As is often noted, political Islam — which is sometimes referred to as “radical Islam” or “Islamism” — is a totalitarian ideology. All four schools of Sunni Islamic law, along with Shi’a jurisprudence, affirm the orthodox political interpretations of the Koran and the hadith that justify the establishment of an all-powerful theocratic state by any and all means. These interpretations of Islam’s core scriptures are validated by traditional doctrine as taught by scholars at all major Islamic universities, especially the most prestigious of them all, al-Azhar University in Cairo.
For these reasons we may assert that Islam is inherently totalitarian. Muslims themselves may or may not have totalitarian tendencies — it’s certainly true that many millions of Muslims, whether they really believe in their religion or not, are politically apathetic and indifferent to any practical political application of their creed. But official Islamic doctrine promotes a totalitarian political philosophy.
Westerners who long for a “reform” of Islam — which they imagine will somehow purge Islamic theology of its violent tendencies — fail to realize that a reform is already well underway. The latest wave began in 1928 in Egypt with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan al-Banna, and it continues to this day. Followers of al-Banna have returned to the core scriptures of Islam and studied the life and sayings of Mohammed. They take what is written in these texts and commentary seriously, and are thus driven to implement various totalitarian political practices, through violent means or otherwise.
John J. Dziak points out that political Islam, like other totalitarian systems such as those of China, Cuba, the U.S.S.R., and Nazi Germany, takes the form of a diffuse counterintelligence state, with its typical characteristics:
The residual influence of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia on Islamism may be seen precisely in the assimilated features of the counterintelligence state absorbed by both radical Islamic movements and radical Islamic regimes: the multiplicity and redundancy of intelligence and counterintelligence services with counterintelligence being the preferred tendency; fixation with conspiracies and incessant conspiratorial intrigue; provocation and associated deception; conspiracy-laced propaganda and very sophisticated information warfare campaigns; draconian police state tactics, this time justified by theocratic strictures vice party dogma. In its drive to nuclear power status Iran, especially, has shown adeptness at deception in masking the weapons side of its program, and in information warfare and propaganda with its bombast of military prowess aimed at strong anti-war sentiment in the U.S.
Many Westerners had trouble grasping the nature of the U.S.S.R., and they are no better at understanding the workings of the Islamic counterintelligence state. Iran is a good example: we treat it as if it were a Western democracy, with a parliament (the Majlis) as a legislative authority, a judiciary (the mullahs and ayatollahs) and an executive (President Ahmadinejad). However, there is at best a superficial resemblance between these structures and their Western counterparts. Politics in Iran is conducted quite differently from what we are used to. It is opaque to us because its operations proceed according to the internal logic inherent to a counterintelligence state.
As a made-up example, imagine that three American charity workers in Iran are arrested and detained by the Revolutionary Guards, and then later charged with being spies for the CIA. We’ll assume for the sake of argument that they are not really CIA spies.
So what is Iran up to?
It may be quite difficult to determine the motives for such an arrest. If talks on Iran’s nuclear program are about to begin, the act may constitute the first move in the chess game of those negotiations. When backdoor discussions about the hostages are initiated, Iran may discreetly hint that a relaxation in the IAEA inspection regime might just result in the release of the captives.
Or the arrest may be some other international gambit in a complex game — an effort to influence Russia, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Saudi Arabia.
Or the real reason may be found within the internal politics of Iran itself. Political disagreement and maneuvering in a counterintelligence state generally proceed out of sight. Publicly staged political events simply ratify what has been decided by other means — that is, through the struggles between the factions that form the power structure of the state. In Iran, as in any other Third World country, Western hostages — particularly Americans — are very valuable. They function as a big bank deposit for the faction that holds them. Taking the three prisoners may well have given the Revolutionary Guards or their allies more leverage in ongoing internal factional struggles.
By the time the captives are released by a smiling Ahmadinejad during a carefully staged photo op, the political issues of their capture have already been settled. The tearful erstwhile prisoners thank the president for his gracious help, the cameras and the journalists depart, and the real game moves on to the next move, unnoticed and unrecognized by the vast majority of Western observers.
Moving beyond Iran, we leave the realm of state totalitarianism and enter the world of diffuse non-state Islamic radicalism. Non-state actors such as Al Qaeda and the various affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood display the same characteristics as the counterintelligence state, but they operate in a different context. Their goal is not to maintain internal control within a discrete political entity, but subversion: they aim to turn non-Muslims into dhimmis by stages, without the intended targets being aware of what is happening until it is too late.
To accomplish this goal, the Ikhwan uses all the techniques — provocation, penetration, diversion, disinformation, etc. — familiar to students of Soviet counterintelligence. These methods serve to undermine and subvert the targeted society below the level of public awareness.
One of the most successful counterintelligence operations yet mounted by the Muslim Brotherhood was the notorious “Flying Imams” affair. In November 2006 a handful of imams affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood front groups managed to paralyze the Transportation Security Agency (and through it the Department of Homeland Security) with an easy and inexpensive provocation at the Minneapolis airport. Their belligerence and litigiousness served to neutralize the already weak attempts by TSA officials to monitor and act upon specific behaviors that might be expected from potential Islamic terrorists.
The superficially apparent objective of the operation — to test security systems and procedures using a terrorist dry run — was accomplished. However, by drawing attention to their particular tactics, the imams compromised the future effectiveness of such methods. The subsequent out-of-court shakedown of USAirways could hardly suffice as a motivation for such an audacious public operation.
Understood from the point of view of the counterintelligence state, however, the Flying Imams were an enormous success. The incident was a probe, a diversion, and it neutered the capacity of domestic security agents to evaluate and react to evidence of Islamic terrorist behavior. By rewarding targeted lawfare, it ensured that no TSA or DHS official who values his career will ever take into consideration any obvious radical Muslim behavior until a bomb actually detonates.
The incident may accurately be labeled a “diversion” because the exact modus operandi of the probe — belligerent behavior, loud Arabic prayers, the demanding of seat belt extensions, etc. — is unlikely to be used again. What it accomplished instead was to restrict the scope of America’s available responses, so that the real attack, in whatever form it may take, will be impossible to deal with until dozens, hundreds, or thousands of Americans are already dead.
Seen from a counterintelligence standpoint, the Flying Imams gig was an enormous success achieved at almost no cost. The value of the operation was greatly enhanced by the fact that very few Americans are even aware of the scope of the Muslim Brotherhood’s achievement.
This brings us to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the proposed Ground Zero mosque.
References to Imam Rauf in the following discussion should be understood to encompass not just the imam himself — who, after all, is simply the oily-tongued spokesman for the Cordoba Initiative, chosen for his soothing glib demeanor as displayed on television — but also the more powerful movers and shakers of the international Ikhwan who put him in place to help the planned mosque come into being.
For a number of months the Park51 project flew mostly under the radar. Then, as news began to spread through patriotic anti-jihad networks, the protests and resistance began to emerge. All through the summer of 2010 the controversy grew hotter, to the point where it made headlines every day in the mainstream media.
The more prominent the news about the Ground Zero mosques, the more Americans who opposed it. Despite the best efforts of local, state, and federal officials — not to mention the media — to spin the issue as one of religious freedom involving an innocuous place of worship, ordinary citizens woke up to the fact that the building of the mosque would in fact be a celebration of a Muslim victory at Ground Zero. The more they learned, the less they liked it.
The affair climaxed on September 11th during protests and demonstrations against the mosque that were staged at Ground Zero, across the rest of America, and all over the world.
There were rumors just before 9-11 that Imam Rauf was going to back down and announce at the last minute that the Park51 project would be moved to another location. When I read those reports, I thought, “Of course — what a brilliant move!”
By allowing the “Islamophobes” to gain public prominence, and then deflating their cause, Mr. Rauf would marginalize opposition to the mosque simply by moving the planned structure a few blocks away.
Members of the hard-core resistance to Park51 — including such people as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Andy McCarthy, and Brigitte Gabriel — insist that moving the mosque is not enough, that it must be stopped. But the vast majority of the opponents of Park51, probably more than 90% of them, would have been content with its being moved.
At one stroke Imam Rauf could have deflated the entire anti-mosque movement, fragmented the opposition to Park51, discredited its more strident opponents, and made it that much easier for the Muslim Brotherhood to build mosques elsewhere.
As icing on the cake, in the process of relocating it he could have taken up Donald Trump (or one of the other potential buyers) on his offer, sold the property, and made a fifty million dollar profit on the deal.
So why didn’t he do it?
Considering the affair as a counterintelligence chess game, relocating the mosque at the last minute was the obvious move — it was a pawn-takes-queen gambit. In order to work, however, it had to be a 9-11 moment — once the anniversary passed, the enormous propaganda impact of the move would have been diminished. The eve of 9-11 was the peak opportunity, but Imam Rauf and his handlers let it pass.
To understand why Islamic radicals sometimes fail to make certain moves that would otherwise serve their interests, we must examine the details of Islamic law. Although the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are totalitarians at heart, unlike their Soviet counterparts they are constrained by an internally recognized set of limits: sharia law.
Consider this passage from ‘Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller). In Book O, “Justice”, o9.16, al-Misri has this to say concerning truces:
Truces are permissible, not obligatory … for it is a matter of the gravest consequence because it entails the nonperformance of jihad, whether globally or in a given locality, …
In other words, there must be an acceptable reason to halt a jihad, because Muslims are required to wage it if they possibly can. Reliance of the Traveller continues:
There must be some interest served in making a truce other than mere preservation of the status quo. Allah most high says, “So do not be fainthearted and call for peace, when it is you who are the uppermost.” (Koran 47:35).
If he is not engaging in deception, the only reason a Muslim fighter can call for a truce, according to Islamic law, is that he is too weak to fight. That is, once a jihad is launched, the mujahideen must continue it until victory is achieved, because to cease the jihad would be to acknowledge that they were too weak to fight it in the first place, and thus that Allah was not with them. This is tantamount to suicide — and not the sacred martyrdom kind.
This feeds into the core Islamic concept of jihad. Those fighting jihad in the cause of Allah may have setbacks, as Allah says in the Koran. But victory is guaranteed if it is in the cause of Allah. Continuous defeat in jihad is an indicator that the jihad was never sanctioned by Allah. In such circumstances, the Muslim community will turn against the jihadis.
So, if truce is denied them, the mujahideen will go out and fight as if their eternal souls depended on it. They have to throw everything into the battle.
This is exactly what happened in Iraq to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi put a bomb in a souk and killed a lot of women and children, but no Americans were present. The Salafists were outraged; they said this was the murder of innocents (where the “murder of innocents” means to kill Muslims without just cause).
Zarqawi managed to finish himself off not long afterwards when he detonated a bomb in an employment line and killed a number of men. This made the Salafists condemn him even more: they turned on him, gave his location up to the American military, and collected the bounty.
Zarqawi’s actions demonstrated that he had launched a jihad that he could not win, and also one that violated the tenets of Islamic law. This proved he had sinned against Allah, and his life was forfeit.
From this we can deduce that Jihad fighters do not respond to their own perceived weakness in the same way that a typical “insurgent” does. If the mujahideen ever concede that they are losing, then they have lost the entire jihad. Rather than withdraw, they will return to the fight with increased ferocity, otherwise they will have broken one of the core rules of Islam. They are well aware that the entire Muslim world treats such lawbreakers with utmost severity.
The Ground Zero mosque project is not a “hot” jihad, but it is jihad nonetheless. To pull back now from the Park51 jihad would be to admit that that Imam Rauf and the mosque’s backers were actually too weak to succeed in their stealth jihad. They would be discredited, and would be subject to sanction under Islamic law.
So the only possible response is to double down and push even harder to get the Ground Zero mosque built. And that is exactly what seems to be happening: as Phyllis Chesler reports, Muslim organizations are repeating their insistence that Park51 must go ahead as planned.
One can’t help but feel that the KGB would have handled the matter differently. As the undisputed masters of the greatest counterintelligence state in history, they would have calculated the odds, and then made the move that best served their interests.
But unlike Imam Rauf, they were not bound by the constraints of sharia (or anything else, for that matter). If Islam has an Achilles heel, it lies within the restrictions imposed by Islamic law itself.
This characteristic can be useful to us, but only if we study and understand Islamic law. Total immersion is required: we must learn to think like Salafists.
This is the only way we can win a chess game with the imams. Unfortunately, to our great detriment we are still playing checkers.