An interesting new strategy document has appeared on the forums. (See also here.) It is entitled “The Vision of the Jihaadi Movement and the Strategy of the Current Stage” and written by one Abu Jihad ash-Shami, “a Mujaahid in one of the known Global Jihaadi Fronts that espouse[s] the Salafi Jihaadi Methodology,” as the anonymous translator puts it.
In some ways, this document is an entry into the long-standing debate in Salafi jihadist circles over whether it is best to focus on the near enemy or the far. This author’s emphasis is on the global fight, putting him to that extent in the al Qaida camp. However, he also criticizes al Qaida’s strategy and offers a new one.
This author does not seem to be nearly as focused on the heart of the Arab world as many leading al Qaida figures have been. He mentions mujahidin from Morocco to China and India and he urges his readers not to be in such a rush to liberate all the lands that fell under Sykes-Picot if that rush becomes unhelpful to the overall effort. Furthermore, he maintains that:
Always focusing on al-Quds is only from the many means of uniting the Ummah behind the goal of the Jihaadi Movement because many of the Muslims today do not see there to be any other enemy besides the Jews. But this does not mean that we must put all of our military and strategic focus on conquering al-Quds.
In offering his new strategy, ash-Shami draws on the writings of Sa’d al-‘Amili, Mohammed al-Hakaymah, Abu Bakr Naji, and Abu Musab al-Suri. In particular, he offers a way to unify the disparate strategic prescriptions of al Qaida, many of its locally-focused affiliates, al-Suri (open source jihad) and Naji. It’s not necessarily clear to me that Ash-Shami fully succeeds, but he is clearly swinging for the intellectual fences. Seldom do jihadist thinkers really strategize coherently about how to succeed in the global aspects of their struggle, so anybody who purports to try gets my attention.
Ash-Shami starts out by defining a goal for the Salafi jihadists: the establishment of the Caliphate. Of course, this is not new though he will go on to argue that many jihadists have, as a practical matter, lost sight of it. Interestingly, he does add one new angle in saying that this Caliphate must “govern the entire earth with all of the Shari’ah.” While the jihadists, of course, believe that Islam has universal applicability and thus should and will come to Peoria eventually, they usually don’t spill much ink on that, so this was an interesting passage.
In any event, having defined the establishment of the Caliphate as the “vision” for the movement, Ash-Shami says that the strategy is to the vision as tactics are to the strategy. That is to say that the one is a means to get to the other. The strategy, he says, may be very complex and may change over time, but the enduring vision will be short and simple: establishment of the Caliphate. He notes that sometimes people mix up the vision and the strategy (a criticism which applies in the US no less than in the jihadist world).
Ash-Shami also has what I would even call an elegant explanation of the differences between tactics and strategy:
It is important here to indicate a common attribute shared by both strategies and visions, which is: that they are both set further into the horizon than tactics and other short-term goals. So, if we wanted to attack the Kuffaar, for example, at some particular base of theirs and we discussed between ourselves which method to use to execute the operation and which weapon would be best, some of us could propose a martyrdom operation, others a raid, and yet others a sniping operation. If we were to succeed in killing the enemy by any of these methods, whichever it may be, there wouldn’t be such a large difference between these different methods and history wouldn’t place any importance on the actual choice that was made. However, when we make martyrdom operations a broad strategy that we intend to use in high concentrations (as was the choice of Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqaawi – may Allaah have mercy on him – in Iraq) then the difference between the resultant product of this choice and the product of other choices would become as clear as day.
With his preliminaries taken care of, Ash-Shami then starts to get down to the meat of the issue. Al Qaida’s strategy, he says is to “attack the Western interests throughout the world in order to awaken the Ummah and remove the power that protects the thrones of the oppressive Taaghuuts of our own races.” In other words, Al Qaida views itself as a vanguard party pursuing a cost imposing strategy against the United States in order to oblige it to remove itself from the Muslim world.
This strategic “innovation” was a stroke of “genius” ash-Shami says, but he warns Muslims not to hold to the strategy for its own sake. Rather, they must recall that this strategy exists only to bring about the Caliphate, not for the sake of “simply harming the interests of the Kuffaar throughout the world.” However, many mujahidin have forgotten this simple fact. Ash-Shami assesses this as a grave error.
In the end we will find that we are busy starting up new fronts and chasing out the Kuffaar without any focus on the necessary infrastructure for establishing the Islaamic Khilaafah and we could miss out on harvesting the fruits of our work. The other movements could take advantage of the safety and stability in order to establish secular states; just like what transpired after the first Jihaad against the colonialists.
Ash-Shami maintains that the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Chechen mujahidin, and AQIM are making a different mistake. These groups “are striving to remove the occupier from their lands (or to remove the apostate regimes) in order to establish an Islaamic Emirate which establishes the Shari’ah.” True, ash-Shami maintains, this strategy does have the advantage of doing something practical. However, “due to the nature of local conflict, and due to becoming pre-occupied with removing the occupier, the issue of making the conflict global has become merely a bi-product of the strategy, and not its core.” Jihadists, he says, must “first and foremost” look toward making the conflict global, even while acting to establish Sharia locally. In fact, “it is more befitting of us that we direct all of these victories and gains towards one unified project as opposed to having multiple different projects (even if it is from our plans to unite these projects later on down the line.)”
His prescription? Here Ash-Shami puts himself firmly into Abu Bakr Naji’s camp. The mujahidin should combine the global conflict of Al Qaida and the “element of establishing the Shariah” from the local affiliates “while always reminding ourselves…that these two elements are merely two sides of the same coin.” In particular, he thinks the mujahidin should open “safe havens.” These would exist “not solely for the purpose of taking control of land, not solely for the purpose of establishing Shari’ah, not solely for the purpose of attacking the far enemy, and not solely for the purpose of spreading out throughout the land – rather, for the purpose of constructing the infrastructure for the rightly-guided Islaamic Khilaafah.”
Ash-Shami makes clear that by “infrastructure” he does not mean roads and bridges. Those, he says, are byproducts of infrastructure. Rather, “infrastructure” to him means “men and money.” Here he quotes Sa’d al-‘Aamili at length, arguing for bases and safe-havens for the mujahidin, schools and sound Islamic as well as practical education, and “constant funding.”
So, ash-Shami says, when we liberate an area we must consolidate our gains there before moving to liberate new lands. “This is done by establishing the Shari’ah, increasing propagation, improving the administration and management, and by fully learning the sciences of the Shari’ah before other military and worldly sciences.”
In this way we will raise the level of the Mujaahidiin as well as the level of the populace all at once and we will enter the stage of having a Jihaad that is fought by the entire Ummah (just as Abu Mus’ab as-Suuri explained in his book Da’watul Muqaawamah and just as can be found in the book of Abu Bakr Naaji: Idaarat at-Tawahhush) and we will receive monetary funds from Zakaah, charitable donations, and investments (in business, agriculture, livestock, etc.) and we will reach the level of self-sufficiency which is necessary to spread out to the other lands.
Ash-Shami now rhetorically asks, “What about the outside threat? And where is the global aspect?” Well, he says:
The launching pad will provide the cadres and the wealth necessary to achieve the dream of opening new fronts and executing outside operations….In this way our goal of spreading out throughout the world will become a reality because it will be built upon the necessary resources to do that and because we will focus on spreading unconventionally deep into enemy territory.
Sensibly, ash-Shami is at pains to explain that “spreading out” and “opening new fronts” should be done by means of guerrilla warfare because this mode of warfare corresponds well to the mujahidin’s relative conventional weakness. With a bit of a Maoist flair, he suggests that guerrilla warfare can defeat “the enemy” by imposing costs or even actually exhausting him.
I do not intend to state here that the borders of the state should never be spread conventionally in an absolute sense. Rather, I intend to say that the enemy should be sufficiently weakened first – from the very heart if possible – before going on to actually capturing lands. Spreading out too quickly could actually lead to a quicker and larger retreat! Also, seeing that the enemy is currently occupying much of our lands with its limited army – from the perspective of size and resources – it will not be able to fight on multiple fronts on all different sides of the world. Therefore, very small work from our side – which is spread out according to carefully studied plans – can cause the enemy to become completely embarrassed and it can cause the enemy to become dragged down into many small battles which will break its back by the will of Allaah.
He goes on:
The difference between different strategies only becomes clear when there is a possibility of taking one of the two options and it will not be clear in the state of necessity (a lack of financial resources, cadres, and time). In the state of necessity everyone is busy striving simply to survive and there is nothing more important than surviving. However, we should beware of being the ones who manufacture this state of necessity with our own hands due to choosing to act chaotically or due to placing subsidiary issues high on our list of priorities. Sometimes a state of necessity may seem to exist while it does not actually exist in reality; rather it is a psychological state that we have forced upon ourselves.
Finally, Ash-Shami says, the mujahidin need a Caliph. In a phrase that probably sounds better in Arabic, he asks, “what is the Khilaafah without a Khaliifah??!” He recommends that the Caliph be of the Quraysh tribe and be from the Arabian Peninsula. In another—albeit small—sign of the growing importance of Yemen, he says that country would be a fine location for the Caliph, as the jihad is doing well there and Yemen is close to Somalia where the jihad is also doing well. That said, he believes that it would be acceptable if the Caliph arose in Iraq, too.
The Caliphate that he envisions would be made up of disconnected pieces, but he makes an interesting, if not entirely persuasive argument,to suggest why that can be helpful, given that the overall strategy is to cause the enemy, here “the empire,” to tire itself through fighting. not necessarily a problem.
[Disconnected territory] is not always a shortcoming. The far off distances between the different parts of one country are only harmful when those parts are all dependent upon one another and when the military strategy being employed requires fighting in the same ranks. As for fronts which are self-dependant and employ the strategy of unconventional warfare, then multiplicity is actually in the interests of those fronts at the expense of the enemy (especially if the occupying enemy claims to be a strong empire because it is not possible for it to turn a blind eye to an open revolt inside its empire).
There are some intellectually appealing points to this strategy. Ash-Shami has accurately diagnosed a serious problem in the jihadist movement: the lack of focus. He neatly deploys Abu Bakr Naji’s central idea to provide a functional context for Abu Musab al-Suri’s concept of “leaderless jihad.” However, he does not address a major problem that al-Suri quite correctly mentions: the crushing military ability of the United States that can obliterate most jihadist safe havens.
Even if ash-Shami’s strategic thinking isn’t perfect, however, it represents yet another step in the intellectual adaptation of the jihadist movement as its elites try to bridge the gap between what they expected and what is actually happening on the world’s battlefields. The very existence of that adaptation process is, in itself, a worrying sign for us.
[4 November update: One of the two sites that I’ve found this text was the Islamic Awakening [IA] forum. Someone posted a wonderful comment there about my own post. The comment linked to this page and said in its entirety “Seems the kufar took the book more seriously than IA.”]