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.