The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has just released a study of jihadi literature, analyzing who the most influential thinkers in the movement are, based on a year of mining the most influential texts and web writings. The New York Times did a piece on it, but it deserves much broader attention.
The study is a valuable addition, because it includes a summary of many of the most influential jihadi texts, biographies of many of the author, and thinking about the way forward in combatting the theological and theoretical basis for the struggle. It is available online here.
As I have said repeatedly, it is vitally important to read what the enemy says about itself, and what the rationale is for their actions. Far too often I have been in meetings where the architects of the jihad struggle is dismissed as stupid, unsophisticated, and totally unknowable. This study helps make them knowable, and that is the only way to begin to develop a more comprehensive long-term strategy that might actually have some impact.
Within their belief system, what they do is both rational and to a degree predictable. Knowing what drives them-particularly their unshakable belief that there is only one truth and anyone who deviates from that is the enemy-is also a great opening for exploiting the schism that inevitably arise. This was true between bin Laden and Azzam, and is likely true among different current groups.
The Executive Summary offers, I think, one nugget that should give pause to both Democrats who embrace the Islamist groups like CAIR in the mistaken belief this is a replay of the civil rights struggle, as well as Republican who continually meet-and allow law enforcement and intelligence officials to meet-with these Islamist groups as part of their “outreach.”
“Finally, a word about “moderate” Muslims. The measure of moderation depends on what type of standard you use. If by “moderate” one means the renouncement of violence in the
achievement of political goals, then the majority of Salafis are moderate.
“But if by “moderate” one means an acceptance of secularism, capitalism, democracy, gender equality, and a commitment to religious pluralism, then Salafis would be extremists on all counts. Then again, there are not many Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East that would qualify as moderates according to the second definition.”
I am not sure the first statement is true-that most Salafis renounce violence. But I am quite sure the second statement is absolutely true, and a lesson that badly needs to be learned and understood.