The concept of hirabah might be a meme worth propagating. Recently I’ve noticed some people discussing what I mentioned last week–”moderate Muslims”–and how to keep us from getting blown up right proper. I’ll describe some articles I’ve recently discovered or seen in the last few days, mention what this harabah thing is, and make a general observation or two. I hope someone who actually can do something about it reads this post or at least thinks about the same things.
- Given that a center of gravity for our enemy is related to their ability to recruit new dopes, it is in the West’s best interest to prevent that recruitment or at least change the environment in which dopes grow. I characterize a little of the environment and mention some possible means of improvement.
- Some of the recruitment is a perversion of otherwise noble concepts.
- We won’t know how much we affect public opinion until a sudden cascade appears. It is very hard for someone in certain situations to be able to do and say the right thing. We have the ability to influence those situations.
- I link to various calls to action: one from the Wall Street Journal, one organization’s categorization of which Muslims are using this word hirabah to refer to who we’re fighting, and a few ideas on information warfare.
Caveat Before You Click
I haven’t taken the time to polish this up yet, in the spirit of “a post published is better than a better post not published”. I plan to update this, and when I do I’ll put a little “update” thing at the end.
I think perhaps the enemy is shifting to a slightly different form of attack. Iraq’s got a inbound force flow that results in a sustained level of slodeydopes roughly equivalent to the force numbers of bombers in Northern Ireland, order of magnitude a thousand or two bad guys. Eventually we’ll start making it a lot harder to flow into Iraq, and other targets will appear softer–perhaps the comments about Zarqawi’s minions posturing for Euro work is true, perhaps not. A shift in attack location or method may imply an opportunity to interdict the flow of recruits and thus shrink the numbers of the Legion of Splodeydopes.
(I use my silly neologism Legion of Splodeydopes for two reasons. First, I feel like it. Second, humiliation, belittling, and marginalization through ridicule and humor is a useful weapon against both totalitarians and people who take themselves too seriously while they try to kill us.)
At some point even the most groupthinking Legionnaire will understand that their efforts over the last four years have resulted not in deferred success but in actual short- and long-term failure. The latest effort to incite a General Giap-style focus on American withdrawal isn’t quite working today despite the best efforts of well-intentioned Americans who succeeded in 1972–and that withdrawal was the latest initiative the Legion was counting on. Failure is riding the weak horse, and a failing force doesn’t get as many recruits.
The Legion of Splodeydopes is a franchise, like an evil version of Subway Sandwiches. There’s the unified sales campaign, and there’s usually tomatoes for your sandwich no matter where the store is. The stores look a little bit different depending on who owns the store. Being corporate, killing the CEO won’t stop the company, and franchises may still operate independently even when the parent company goes under. Legionnaires in Alexandria may be different people from Legionnaires in Madrid, and both might hate each other, but until mutual goals are met they aren’t exactly going to spend all their time killing each other when there are decadent Westerners to kill instead.
The LoS needs new blood. That blood is both theirs and that of others, since “if it bleeds it leads” in the papers, and mass media is very important for the LoS. (Corporate needs its advertising.) So the Legion needs new dopes. Dopes aren’t necessarily going to arrive by themselves in the amounts the LoS needs to establish the caliphate in this failing environment, so they need advertising, some successes, and maybe different resourcing for their dopes. Problem for us is, their idea of advertising is blowing up something big near a TV camera. (An off-topic example: I remember seeing posters on sale of all the newspaper front pages after 9/11. There is no way to buy that kind of advertising, none. But there is a way to get your message out with that kind of penetration–just kill where the press is.)
Just as one of our centers of gravity for this war is our own popular will to use force and not just threaten same, one of the centers of gravity for the Legion Of Splodeydopes is the mindset of their cause as a noble and worthwhile and honorable thing. It’s easier to add Legionnaires if being a Legionnaire is the Most Important, Bestest Thing To Do. Aspects of nobility abound to aid recruitment, but those aspects are perverted. One example is a fellow who had some ideas about the downtrodden, was a dissident and jailed and tortured because of it in a totalitarian society, but whose ideas propagated after his death. There are several of those fellows, and so far it sounds like I’m describing someone good. Unfortunately there’s plenty of evil in the message of guys like Qutb and Wahab. This discussion of Qutb’s life from a translator’s interview gets the point across. (Godwin’s Law preemption here with a discussion that both explains the logical fallacy and takes all the funny out of it.)
There have been several good “who are these guys” articles to which I can refer. To summarize: They are different from terrorists we have seen before (this is counterintuitive for many people and to prove it takes a few minutes). They aren’t poor, not necessarily preteen, and they tend to be recently deeply faithful or newly converted. Peters categorizes these guys as apocalyptic terrorists, as being different from terrorists that, say, a Western European circa 1982 might have seen. He described his model as follows, from my notes, all mistakes mine:
Practical terrorism vs. Apocalyptic terrorism
We’re used to them
Not used to before September. American equivalent may have been John Brown.
Earthly aims with limits
Aims always increase. Aims always reach or surpass the limits of language.
End state thought of in terms of people related states
Have a vision, even though terrorist may not know it himself
To deal: they want to be chief of state and thus can be negotiated
“Fall in love” with notion of Apocalypse
Ringleaders passionate but not psychotic, and mellow with time.
No Book of Revelations in Koran, but that’s the thinking style
Male and female.
Almost always male.
Why is this different from what we normally see as terrorism?
Apocalyptic movements tend to appear in times of great change. One example he cited was post-Reformation 1520′s Europe and he drew parallels to the current situation. The basic idea: When the worldview changed away from traditional Catholic life with the reformationist schism, the shock of such a big change was difficult. Some bands of people appeared vowing to “cleanse through blood” and only stopped in their nihilist terror campaign when killed to the last man. With global information flow, people in religiously repressive regimes saw the better world out there, and this has been quite a shock.
Now a person doesn’t normally wake up one day and decide it’s time to go die for God by killing off some more of God’s children. There is a socialization process for many of the fighters we see, and a path that people take from being normal person to evil beast.
Some of the primordial soup for the people that join the Bad Team incluse such factors as the media environment, the conventional wisdom, the zeal of the recent convert, the rite of passage, and a person’s need to do something greater than oneself. I’d like to superficially mention some things I’ve noticed that if implemented might help our cause out a little bit.
By this I don’t mean the traditional bashing of TV news. I mean the everyday messages someone gets in a susceptible environment. A kid growing up Palestinian gets a full head of children’s TV shows of how wonderful it is to strap on the ol’ Semtex; a kid in Lebanon gets Hezbollah music videos with the booms timed to rap music with the message. A kid watching the Friday sermons on TV gets rather more strident rhetoric than, say, the 700 Club. It’s easier to walk around Berkeley, California in a “Bush ’08″ t-shirt than it is to own a Bible in Saudi Arabia.
Living in a totalitarian culture makes it harder to go off message. In that previous post I quoted approvingly a fellow that was characterizing the American mosque culture as having a similar power disparity for new immigrants.
To address this takes some measures that aren’t necessarily military, aren’t necessarily what USAID would do. The Department of State is starting to work on the second tier dialogue, with things like book tours for their Arabic Book Program, intended to reach the elites in those cultures. But even this useful effort is weakened by gaps in interagency communication; how many military folks know about an Arabic Book Program? More importantly, which groups in the Defense Department, like troops doing the Pakistan humanitarian work or any of our other presence operations, have access to large quantities of Frederich Hayek’s book, or Thomas Paine, or Walter Russell Mead, or Madeline L’Engle’s books, translated in Arabic? Some brainstorm-level ideas that might be of use include a theme of reducing information control by our enemies–which runs against the American ideal hosted in our First Amendment. Until one considers the loss of life as a right that might just be bigger. In any case, better people than I need to have public discussion about things like:
- Facilitate children’s programming in Palestine. Find an imam like Fred Rogers. Propagate it.
- Identify and kill, capture or neutralize information warfare agents working against us. This is icky; we don’t exactly send hit squads for David Duke even though he’s a hate mongering Nazi with a tendency to spout off about Americans in foreign countries. On the other hand Duke is working within the system irritatingly but nonviolently. The guys making splodeydope music videos are murdering innocents and making high production quality snuff films for the entertainment of our enemies. Resolve what to do when an ISP based in Utah is hosting an al-Qaeda website. Make the civil liberties versus civil safety argument now, not when something about it pops up in the NYT when politically inconvenient.
- Ensure governments understand that their Friday sermons put out by government-approved and paid hatemongers are the responsibility of who pays for them–and then force the reduction of financial and military aid when they don’t listen, against the wishes of our own bureaucracy which would much rather maintain status quo.
- Use the power that got us Dallas reruns all over the world and use it–and note well that government does not do that; government gets us something like “Farm Implements Today” or “How To Save String”. I do not know how to do this.
The beautiful convergence of professional victimhood, multicultural language, and blaming everything including the weather on the Israeli-Palestinian situation is part of the meme pool in which a dope swims. The conventional wisdom for a Marin youngster won’t necessarily be the same one for a kid in Omaha. The Wahabi in Saudi Arabia have managed to infect academia rather handily, given time and billions of dollars. I won’t get too into the details of the mindset about which I’m complaining but will at least mention it.
For a person inside the environment that produces dopes, it can be difficult to publicly do the right thing. It takes much more courage to say what one thinks than people can stand. The situation that causes people to not be able to speak out is a loss of freedom, and is powerful but brittle. The apparent change in opinion can appear in a preference cascade–meaning until you get to that point where you’re near succeeding, you don’t see much change. That’s what Sharansky’s talking about in his book.
Abdurrahman Wahid has a WSJ op-ed that talks about a possible path to improving the situation. It isn’t an easy one.
All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches one to be lenient towards others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are tolerated by Islam as a religion. The essence of Islam is encapsulated in the words of the Quran, “For you, your religion; for me, my religion.” That is the essence of tolerance. Religious fanatics–either purposely or out of ignorance–pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed. They justify their brutality with slogans such as “Islam is above everything else.” They seek to intimidate and subdue anyone who does not share their extremist views, regardless of nationality or religion. While a few are quick to shed blood themselves, countless millions of others sympathize with their violent actions, or join in the complicity of silence.
This crisis of misunderstanding–of Islam by Muslims themselves–is compounded by the failure of governments, people of other faiths, and the majority of well-intentioned Muslims to resist, isolate and discredit this dangerous ideology. The crisis thus afflicts Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences. Failure to understand the true nature of Islam permits the continued radicalization of Muslims world-wide, while blinding the rest of humanity to a solution which hides in plain sight.
The most effective way to overcome Islamist extremism is to explain what Islam truly is to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Without that explanation, people will tend to accept the unrefuted extremist view–further radicalizing Muslims, and turning the rest of the world against Islam itself.
Accomplishing this task will be neither quick nor easy. In recent decades, Wahhabi/Salafi ideology has made substantial inroads throughout the Muslim world. Islamic fundamentalism has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world, and even among immigrant Muslim communities in the West. To neutralize the virulent ideology that underlies fundamentalist terrorism and threatens the very foundations of modern civilization, we must identify its advocates, understand their goals and strategies, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and effectively counter their every move. What we are talking about is nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam.
He’s not the only one thinking in these terms. The Center for Understanding Islam is out of New Jersey, two data that would normally concern me. But just take a look at this pdf here. With this FAQ they’re trying to gather knowledge of Islam as they understand it and change minds in ways that further an Islam that isn’t hijacked by apocalyptic, nihilist dopes. Another effort they are making gave this post its title.
The term hirabah refers to public terrorism in a war against society and civilization. In legal terminology it is defined as â€œspreading mischief in the land,â€ but its precise meaning, as defined by Professor Khalid Abou el Fadl, is â€œkilling by stealth and targeting a defenseless victim in a way intended to cause terror in society.â€ This is the Islamic definition of terrorism. It is the very opposite of jihad.
The term hirabah comes from the root hariba, a verb that means to become angry and enraged. By derivation the noun harb (pl. hurub) means variously â€œwarâ€ and â€œenemy.â€ Over the centuries, and especially during the Crusades, the hurub al salibiya, extremists have extended the meaning of this term, harb, to demonize all non-Muslims. They came to designate the entire world not controlled by Muslim rulers as the dar al harb, the House of the Enemy or the House of War, as distinct from the dar al islam, the House of Islam.
The modern extremist, Sayyid Qutb, perverted the teachings of his mentor, Hassan al Banna, by proclaiming:
â€œThere is only one place on earth that can be called the House of Islam, and it is that place where an Islamic state is established and the shariâ€™ah is the authority and Godâ€™s laws are observed. â€¦ The rest of the world is the House of War.â€œ
Hirabah, not jihad. Got it. Now how to implement this meme?
There’s always a chance that trying to get the meme into common usage will fail. An example of a failed meme to me might be the effort some folks made to change the term “suicide bomber” to “homicide bomber”– only the (Fox News, mostly) faithful use that term. (I prefer the lizardoid term splodeydope, myself.)
The other interesting thing about the above link is that people are individually getting called out on their position on this concept.
In keeping with related materials shared with you recently, here is my ever-growing list of quotations from a variety of experts in support of the “Hirabah” (unholy war, war against society) frame of reference for al Qaeda-style terrorism.
Note that such a list doesn’t prevent people who say one thing to one audience and another to its dopey audience (MEMRI has enraged doubletalkers because of its removal of the language barrier in its translations.) It also doesn’t prevent saying one thing and doing another. But it does outline the odd position of guys like Tariq Ramadan, who got refused access to the US for classified reasons but managed to be the keynote speaker at a Fletcher alumni event in London. Is he or isn’t he? And if I have to ask, why is the answer not obvious?
Changing the conventional wisdom is one key to Dope Prevention. Strategy Page mentions that a strategic error by the LoS turned its nominal havens into places where Legionnaires aren’t exactly the Best Example Of Faithful Living. This isn’t the only thing that needs done–more openness in closed groups and information defense would certainly help–but what Strategy Page reports is useful.
The main source of Islamic terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has turned on Islamic terrorism with a vengeance. Last week, Abdel-Rahman Mohammed al Suwailmi, the most wanted Islamic terrorist in the kingdom was captured. This happened after al Suwailmi went on a one-man terror spree, killing five policemen in drive-by shootings. This was the only kind of attack al Suwailmi could get together. The Saudis have a posted list of the 36 most wanted Islamic terrorists in Saudi Arabia. But 21 of those are believed to be out of the country (hiding in places like Iraq, Yemen, Europe, Syria or Iran). Of the fifteen terrorists in the kingdom, eight have been killed or captured. This is the second “most wanted” list, consisting largely of second-string al Qaeda operatives. Al Suwailmi, for example, was only 23 years old, and his main activity was propaganda and recruitment.
…many Malaysians can still maintain enthusiasm for Islamic terrorism because they have not seen it up close. This kind of experience turned Iraqis and Jordanians, previously major supporters of Islamic terrorism, into al Qaeda haters.
Islamic terrorists are aware of this image problem, and there is a, at times, public debate among the leadership over the need to avoid attacks that kill Moslems, especially women and children. Another tactic that works, is good works. Charity projects are good for the image of Islamic terrorists. This has worked in the Palestinian territories (Hamas), Lebanon (Hizbollah), and Pakistan (many groups). However, the “charity” tactic also limits your choice of targets. For the moment, Palestine, Lebanon and Pakistan remain the main training grounds, and support bases for Islamic terrorism. Getting at these bases is difficult, because of the protective “good will” the Islamic terrorists have created.
The Recent Convert
Didja ever notice that some of the more vehement righty people used to be lefty people? Or that new folks in a group tend to be more emphatic about the concepts to which they newly confess? Or that recent converts to Islam pop up often in the list of Exploded Dopes?
There is no papal organization, and thus no effective way of internally policing all centers of Islamic faith to ensure the new guys aren’t coopted into evil deeds. But one can see the sources of conversion and find a way to ensure a newcomer to one’s faith understands that faith properly. This is an internal religious matter since we’re talking culture inside the faith but us outsiders can facilitate this through external policing of such folks as prison proselytizers. Again, an issue that needs public and reasonable discussion about three years ago, but needs done. (We’re not good with this even when the newly faithful aren’t as interested in blowing up little kids–see the foofraw over military chaplains in both directions over the last two years.)
The Rite Of Passage
I am certain that someone smarter than me has identified a causal link between the lack of meaningful work, lack of rites of passage, and such fun as riots in France. (Some folks have argued that the WWII draft inculcated a common culture as a unified low-level language. There is that, but a draft is a different argument not for here.)
One can definitely see masses of young folks without something Important they are allowed to do in these totalitarian countries. Just look at all the guys in Saudi with bachelor’s degrees and nothing important to do. This is not just a waste–it’s an incentive to blow up the source of one’s frustration.
The Highest Goals Perverted
This is the thing that whats-his-face from he TV show Politically Incorrect was trying to think about when he said dumb things after 9/11. Military folks understand the “greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his comrades” concept–and that concept can be a noble thing. That nobility gets twisted. Consider this MEMRI translation (RealPlayer video) of a Cairo professor’s discussion about suicide bombers.
Host: Let us begin at the beginning and ask, what is the psychological structure of the martyr? Who is the martyr? Who is this 17-year-old girl, planning to marry in 2 or 3 months, a beauty queen, who straps on an explosive belt and turns herself into a human bomb? What is the psychological structure of the martyr?
Prof. ‘Adel Sadeq: The psychological structure is that of a person who loves life. Praise Allah, he is seeking death! This is the thing that may appear peculiar to people who see the human soul as the most supreme thing. They are incapable of understanding this because their cultural structure has no concepts such as self-sacrifice and honor. These concepts do not exist in some cultures and thus they find themselves, in the face of these models (suicide bombers), in a state of denial, in a state of total denial they think that this is impossible, and therefore they begin to present idiotic and silly interpretations.
Okay, here are some quick things very wrong with this formulation.
- A talking point implied here is closely related to the previous statements that we Westerners would lose because we loved life when the glorious fighters loved death. This is a misunderstanding of Americans in particular, as the Jacksonian strain of political will, and the military culture, understands that sometimes it’s time to die. We aren’t as inclined to spend our lives for nothing, but we do die for ideas. As Peters put it in an interview about the Civil War, people on both sides decided that their differences were unresolvable and it was God’s will for the winner to be determined through warfare. I see that the argument that Americans are soft and won’t die in battle is being challenged, but it is still prevalent.
- Suicidal folks tend to heterodyne–there’s a feedback loop where people tend to spiral into a decision to kill themselves. Sure, it’s easier to make that decision when taught that this particular death is Very Important, but it still requires effort to get to that point.
- The formulation that the Western culture has no concept of self-sacrifice or honor is a powerful driver to that feedback loop. If you’re the Chosen Few, or the chosen one, then you must do what you need to, right?
Later in the transcript there are core concepts taken for granted that feed this evil.
Earlier I mentioned Qutb, who helped found the Brotherhood. This perversion of nobility works for organizations too. It’s a lot easier to be evil snots like Hizbollah when Hizbollah controls the garbage collection–even the Mafia got respect because making the Mafia happy allowed the buildings to get built. The other thing mixing good works with evil does is make it harder to identify the bad guys (when inside the environment) and kill them off (outside the environment).
Some Kind Of Grand Conclusion
Yeah, I owe you one. But I ran out of time and will update if I ever think of one that isn’t lame. Suffice it to say that we’ve got some hard decisions we need to make, some hard actions that will need to be taken, and we need to enable those folks who are caught in the middle while crushing the ones that would like to kill us.
I look forward to the sound of the crickets on this overlong post.
First Update: Thanks very much to Little Green Footballs for being kind enough to link. Some very good links and comments appear below, including an Army War College article that was the genesis of the “apocrpyhal terrorist” concept. This post added to Mudville’s open trackback. Welcome Alidaders. Blonde joke folks, welcome too.
And the great Den Beste may even have read it. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
Update: Sisyphean Musings has an interesting quote from a Pentagon correspondent.
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