Special Reports

How goes the War on Terror


Of course it didn't start on 9/11- it just bit deep at that point. The single act that might mark the 'formal' beginning was the 1991 Gulf war, not primarily because a large Allied army invaded IRAQ, expelling them from Kuwait, but rather because King Fahd of Saudi Arabia invited American troops onto Saudi Arabian land - the land that 1300 years before had been trodden by the Prophet. This was in their terms sacrilege and so al Qaeda became more than an extreme cult, at that point it became a movement. In 1993 the first bombing of New York's Twin Towers gave the wake-up call that the theatre of war was now worldwide. US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania got hit in 1998 in case the point had been missed.

An earlier cult of Islamic suicide bombers, martyrs to themselves, predated the Gulf War. The bombing originated as a weapon of war in the IRAN-IRAQ conflict, where IRAN's ruling priests celebrated it as martyrdom with a particular Shia spin - the re-run of the martyrdom 1300 years before of the semi-divine Hussein, grandson of the prophet. It continued in Lebanon during that decade, turning a weapon of war - a bomb-laden volunteer disabling an armoured tank, into a weapon of terror against soft civilian targets within Israel. The story is somewhat complicated by the fact that suicide bombing has also been a factor in non-Moslem nations, in particular Sri Lanka, where Tamil separatists have a long history of using this terror weapon, including the assassination of the Indian president Rajiv Ghandi in 1991. 

But the war on terror that President George W Bush proclaimed immediately following the awful events of 9/11, is what we are considering here; the lethal conflict between a shadowy enemy, fired up by narrow, literalist, religious fervour, invading the day to day lives of ordinary citizens in the modern world. In the West such religious fervour and strict compliance with ancient texts is familiar, with such Christian cults as the Plymouth Brethren, who follow their own customs but in no way intrude on others. The literalist Moslems take texts from the Quran and the Hadith, their elders interpret them and that becomes the rock-solid and only truth for the adherents. They claim to speak for God, to kill because God has willed it, to have the right to administer God's punishment. It matters not at all that probably a majority of the six billion members of the human species are probably agnostic or near-atheist, untroubled by religious doctrines. Christians, Hindus, Buddhists like most Moslems, are able to follow the inherited cultural aspects of their religions, without fierce militant doctrines of destruction dominating their families or themselves. Apart from an ethical code of do's and don'ts, broadly shared by religions with the worlds major philosophies, most would not dream of allowing antique texts of dubious provenance to determine the minutiae of their lives, let alone on such grounds to take the lives of others. This arrogation of God's authority is perverse, a grotesque aberration, yet in the tenets of Islamic fundamentalism, it exists. But, one moment, does the 'war on terror' any longer exist? It is significant that the White House in a byzantine shift in policy, seems to have just now downgraded the terminology from a 'war on terror,' to 'a struggle against violent extremism', for reasons that are yet to be explained. 

Islamic terror is the sometimes targeted but often indiscriminate murder of unarmed individuals, soft targets in the parlance, towards a theologically determined objective, ('God wills it', 'Mashallah', 'Deus Vult', the rational world has wearied from repetition of such claims). Jihad, the concept of holy war, does not specifically prescribe suicide terror but there are texts that are interpreted that way. It does seem to encourage, or at least wholly approve of martyrdom, a fact exploited by the handlers of these unfortunates. The instigators, that is the guiding intelligence behind the sacrificial, typically naive, youthful bombers, have been accurately described as islamo-fascists. 

There are wars of independence or struggles for secular objectives by people of the Moslem faith, where an element of support has recently come from jihadist allies, which their opponents then seek to badge as Islamic terror. Chechnya is an example. For more than two centuries, it has been fighting for independence from the Russian empire. In the latest of many uprisings it was joined by a detachment of Arabs and other foreigners, motivated by the successful AFGHAN war of independence from RUSSIA, in which they fought with bin Laden's organisation. They in turn attracted funding and weapons from Islamist sources, but with different objectives - that is a theocratic state, not at all what most Chechens seek. They finally came to operate separately from the mainstream Chechen opposition whose objective is simply independence, not a state based on 1400 year old religious rules. This distinction however, has been glossed over by the Russian adversary who paint the struggle as one against fundamentalism. (There is a similarity here with the Spanish Civil war of the1930's when only the USSR was prepared to supply weapons to the democratic government fighting a fascist insurrection, which becoming dependent, gradually became subsumed by the communists). Some of the world's worst terrorist outrages have been perpetrated by Chechen rebels. The Beslan school massacre, the Moscow Theatre siege, the downing of two civilian airliners, in each case proudly claimed by the Islamist 'independent' warlord Shamil Baseyev, yet in each case disowned by the mainstream nationalist Chechen rebels.

The Turkic peoples of Western China, the mainly Uighur of Sinkiang Province have been seeking their independence from Han Chinese domination for centuries. Following the collapse of the USSR, Islamist missionaries from Pakistan, many using the new Karakorum highway, started to infiltrate Sinkiang with their fundamentalist message, which China then turned to characterise the purpose of the unrest. The former Soviet republic of UZBEKISTAN from its re-birth as a non-communist independent state in 1991, had within its twenty six million population, people who were brave enough to challenge this continuity of communist dictatorship by another name. There was to be sure, a spate of mosque and madrassah building and Saudi and other missionaries with funds and quantities of free Qurans for these historically moslem peoples, though after seventy communist years, religion was of little consequence. But all opponents of the totalitarian government were swiftly badged as Islamist and have continued to be persecuted with great cruelty, provoking acts of terrorism in the capital Tashkent, of which the wider world has only recently become aware.

Yet another instance of age-old nationalism being represented by some as Islamic terror, is the centuries old rejection of central Roman-Catholic influenced authority in the PHILIPPINES where the Moros, the Moslem population of Mindanao have since the start of Spanish colonialism, five hundred years ago, sustained rebellious groups against 'the intruder'. 

Where terrorism is happening, in order to understand what is going on, perhaps the key question is what is the purpose of the struggle. If it is about concepts of justice or territorial independence, then the objectives could be said to be political which are at least capable of negotiation and eventual settlement.

Terrorism is always vile, but that which is capable of reasoned resolution falls into a different class to the theocratic state objective, which by definition is irrational. If it purports to glorify martyrdom, to represent Gods will, to dispense Gods punishment, to speak for God, as based upon some cleric's interpretations of Holy writ, then that would appear to be about matters that are incapable of solution. The islamo-fascists arrogate to themselves God's authority and answer to no human agency. 

There are several probable objectives, not mutually incompatible, but perhaps having a different weighting. Differentiate between the self-immolating 'mules' that carry the bombs, having been persuaded that God requires their martyrdom; as distinct from the guiding islamo-fascist high command, who direct according to strategic objectives outlined below:- 

a) Always the supremacy of Sharia, over man-made laws. This is the blend of (often contradictory) teachings from the Quran, with the stories of the Prophet and his companions in the Hadith, which together are the basis of sharia law. 

b) However unlikely, to restore the caliphate of the Sunni Moslems is one favoured perception considered popular with the lower ranks, with O-B-L as the favoured candidate to be the supreme spiritual and therefore under sharia law, political ruler, of all Moslem lands. 

c) To secure the withdrawal of western troops and influence from the nations of the Arabian peninsula, followed, in theory by those of the world-wide umma. This allows for the Islamic struggle to move on against the 'infidel' (non-fundamentalist moslem) governments, which by that interpretation is basically all of them. This is to seek to overthrow and replace 'the infidels' with the rule of mullahs (as already achieved in the Shi-ite version, the Islamic Republic of IRAN), and the objective is to impose sharia law. 

d) The totality of the umma to become subject to sharia law. The scope of the umma to include not just existing Moslem nations, but those from which Moslem rulers were once expelled, such as Spain, referring back to 1492 when it last was El Andalus; or to Sicily, Moslem until the Norman invasion of the eleventh century. The European territories of BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, the republic of ALBANIA and the currently SERBIAN province of Kosovo, would fall within the definition of the umma. 

The terror bombing of western nations is to be seen at the strategic level in the context, to create 'war weariness,' a revulsion against somebody else's war in a foreign place. The desire to bring the soldiers home follows, leaving the real, potentially winnable struggle against the Moslem 'infidels' to take place with the awesome firepower of the west uninvolved. Obviously, the invasion of IRAQ has created the potential for this warped approach where the very presence of western troops is the bombers recruiting sergeant. 

In many states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt, they hope by palace/army revolutions to assume power, thus avoiding military confrontations in which the west could assist their clients. 

There is a powerful anti-Americanism fuelled largely by the long drawn-out Israel - Palestine confrontation. This and a widespread cynical view of the motives for invading IRAQ across the Moslem world, has encouraged a wave of fundamentalism with a violent face. In IRAQ, where the Sunni Kurds are held by the west to be the one stable factor in the mixed faith /population imbroglio, the Iraqi Kurdish religious group, Ansar al Islam, fundamentalist and linked to al Qaeda, are said to be the main facilitators of smuggled foreign volunteers to become suicide car bombers. Southern IRAQ seems to be passing politically under 'de facto' Shi-ite theocratic control. It remains to be seen if the new constitution can rescue that outcome, but it seems certain that Saddam's clearly secular IRAQ will not be restored. Baghdad is now indisputably the world capital of terrorist outrage.

SYRIA remains a secular state with government in firm control, whose principal internal enemy is the Moslem Brotherhood, a forerunner of al Qaeda. Egypt, the most populous and sophisticated Arab state, has a quasi-civilian military government well aware of its Islamic adversaries waiting their opportunity. They have had little success recently, although twenty four years ago they did assassinate the former president Anwar Sadat. Pakistan, the so-called military-mullah state, because of its nuclear arms is a major worry. President Musharraf is a powerful opponent of the fundamentalists who twice in the past year have tried to assassinate him. The nation is a mixture of sophistication and ignorance, where large inaccessible areas along the AFGHAN and IRANIAN borders are under tribal control. Apart from the ubiquitous firearms, life there is little different from the time of the prophet. Some strong proponents of fundamentalism are in the armed forces, and co-exist with more secular-minded colleagues. If the terrorists could succeed in removing Musharraf, it is not impossible that Islamist government could follow. A curious example of 'biting the dog 'is in LIBYA where Ghadaffi, with a new veneer of respectability in the west is now threatened by jihadists of Libyan nationality returning from IRAQ. Jordan under its young King, seems to weather the storm and to take a progressive approach to resolving the Islamic disputes at the heart of confrontation. Sudan can be said already to be a military islamo-fascist state, where sharia law now runs. Indonesia has its own militant Islamic groups with similar objectives and methods (the Bali bombings), but they do not appear as a threat to the government there. Algeria has witnessed a long running, bloody war with its Islamists little publicized in the west, but is currently not looking threatened. Palace revolutions could alter things, but no single state looks imminently threatened except perhaps Saudi Arabia which is unpredictable in religious matters. Since religion is at the spine of Saudi affairs and so many of the terrorists, including O-B-L are Saudis, there is a clear threat. A successful insurrection there would be a massive success for the terrorist cause and an enormous problem for the rest of the world. 

Re-actively for a large proportion of intelligence agencies and peacekeepers. Intelligence is the key to any pro-active response. Electronic eavesdropping, the fundamentalists are now more aware of, but their communications are probably their weakest point. We can safely assume that satellite surveillance is intense where it is thought to be most effective. 

Money rewards are not proving a massive inducement for betrayal - twenty five million dollars is still outstanding on O-B-L's head and ten million on Shamil Baseyev. Without the hind-sight of history, human intelligence from double agents is by its nature impossible to assess, but the continuing liberty of top leaders O-B-L and his second, Ayman al-Zawahiri, seems to imply there is not enough to be decisive . On the ground, the allies best troops, their special forces, are active in many locations but are always subject to and limited by the available intelligence.

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something evil this way comes" (Macbeth)

Terrorist networks are proliferating in Europe. Many of them may be copy-cat local enterprises rather than twigs off an al-Qaeda branch, but no less deadly for that. A certain technical expertise with explosives is necessary - "The Washington Post" recently reported a "'bleed out' of hundreds or thousands of IRAQ trained jihadists, back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe." Ironic, certainly since Saddam's secular IRAQ was one of the few Middle Eastern states where Islamic terror was previously unknown, but since the invasion it has become the prime training ground for the foreign terrorists. 

Too soon to comment on the domestic USA situation, so far so good, but the sheer size of this most open of open societies means that authorities there must be anticipating 'something evil'. 

It is a measure of what the world is up against that one of the 7/7 London suicide bombers was reported as being commemorated in his ancestral Pakistan village. Thousands turned up on each of two days to celebrate this 'hero of Islam' who had murdered six civilians with a bomb at London's Aldgate station. Notwithstanding we are told that the extremists are only a small cult, unrepresentative of real Moslems, this young killer of the totally innocent is deemed a shahid, a martyr with his place in paradise assured. 

To seek to understand the future it may be instructive to look back briefly at Saudi Arabian history. The Arabian peninsula is not only the birthplace of Islam, it has also observed the most rigorous religious discipline of any Moslem country. The desert Kingdom is largely the result of an alliance two and a half centuries ago between the al Saud clan and the severe reforming preacher Wahhab, to the extent that other arabs still use the names Saudi and Wahhabi interchangably. But even the mainstream Wahhabis were overtaken by a yet more zealous cult, the 'Ikhwan' (brotherhood), who set up in communities throughout the Saudi lands. They became renowned as fearsome warriors, and forcible proselytizers, inspired by the totality of their faith. They courted death in battle with the guarantee of an immediate place in paradise, with all of its famous compensations. These long-bearded, merciless desert killers were the terror of the other Arab states and the shock troops of Saudi supremacy in the peninsula. Their religious certainties led them into the attempted destruction of all modern inventions like the telephone and the automobile, and they nurtured a lethal hatred for all foreigners. They have been described as holy innocents, but homicidal religious fanatics would also be accurate. Success, the absence of valid enemies, led to out-and-out criminal activity, arrogance and in their leaders, hubris, all of which distanced them from many former supporters. They were brought to battle - their first defeat - by the mainstream Wahhabi Saudis under their King, who had finally come to terms with modernization, used it (machine-guns) and so reacted to exert control.

The present evils the world faces are the same in essence as the Arabian 'Ikhwan' manifestation, but enormously magnified and multiplied by globalisation. There is unlikely ever to be any confrontation in battle. But the outcome for which the world must hope is that it will be the worldwide Islamic community at every level who will forcibly react. They should be motivated to defeat these holy innocents, and their scheming islamo-fascist leaders, not only by the danger to all moderates by the terrorists, but if suicide bombers on the London Tube are to be regarded as 'shahid' rewarded in paradise, the inevitable stigma of world-wide loathing will be brought about and threaten their religion itself. Perhaps this is the armageddon al Qaeda seek, but it is the intensity of the reaction by Moslem authorities, spiritual and temporal worldwide to marginalise and eliminate the fanatics, that will determine whether the downward spiral can be arrested and reversed. 

Only occasional, even though horrific terrorist acts are logistically possible in the democratic west. They are aimed at spreading popular revulsion at involvement in the arab world, thus to detach the west and its forces from the Moslem states. Since it is the present governments of those states that are in the front line facing the terrorist strategy to implement sharia law and turn back the clock 1400 years, they have every reason to face up to the religious extremists. It is their survival which is at stake. To succeed they have to find the means, which has not noticeably yet been achieved, to be able to enlist their own peoples in the struggle. To do that, justice must be seen to be done in Palestine after so long, and when IRAQ is properly prepared with the democracy they were promised, and sufficiently organized not to succumb to the terrorists, withdrawal from there must swiftly follow.

Clive Lindley Publisher - August 2005