or to a caliph of the Islamic State, such as the Algerian Salafist Group or Ansar al-Maqdis in the Sinai.
This strategy has both advantages and disadvantages: if it is internationalized, it not only enhances its legitimacy against any local competitor, but it can also accept volunteers from abroad into its ranks and thus better intimidate the rest of the population; On the other hand, internationalization brings with it the risk of militIG intervention from abroad.
Has international terrorism come to an end?
When choosing between al-Qaeda and ISIS, personal relationships can of course play a role if, for example, local leaders have been involved in previous wars. But above all, she has different ideas about the relationship between Islam and the region. Al-Qaeda rejected the regional option and considered the Islamic Emirates only a haven. Bin Laden swore allegiance to Mullah Omar, the emir of the Taliban, and not the other way around. His organization did not interfere in the political system established by the Taliban; It even served the Taliban domestically by killing their main opponent, Ahmad Shah Massoud (September 9, 2001), and also to free its hand in its global terrorist project.
In Bin Laden’s view, global jihad was superior to regional projects. In June 2013, his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, condemned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The al-Qaeda leadership viewed regionalization as a trap involving dangerous provocation and massive attack by professional armies with unchallenged air supremacy. More developments should prove them right.
ISIS is the only organization that has linked regionalization and globalization, on the one hand, with the adoption of the local traditions of the Emirates, and on the other hand, with the appropriation of the legacy of Al-Qaeda, by carrying out terrorist operations and using suicide bombers to carry them out. And so the caliphate declared in June 2014 was a synthesis of global and local actions: ISIS linked every territorial gain to terrorist campaigns in the West, assuming that this would lead the public there to take a critical stance on militIG intervention against the caliphate as well.
The Islamic State also launched a blitzkrieg in the Middle East in the hope that regimes would collapse on their own. However, this strategy did not prove viable: by expanding its territory, ignoring borders, initiating ideological purges, and eventually turning against local groups, especially against tribes, which they might have initially welcomed, hasten their decline.
In addition, the long-term assessments of the Islamic State contained an assumption that showed its errors: the US militIG did not get bogged down in the quagmire as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but withdrew as soon as the caliphate was defeated and the reins of action were handed over to Shiite militias and Kurdish forces.
Meanwhile, international terrorism appears to be running out, even if the threat of assassination remains high in the West; Having dominated the scene for more than 20 years. The image of terrorists active in the West did not change in any way between 1995 and 2015: from Khaled Kelkal – who was involved in a series of attacks in France in 1995 – to Salah Abdeslam, they were without exception second-generation Muslims or apostates .
After 2016, the profiles became inconsistent: the attacks carried individual action and seemed more improvised. The motive of the perpetrators was no longer clearly known and was separate from the main strategic issues of global jihad.
This development points to the assumption that global jihad was not deeply rooted in society. For example, in France, “terrorists” have no social bond: because of their suicidal behavior and with better cooperation between the police and security technology, they can be defeated fairly easily.
So one can talk about the decline of global jihad, but not the decline of local jihad. This is evidenced by the victory of the Taliban, as well as by the difficulties that France faces in Mali. Such regional conflicts should not be seen as mere fringes of a globalized holy war, but on the contrIG as processes deeply ingrained in the societies in which they occur.
From the perspective of political anthropology, it can be said that all the local jihadists who are still on the scene are not satisfied with the killing or the establishment of the reign of terror. The Taliban owes its influence above all to the fact that it is able to resolve small disputes (regarding land and water, revenge with blood, etc.). Jihad cannot be seen on the coast, unless one understands that jihadists are interfering in existing conflicts over which states cannot control (land, water, ethnic and social tensions).
These local struggles attract few foreign volunteers, and cannot provide what constitutes the greatest strength of al-Qaeda and ISIS: the creation of the grand millennium narrative raised by the radical youth of the International separated from society, to become the heroes of a new world.
The history of the Taliban, as well as the splinter al-Qaeda branch in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, shows that local jihadists are subject to political imperatives, which can push them to negotiate and engage in an internationally accepted framework (compliance with borders, rejection of global terrorism) of “regionalization.”
This is exactly what the Taliban did, offering a lesson to jihadists of all stripes, as well as to their opponents: the lesson that there are no militIG victories but only political victories.
Olivier Roy, The Two Faces of Jihad, Le Monde diplomatique, October 8, 2021