A Hundred Osamas: Islamist Threats and the Future of Counterinsurgency
If America's pursuit of a Global War on Terror is strategically and politically well-grounded, then why are Islamist insurgencies and extremist movements continuing to operate, generating parallel cells that terrify the world with violent attacks from Iraq to London? While analysts debate the intensity and longevity of the latest round of terrorist attacks, we would do well to consider whether U.S. long-term goals in the war on terror -- namely diminishing their presence and denying terrorists the ability to operate, while also altering conditions that terrorists exploit -- are being met. If we are not pursuing the proper strategy or its implementation is not decreasing support for terrorists, then we should adapt accordingly. This monograph addresses these questions and examines the efficacy of proposed or operative strategies in light of the evolution of Islamist jihadist leaders, ideas, and foot-soldier. Jihadist strategy has emerged in a polymorphous pattern over the last 30 years, but many Americans only became aware of the intensity of this problem post-September 11, 2001 (9/11), and through observation of the 2003-05 insurgency in Iraq. The author proposes that extremist (jihadist) Islamist groups are not identical to any other terrorist group. Islamist discourse, and extremist discourse within it, must be clearly understood. Given the fiscal challenges of the Global War on Terror, the fact that its coordination may be at odds with great power competition, and certainly contests the interests of smaller states (like Iran), why are we aiming at eradication, rather than containment, and is eradication possible? Differentiating the "true Islam" from the false and destructive aims of such groups is an important response. Each region-based administration has so crafted its anti-terrorist rhetoric, and Muslims, in general, are not willing to view their religion as a destructive, anachronistic entity, so this unfortunately difficult task of ideological differentiation is an acceptable theme. But it is insufficient as a strategy because Islamist insurgencies have arisen in the context of a much broader, polychromatic religious and political "Islamic awakening" that shows no signs of receding. That broader movement informs Muslims sentiment today from Indonesia to Mauritania, and Nigeria to London. Official statements will not diminish recruitment; deeds, not words, are needed. Finally, eradication may be impossible, but containment is philosophically unattractive. A combination of eradication (denial) and co-optation, as we have seen in the Muslim world thus far, probably makes sense. Certain assumptions that underlie U.S. strategies of denying and diminishing the terrorism of Islamist extremists therefore need to be reconsidered.
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