Some interesting thoughts are emerging from the Salafi Jihadist community in Indonesia. In April, Indonesian police special forces did a number on a recently discovered jihadist training camp in Aceh. These jihadists were a new group styling themselves as “Tanzim al-Qaeda Indonesia for Serambi Makkah.” “Serambi Makkah” apparently means “the front porch of Mecca.” (The International Crisis Group (ICG) did their usual bang-up job in describing the background and the government round-up.) Though the jihadists were mostly killed and arrested, the ICG assesses that enough survived to reconstitute.
An interesting part of this reconstitution process is a multi-part essay entitled “Reflection on Aceh Jihad 2010” that is circulating on the web. (Part 1 and Part 2. For those who want the Bahasa Indonesian originals, try here and here. Apparently more is forthcoming.) This essay is very much in the instrumentalist tradition of Salafi jihadism. Drawing on guerrilla warfare theory, its whole tone is one of frank self-criticism in the interest of improving the performance of the jihad. “If the Aceh jihad 2010 could be [defeated] by the enemies only in a matter of weeks, it means that we must do some evaluations, what was wrong.” As earlier precedents for such self-criticism, the author refers to Abu Musab al-Suri’s work, both his book about the jihad in Syria and also his 2004/2005 Call to Global Islamic Resistance. (For the latter, see here and here.)
The author notes that after the roundup there had been a great deal of discussion of this newly emerged group and its unceremonious end. General public opinion, the author says, fell into several general camps.
- The first is the conspiracy theorists. These people said that the Tanzim al Qaeda Indonesia (TAQI) was a sham created by the Indonesian president to distract attention from a recent banking scandal. Or, they said, that this somehow had something to do with enhancing security for President Obama’s now-postponed visit to the country. The author argues that “A conspiracy theory in its essence is a mechanism to ‘blame’ the enemies by closing the eyes to the reality that the movement of a resistance in the midst of the Islamic ummah is real and cannot be refuted.” He ridicules those who say that the Jews or the CIA or the Indonesian intelligence service control everything. These conspiracy theorists are the captives of the mindset of inferiority inflicted upon the Muslims by the colonial powers. Furthermore, the author argues, these conspiracy theorists forget that we have Allah on our side and that he can, for instance, blind America’s air defense systems when it is necessary to do so.
- The second group is the Neo-Murji’ah. These people, mostly Salafis, believe the Indonesian government’s line and slander the mujahideen as khawarij.
- Finally, there are those of the Middle Path who support the mujahideen. These people apply the term “terrorist” to the mujahideen but they do it with “love.” Nevertheless, and here is the important point, they do not look on the activities of the mujahideen and TAQI as flawless.
Having thus indicated the limited social bounds within which TAQI must maneuver, the author then goes on to critique the group’s performance. “Jihad requires a ‘trigger’ which could attract the Islamic ummah to unite in a massive number. If the igniter is not strong enough, the society won’t be motivated to support jihad. The fact is that the executors did not think well about this igniter.” TAQI relied on the inherent attractions of jihad and martyrdom, but it was not enough. By contrast, the essay says, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had the “igniter” of a foreign occupation to help him when he went to Iraq. Moreover, TAQI did not have the support of the people in the surrounding areas of the countryside. To these people, TAQI’s ideals of jihad and martyrdom appeared “absurd.”
Rather than confronting these shortcomings squarely, however, the author claims that too many people are blaming the enemy for the failure of TAQI. This makes little sense. He compares the situation to a soccer game. If the Brazilian team beats the Indonesian team whose fault is it? It’s not the Brazilian team’s fault, rather it’s the the fault of the Indonesian team for not playing well enough. “The attitude of always blaming the enemies is a stupidity which will be laughed at by the world. A childish sentimentality.”
In the spirit, then, of self-criticism, it is necessary to choose the proper yardstick for success “because choosing the wrong yardstick would make a defeat seem as victory.” Among the inappropriate and misleading yardsticks that the author examines and rejects are dying as martyrs, inflicting casualties on Indonesian government forces, getting arrested (? perhaps he is being sarcastic), and producing slick Al Qaida-style propaganda. “Therefore, the yardstick for the success must be agreed[upon by us is] the sustainability of its jihad the support from the Islamic ummah and the ability to weaken the enemies until they are defeated.” TAQI couldn’t do it this time, so more serious preparations are needed for next time. In a passage remarkably reminiscent of the expression that “the Lord helps those who help themselves,” the author goes on to say, “True, we are not burdened by Allah with the obligation of defeating the enemies, but it cannot be denied that the Shari’ah of jihad is the best tool that Allah provides for us to defeat the enemies.” The fundamental rule of this shariah is, “jihad surely results in victory if done right.” In other words, Allah will be the one who provides victory, but he expects us to chip in ourselves. He will withhold our victory until we do it right.
Doing it right, in the author’s opinion, means answering a fundamental question:
One of the stiff debates that is spreading amongst the jihad activists is; is jihad seen as a means to achieve victory or an objective and the last terminal from a series of servitudes to Allah? Though this debate does not stick out to the surface in the form of oral dispute, but it is reflected in the choice of actions.
In other words, are we in it to win it? Or are we in it just to gain the glory of jihad and then bed down with the 72 virgins? (As I have argued elsewhere, jihadist elites are endlessly wringing their hands over those who want to just do it and thereby implicitly ignore victory.) Those who intend to win have to do certain things, the author says. These include conducting dawah in “parallel” with jihad and providing social services. In particular with regard to dawah and jihad, “both have to be done simultaneously, none is to be favored over another.” Those who aren’t aiming to win, furthermore, neglect all the “little things” that also contribute to success. “Jihad requires the support of da’wah, the funds, journalistic, communication and technology experts and other kind of expertises. It requires the continuity of the human resources that will carry the burden of this jihad.”
Though I’m disturbed that such clear thinking is going on in the jihad world, in a strange way it is sort of refreshing to read something this sensible, something that isn’t the same old tiresome diatribe about the Jews or a bombastic call to jihad. This is a very sensible critique and one which most jihadist groups would be well served to heed. Given that fact, I rather think that the author should be identified and at the very least watched if a sound reason to bring him in can’t be found. (The only attribution on this piece is a note that it comes from the “elhakimi” blog with which I am not familiar.) I have long believed that keeping Salafi jihadists in a “just do it” mode, “unencumbered by the thought process,” can be a key step toward their defeat. Essays like this move the jihadists in the wrong direction, as far as I’m concerned.