PJ Media

The Three Types of Jihadists

Perhaps the greatest mistake the West makes is equating the war on terror with the war on al-Qaeda, as if someone trying to help Sharia law replace democratic freedom must follow the standard set by bin Laden in order to be defined as an “extremist.” When extremists condemn bin Laden and 9/11, there will always be some voice in the West eager to embrace them as the moderate counter to Islamic extremism, whether that be the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Courts Union of Somalia, or governments like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A recent analysis by the Middle East Media Research Institute of the harsh criticism of Ayman al-Zawahiri by Dr. al-Fadl, his former spiritual mentor, shows that there are three types of jihadists, differing on strategy and details, but sharing the same end goal. The failure of the West to see these distinctions will lead to erred policy and strategy, forcing our grandchildren to fight a war that should be won on our watch.

I call the first group the “total jihadists.” These are the terrorists that pose the most imminent threat, which it seems our strategy focuses solely on. Their mindset is to attack now and attack everywhere, striking Muslims, Arab regimes, or civilians in Europe and the U.S. without any clear methodology to achieve their objectives besides instilling fear. Their actions are aimed at striking fear into the U.S., causing a withdrawal of support for overseas allies, allowing Arab regimes to fall and the beginnings of a puritan Islam that will eventually overtake the entire world.

Al-Qaeda is the shining example of this type of jihadist. Without a clear, comprehensive, long-range strategy to achieve this, they are reckless by nature, inadvertently shooting themselves in the foot by causing Muslim populations to turn against their brutality. They manage to grab the headlines with their beheadings and spark up a sweat with their suicide bombings, but al-Qaeda and the rest of the “total jihadists” are the smallest piece of the terrorist pie, and over the long term probably the least threatening.

The second group is the “near enemy jihadists.” This group acts like a parasite, infiltrating and attaching themselves to regional conflicts, enlisting them in the global radical Islamic offensive. Posing as forces fighting occupation or oppression, this enables them to parade as nationalists in an attempt to gain some level of legitimacy, not only on the battleground but in the West as well. Michael Moore’s praise of the Iraqi insurgents as “freedom fighters” liberating Arab land from foreign occupiers serves as a textbook example of this manipulation.

Their goal is to first remove Western military might from Muslim lands and then begin the process of cleansing these lands of Western influence. Their strategy is a long-term one, seeking to first establish a foothold in the Islamic world that can be expanded until a superpower can be created. Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and the other groups that mostly focus on their own theaters (while building infrastructure in other places) are examples of these types of jihadists. This does not mean they don’t have larger, more long-term objectives, but rather they are the grand prize to be pursued at the end.

This group disagrees with the first in that they believe jihad should be focused on fighting the enemies overseas, closer to their homes, rather than fighting a worldwide conflict in every spot all at once. Their goal is to defeat Western military forces in Muslim lands and their more local enemies like Israel and India. “Near enemy jihadists” share the same goals, but are probably the least monolithic of all the types of jihadists.

While they are united in opposition to the non-Muslim “oppressors” in their lands and to the regimes that are friendly with the U.S., there is a disagreement among members over tactics, targets, and strategy. Some believe that attacks on Muslim civilians and governments that don’t meet their puritan standards are justified and others favor only attacking military targets, especially those of non-Muslim infidels. Some also profess to condemn the attacks of September 11, 2001, and may genuinely believe that mass murdering civilians anywhere is unacceptable, unless it’s in Israel, where they view such civilians as occupiers.

The third group is what I call the “practical jihadists,” which the previously mentioned Dr. al-Fadl belongs to. They recognize that attacking the West now is impractical and therefore support ending violent jihad in any circumstance where they are too weak to take on their enemy. This type of jihadist favors cultural jihad, infiltrating and hijacking institutions, and bringing about Sharia law and Islamization from the bottom up and inside out. In some cases, such as Israel, some members of this group may say violence is permissible, but it is always done with a cost-benefit ratio in mind.

The Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S., probably the most successful and crafty Islamist organization, is an example of the perfection of this strategy, although Jamaat ul-Fuqra deserves a mention as well as they are surely not acting to the fullest of their capabilities. These jihadists intelligently embed themselves in their targeted countries, building a vast infrastructure for financing and waging political warfare. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Western networks are sometimes used to support overseas “near enemy jihadists” like Hamas, highlighting the overlap among the three types of jihadists outlined here. It is here that these masters of political and media manipulation prosper, carefully presenting themselves as moderates and as the widely supported legitimate voices of the Muslim community.

Simply condemning the attacks of 9/11, however, does not make one a moderate. If they condemn 9/11 but don’t condemn Hamas or Hezbollah, or they condemn “terrorism” but don’t condemn suicide bombings of Israeli civilians, or if they declare they love freedom and democracy but advocate Sharia law, then we cannot embrace them as moderates. The tendency of the West to look for any sign of rationality, open-mindedness, or humanity in radicals results in a remarkably low standard for which one can be designated a “moderate.”

The effect of such psychology, which often emanates from an outlook influenced by moral relativism, will be to embrace extremists at the expense of true moderates, resulting in a longer, and far more costly, war against radical Islam. The price to pay to become labeled a moderate by the West — namely, to be marginally less reckless and extreme in tactics than al-Qaeda — is quite the bargain, as such a strategy is more beneficial to their jihad in the long run anyway.

Identifying the three groups of jihadists is a task that should have been done long ago. Without so doing, the West mistakes extremists who may seem reasonable compared to “total jihadists” as the voices we need to work with, strengthening the hand of the smarter and ultimately more threatening jihadists. One day al-Qaeda will wither and die and the other jihadi groups will rise up. The West will cheer, having downgraded al-Qaeda and the “total jihadists” to a nuisance, rather than a strategic threat capable of spectacular attacks, only to later find that another branch of the jihadi octopus remains virtually intact, embedded in societies throughout the world. While the U.S. takes joy in the defeat of the most obvious group of jihadists, the hidden ones will lie in the shadows waiting to pounce.