Discussion on The Confrontation [Report]


"To counter the Jihadi lobbies, you need independence from Petro Dollars".

During his summer lectures-tour in Europe, Terrorism expert Walid Phares discussed his most recent book The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad at the invitation of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based Project for "Democratic Geopolitics." Professor Phares,  a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy argued that "in the end, there are strong Jihadi lobbies which are derailing international and US efforts to defeat the Terrorist forces." Phares said his book outlines a number of strategy recommendations at the 7th year of the War on Terror. Among them: Identify the threat clearly as "Jihadism," an ideology responsible for the spread of violence in the Greater Middle East and inside the West; achieve energy independence; create wider alliances with countries suffering from the same threat even if they are not part of the Iraq or even Afghanistan coalitions; grant significant support to democracy forces within the Arab and Muslim world.
Phares projected that a McCain Administration will continue the efforts against Terrorism but will bring new expertise into the arena. He also projected that a Obama Administration will not engage in dramatic moves before one year and won't perform its ideological platform before a second term. Phares predicted Obama would eventually meet with Ahmedinijad and Chavez at some point, barring dramatic developments.
The summary of the round table which included think tanks representatives as well as members of several Government ministries was published by the Henry Jackson Society.

How to Confront Future Jihad

On the 7th of July, and in conjunction with the Centre for Social Cohesion, the Henry Jackson Society hosted a discussion with Dr Walid Phares, an international terrorism expert from the European Foundation for Democracy.


Today I would like to summarise my new book - The Confrontation:  Winning the war against future jihad - which is the third in a trilogy. A few years ago I was invited to London by my esteemed colleagues to discuss the first book - The Future Jihad - which is not a discussion of jihad as a concept, but rather a discussion of the strategies of specific jihadist movements, and there is a big difference. One has to begin by defining what these strategies are, and then how far we can go with the definition.  However what is more important and more relevant to homeland security or to national security is how the jihadists think. It is not what we scholars in the classroom think about jihad that is important.  What is very important is how the jihadists interpret it. Therefore we must examine the strategies for reaching jihadists and this is where most governments - our government in the US and European governments as well - fall into the trap of over discussing issues that are not really relevant in terms of theology. They may be linked to socio-economic issues which may be useful in the future, but in terms of countering the jihadist movement, it’s really about understanding their strategies and then devising the right strategies to defeat them.

That book was followed by my second book, The War of Ideas, which is a reflection on the conclusion of the first book. The first book described who the jihadists are, whilst the second book is concerned with how are they able to carry out jihad.  This is relevant because one of the major debates on both sides of the ocean has been based on the fact that we don’t know much about their ideology and strategy, but also how they operate. Not just major operations such as 9/11, 11/3, 7/7, and today is the anniversary of that tragic date, but also in addition to these, how they are able to create that wide corps of jihadists around the world.

Root causes of Jihadism:

The root causes of the jihadist movements that I analyse here are of two classical genres, and I try to push towards a third that is more functional. The two classical genres are promoted by governments, on campuses and in the media around the free world. These are: the socio-economic disenfranchisement theory; and the foreign policy theory. Now, more recently in the States and I’m sure here as well, you have the new theory of social psychological conditioning.  According to that theory, apart from foreign policy and apart from other objective theories, the frustration of being an immigrant and not being fully assimilated into a community can lead to the adoption of jihadism. However, I have counter-argued that although these three explanations of the root causes are objectively present, they are flawed because:

With regard to foreign policy, we must remember that the majority of the jihadists had been in action and had developed their theory way before most of liberal democracies they targeted had specific foreign policies towards the Middle East, including the United States. The Salafis and the Wahabis were born before not only the Arab–Israeli conflict, but before Israel was established. That alone is important. Probably the most important issue here is that the jihadists themselves in their agenda do not claim this as their specific objective. There is an objective to be achieved, with or without the Arab–Israeli conflict, with or without what the US did in Vietnam and then everything else aggregates. As a result, this research can fool many who do not have a real understanding of the ideology.

The socio-economic theory is interesting because now we are receiving a lot of additional European research, especially from Germany and elsewhere, that contradicts this argument. It is not that the argument is not solid, but that it is in a sense disconnected. Many immigrants who have dealt with socio-economic stress do not become jihadist suicide bombers, so mathematically speaking, that is an issue to deal with.  So, are those who have been impacted by specific ideologies the ones that have produced that kind of violence in response to socio-economic stresses? The analysis shows that stresses do not lead to suicide bombings; stresses plus the ideology leads to the strategies that gives us suicide bombings. This is of course laid out in an over simplified way and could raise a lot of questions, but I am trying to summarise the most recent findings on these issues.

With regard to socio-psychological stresses, these are real factors, but they are not unique to the jihadists. If it were, then every case of pressure, whether it is because of racist reasons or non-racist reasons like divorce, would lead to jihadism. So again, we look at all these cases and we realise that those that have stresses and were impacted by any form of jihadist ideology produced almost the same type of violence. The others produced different kinds of violence, unconnected types of violence, or no violence, but frustration expressed in other ways.

The ideological development of Jihad.

In my second book – The war of ideas - I tried to make the case that what we are dealing with here is a two way ideological development. One in the 1920s with the Salafi movement that broke into all of the families that we know – Wahabi, Muslim Brothers (MB),  Deobandi, and other sub-branches that were not successful. But then I moved to look at mutations of these movements and we are now dealing with the second and third generation of Salafi Jihad, and in that tree, the second and third generation which has mutated into what we call Al-Qaeda is a marriage of experiences between the MB and the Wahabis. So the MB and Wahabis are not really Al-Qaeda. They do have long term goals and the ideology is very clear, but what prompted that mutation, is what I call the jihadi debate of the early 1990s in Khartoum.

At Khartoum most of the representatives of these tendencies met and those who were classical Wahabis and classical MBs decided to move forward in what they called the ‘penetration strategy’ of the Arab and Muslim world, widening the pool of supporters as much as they could.  Indeed, with regard to the West, their theory is to infiltrate from the bottom up, so that within each liberal democracy, the real, long term objective of that classical school is to carry out terror attacks on the one hand and on the other, to paralyse the capacity of liberal democracies to respond to external developments in the Muslim world. Thus the force that the jihadists have developed in the West is basically a part of putting pressure on Western potential reactions to what is actually happening there in the Muslim world. The objective is not to conquer or create a coup d’état - at least not at this stage because of the reality of the situation - but it is to make sure that the state apparatus in the West is not going to respond to two things:  political change in the Arab and Middle Eastern world towards the jihadists; and foreign policy, for instance in Iraq, Afghanistan and also Somalia. So in a sense that would be the classical jihadi political strand. However the layers are different in Europe, the United States, India, or Africa.

The second strand, which I have coined as the ‘hot headed’ is Al-Qaeda.  In the 1990s they adopted the philosophy: we were able to defeat the Soviet Union, so we can defeat the other side.  From an oversimplified perspective it seems to be strangely logical, but it has sparked debate between the ideologues of Al-Qaeda and the clerics sent by the Saudis, the Egyptians or Moroccans and Jordanians to counter argue with them. Al-Qaeda basically believes that engaging in the confrontation will deliver victory even without holding the balance of power, although remember that the Wahabis and the Muslim Brotherhood are keen to make sure they always have the balance of power.  Indeed, because of the hyper-ideological, doctrinal and theo-doctrinal paradigms in which they believe, Al-Qaeda is certain that by engaging the enemy, somehow the Divine will continue the battle. This is how they explain it to their followers.

Of course there are strategists in Al-Qaeda who believe that if you carry out strikes such as 9/11 or 7/7 and you do not get dividends in foreign policy, you will receive huge dividends in recruitment, by spreading the notion that they were able to strike at infidel powers . Thus all those people who have been ironically indoctrinated by the Wahabi and the Muslim Brotherhood, are the ones that Al-Qaeda recruit, which is causing a lot of problems for the governments that are dealing with it. The reason is that we are fighting Al-Qaeda, but they are recruiting from pools that they are not creating – Al-Qaeda’s infrastructure is not responsible for the madrasas or production factories where they get their recruits. These external pools produce 80% of the intellectual process that creates the jihadists, meaning that history, theology, indoctrination, the division of the world into the categories that we know are all contributors, but what is missing in the equation is that Al-Qaeda’s operatives convince them that they can suceed. Thus ironically, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahabis and the less hot headed Salafists from whom the jihadist recruit, oppose Al-Qaeda and say that they cannot engage in warfare with the  infidel powers, and additionally that they cannot continue to treat fellow Muslims as enemies through the concert of fear. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda the same pool of recruits to justify their view that the process that they have begun has created enlargement in the support of the jihadist movement.

Spreading democracy:

As I see it, democracy is not simply a question of holding elections. For democracy to triumph in Middle Eastern countries, the West is only a small player in the process and this is what our public opinion does not understand.  We can only provide support for the foundation of democracy.  In the case of Iran, researchers have predicted on the basis of sociological analysis of the Persian majority, that even if left unassisted, they will have their own revolution in favour of democracy in 20 years or so.  If therefore Iran was not a threat to national security in terms of its nuclear proliferation, it may well be the case that the Iranian people would be left to find democracy on their own, like the French and the Italians have done.  But if the Iranian regime is going to cause a security threat to its own people: genocide, which could happen, or to the region, then international intervention is warranted, actually, it is warranted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, to speed up the process.

The case of Algeria, which was under the authoritarian FLN regime for so long, is a model which is applicable elsewhere.  It is a model within which authoritarian regimes have been able to fully surppress liberal democratic forces and have been able to contain but not suppress the Islamist forces, because one thing they cannot suppress is the ideology. Why were the FLN or the Egyptian government, even Saudi Arabia, not able to go the full way against radical jihadist forces?  Because they have not themselves engaged in ideological reform.  So obviously when Algeria held its first election, who was going to win?  The ideologues: those who are most organised in the vacuum of those who are not organised.  In Egypt those who are organised are the Muslim Brotherhood and the others are going to be defeated. In Gaza, Hamas won. This is not a surprise.  Hamas is a highly militarised, organised, and financed organisation with exclusive control.

The impact of the US Presidential election on the fight against Jihadism:

The team working with John McCain on the issue of terror and Jihadism will continue the policy of today.  There will be a second battle of the experts however, on the next steps in this process.  If Barak Obama wins, I don’t think anything dramatic will happen in first six months because the bureaucrats will be the same bureaucrats.  What I would expect after that is that there will be some spectacular moves, depending on the size of the Democrat majority in Congress, and the possibility of him meeting with Chavez and Ahmadinejad. I think that an Obama administration will not engage in overdramatic change in his first term because he would want to enact a more ambitious agenda for a second term.  For example in Iraq, he will certainly plan a long term withdrawal.  With regard to Palestine and Israel, I don’t think he is going to change much, because that has to do with the culture in the US.  Where his advisors may recommend balancing  his negatives elsewhere, is Darfur. Hollywood is pushing ‘save Darfur’ and Hollywood is a big constituency for Obama. But he will have his limitations.  He will have to explain to the nation who the battle in Darfur is against. He is trying to save Darfur from genocide. However, to assign blame, they have to target the regime and the ideology, and that is a no go area in terms of effective action.

Advice to policy makers:

My third book is centred around advice to policy makers.  In this regard it is more than analysis – it is a proposition for a change of management direction. If we look at 2008 compared to 2001 and what has been achieved strategically during this period, we can see that Western countries have been engaged with Iraq and Afghanistan; they have been containing the Arab-Israeli conflict; putting pressure on the Darfur situation, and have been engaging with what we in the US call the war of ideas. The military in the US use strategic communications, the state department uses the battle of ideas, and in Europe there are 27 interpretations according to where you are.  However, the essence of the matter is that Western democracies and their allies need to impact on the societies where jihadism is coming from with various strategies. One of these strategies is to use clerics - in other words use the resources that the jihadists use - in order to beat them.  A second strategy is to use theology – there is a range of support from theologians to counter Al-Qaeda. But the problem with this approach is that the authorities believe that to tackle extremism you must tackle the theology. To tackle theology is to tackle Islam, which will cause problems and consequences both domestically and abroad.

The other solution is dialogue. Though it is the rational position, entering into dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood could take you on an endless promenade: these are the chief engineers of strategy in the world. What they don’t tell you is that in Muslim communities the likes of Al-Qaeda are still a numerical minority and therefore you have not even begun the real intellectual warfare until this is recognised.  Western European governments are sitting down with official Muslim federations but the federations have already been infiltrated so they are already sitting down with the jihadists.  What we are not bringing to the table are the counter-jihadists.  My suggestion is that for every jihadist we bring in to dialogue, we must also talk to the non radical elements of the Islamic community. I would like to see the real Muslim community engaged in debate.  To have the policy makers understand the sociological nature of the Muslim community which, at the moment, they don’t.

The other strategy which I am involved with encourages forces of democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. The term ‘spreading democracy’ by itself is very scientific - you cannot ‘spread’ it.  But you can open a space for freedom, either by military intervention when a regime for example is committing acts of genocide; or by applying political, economic and social diplomatic pressures in a way that we have experienced in different levels in the case of Eastern European dissidents.  A  very eminent case of such diplomatic pressure is in South Africa, where the international community supported the anti-apartheid regime and was successful in changing behaviour. However the comparisons are always difficult as situations do not automatically translate.

So, my first suggestion is that in order to engage in support for democratic forces, so that these democratic forces can fight the battle within their native communities, we need to have a public opinion in liberal democracies that understands the purpose of our actions. At the moment we are at minus 20 - meaning that in order to engage with any policy, whether British, European, or US, governments have to do it with the support of populations. Then also in democracies you have the very dangerous infiltration and penetration by these jihadi lobbies, supported by petrodollars. So we are not talking about ideas versus ideas.  It is in fact hundreds of millions of petrodollars versus almost nothing on the other side, reaching out to universities, centres, even agencies within government.  Thus the warfare is very real in liberal democracies. Again, if that happens and we don’t have a public which is educated and informed about the issue, then the whole war of ideas and the so called war on terror will go in different directions. I think we are now witnessing the era of strategic defeat or maybe relative defeat in the war of ideas, because we have not produced on either side of the ocean, public opinion which understands the extent of the threat and can therefore support legislative and executive initiatives in that regard.

The second recommendation, with which I’m sure you are all familiar, is to continue a Western trend to provoke economic independence, in particular economic independence from oil producing regimes.  Economic independence does not mean solving all the problems of energy today.  However, it does mean some measure of diversification particularly in where we get our energy from.  However, if we want to have strategic independence in 18 to 20 years as the experts are claiming, we needed to have begun eight years ago! So we are already eight years late on any process that would achieve results. This is because the jihadi use of oil producing revenues is a 30 year old investment already. If you quantify that, it means not that a prince threw $30 million at Harvard or Georgetown University (this is public information), and therefore might be influencing and impacting the way that Middle Eastern or Islamic Studies are taught – that is the most visible part of it which is used in the US as an example. What we are talking about is that from around 1979 onwards, the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the West has had the goal not of reforming medical studies or agrarian studies for example, but to influence the teaching of Middle Eastern Studies, which provides the expertise to governments which becomes our foreign policy, or the resistance to further changes in our foreign policy. For example the idea of engaging with human rights support in the Middle East is a black hole. This idea is fiercely fought by the lobbies that are the result of this long term investment.

Let me conclude by stressing that the very essence of winning this war of ideas, the war on terror and the confrontation with terrorists is-after the very important opinion of public opinion in the West- to win the democracy battle in the Arab and Muslim world or at least to engage in it. I doubt that we will see real results in one generation, but if we do not engage with it, we will have a recipe for the continuation of clashes. At the moment the policy is the postponement of clashes.  However, if this generation is not able to address it then unfortunately the next generation will have to address it with more lethal consequences.

Professor Walid Phares is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels.