Terrorism Can Be Defeated
9/11, its aftermath and the invasion
of Iraq gave a new dimension to guerrilla warfare and international
terrorism. The two coalesced into a common Ideology in the Arab and,
to some extent, the Muslin world. The demarcation line between the two is
getting more blurred every day, we might infer international guerrilla.
So far, three major battles have been won against
international guerrilla in spite of insurgents’ exactions intensification
in Iraq and Al Qaeda savage terrorist acts in some parts of the world,
The Iraqi insurgency failed in
the most critical phase of guerrilla evolution: national insurrection and
wider popular support. The various armed groups were not able to regroup
all fighters under a single umbrella and agree on a common cause. At this
stage, they are highly vulnerable and open to further fragmentation and to
counter-guerrilla activities: pitch one faction against the other,
“infiltration” of guerrilla organizations, etc.
Al Qaeda has been beheaded.
Its leadership has been dealt deadly blows and large number of its foot
soldiers have been captured. It is now without central command and the
remnants of the embattled organization are on their own, ready for the
Most importantly, all nations are united in the fight against
terrorism. The free world has been efficient in the structural, financial
and physical dismemberment of Al Qaeda and is committed to relentlessly
pursue international terrorists, wherever they are, and finish the job for
good – but without creating more terrorists.
These successes should not conceal the real battle needing to
be waged against international guerrilla: its Ideology. The roots of
this ideology that gives an aura of legitimacy to terrorism need to be
accurately delineated and eliminated. Winning the ideological war is
critical in order to dry up the reservoirs of would-be terrorists and their
supporters. The battle has barely started.
The strategy to defeat terrorists’ ideology should be built on
a better understanding of guerrilla warfare, its origin, its methods and
Iraqi insurgency and international terrorism brought guerrilla
warfare up to the forefront in the international arena. It is perceived as
a new phenomenon that we might have to contend with for probably years to
Guerrilla warfare – also known as asymmetric warfare - is not
peculiar to the present day or to any part of the world; it is as old as
humanity. It has always been a feature of wars fought by every class of men
and women against invaders, oppressors and superior military forces. The
earliest recorded example of guerrilla warfare is probably in the Bible:
David and Goliath or the triumph of the weak over the strong, the oppressed
over the powerful. Large-scale guerrilla fighting took place during the
American Revolution and Civil War. During World War II, Europeans forces
conducted guerrilla operations and played a major role in the defeat of
Germany. Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by
nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism and by dissidents to launch
civil wars. There have been dozens of such conflicts. The United States has
sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces, Nicaraguan
contras and Afghan “mujahidin”.
The many guerrilla wars in history have their points of
difference, their peculiar characteristics, their varying processes and
conclusions but they all have one thing in common: Guerrilla warfare is
essentially a political war, a people war, a war of ideas. It is derived
from the people and is supported by them; it can neither exist nor succeed
if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation. The goal
should therefore be simple, understandable by even the most backward and
illiterate segment of the population. The political objective must be
concrete and clear and should coincide with the aspirations of the people.
Nationalism, social injustice and oppression have always been prime motives
for any insurgency movement. These causes appeal to the people as well to
the guerrilla, and bring the two closer together, insuring the insurgents
the support of the local population.
In most cases, unrelenting repression does not defeat
committed insurgents. Conventional military forces alone cannot
successfully combat guerrilla operations. Insurgents are armed civilians
committed fanatically to a simple cause with minimum logistical need. It
does not take more than a handful of armed insurgents to keep the guerrilla
operational, as long as the population is supporting it.
Once the insurgency starts, in most cases by vicious and
inhumane terrorist acts (urban guerrilla), the security forces resort to
strong measures to counter it, directed against suspected terrorists... the
people. The insurgents respond by further provoking security forces into
taking measures which are repressive or unpopular to the people (curfews,
roadblocks, house to house searches, identification checks, detention of
suspects, etc.). These actions swing the sympathies of the public against
the security forces.
The guerrilla then intensifies by provoking and forcing the
enemy to adopt harsher methods of retaliation such as torture, killing and
destruction. No life is spared to
reach that crucial phase of the guerrilla. It is the deadliest and most
despicable period of an insurgency. The violent guerrilla aggressions and
brutal security forces reactions maintain the pressure in a spiraling
vicious cycle of violence that cements the relationship between the people
and the insurgents. The guerrilla’s body count during this stage of an
insurgency is enormous. It reinforces the security forces’ belief that a
military victory is the solution because there are noticeable results. It
also diverts the attention from the real guerrilla flaws. There are many. A
guerrilla movement is a very vulnerable enterprise, at every stage of its
Recent similar examples include the dilemma the French
confronted in the Algerian war, which began in 1954 with a nationalist
uprising against colonialism. The French were confident that they could
overpower the insurgents with modern weaponry and overwhelming force.
However, over the course of almost eight years and a French contingent of a
half-million troops, the French had to give up to 10,000 guerrillas in
spite of a conventional “military” victory.
It does not appear that the U.S. is repeating the French’s
miscalculation in Algeria. The U.S. has learned from its recent successes
and failures and from its past experience of guerrilla fighting.
The U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraqi leaders. The army of
occupation is now a “multinational force” in Iraq, at the request of the
interim government. The Security Council’s resolution of June 8, 2004 gives
international endorsement to the handover plan. This process should lead to
full elections that will take place at the end of 2005 in order that a
directly elected Iraqi government takes power at the beginning of 2006.
One might surmise that guerrilla would fade away and democracy
should be at the end of the process. But can a democratic regime be
installed from the outside within a short time period? Can countries under
autocratic systems for so long be transformed into democracies with such alacrity? The flaws of such
assumption are many and in a way might be a sheer illusion.
Democracy is not simply about elections. It is a political
culture, one that is diverse, multicultural, and tolerant of peoples and
their ideas. It is a culture that is not limited to tribal membership or
political parties but to all elements of a society. Democracy needs,
more than anything else, a stable environment in which to evolve. Iraqi
society has been reduced to a state of chaos
and insecurity, subject to a multitude of exactions. There is no basic
order in sight, a precondition for a democratic process. Most Iraqis are
absent from the process; players out of their reach decide their faith and
the country is ruled by militias, religious chiefs, and warlords. The
ballot will be democratic, the world wants it: one man, one vote. One man,
one vote means the Shiites in power (60% of the population), and Shiisme
today is an antonym to democracy. The end result might be a struggle for
power; this has been the case over and over in similar circumstances. In
addition, democracy does not defeat guerrilla, since guerrilla takes place
in society lacking a civil culture. Democratic process might follow
conflict resolution it does not precede it. All-out
civil war may be just around the corner.
Algeria, again, is a case in
point, similar to Iraq in many aspects: Arab and Muslim country with
ethnically diverse society. After 30 years
under an autocratic system and due to riots and demonstrations for
democracy and intense pressures from the international community for
reforms, the government embarked on an experiment in democratization. The
over abruptly when the opposition party, Islamic
Salvation Front (known by its initials in French as the FIS), won by an
overwhelming landslide election. The
military, backed by the West, stepped in, abrogated the Islamists victory
and cracked down on the FIS in January 1992. The FIS was driven
underground, its leadership arrested, and some groups within it turned to
guerrilla tactics. The country plunged into an unparalleled political
violence. More than 150,000 deaths and an economical disaster later,
Algeria is still attempting to bring the crisis to an end.
The days, weeks and months ahead are fateful, dangerous and
decisive. Civil war should be averted by all means. The failure of the
democratic process would be perceived as the defeat of the United States in
Iraq. It would have immeasurable consequences across the world. It would be
the defeat of the free world and of the Arabs and Muslims who long for
peace and political pluralism and would inspire new guerrillas on new
A successful outcome of the process for a stable and unified
Iraq is an essential step in order to fight the roots of international
guerilla. They are many but the mother of them all is the guerrilla “Ideology”.
An ideology built falsely on religion and on frustration felt by more than
one billion Muslims around the world due to lack of freedom experienced in
their respective countries.
Al Qaida’s gave an ideology to terrorism and took guerrilla
warfare international. Politicians’, experts’ statements and 24/7 media
coverage spread terrorists’ rhetoric, semantic and propaganda – Islamists,
fundamentalists, jihadists, etc. around the globe.
Traditionally, guerrillas are
internal conflicts. They are aimed at affecting changes within the boarders
of a country. Guerrilla is thought of in terms of a struggle against a
national government or a colonial power. Al Qaeda gave a new dimension to
“national liberation”, the “nation of Islam”, broader boundaries, the
world. Territorial abstraction that is understood by Muslims, concept which
corresponds to the mythical “Umma” (Muslim Community) where a Muslim is
first a member of a larger Islamic “family” before being a citizen of a
specific nation. Islamic fundamentalism helped in shaping that ideology.
The discourse of Islamic fundamentalist organizations is not new and
everywhere similar: national liberation by jihad against internal
corruption and oppression and occidental imperialism (oppressors’
supporter), especially American but Islamic fundamentalism is not
intrinsically prone to terrorism.
Like its Christian and Jewish counterpart, Islamic fundamentalism seeks
to restore an imagined, ideal past. Jewish and Christian fundamentalisms
have grown in democratic systems that allow them to express their faith and
exercise their rights. Islamic fundamentalism proliferated in autocratic
regimes where its rights are denied and its members are persecuted if they
do not serve the system. In most cases, Islamic fundamentalist parties are
the only organized and effective opposition to secular despotism. Their
opposition is an active resistance that often escalate into violence and
terror for change directed at regimes in their own country. Within this
context, Al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations are neither Islamic
fundamentalists nor Islamists. Their ideology is an ideology of fanatical
and ruthless terror, of sickening murders of the helpless and the
innocents, unrelated to Islam. It is international terrorism.
International terrorism is more dangerous as an Ideology wrapped in
religion than as a terrorist organization. It is more than ever able to
spread its ideas and world vision to frustrated and hopeless Muslims around
the world. In addition to a long nurtured hatred against autocratic regimes
in their own land, they believe that the West launched a crusade against
Islam and, consequently, some of them adopted Al Qaeda’s rhetoric:
anti-Western, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.
The war against international guerrilla should equally be a war of ideas,
of people. A guerrilla cannot be defeated without the support of the
population thus, the real war is
actually a war for liberation: to bring populations now living under
despotism and failed states into the democratic family. It is to provide
people in the Arab and Muslim world with an alternative that gives them
hope, that liberate them from despair. Oligarchies
- from where terrorists originated - have no interest in freedom for their
people, no interest in fighting terrorism as long as it does not imperil
directly their interests. They have demonstrated, again and again,
throughout their history that when they are threatened, they fought
insurgencies with savagery. Like Al Qaeda, absolute monarchies and
autocratic governments use Islam to legitimize their rule.
The cesspit from which terrorists emerge resides in the
failure of Arab countries to join the free world and modernity. September 11 did not
come from a single evil criminal. If it were not Bin Laden it would have
been someone else. They are now a very small minority out of 1.3 billion
Muslims. Most Muslims everywhere long for freedom of expressions, free
elections, pluralism, education and an opportunity for a better life. They
are tired of the repression, stagnation and tyranny in their own country
and now of terrorism committed in their name and the name of their religion.
The free world should truly make
freedom its first priority, bring an “end to despotism in the Arab world”
and promote “the values of democracy as the key to life, liberty and
stability”. It could have the Arabs, the Muslims and all the oppressed
masses behind it.
The counter-international guerrilla strategy should be
conscious that democracy cannot be imposed or implanted from the outside
but must be the choice of emergent political leaders and average citizens;
that countries and people do not often divide neatly into “good” versus
“evil” and; that the Western World is not considered anymore as a moral
model, if it ever was. The free world needs to put unrelenting political
pressure on despots it supported for so long to reform their politics and
constrain their power; and be responsive to reformers and civil society
activists and help them do what they already want to do: implement freedom
of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of associations, legalization
of political parties and civic organizations, etc.
The real struggle against
international terrorism will then begin.
August 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004, All
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