Knowing this, how do we deter the modern Gnostic warriors, the jihadi?
Mainly, we do not. Those who are dead already, who consider themselves dead to the world and only alive to the Afterworld, those who wish to die, generally cannot be deterred. Faith has been described as a belief in things invisible. Gnosticism is belief in a fantasy that is taken to be more real than the common reality: they do not believe what they see, they see what they believe. This cannot be deterred. Imagine Osama bin Laden is in front of you: how do you deter him? Or Zawahiri, or Zarqawi? Deterrence? Don’t even think about it. Deterrence might have worked way before contemporary jihad was able to reach critical mass, sometimes perhaps in the early to mid-1990s.
If our enemy was merely ‘terrorism,’ we could defang it, admittedly at great cost: by destroying the Saudi-Wahhabi nexus and their grip on power, by wiping out the Iranian Ayatollahs’ strength, and by squeezing hard the noxious Pakistani military-intelligence establishment — all in all, the linchpins of Muslim terrorism. Once this infrastructure of terror collapsed, much of terror would. But terror itself is nothing but the principal paramilitary instrument of jihad: the operative concept is jihad, not terror. The jihadis’ purpose (in Clausewitzian terms, Zweck), in the very words of the Quran, is to strike terror in the hearts of unbelievers, it is a quasi-military objective: once terrorized, the Unbelievers, the schismatics and the polytheists will convert, submit or die. The strategic aim (Ziel) of jihad is the Gnostic takeover of the world. To some extent, we may be able to lessen, hinder or hamper the Zweck. But the Ziel is unconditional and cannot be altered. Can we de-fang jihad by pulling its terrorist teeth?
Some workarounds work. The way in which Israeli military and security forces have ruthlessly sapped the strength of Islamic terror, notably by a high-tempo attrition of its leadership cadre, is exemplary and should be studied and emulated elsewhere, different conditions obtaining.
Contemporary jihad, like its emanation, terrorism, is an integral chain: as long as it is islamico-glamorous to be a cleric who issues fatwas calling for the murder of Israeli civilians or American GIs, the cleric will go on. Once dead, he will stop. So will the chairman of a charity that funnels money to jihad. So will the senior intelligence officer who trains or smuggles them, the predicator who incites, the madrasa or university professor who brainwashes, the prince who lies for terror, the ayatollah who sends out teams of killers, etc. This is deterrence after the French expression: they have been shot pour encourager les autres. Jihad is the operative ideology of a number of states; states can be pinned down and hit. This approach is a variant of the notion of decapitation, or of the formulation of nodal targeting given by air power theorist Col. John Warden. Less than the jihadi hardware, it is the jihadi software that has to be hit — but not by soft power.
What did Europe do to crush the insurrectionary Gnostics in the Medieval and late-Medieval era? Churchill once said: «If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.» Likewise I’ll have a kind word for the Inquisition (not the Spanish one, though), which did quite a job cleaning up the mess. They rounded them up and they killed them. Thomas Müntzer was defeated, captured and beheaded in 1525. The ‘King’ of the Anabaptists of Münster, John von Leyden and his aides, were executed in 1535. As a terrible warning, their bodies were suspended in iron cages from the tower of St. Lambert’s church in the town. Those who survived hit in wait for better days. What they had found is that their insurgency was hopeless, that it was useless, and that sticking one’s neck out was a sure way to lose it. Their will had been broken. Enough of a trauma had been inflicted to do so.
One martyr will have followers, ten martyrs will be admired and emulated. One thousand dead martyrs who died unheralded die in vain. If Ahmadinejad and others die in vain and uselessly they will not die as martyrs but as slobs. For the Gnostic, for the jihadi, his death is the only thing that matters to him: take that away and nothing is left. It does not mean, as the jurors of the Moussaoui trial were apparently led to believe, that «you cannot make a martyr out of him, since this is what he wants.» Make his death a lonely, useless, ignored death. Unextraordinary, unromantic, trivial deaths shatter the glory of the jihadi’s death. It was George Patton who said: «No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.» The recipe is not pretty nor is it easy.
The defeated European Gnostics went underground, their sole hope resided in the clandestine conveying of their beliefs, especially to their children. Society cannot eliminate the Gnostic beliefs, but can make the strain dormant instead of virulent. Jihad is integral to Islam and derives from its most fundamental tenets. The severing of that link is not going to happen soon. But throughout history, when Islamic conquerors met their match, they stopped. When they met crushing defeat, they retreated, and found the ulama and the faqih to justify that, like prophets who announced the Rapture for yesterday, 8:09 am, and reschedule it for next year. But let us remember that most of the faithful are not turned off by the ludicrous failure of their prophet’s prophecies, precisely because they live in the ‘second reality.’
Once their leaders had been exterminated, the Medieval insurgents of Europe disbanded and scattered. Applying high-tempo attrition and nodal targeting to the jihadi apparatus worldwide (by which I emphatically do not mean ‘terrorists’ alone or even in the first place) seems to me to be a modern equivalent. If I may say in homage to the chain of command that orchestrated his elimination, Sheikh Yasin was not in the habit of wielding pistols — he wielded death. It is those who deploy the undead who must be the priority targets.
Laurent Murawiec is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was delivered at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies Bar-Ilan University. It was published May 25, 2006 and can be downloaded at