Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Carol's Conundrum

I'd rather listen to HER advice on foreign policy

Recently, Jeffery D. "Carol" (see picture above) Vordermark, a former US Army Colonel, published this self-righteous piece of vacuousness for the Small Wars Journal, regarding what he terms the "clueless" habit of the mainstream analysts of falling into the "jihad trap" - that is, using the word "jihad" to describe the actions of Islamic terrorists. Vordermark argues that Western use of this term is incorrect from an orthodox Islamic standpoint, and therefore can only be self-defeating when used to fight the War on Terror. The piece is full of serious errors that have become distressingly common, particularly among liberals, and warrants further examination.

One of the most important points that needs to me made is one that Carol Vordermark himself actually acknowledges: that Islamic terror groups themselves use the word "jihad" to describe their actions. One problem in his thesis is that Muslims will not remotely be influenced by whatever non-Muslims call the jihadists, and simply changing our language will not make any difference to how the jihadists perceive themselves or are perceived by others at all. Another is the assumption that the jihadists' view of Islam and jihad has no legitimacy within traditional Islam, and can easily be exposed as such, which has no basis in fact at all, as can clearly be demonstrated by the teachings of all the schools of jurisprudence and the writings of the traditional, mainstream Muslim scholars who the jihadists actually quote in their own writings. Trying to avoid using the word "jihad" would have the effect of obscuring the traditional nature of the appeal that the jihadists so effectively make within Muslim communities, and thereby obscuring our proper response and the response that peaceful Muslims should make. This would be comparable to refusing to refer to the Nazis by the name they used for themselves, thereby effectively rendering irrelevant the ideology that drove them and all of which was symbolised by their very name. Such a tactic would not have been remotely productive in determining how to fight Hitler during World War II.

In any case, the notion that jihad doesn't really mean what the terrorists say it means simply isn't true. It is correct that the word itself does not mean “holy war”, but “struggle” or “striving”. However, the use of this word in the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, is telling. The Arabic root word of jihad, jahada, appears in the Qur'an forty times, and thirty-six of these occurrences use derivations of the verb form jahida, which refers to physical fighting. Similarly, the canonical hadith collection known as Sahih Bukhari, which is considered by Muslims to be the most authoritative of all the collections of traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, contains approximately two hundred references to jihad, and only a tiny handful could even conceivably be read as referring to any kind of spiritual endeavour. In fact, some hadith collections contain entire chapters called "The Book of Jihad", which are filled with stories about Muhammad's wars. Is Vordermark really going to try telling Muslims that the revered collectors of hadith actually got it all wrong? There is no doubt that the dominant understanding of jihad among Muslim jurisprudents since the inception of Islam has been that of literal holy war against unbelievers.

Vordermark suggests that instead of using the word jihad from now on, we should use the word hiraba, which he defines as "killing by stealth and targeting a defenseless victim in a way intended to cause terror in society.” He adds that "[t]his is the Islamic definition of terrorism", and "is the very opposite of jihad."

Unfortunately for Mr. Vordermark, however, he may be falling for a bit of jihadist (boo!) propaganda. According to terrorism expert Professor Walid Phares, the whole hiraba theory was actually concocted by the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Wahhabis, as a plan to prevent jihad from being depicted by the West and the international community as an illegal and therefore sanctioned activity. It was then forwarded to American and Western-based interest groups to be spread within the United States, particularly within the defence and security sectors. As Phares says: “Such a deception further confuses U.S. national security perception of the enemy” and only plays into the hands of the jihadists.

The suspicion that such policies are actually being advocated as part of a Muslim Brotherhood deception campaign is reinforced by another detail that Vordermark mentions a little bit further on. He approvingly cites Jim Guirard, the founder and president of the Truespeak Institute, who has been arguing for many years that U.S. officials should stop using the word jihad, and attributes this policy to his consultations with a number of Muslim "scholars". However, almost all of the Muslim individuals he has consulted have links of some kind to the Muslim Brotherhood. This includes Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who endorses suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and refers to sharia finance as "jihad with money". It must be remembered also that the Brotherhood is dedicated, in its own words, to "eliminating and destroying Western civilisation from within". Confusing Western intelligence agencies is definitely a good place to start with that.

Moving on, Vordermark then says of jihad: "Historically the term applied to the concept of either a 'greater Jihad' or a 'lesser Jihad'. The former denoting the daily struggle of the believer to overcome 'self' in the pursuit of Allah’s will, and the latter traditionally meaning defense of religion, family, or homeland. Both of these terms are seen in a positive light within Islam, and conjure up images that are meaningful in the same sense for Westerners."

Again, this presentation is whitewashed and inaccurate. Aside from the false depiction of military jihad as only defensive in nature, it must be made clear that this marginal doctrine is based on a putative saying of Muhammad, but unfortunately many Muslims deny the authenticity of this saying. For starters, it does not appear in any of the Sahih Sittah – that is, the six hadith collections that Muslims consider to be most reliable.

Various modern jihadists (boo again!), such as Osama bin Laden's close friend Abdullah Azzam, and Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, defer to traditional Islamic authorities to assert that this tradition was narrated by a man who was known to invent sayings and attribute them to Muhammad. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d.1448), who wrote the definitive commentary on Sahih Bukhari, stated simply, “He was accused of forging hadith.” The Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya likewise said that this tradition “has no source, nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic Knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the disbelievers is the most noble of actions, and moreover it is the most important action for the sake of mankind.” Azzam ultimately asserts that this hadith “is in fact a false, fabricated hadith which has no basis...and it contradicts textual evidence and reality.” Al-Banna concurs: “This narration is not a sahih (sound) tradition”.

The classic Islamic legal manual Umdat al-Salik only devotes a few lines to explaining the “greater jihad”, before dismissing it and devoting eleven pages to jihad as literal warfare. In Islamic jurisprudence, jihad is strictly a military action. Umdat al-Salik, which, remember, has been endorsed as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Islam's most sacred authority, Al-Azhar University, defines jihad simply as “warfare against non-Muslims”, noting that the word itself “is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.”

In other words, while the word jihad itself does not mean “holy war”, there is no doubt that the dominant understanding of it in Islamic theology and law has been of exactly that. This is actually sort of confirmed in a much more authoritative hadith, where Muhammad says: “He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith.” (Sahih Muslim b.1, no.79) So physical action is greater than words or thoughts when it comes to dealing with “injustice”.

None of this means, of course, that opposing views are wrong. But jihadists have been very successful in convincing their fellow Muslims that the traditions referring to “greater” and “lesser” jihad are unreliable and false. Whether this is true or not, it should not obscure the fact that even if jihad does have multiple meanings, this is of little importance. Violent jihad still exists, and people are suffering because of it every day. It might be comforting to believe that there can also be peaceful jihad, but that does nothing to prevent people being killed by Muslims with bombs and bullets.

And if Western intelligence agencies adopt the confused, dishonest policies advocated by Jeffery Vordermark, such killing will continue, regardless of how he wishes us to label it.


  1. LOL!

    I thought you were all up for fweedom an democwacy!

    You prefer censorship really...

  2. Hardly. But I will not have ad hominem attacks directed against me, or any one else. I deleted your posts because they have no place in serious discussion. If you continue to make such posts, I will not hesitate to delete them, either.