January 17, 2007


The War Against Global Jihadism (Peter Wehner, 1/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

Shiites believe that the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, is merely hidden from view and will one day return from his "occultation" to rid the world of evil. Legitimate Islamic rule can only be re-established with the Mahdi's return because, in the Shiite view, the imams possessed secret knowledge, passed by each to his successor, vital to guiding the community. [...]

It's worth noting that Shia have historically been politically quiescent, with "[the return of the Mahdi] remaining in practice merely a sanctifying tenet for the submissive acceptance of the status quo." [...] "For all his talk of the war between civilizations," Professor Noah Feldman has written:

"bin Laden has never spoken of the end of days. For him, the battle between the Muslims and the infidels is part of earthly human life, and has indeed been with us since the days of the Prophet himself. The war intensifies and lessens with time, but it is not something that occurs out of time or with the expectation that time itself will stop. Bin Laden and his sympathizers want to re-establish the caliphate and rule the Muslim world, but unlike some earlier revivalist movements within Sunni Islam, they do not declare their leader as the mahdi, or guided one, whose appearance will usher in a golden age of justice and peace to be followed by the Day of Judgment. From this perspective, the utter destruction of civilization would be a mistake, not the fulfillment of a divine plan."

Many Sunnis, then, look toward the rise of a new caliphate; Shia, on the other hand, are looking for the rule of the returned imam -- with the extremist strain within Shia believing they can hasten the return of the twelfth imam by cleansing the world of what they believe to be evil in their midst.

Other prominent Shia, like Iraq's Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "take a more fatalist stance, and prefer to believe that the mahdi's coming cannot be hastened by human activity...." Indeed, Ayatollah Sistani was a disciple of Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoei in Najaf, who was from the "quietist school" in Shiite Islam and attempted to keep Khomeini from claiming the mantle of Shiite leadership. [...]

Since the attacks of September 11, we have learned important things about al Qaeda and its allies. Their movement is fueled by hatred and deep resentments against the West, America, and the course of history.

In Islam's first few centuries of existence, it was a dominant and expanding force in the world, sweeping across lands in the modern-day Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and elsewhere. During its Golden Age -- which spanned from the eighth to the 13th century -- Islam was the philosophical, educational, and scientific center of the world. The Ottoman Empire reached the peak of its power in the 16th century. Islam then began to recede as a political force. In the 17th century, for example, advancing Muslims were defeated at the gates of Vienna, the last time an Islamic army threatened the heart of Europe. And for radicals like bin Laden, a milestone event and historic humiliation came when the Ottoman Empire crumbled at the end of World War I.

This is significant because for many Muslims, the proper order of life in this world is for them to rule and for the "infidels" to be ruled over. [...]

The theocratic and totalitarian ideology that characterizes al Qaeda makes typical negotiations impossible. "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords," said Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Osama bin Laden put it this way: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

This struggle has an enormous ideological dimension. For example, both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda and its ideological leader, were deeply influenced by Sayyid Qutb, whose writings (especially his manifesto Milestones) gave rise and profoundly shaped the radical Islamist movement. Qutb, an Egyptian who was killed by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser in 1966, had a fierce hatred for America, the West, modernity, and Muslims who did not share his extremist views.

According to the author Lawrence Wright:

"Qutb divides the world into two camps, Islam and jahiliyya, the period of ignorance and barbarity that existed before the divine message of the Prophet Mohammed. Qutb uses the term to encompass all of modern life: manners, morals, art, literature, law, even much of what passed as Islamic culture. He was opposed not to modern technology but to the worship of science, which he believed had alienated humanity from natural harmony with creation. Only a complete rejection of rationalism and Western values offered the slim hope of the redemption of Islam. This was the choice: pure, primitive Islam or the doom of mankind."

Sunni jihadists, then, are committed to establishing a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example, has spoken about a "jihad for the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine, as well as every land that was a home for Islam, from Andalusia to Iraq. The whole world is an open field for us."

Their version of political utopia is Afghanistan under the Taliban, a land of almost unfathomable cruelty. The Taliban sought to control every sphere of human life and crush individuality and human creativity.

Based on the recommendations of folks here, I've been listening the Lawrence Wright book and it is not just packed with insights but written with unusual clarity. It's a must-read for understanding the dynamics of the current confrontation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2007 9:18 AM

The Wehner article is quite helpful.

To begin with it is clear about the so-called "sectarian" fault line within the spiritual jailhouse being a squabble over temporal power, like the battle between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

But there is more: Writing of the two mob factions, the author tells us that "Their brand of radicalism is theocratic, totalitarian, illiberal, expansionist, viol;ent, deeply anti-Semitic and anti-American," and that they both ". . .want to impose this dark vision on the Middle East."

The thrust of the article is that reformation is highly unlikely and that total war is nearly inevitable. If this be so, then it were well that we shall appease them to the point of war. Better to draw them into general war sooner than later. If we may not defeat them as we did the Communists, by containment and competition, let us defeat them as we did the Germans and the Japanese, by tempting them to attack before they are ready.

Posted by: at January 17, 2007 4:26 PM


You miss the point entirely. Shi'ism doesn't need to be Reformed. In its classic incarnation it is correct. that's why it is so easily able to accommodate liberal democracy in Iraq and just needs minor tweaks in Iran.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 6:02 PM

Dream, dream, dream.

[Music available] http://www.links2love.com/love_lyrics_208.htm

The best we can say about the partisans of Ali is that they have a better shot at changing than the other gang.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 6:53 PM

Dream, dream, dream.
[With music] http://www.links2love.com/love_lyrics_208.htm

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 7:04 PM

Why would they change when they have the fundamentals right?

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 9:51 PM

Because the fundamental which we all hope they have right is that they are capable of change.
If they are incapable, then they are no advantage to themselves, being an advantage to us only, by reason of their incompetence.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 18, 2007 12:09 AM

Change would be deadly for them because they have the fundamentals right. They just need to put them into effect. Took Christians 1300 years.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2007 7:17 AM