On Point: Defeating Militant Islamist Ideology


by Austin Bay
September 21, 2010

Al-Qaida has always been a propaganda power. Its dark geniushas been to connect the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young menwith a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasyseeks to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline.

Al-Qaida's rage predates any offense at Danish cartoons ofMuhammad, protests over the ground zero mosque or goofy sectarian grandstandersin Florida threatening to burn the Quran. Al-Qaida's dedication to thedestruction of its ideological enemies -- including its Muslim enemies -- liesat the organization's malign spiritual and savage philosophical core.

That malignant ideological core is the target of U.S. NavyCommander Yousef H. Aboul-Enein's extraordinary new book, "MiltantIslamist Ideology" (Naval Institute Press, 2010).

Aboul-Enein is an officer with a stellar professional resumeand a compelling personal background. His book is immediately valuable toeveryone engaged in the fight against Militant Islamist terrorism -- andAboul-Enein would insist on militant with a capital M.

When viewed as a treatise on information warfare (which iswhat the book is, though the author might debate this description), thevolume's utility extends well beyond combating Militant Islamists. Aboul-Eneinprovides an intellectual framework for analyzing and countering the ideologyfor every transnational terror organization, whether its creed is secularpolitical, tribal, anarchist or religious.

As for the fascinating background: Aboul-Enein is a U.S.Navy Medical Service Corps officer who advises the Department of Defense andthe U.S. intelligence community "at the highest levels." He was bornin Mississippi and raised in Saudi Arabia, and has a master's degree instrategic intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College.

Aboul-Enein establishes a goal: He intends to distinguishIslam as a religion from two other groups, Islamists and Militant Islamists. Hethen seeks to "disaggregate" Militant Islamists from both Islamistsand Islam. This, he argues, is key to defeating Militant Islamists, the violentactors who scar Islam, harm Islamists, and murder Muslims and non-Muslimsalike. He makes an insistently strong, and often profound, intellectualargument.

"Militant Islamist" Aboul-Enein defines as "agroup or individual advocating Islamist ideological goals, principally byviolent means." Islamists are a group who advocate "Islam as apolitical as well as religious system. Chief Islamist objectives includeimplementing sharia (Islamic) law "as the basis of all statutoryissues." Islam is "the religious faith of Muslims, involving ...belief in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet."

Militant Islamist ideology he condemns as a vicious fraud,for it "is composed of fragmented pieces of Islam ... they are recombinedout of context to make up the bulwark of Militant Islamist ideology, which isnot the religion of Islam." Militant Islamist ideology "seeks toestablish a totalitarian state steeped in the language, symbols and narrowlyselective aspects of Islam."

Aboul-Enein says faithful Muslims play a central role indefeating Militant Islamism, arguably the key role. "Unlikecommunism," he writes, "against which free enterprise and democracywere used as ideological counterweights, Militant Islamist ideology can beopposed among the Muslim masses only by Islamic counter-argumentation. Wecannot contain Militant Islamist ideology but only work to marginalize,de-popularize, and erode its influence and mass appeal by identifying it as differentfrom Islam or even from Islamist political groups."

Aboul-Enein does not dismiss the ideological warfare effectsof defeating al-Qaida militarily on its home ground, such as Iraq. His chaptertitled "Marginalizing al-Qaida" has definite operational implicationsfor exploiting tensions and divisions in a terrorist organization when it isengaged militarily in a decisive theater.

Chapter 20, titled "Mindsets That Hamper America'sCapabilities," begins with a quote from Saint Augustine: "When (men)go to war, what they want is to impose on their enemies the victor's will andcall it peace." The chapter is a strong riposte to the imposing"Clash of Civilizations" argument Samuel Huntington made in the1990s.

While Aboul-Enein specifically addresses Militant Islamism,with a tweak of terms and a slight adjustment of the historical dial, hisanalysis of American information warfare weaknesses applies to World War II,the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the great ideological andeconomic struggle we call the Cold War. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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