Landscapes Of The Jihad
December 8, 2005 12:27 AM   Subscribe

...With the end of the cold war and the emergence of global networks in which goods, ideas and people circulate outside the language of citizenship, the fundamentalist fight for ideological states has lost influence... Muslim radicalism, by contrast, has moved beyond the language of citizenship to assume a global countenance, joining movements as different as environmentalism and pacifism in its pursuit of justice on a worldwide scale. Such movements are ethical rather than political in nature: they can neither predict nor control the global consequences of their actions...
Spectral brothers: al-Qaida’s world wide web  
Snapshots of Faisal Devji's Landscapes of the Jihad are to be seen within
posted by y2karl (17 comments total)
Consider, too, in this context, Our suicide pact with Al Qaeda
In taking on Al Qaeda, do we risk altering our basic character, as Bin Laden predicted?

The terror mastermind's statement has been widely understood as a description of asymmetric warfare - a situation in which a military handicap is converted into an advantage. Al Qaeda's lack of an organized fighting force is a strength because it possesses neither territory nor a headquarters that the U.S. military can target. Unable to militarily attack or defend itself against the terror network's dispersed resources, the United States is forced to protect itself by curtailing its freedoms in the name of national security, creating a paradox: A freedom defended is a freedom diminished. It is a form of suicide that mirrors the jihad's suicidal techniques.

...Al Qaeda's members possess no cultic uniformity. Its leaders disagree on religious as well as political grounds. What unites them are broad patterns of thought and practice individually adopted rather than inculcated through indoctrination. Earlier movements of resistance or terror - communist, anarchist or utopian - criticized existing conditions and offered alternatives. Al Qaeda's jihad does not offer any coherent vision of a utopian future, focusing instead on murder as a duty in its own right. Deprived of traditional forms of political unity or collective action, its militants live scattered among their enemies, whom they accuse only of heedlessness and hypocrisy. Such global movements as Al Qaeda don't seek an alternative to America so much as the fulfillment of America's promise of freedom for all. Bin Laden's rhetoric has featured a call for global equality between the Islamic world and the West. Having accused the U.S. of hypocrisy in this regard, he turns his attention to the only form in which such freedom is possible: the equality of death.

..America's "suicidal" strategy of curtailing liberties brings the United States within hailing distance of an equally suicidal Al Qaeda. Both suicides represent the equality of death, which stands in for a global democracy for which no political form yet exists.
posted by y2karl at 12:28 AM on December 8, 2005

As in the world, so in the jihadic petri dish of Iraq:

Profusion of Rebel Groups Helps Them Survive in Iraq
posted by y2karl at 12:28 AM on December 8, 2005

And here is Devi's A war fought for impersonal passions
posted by y2karl at 12:29 AM on December 8, 2005

Also valuable is Roots of terror: suicide, martyrdom, self-redemption and Islam

Consider its table of contents:
The battle of Karbala
Defeat and death of Hussein
Modern echoes of the battle at Karbala
The mourning month of Muharram
Ancient roots of the tale of Hussein’s martyrdom
Shi’ite, Sunni and Christian: points of contact and distance
Martyrdom in contemporary Iran: from the imposed war to President Khatami
Mossadeq the martyr?
From the murder of Hussein to suicide bombers: the missing link
The advent of suicide attacks within, and outside of, Islam
Religious martyrdom in al-Qa’ida
The nihilism of Nietzsche
Unclaimed responsibility
On the trail of the Assassins
A modern rebellion
The context of Realpolitik
and this
The crazed killer is a modern being - and not only when he belongs to a religious organisation. When, a few days after 11 September, a Swiss citizen killed some members of the regional parliament of Zug and then himself, one was relieved that the one attack seemed to have nothing to do with the other. Yet the two events are not so entirely unrelated.

By means of a single act, the crazed killer acquires a surrogate for that which is lacking, almost by definition, in modern society: a comprehensive framework of meaning in which the individual has his allocated place. The act is preceded by a phase of withdrawal, separation, subjectively perceived rejection or conscious isolation - even when the outward forms of bourgeois existence are being maintained.

Stuck in a vacuum, the individual feels himself to be passive, anonymous, in every way forced to fend for himself. By shooting or bombing he endows himself with significance, becoming for a few seconds the total man of action, the avenger of an injustice which is overwhelmingly felt, but which neither his personality nor external circumstances have given him any chance of putting right.

From being a nobody, he raises himself to a god. However senseless his action might appear when viewed from the outside, it is from destruction itself that he wrests an ultimate meaning. His abstract antagonist - the state, humanity, the environment, evil itself - becomes briefly tangible in the form of those at whom his weapon is aimed.

One scarcely dares to imagine how much greater the injection of meaning, public attention and empowering action must be for those who, in their temporary seclusion, have been reinforced in their beliefs by political sects and have yielded to seductively coherent religious convictions. The thrill must be so much greater when the injustice which - by means of a symbolic single act - they are trying to put right, punish or at least point out, is not just individually suffered but can be portrayed as the oppression of millions whom they thereby release from passivity and from whose anonymity they emerge through self-destruction.
We are not fighting Islam so much as we are fighting the future. Our enemies have no central command, no common ideology, plan, they are not a state so much as a brand, a meme, orelapping, related and unrelated pre-suppostions about what is true about the world, individuals motivated now by an atomized heretical send up mash up of Islam, with the emphasis on the mash up rather than Islam.
posted by y2karl at 12:30 AM on December 8, 2005

See also Martin van Creveld's The Fate Of The State:
The State, which since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) has been the most important and most characteristic of all modern institutions, is dying. Wherever we look, existing states are either combining into larger communities or falling apart; wherever we look, organizations that are not states are taking their place. On the international level, we are moving away from a system of separate, sovereign, states toward less distinct, more hierarchical, and in many ways more complex structures. Inside their borders, it seems that many states will soon no longer be able to protect the political, military, economic, social, and cultural life of their citizens. These developments may lead to upheavals as profound as those that took humanity out of the Middle Ages and into the Modern World. Whether the direction of change is desirable, as some hope, or undesirable, as others fear, remains to be seen...

Meanwhile, from the White House to 10 Downing Street, the residences of presidents and prime ministers as well as entire government quarters have been transformed into fortresses. Private security has turned into a growth industry par excellence; in the United States alone it is said to employ 1.6 million people (as many as the number of active troops) and to cost $52 billion a year, far more than all US police departments combined. Feeling themselves exposed, more and more individuals and corporations are either renting protection or setting up their own. While one does not want to exaggerate the problem, unquestionably all of this is symptomatic of the state's faltering ability to hold on to its monopoly over violence--or, in plain words, to protect its citizens' lives and property.

...Nobody knows the significance of the transition from a system of sovereign, territorial, legally equal states to one that takes greater cognizance of the new realities; it is likely to be eventful and, as is already the case in many places, quite possibly bloody. Still, it is worth recalling that the state's most remarkable products to date have been Hiroshima and Auschwitz; the former could never have been built by any organization but a state (and the most powerful one, at that), whereas the latter was above all an exercise in bureaucratic management. Whatever the future may bring, it cannot be much worse than the past. For those who regret and fear the passing away of the world with which we are familiar, let that be their consolation.
Whatever the future may bring, it cannot be much worse than the past.

We shall see. All too well.
posted by y2karl at 12:31 AM on December 8, 2005

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:38 AM on December 8, 2005

A newbie would be tarred and feathered for making this FPP.
posted by Firas at 2:02 AM on December 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

That said, the state is going nowhere. Not for a long, long time. Wishful thinking != political analysis.
posted by Firas at 2:08 AM on December 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

tho the funny thing is that we have promoted a frigging database hosted by a of Islamic Conference conferees into a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-level organization, with No 2s, 3s, to "capture and kill".

s'pose the M-I complex will gin up the enemies it needs to keep picking our pockets, and our co-opted infotainment nomenklatura is all too happy to play along.

Ironically, Kerry had the best anti-AQ creds with his experience taking down BCCI, but this seedy underside of American power was not something the US electorate is mature enough to face.

"Bring 'em on" cowboy crap is more our speed. Feh.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:29 AM on December 8, 2005

Hey,if he did get his own blog, how many people would actually read it? Not many because MeFi is better known and people need to see this stuff no mater how long it is.
posted by wheelieman at 5:02 AM on December 8, 2005

Ironically, Kerry had the best anti-AQ creds with his experience taking down BCCI, but this seedy underside of American power was not something the US electorate is mature enough to face.

Sure, but he looks French, and you guys can't have that.
posted by clevershark at 5:04 AM on December 8, 2005

The linked article is a good piece of spot-on analysis. Drawing the distinction between the political and the moral aspects is an extremely valuable notion.
posted by warbaby at 6:54 AM on December 8, 2005

Also of value are the surveys The Truth About Jihad and Inside the Madrasas.

From the latter:
...Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence that bin Laden himself actually despises what he sees as the nit-picking juridical approach of the madrasa-educated ulema (clerics), regarding his own brand of violent Islamism as a wholly more appropriate answer to the problems of the Muslim world.

...Devji points out just how deeply unorthodox bin Laden is, with his cult of martyrs and frequent talk of dream and visions, all of which derive from popular, mystical, and Shia Islamic traditions, against which the orthodox Sunni ulema have long struggled. Moreover, bin Laden and his followers "routinely attack the most venerable clerics and seminaries, accusing them of being slaves of apostate regimes.... They also issue their own legal opinions or fatwas without possessing the learning or clerical authority to do so."

All this highlights how lacking in intellectual sophistication the debate about al-Qaeda still is. Again and again, we are told that terrorism is associated with poverty and the basic, Koranic education provided by madrasas...

In reality al-Qaeda operatives tend to be highly educated and their aims explicitly political. Bin Laden, in his numerous communiqués, has always been unambiguous about this. As he laconically remarked in his broadcast timed to coincide with the last US election, if it was freedom they were against, al-Qaeda would have attacked Sweden. The men who planned the September 11 attacks were not products of the traditional Islamic educational system, even in its most radical form. Instead they are graduates of Western-style institutions. They are not at all the protégés of the mullahs...
As to his cult of martyrs and frequent talk of dream and visions, all of which derive from popular, mystical, and Shia Islamic traditions, see the Roots of Terror article linked above. It is very comprehensive and yet concise, considering the territory it covers, about the evolution of the concept of martyrdom in Islam. Creveld's The Fate of the State deserves to read as well.
posted by y2karl at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2005

Another morning spent pulled into a tapestry of great analysis. Rock on, y2karl.
posted by squirrel at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2005

I'm intrigued: will someone explain how the mysticism Sufism (the religion of Rumi) has been used to justify martyrdom.

Are there different strands of sufism?


from the 1st article:

".... the Taliban, could be dealt with on the basis of Realpolitik". realpolitik by comparison with bin laden, maybe, but read
Ghost Wars to see how non-realpolitiky they were in comparison with traditional states.
posted by lalochezia at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2005

Well, to quote the great languagehat:
One quibble: the article mentions "peaceful Sufis" as if that were an inherent attribute; it's too often overlooked by Western enthusiasts that some Sufi orders, like the Naqshbandi of the Caucasus, are militant (and in fact fought the Russians to a standstill in the nineteenth century).
And, as the Guardian article he quotes in his comment adds,
"Rumi did not come to his theology of tolerance and inclusive spirituality by turning away from traditional Islam, but through immersion in it." He was not a "guru calmly dispensing words of wisdom capable of resolving, panacea-like, all our ontological ailments", as he is presented in the translations of Coleman Barks, so much as "a poet of overpowering longing, trying to grope through his shattering sense of loss". Likewise the poet and fellow of All Souls Andrew Harvey, who has produced some fine recreations of Rumi's verse, emphasises Rumi's "rigorous, even ferocious austerity". It is a far cry, he believes, from the New Age construct, "Rosebud Rumi, a Californian hippy-like figure of vague ecstatic sweetness and diffused warm-hearted brotherhood, a kind of medieval Jerry Garcia of the Sacred Heart".
In Inside the Madrasas, we read about
......the thirteenth-century Sufi mystic and poet of love and longing, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, who, it is often forgotten, was trained as a Muslim jurist, and throughout his life taught Sharia law in a madrasa in Konya. It is true that Rumi rejected the rigidity of thought and spirituality characteristic of the ulema of his day, but he did so as an insider, from within the system..
See also The Murid Wars:
Murid is a follower of a shaykh. The two live in a khaniqah or monastry and lead a very austere existence. In the course of many years, the shaykh leads the murid on the path or tariqa of unity with Allah. The term "murid" is also used for an individual who fights voluntarily for social equality (Henze 15) and for national independence. In this latter context, Muridism is understood as a branch of Sufism in which the disciple follows the dictates of an imam who leads the ghazavat or holy war for equality and national integrity (cf., mujahid). The ghazavats were fought primarily in the Caucasus.
That he was trained as a Muslim jurist, and throughout his life taught Sharia law in a madrasa is something not usually dwelt upon those who revere the hippy dippy Rumi of woo woo New Age fame.

As languagehat notes in the comment linked above, Pseudo-Sufi hipsters aren't much more attractive than the pseudo-Tibetan or pseudo-Indian varieties.
posted by y2karl at 4:27 PM on December 8, 2005


Thanks! Glad to have the last shard of rose-tinted glass removed from my glasses frames.

Now, I hear mother theresa's in for a bashing too....
posted by lalochezia at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2005

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