Osama bin Laden's Global Jihad: Myth and
Assessing the soundness of Osama bin Laden's
global jihad concept by analyzing the movement and its myth has
implications for U.S. Information operations and counterinsurgency
strategies and demonstrates the importance of cultural understanding.
Much has been written already on the topic of global jihad, but
my analysis is quite different from those that interpret Bin Laden's
endeavors on the basis of Western thought. My analysis takes an
inside-out (vice an outside-in) approach that is based on my interpretation
of Arab-Islamic thought. Before engaging in this effort, though,
we must first define key terms.
In American society, the word "myth"
is too often taken to mean "fictitious story" or "fable"-something
to be discredited in rational and scientific pursuits. Thus, if
the global jihad concept is a myth, it can be readily dismissed.
This interpretation, however, runs counter to my intent. I use the
myth in its technical, anthropologic sense: a partly fictional story
(or image) with some historic basis that imparts a lesson to society.
In this sense, mythmaking is a culturally unique, effective means
of influencing behavior, not something to be easily dismissed. With
respect to Bin Laden's movement, the behavior is resistance to or
rebellion against governmental authority, and the main mythic theme
is grievance against that authority.
Myth of grievance. Many students of insurgency
recognize the importance of the myth of grievance, although they
do not all use this term. Some authors prefer "grievance narrative."1
In one of the more comprehensive works on insurgency, Bard O'Neil
addresses the same concept in terms of "esoteric appeal."2
The difference in terminology, however, should be no distraction:
it merely reflects difference in educational backgrounds, prospective
audiences, references, and other influences. Regardless of which
term is used, the significant point is that the myth is complex
and adaptable and consists of many elements that might change in
their use or emphasis over time.
Insurgency movement. Any use of "myth"
warrants clarification, and so too does the use of movement. One
of the basic meanings of the latter word is "an organized effort
to attain some end." Expanding that definition, we can characterize
Bin Laden's movement as militant and its end as political. Thus,
we are dealing with insurgency or something akin to it. In the U.S.
Department of defense's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,
insurgency is defined as "an organized movement aimed at the
overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion
and armed conflict."3 A resistance
movement is defined as "an organized effort by some portion
of the civil population of a country to resist the legally established
government or an occupying power and to disrupt civil order and
stability."4 There is considerable
debate over how to classify Bin Laden's movement, but any movement
has methods, strategy, and goals, and we can analyze these.
With key terms defined, we can move on to the
substance and method of analysis. Most observers of contemporary
jihadism agree that, with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the
movement now has two prominent leaders, Bin Laden and Ayman alzawahiri,
and numerous advisers and ideologues who influence them. Observers
also agree that the movement is not fully cohesive because the spokesmen's
words convey different immediate objectives and emphases. To examine
all of these differences and underlying motives and influences would
require writing a book, so I am focusing on Bin Laden's concept,
pointing out variances where they seem significant.
Where does Bin Laden articulate his global
jihad concept? It is not found in any one text, but rather in a
series of public statements he has made since the early 1990s. The
task of acquiring the text of these statements is more complicated
than it might seem. Multiple, slightly different versions of Arabic
"originals" exist, all with variant English translations.
Nonetheless, editor Bruce Lawrence recently published Messages to
the World, an English-language collection of 24 of Bin Laden's most
significant statements (speeches and interviews) for which the translations
Lawrence's work is an excellent source compendium,
except that it includes an abbreviated instead of a full version
of Bin Laden's famous "declaration of Jihad."6
to have a more complete base for content analysis, I examined the
full-text version of Bin Laden's declaration as well as the recent
audio message to America presenting the alternatives of "More
operations, Long-term truce."
The 25 statements reveal that Bin Laden's myth
of grievance is comprised of substantive complaints, relevant principles,
and an overarching motive to act. His substantive complaints concern
infidel (U.S.) troop presence near the Islamic holy sites of Mecca
and Medina in Saudi Arab; U.S.-backed Israeli aggression in Palestine,
including dispossessing native Muslims and pressing claims on the
temple Mount Saudi; and bilateral collusion in undervaluing oil-the
wealth of many Islamic countries. Bin Laden repeatedly cites these
three issues, couching them in terms of Islamic beliefs.
U.S. troop presence. Bin Laden views the Saudi
regime's accommodation of a U.S. Troop presence in the kingdom as
a grave offense, given the belief that Muhammad desired to rid Arab
of Christians and Jews. Bin Laden quotes Hadiths according to which
Muhammad Saudi, "there can be no two religions in the Arabian
peninsula"; and "I am banishing the Jews and Christians...so
that I preach only to Muslims."7
Israeli aggression in Palestine. Bin Laden
laments various diplomatic concessions to the Israelis. He reminds
his audience that the temple Mount Saudi (al-Haram al-Sharif) in
Jerusalem is a sacred place for Muslims and that Palestine is Muslim
land. He alludes to the former as "the first of the (two) directions
of prayer" and the latter as "the land of the Prophet's
night journey" (ascent to heaven).8
Undervaluing Oil. Bin Laden questions the morals
of regional rulers who, he says, fix the price of oil and make costly
arms deals with the "infidel" West. He recalls the Quranic
verse: "All of them committed excesses in their lands, and
spread corruption there; your Lord let a scourge of punishment loose
Grievances on Principle
Bin Laden adds impetus to the above complaints
by evoking the anti-materialist, anti-elitist, and anticivic tendencies
of Islamic social thought-what I would call "grievances on
principle." he gains his intended effect through the repetition
of words and word images that connote the three tendencies. Because
they are somewhat less tangible than his substantive grievances,
we will discuss these tendencies individually.
Anti-materialism. The theme of anti-materialism
is common to many religions and cults and is not essentially a negative
concept. Rather, it most highly values spiritual life in the hereafter.
An associated belief is that wealth is transitory, but salvation
through moral discipline is lasting. Thus, the true believer should
be willing to sacrifice his wealth, if not his life, for the sake
of salvation. Bin Laden evokes this theme at least 25 times in his
major statements, with "A Muslim Bomb" and "depose
the tyrants" accounting for half that number. His appeal is
traditional, in that he draws on the lore of the Quran and Hadiths.
Interestingly, he does not use the motif of an archetypal contest
between spiritualist and materialist doctrines, which was a concern
of the early Muslim activist Jamal al-din al-Afghani.10
Anti-elitism. This theme is also found in various
cultures. However, in its Islamic version, it does not refer to
the inherent equality of men or to the social inequities described
by anti-aristocratic or anti-oligarchic movements in other societies.
The key idea for Muslim dissidents such as Bin Laden is that nobility
derives from fulfilling the obligations of Islam. Rulers are to
be judged by this standard and, if found lacking, deposed by the
people. The historic precedent is the case of the third Caliph Uthman,
whose mutinous troops killed him when he declined to punish their
governor for wrongdoing. While the authors of Islamic tradition
neither condemn nor applaud regicide, the event led to the murder
of the next caliph and caused a permanent division in the Islamic
population over the issue of legitimate leadership.
Bin Laden does not mention these historic precedents,
but he views contemporary regional rulers as having compromised
their positions through various acts of commission and omission.
He first cautions, then denounces, them. By contrast, his nobles
are (mostly) nameless young men who fulfill the duty of jihad and
are called heroes, knights, or lions. Bin Laden makes anti-elitist
allusions over 80 times in 12 of his major statements. "Declaration
of Jihad" and "Nineteen Students" extol the common
young men who fulfill their duty of jihad. "Depose the Tyrants"
criticizes Saudi rulers who fail to fulfill their obligations under
Anti-civic. The anti-civic theme is largely
unknown in Western civilization. Western political and legal norms
are founded on the ideal of representative assemblies of various
size framing constitutions and regulations on the basis of reason,
natural law, and public interest. This ideal is completely alien
to Islamic culture, where the validity of law depends on its conformance
with divine revelation. Thus, for Bin Laden, man-made law is invalid,
U.S. Democracy is hypocrisy, and the United Nations is a tool of
the infidels. He evokes such ideas at least 25 times, although the
theme does not dominate his major statements.
Overarching Motive to Act
At this point we see that Bin Laden's myth
has three grievances of substance and three grievances on principle,
but what is the catalyst, or motive, that makes them incentives
for action? It is the theme of "Erasing Shame." To understand
how significant the feeling of shame is to Muslims, we must consider
the Arab psyche. The key point is already well presented in the
writings of two renowned authorities: Raphael Patai and David Pryce-Jones.
Patai highlights the overriding importance of the honor-shame syndrome
in his treatment of Bedouin values in Arab behavior.11
Pryce-Jones tells us that honor-shame judgments are harder to ignore
than the obligations of Islam. He writes, "Acquisition of honour,
pride, dignity, respect and the converse avoidance of shame, disgrace,
and humiliation are keys to Arab motivation, clarifying and illuminating
behavior in the past as well as in the present. . . . Honour is
what makes life worthwhile; shame is a living death, not to be endured,
requiring that it be avenged."12
The point is well put, but the intensity of this syndrome cannot
be fully understood except through personal interaction with the
In any case, its importance is clearly seen
in Bin Laden's statements. He builds a theme of erasing shame by
constantly mentioning situations of enduring humiliation and disgrace
and prospects of restoring honor and dignity. He brings up this
theme over 75 times in 18 of his major statements, with "declaration
of Jihad" accounting for roughly one-fifth of the relevant
Bin Laden's Targets
In his myth of grievance, Bin Laden has developed
a complex rationale for striking out at antagonists. He clearly
defines three sets of targets: infidel regimes, apostate rulers,
and the "Crusader Alliance."
Infidel regimes. In Bin Laden's view, the United
States, Great Britain, and Israel comprise the core of what he calls
the Crusader Alliance against Islam. Bin Laden selectively quotes
from the Quran and Hadith to justify jihad against these "Christians
and Jews." He ignores passages that enjoin tolerant treatment
of the "People of the Book" because, in his view, "modern
Anglo-American Christians and Zionist Jews" have allegedly
violated the conditions that warrant such treatment.
Apostate rulers. Bin Laden's second source
of targets consists of so-called apostate rulers, leaders of Muslim
countries who have not only reneged on their obligations to Islamic
society but also ignored appeals for reform and have thus become
"lawful blood." He condemns them for allegedly creating
injustice and abetting the crusader cause. However, to Bin Laden
it is more difficult to justify Muslims killing other Muslims than
it is to justify Muslims killing infidels. On this point, Bin Laden
frequently appeals to the authority of the 14th-century religious
scholar Ibn Taymiyya, who denounced the Mongol rulers of his time,
despite their being Muslims. Ibn Taymiyya's writing justifies for
Sunni Islam the tenet of takfir (the right of one Muslim person
or group to treat another Muslim as an infidel due to supposed violation
of Islamic law). Actually, the first recourse to takfir antedated
Ibn Taymiyya by many centuries, and that history is well worth recalling,
but not before we consider Bin Laden's third Saudi of targets.
The Crusader Alliance. The so-called Crusader
Alliance consists of the societies of the allied Crusader and Zionist
states and the henchmen of their collaborators. Bin Laden clearly
seeks to ruin America's economy and undermine its war-making capacity,
which means that some noncombatants must become collateral casualties.
He justifies the death or injury of employees of embassies, defense
contractors, and other targeted sectors by contending that the killing
of innocents, even women and children, is allowed in retaliatory
self-defense. Bin Laden saw the World trade Center as a legitimate
target because "the ones who were attacked and who died in
it were part of a financial power. It wasn't a children's school!
Neither was it a residence."14
Still, circumstances matter: Bin Laden does not advocate the wanton
killing of the populace of an enemy state or community. Indeed,
he takes noticeable effort to dissociate himself from such practice,
which is the hallmark of the Kharijites of old and the takfIrists
today. In fact, he states that the Riyadh regime "has accused
the mujahidin of following the path of the Kharijites, but they
know that we have nothing to do with such a school of thought."15
The Kharijite Movement
What then is the significance of Bin Laden's
allusions to the Kharijite movement, which has been long relegated
to the dustbin of history? The movement created the first sectarian
rift within the Islamic dominion. During the Alid-umayyad dispute
over succession to the caliphate in the fourth decade of the Islamic
era (circa 650-660 A.d.), the Kharijites turned against both contending
parties on the grounds of anti-elitism. They denounced the conventional
notion that the clans of Quraysh (the Prophet's kin group) were
an elect group and the concomitant belief that the caliph must be
of Qurashi lineage.
The Kharijites developed a new creed, which
emphasized the equality of all Muslims and refuted the moral doctrine
of justification by faith (versus deeds or good acts). These people
held to a militant, puritanical, and fanatically self-righteous
stance. They adopted the principle of takfir (excommunication or
declaring a person or group of people non-Muslim) and raided and
killed in any vulnerable Muslim community that would not accept
their beliefs. These renegades were reviled for their incessant
uprisings and their slAughter of noncombatants, including women
Because the Kharijite doctrine of takfir appealed
to social groups dispossessed of wealth and disaffected with government,
the Kharijites found ample converts and allies. The movement spread
throughout Iraq and Iran and was particularly tenacious in Arab
and Algeria. Kharijite insurrections afflicted the Islamic dominion
during the first 300 years of its existence. However, Kharijism
as a political force gradually succumbed to the countermeasures
of legitimate regimes. Of the various offshoots of the original
movement, the only prominent one to have formally survived is the
moderate ibadi sect found in oman and Zanzibar. Kharijism seems
also to have survived among the Berbers of Algeria in the form of
folk religion. True, the movement expired centuries ago; however,
the same mindset has survived in other manifestations.
The Wahhabi Movement
Many of the characteristics of Kharijite thought
and behavior are reflected in the Wahhabi movement, which arose
in eastern Arab during the mid-18th century. The movement originated
as a puritanical reaction to Ottoman Turkish and other foreign influences
and combined the theological leadership of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab
and the practical leadership of Muhammad Ibn Saudi, the eponymous
ancestor of the Saudi dynasty.
Technically, the Wahhabis were not Kharijites
in that they held different beliefs relative to justification by
faith and lawful blood. Yet, Wahhabism had many of the same features
as Kharijism. The Wahhabis, led by the house of Saudi, accepted
the principle of tafkir and so conducted jihad against other Muslims.
Considered to be puritanical, fanatical, and self-righteous, they
accepted a leader (imam), actually a dynast, who was not of Qurashi
lineage. They also reserved the right to depose the imam if his
motives became suspect. Thus, Wahhabi militiamen revolted against
Abd al-Aziz Ibn Abd al-Rahman, the restorer of the Saudi dynasty,
when he ordered them to cease raiding the British mandates of Iraq
and Transjordan. Abd al-Aziz retained sufficient support to defeat
the Wahhabis at the battle of Sabala in February 1929 and eventually
extinguished the revolt in subsequent campaigns.
In "depose the tyrants," Bin Laden
recasts the relevant events of 1929 in an attempt to show that the
Saudi leader deceived his followers on two counts: sanctioning takfir
and bending to the British. Bin Laden takes this tack as part of
a serious effort at averting the blame for the deaths of innocent
people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. He disavows any deliberate
intent to take innocent Muslim blood. In his appeal, he laments
coincidental Muslim deaths and emphatically denies that his followers
are Kharijites, a charge he had previously rejected in "Resist
the New Rome."
In "Terror for Terror," Bin Laden
considers innocent blood in the context of righteous retaliation.
He asserts that both religion and logic justify attacks on non-combatants
to avenge like attacks and deter future ones. Even so, he makes
the claim that those who struck on 9/11 "did not Saudi out
to kill children." he says they were only attacking the military
and financial centers of a powerful enemy.
Just as the question of intent is important,
so too is the question of innocence. In "nineteen students,"
Bin Laden contends that America instigated the 9/11 attacks. In
his later address, "to the Americans," he tells us why
he considers the American people in general to be culpable:
_ They choose their government, which supports
Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.
_ They pay the taxes that fund the military
machine that bombs in Afghanistan, destroys homes in Palestine,
occupies the Persian Gulf region, and blockades Iraq.
_ The American army is part of the American
_ They employ their men and women in the Armed
Forces, which attack the Muslims.
From his constant attention to the question
of "innocent blood," it would seem that Bin Laden sees
it as a vulnerability. With this mindset, he would probably disagree
with some of the measures employed by Zarqawi's followers and allies
in Iraq. Indeed, some observers see Zawahiri's 2005 "Letter
to Zarqawi" as an effort by Al-Qaeda's leadership to curtail
the wanton brutality occurring there.16
Although the authenticity of that text is questionable, Zarqawi
ostensibly felt some pressure from somewhere to defend his actions.
Abu Mus'ab published his own doctrinal tract, which argues against
wanton killing but justifies bloodletting on the basis of circumstances.17
The same concern over excessive brutality is reflected in the efforts
of Iraqi insurgents to differentiate honorable resistance from terrorism.
Thus, Bin Laden caveats his targeting, which
in itself seems to be fairly well defined. Can the same be Saudi
of his desired end state? Many observers contend that he seeks the
restoration of a pan-Islamic caliphate. That view, however, seems
uninformed. Bin Laden's geostrategic perspective is very selective,
while his concept of the caliphate is quite vague.
Bin Laden's Geostrategic Perspective
From a geostrategic perspective, Bin Laden's
first concern is his homeland-Saudi Arab. He is indignant over the
monarchy's decision to allow U.S. Troops to use Saudi Arab as a
stage for strikes against Muslim Iraq and at Saudi Arabia's policies
on Israel, Palestine, and oil, which ignore the interests of Muslims.
In his view, the Islamic holy land has been desecrated and "sold"
to infidel interests. He sets forth his case in several of his earlier
public statements and returns to it in "depose the tyrants."
Bin Laden argues that, being a leader of veteran mujahideen, he
should have been summoned to defend Saudi Arab against Saddam Hussein's
Iraq in 1990, but the monarchy succumbed to the pressure of the
Crusader-Zionist alliance, as it consistently did in previous and
Bin Laden's second concern is Palestine.18
That land takes on special significance because of Islamic beliefs.
Bin Laden asserts that this territory that had been part of the
Islamic dominion should never have been ceded to non-Muslim control,
nor should any Muslim regime have ever endorsed such an event. The
temple Mount (al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem is Islam's third
holiest Saudi. It is the first direction of prayer (qibla) and is
held to be the place of Muhammad's night journey to heaven and point
of assembly of true believers on the final day of time. Bin Laden
raises these points in his first major statement, "the Betrayal
of Palestine," and returns to them in subsequent ones.
Also of note is that Bin Laden shows no concern
whatsoever for Damascus, the last of the four holiest sites of Islam.
On this point, his perspective seems somewhat less than comprehensive.
He does, however, show concern for Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan. He laments the pre-2003 U.S.-led bombing and international
sanctions that directly and indirectly caused Muslim deaths in Iraq.
In his address "to the People of Iraq," he calls on Iraqis
to recognize their common Muslim bond and encourages them to continue
the resistance to U.S. Intervention. However, he offers no vision
of the aftermath of the struggle, perhaps realizing that the emergence
of a Sunni Islamist regime is a low probability. Nor does he draw
notice to the strategic importance of Iraq, given its proximity
to both Arab and Palestine. To Bin Laden, Iraq has significance
only as a land of jihad.
Afghanistan also has such significance, although
its merits go beyond that. The country is renowned as the Saudi
of the physical Al-Qaeda (the base established by the Mujahid Abu
Ubaida al-Banshiri) as well as Bin Laden's one-time home in exile.
Bin Laden frequently extols it as the place where Muslims won a
jihad against the soviets and established an Islamic emirate. The
mujahideen of Afghanistan deserve the acclaim of all Muslims and,
after the turn of events, their support against the Karzai regime.
The Taliban is not giving up its effort to
regain power, yet it is not making much headway. Meanwhile, Bin
Laden ostensibly has a new safe haven, and Pakistan holds the key
to both his and the Taliban's prospects. Bin Laden is highly supportive
of the Islamists of Pakistan, while he is highly critical of Pakistan's
President Pervez Musharraf's regime for its support (albeit reluctant)
for America's war on terror.19 Bin
Laden and Musharraf seem to be holding one another in check.
Apart from the five lands noted, Bin Laden's
statements summarily recognize the historic importance of Somalia,
Sudan, Lebanon, and Bosnia; the ongoing importance of Chechnya and
Kashmir; and the emerging importance of Indonesia and the Philippines
for the jihadist movement. However, he does not suggest an interrelation
among the places or hint at a possible scenario for victory. There
seem to be no strategic thoughts (in the Western sense), just the
intent to promote jihad against the infidels wherever circumstances
avail. Granted, Bin Laden also calls for insurrection against the
"apostate regimes" in Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Yemen,
and the Persian Gulf; however, significant gaps remain in this broader
view, suggesting that it does not reflect a deep strategy.
The first of several apparent anomalies is
Bin Laden's virtual disregard of Algeria. One might expect him to
extol Algeria as a model of rebellion against unjust rule and a
wellspring of mujahideen. His silence remains a matter of conjecture.
However, he might be loath to draw attention to the Saudi of enduring
Muslim-on-Muslim brutality, since he otherwise seems intent on dissociating
himself from the depredations of neo-Kharijism or takfIrism.
Bin Laden is similarly reserved about Egypt,
another Sunni-dominant Arab country. He might have pointed to its
importance in Islamic history as the Saudi of al-Azhar and the base
for Saladin's drive against the crusaders. He might have praised
the Egyptians who championed militant Islam: Sayyid Qutb and the
assassins of Anwar Sadat. It may be that Bin Laden simply avoids
discussing Egypt in deference to his colleagues from the Egyptian
group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Whatever the reason, the silence
is conspicuous. As already noted, Syria is similarly neglected.
Bin Laden shows relatively no interest in Iran
and the wider Shi'ite world. When he speaks of jihad in Lebanon,
he recalls the conflict between the Israeli invaders and the Palestinian
emigres, not the Hezbollah militias. The potential geostrategic
dilemma is that Iran blocks the land-link between the eastern (Afghanistan-Pakistan)
and western (Arab-Palestine-Iraq) fronts of the jihadist movement.20
The physical link might be maritime, but this point goes unmentioned.
He also virtually ignores another large part of the Islamic world-the
largely Turkic lands of Central Asia.
Lack of Envisioned End State
As we have seen, Bin Laden's vision of strategic
geography seems spotty. In addition, a consideration of doctrine
also seems to be lacking. Bin Laden vaguely alludes to the restoration
of the caliphate in two of his major statements; however, he takes
no position on relevant doctrinal questions.21
Must the caliph be of Arab ancestry and, more particularly, of Qurashi
lineage? What should the forum and method be for selecting the caliph
or, alternatively, deposing him? What are the caliph's powers? Where
is the Saudi of the caliphate? He addresses none of these critical
issues.22 Indeed, it might be counterproductive
to broach them, since they are all potentially divisive. Still,
how does one direct a movement without some explicit vision of the
Certain U.S. officials and commentators will
not let go of the threat-image of a revived caliphate. Advocates
of this view suggest that Bin Laden has deferred to his colleagues
on matters of strategy, citing the supposed words of Zarqawi and
Zawahiri. Journalist Fouad Hussein's "seven steps to the Caliphate,"
which is attributed to Zarqawi, projects struggle beyond 2016.23
The scenario is that the mujahideen will triumph in Iraq, the center
of the movement. They will then take Syria, then Arab. Zawahiri's
supposed "Letter to Zarqawi" suggests four stages to the
"restoration of the caliphate" and emphasizes the central
importance of Egypt and the Levant (Syria, and Palestine). Neither
text addresses the issues noted above. Assuming that these views
are genuine, they are sufficiently inconsistent to cause us to doubt
the existence of any definitive scheme to establish a new caliphate.24
It is quite likely that Bin Laden's end state
is really a commonwealth of Sunni Muslim countries with governments
that respect Islamic law, not some monolithic caliphate. He asserts
his purpose is simply to motivate the youth of Islamic societies
to undertake jihad, to promote a broader movement.25
Bin Laden is certainly not the self-styled leader of all mujahideen
forces or the enforcer of doctrinal cohesion among allies. In cases
where he offers military advice, it lacks proficiency. He fails
to realize that the terrain conditions that accommodated the defense-in-depth
scheme in eastern Afghanistan do not exist in central Iraq or other
areas of conflict.26 For the sake of
a common goal, Bin Laden is willing to cooperate with groups whose
doctrine he considers to be beyond the pale of Islam.27
His strategic sense seems to be that actual and latent struggles
can be self-directing, but complementary in distracting the enemies'
focus, attriting their assets, and eroding their resolve.28
Bin Laden also suggests that America's willingness to engage militarily
abets the conditions that will bring about its failure.
Given this analysis of the myth and movement
of global jihad, we must ask: what are the appropriate countermeasures
for societies or societal sectors under jihadist attack? First,
we will consider what information operations efforts might deflate
Bin Laden's myth of grievance, and then, what counterinsurgency
efforts might contain the jihadist movement.
Information operations. To deflate Bin Laden's
myth of grievance, it seems imperative to focus on the catalyst-the
need to erase shame. The right recourse would be to avoid evoking
shame and humiliation and to try to bestow honor and esteem. However,
this might be difficult to do because American journalists, moviemakers,
scholars, and politicians are free to convey messages that may be
humiliating to Muslims. Still, public diplomacy and foreign information
programs might highlight official and private messages that accord
honor. Perhaps the more effective work could be done at the local,
vice society-what, level. We will return to this consideration later.
Substantive grievances cannot be redressed
short of a radical change in U.S. Regional policies. However, the
grievances on principle do lend themselves to counter-appeals. To
offset the anti-materialist theme, it might be effective to draw
attention to the mujahid's obligations to his extended family-as
opposed to lost opportunity to fulfill oneself in this life, as
might be viable in the West. We might, for example, call attention
to the passage in the Quran that says, "Your Lord decreed that
you worship only him and serve parents well, whether one or both
of them attains old age with you; do not grumble (say "uff")
at them or chide them but talk to them respectfully."29
To offset the anti-elitist theme, it might be advantageous to play
to it. In other words, in-country U.S. officials could broadcast
festive greetings (on appropriate occasions) to the local people,
as distinct from the government. Last, to counter the anti-civic
theme, it would be productive to show a willingness to work with
and through non-elected leaders: ulema (religious scholars) and
tribal sheikhs. It would be doubly productive to treat them with
The most obvious vulnerability is Bin Laden's
sensitivity to being branded a neo-Kharijite. He has taken on allies
of convenience, although he remains critical of their beliefs and
practices. This is risky for Bin Laden because he cannot readily
disassociate himself from allies who commit atrocities. An obvious
priority for information warfare would be a sustained negative publicity
campaign to compel him to break with the takfIrists and other extremists.
The Saudi Government is already taking measures to discredit Bin
Laden with the Muslim masses. The U.S. Interagency community should
support and expand that endeavor with technical and diplomatic assistance.
The main effort should be with the Saudis and other Arab allies,
because they have people with far more credibility to exploit differences
in Islamic doctrine. Appeals by Western infidels, even well-qualified
ones, are likely to be dismissed summarily, if not considered as
further affronts to Muslim dignity.
Counterinsurgency efforts. The U.S. Interagency
community should keep a low profile when lending active counterinsurgency
support to friendly governments in such countries as Yemen, Saudi
Arab, and Pakistan. Relevant measures include assistance with surveillance,
collection of information, and special teams' skill training, in
contrast to direct involvement in active operations.
Muslim communities that have been victimized
by takfIrists or neo-Kharijites might be willing to mobilize an
irregular self-defense force. The U.S. assistance effort could be
directed toward them, provided the host government has no objection
to using irregulars. This recourse is probably more feasible in
Afghanistan or Iraq, where the governments are still revamping internal
The low-profile approach should also be considered
for strategic issues. Bin Laden clearly seeks to bait the United
States into overextending itself. He reflects that "White House
leadership, which is so keen to open up war fronts for its various
corporations, whether in the field of arms, oil, or construction,
has also contributed to remarkable results for Al-Qaeda."30
Many observers would agree that the intervention in Iraq not only
detracted from the war on terrorism, but also created new opportunity
for the jihadist movement. The United States should be cautious
about making another such major commitment of resources. The attendant
question, though, is whether Bin Laden can create compelling circumstances
to lure the United States into another major move. He is certainly
not now in a good position to orchestrate rebellions in Africa,
the Levant, or southeast Asia. Of the several countries he targets
for regime overthrow, Pakistan seemingly holds the most strategic
Bin Laden addressed one of his major statements
to "our Brothers in Pakistan," after domestic violence
occurred there on 24 September 2001. In the statement, he laments
the deaths of people who protested the regime's alliance with the
United States, and he encourages dedication to jihad. He says, "it
is no surprise that the Muslim nation in Pakistan will rise up to
defend its Islam, for it is considered Islam's first line of defense
in this region.... We exhort our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to
fight with all their might to prevent the American Crusader forces
from conquering Pakistan and Afghanistan."31
He exhorts "the brothers in Pakistan" at the closing of
"terror for terror" and asserts in "the Example of
Vietnam" that "we will not let Pakistan and its people
These words alone do not convey Pakistan's
true strategic importance. The country has roughly 150 million people
and constitutes a large sector of the Muslim world. An Islamist
insurrection there would present a major problem for the region;
an Islamist takeover would present an even greater one. Afghanistan's
eastern and southern borders would experience more hostility. The
maritime route from Baluchistan to Arab would be more open to militants'
use. The Kashmir conflict would inevitably be heightened. Nuclear-capable
India would be unnerved. Last, Pakistan's nuclear weaponry might
slip from responsible control.
Such a crisis would certainly burden the United
States, and Bin Laden might consider provoking it in a more determined
way. However, while an Islamist uprising might give him the advantage,
it might also provoke decisive U.S. assistance to the Musharraf
regime, which could consequently jeopardize Bin Laden's current
relative safety in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.
The U.S. Government faces an equal dilemma.
If it exerts too much pressure on Islamabad to operate against Bin
Laden and other militants in the border regions, it could provoke
the Islamist uprising that abets Bin Laden's cause. There seems
to be a stalemate, albeit one that might be broken by developments
within Pakistan's society.
At this point, the relevant countermeasures
have been noted, and the purpose of the analysis has been fulfilled.
Nonetheless, this is not a complete strategy for defeating global
jihad. In addition to information and counterinsurgency operations,
the interagency effort must address the internal development of
countries whose societies are susceptible to Bin Laden's jihadist
appeal. Neither conditions of poverty and low quality of life nor
perceptions of abasement and social injustice are direct causes
of revolt. All these factors, however, cause shame, and shame is
what the jihadists are keen on exploiting. The daunting thought
is that the internal development aspect of the remedy will take
decades to effect.
1. See, for example, Paul Jackson,
"legacy of Bitterness: insurgency in North west Rwanda,"
in Small Arms and Insurgencies 15, 1 (Spring 2004): 19-37; Thomas
M. Mckenna and Barbara O. Metcalf, eds., Muslim Rulers and Rebels:
Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Johnny Ryan, "Justifying
terror: Histories of Persecution in Islamist and Irish republican
terrorist Campaigns" (Master's thesis, University of Cambridge,
United Kingdom, 2005), online at <www.geocities.com/x4401/w-terror.
Html>, accessed 27 September 2006.
2. Bard e. O'Neil, Insurgency
and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare, rev. Ed. (Dulles,
Va: Potomac Books, 2005), 99-103.
3. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Publication (JP) 1-02, Dictionary of Military and Associated
Terms (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], as
amended through 8 August 2006).
5. Osama bin laden,
Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, ed. Bruce
lawrence, trans. David Howarth (London and New York: verso, 2005).
6. A complete English
version of Bin Laden's "Declaration of Jihad" is online
accessed 26 September 2006. For a complete English translation of
"More Operations, long-term truce," see Open Source Center,
online at <www.fbis.gov/portal/server.pt>.
7. Arabic Hadith is
a nonrevelatory saying by or about the Prophet Muhammad. The two
cited are from the collections of Ibn Malik and Ibn Muslim, respectively.
For context, see Bin laden, Messages, 264.
8. For examples of many
instances where Bin Laden uses these designations, see Messages,
9. Quran 89:11-14, as
translated in Bin laden, Messages, 247.
10. See albert Hourani,
Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University
Press, 1960), 124-26. For more information about Jamal al-Din al
Afghani's career, see Nikki r. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism:
Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani
(Berkeley: University of California, 1968 and 1983); Elie Kedourie,
Afghani and Abduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political
Activism in Modern Islam (Portland, or: Frank Cass, 1997).
11. Raphael Patai,
The Arab Mind (New York: Charles ScrIbner's Sons, 1976), 90-96.
12. David Pryce-Jones,
The Closed Circle (Chicago: Ivan r. Dee, 2002), 34-35.
13. Joyce M. Davis
provides many excellent native testimonials concerning the motive
of erasing shame in Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in
the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
14. Bin laden, Messages,
15. Ibid., 263.
16. The "letter"
from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, dated 9 July 2005,
is online at <www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/report/
2005/zacahiri-zarqawi-letter_9jul2005.htm>, accessed 26 September
17. Zarqawi's tract
appeared on internet Arabic message boards on 22 March 2005 and
was edited and translated by Northeast intelligence Network Strategic
Arabic translations. See online at <www.homlandsecurityus.com>.
18. Bin Laden clearly
sets forth his first and second priority concerns in "Terror
for terror," in Messages, 127.
19. See Bin laden,
"to our Brothers in Pakistan," in Messages, 99-102, and
comments on 143-44.
20. Bin Laden uses
the term "axes" in Messages, 204.
21. Ibid., 121, 194.
22. For the classic
Islamic doctrine of the caliphate, see Hourani, chapter 1. For early
Islamic modernist thinking on the revival of the caliphate, see
ibid., 239-44, 273.
23. For commentary
on and a synopsis of the "Seven Steps," see Yassin Musharbash,
"what al-Qaida really wants," Spiegle Online, 12 August
2005, at <http:// service.spiegel.de/
24. The journalistic
"Seven Steps" text is certainly not an original source
statement. I believe Zawahiri's letter is a forgery, albeit a good
one, considering anomalies in its style and content. Certain words
and phrases suggest an underlying western mindset, while allusions
to the Taliban are quite inconsistent with Zawahiri's more recent
"Obstacles to Jihad" (speech posted to Syrian Islamic
Forum, 11 December 2005).
25. See Bin laden,
Messages, 69, 77, 86, 107-108.
26. Ibid., 150, 181-83.
27. Various Internet
sources allude to doctrinal disagreements among jihadists. See,
for example, the section on Isam al-Turabi's testimonies in "Bin
Laden's life in Sudan-Part One," excerpt from a Foreign Broadcast
information Service translation of the Arabic text of al-Quds al-Arabi,
24 November 2001, 13, online at <www.fpa.>; F. Gregory Gause
III, "Saudi-U.S. relations and the war on terrorism" (address
to Foreign Policy association, New York, 17 October 2002), available
topics_info_show.htm?Doc_id=126331>, accessed 28 September 2006.
28. Bin Laden's scheme
seems to fit the "leaderless resistance" model, which
has emerged in the terrorism-analyst community. See Jessica Stern,
Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (New York:
Harper Collins, 2003), 274-80. For another perspective on this phenomenon,
see Sherifa D. Zuhur, A Hundred Osamas: Islamist Threats and the
Future of Counterinsurgency (Strategic Studies institute Monograph,
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, January 2006), online at <www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.
Mil/pubs/display.cfm?Pubid=636>, accessed 28 September 2006.
29. Quran, Surat al-Isra',
22; my translation.
30. Bin laden, Messages,
31. Ibid., 101.
32. Ibid., 129, 143.
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