To better understand the Quranic basis of jihad as practiced by extremists without sifting through a library of interpretations, you should read one book above all others, says Lt. Col. Joseph Myers.
"The Quranic Concept of War," by Pakistani Brig. Gen. S.K. Malik in the late 1970s, isn't much studied in the West.
But it should be, Myers said, if America, and more specifically, the U.S. military, wants to gain a better understanding of the enemy in the war on terrorism.
Malik attempts to teach his readers about the doctrinal aspects of "Quranic warfare," said Myers, who wrote a paper on the subject published in Parameters, the Army War College quarterly, and delivered a presentation at the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa annual conference in April.
This is the religious definition of war as outlined by Malik with explanations from the Quran, and it is "infinitely supreme and effective," the general wrote.
Because the West does not associate war with the divine, however, Western interpretations of the motivations for jihad are unaccustomed to the general's Quranic view; the ideas, for example, that "tumult and oppression [of Muslims] are worse than slaughter," and that because of this, "war must be waged ‘only to fight the forces of tyranny and oppression.' "
As a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst in Colombia now concurrently pursuing a doctorate in public policy at Auburn University in Alabama and a homeland security certificate at Texas A&M University, Myers has a specific interest in the domestic threat presented by terrorism.
He sat down with CQ Homeland Security to discuss one of the main challenges of the global war on terrorism: developing an understanding of the enemy and a military doctrine to manage the threat. He stressed that he spoke in an academic capacity and was not offering the views for the Defense Department.
Q: You have talked about the doctrinal beliefs that have spread from Gen. Malik through various groups, and I think one of the things that I took away from that was there seems to be something of a tangible divide between what people, often in academia and other places, think about how to approach the extremism and what they say the government should be doing. And I think you made some comments to that affect.
A: What I did was give an expose of a book by Brig. Gen. S.K. Malik on the Quranic concept of war that was published in Pakistan in 1979. It is a treatise of the unique Islamic approach and the Islamic view of warfare written by a man who was a serving general in the Pakistani army, so this was a person well-versed in military matters and Western military theory.
The book was forwarded by Zia-Ul-Haq, who was the president, and former chief of staff [of Pakistan] and the advocate general, A. K. Brohi, wrote a 13-page preface that really gave the work the imprimatur of Islamic jurisprudential authority.
The reason I studied this work, once I was able to find it, is because I had heard or had read in an article that nowhere in our military education institutions are we studying the campaigns of the Prophet Mohammed in any similar way that we studied military campaigns that are famous and popular in Western military history. And I know that to be true because I do work in the military professional education system. Generally speaking, I believe that to be true.
So Malik's treatise is an important contribution to what I think would be called the canon of strategic jihad studies, jihad, the Quranic and Islamic approach to warfare. It's not widely read in the West, but then you could argue that a lot about Islam and understanding the war-fighting doctrines in Islam are not widely studied in the West, or studied at least professionally.
You asked the question about the divide between, let's say academia, and a lot of debates over what is the meaning of the threat we're facing in the war on terror. Who are they? What are their roots? For me professionally, as a military officer, I think our process for doing threat analysis is fairly straightforward. We have our own doctrine for it, it's called [the] intelligence preparation of the battlefield process. Step three is evaluate the threat. If you go to the army FM [field manual] on the IPB [intelligence preparation of the battlefield] process, it will tell you that the doctrinal assessment of your enemy is based on how your enemy expresses his doctrine to you, based on the way he sees it, says it, writes it, reads it orients on it, and organizes around it. The enemy we're facing in the war on terror, al Qaeda, says they are fighting a jihad against the West to establish the faith of Islam. Now, if that's their doctrine, then arguably that is the doctrine that we template, irrespective of whether their interpretation of jihad or their discussion of Islam within the theological community of Muslims is correct or incorrect; that is irrelevant to our discussion and understanding of how the enemy presents his doctrine to us, and it is his doctrine that we template over the terrain.
In the Cold War with the Soviet Union, we templated their military forces over physical ground. In the context of this irregular war or the long war, we have to template this enemy's doctrine over the human and cultural terrain. That's when these human, cultural, historical factors will then shape the doctrine and explain to us how it may or may not manifest itself all around the world. And we do say we're in a global war on terror, so that means not just Afghanistan, not just Iraq, it means right here in the United States.
I think the significant strategic shortcoming or failing in the war on terror is that we have not gone through the strategic, doctrinal analysis of the enemy, we haven't distilled and elaborated his threat doctrine. Because we haven't done that, we do not have a fully articulated global threat model for the war on terror. We do not have a common analytic paradigm that all our government agencies can access, use and understand, to explain how potential threats, like to homeland security, will manifest themselves from that paradigm. A basic principle of intelligence is to have a model that helps explain the reality of the world or the reality of the phenomena you're trying to evaluate. We do not have a model, so we're still failing in that regard in terms of our own structural, analytic, intelligence process, that's my opinion.
Q: If you could speak to the members of Congress or members of the federal government, is there anything they could do about that situation?
A: As a military officer, I try to think strategically and speak strategically. These are important strategic-first questions that I think we have to answer. If you were to deconstruct, for example, our national security documents on national security strategies, the national military strategic plan for the war on terror . . . and try to define the enemy in the war on terror from those documents, you cannot do it. It is obscure, it is ephemeral. Consequently I think it's very hard to orient courses of action against an enemy that we have not precisely defined. We have to define the enemy, who and what he is, and generally speaking, in the Cold War we were very clear on that with the Soviet Union, because we knew who they were intellectually, philosophically, we understood Soviet strategic culture, we understood the history of the Soviet Union, and we understood their authoritative published doctrine. And we haven't published the authoritative doctrine of the enemy in the war on terror. We focus on al Qaeda and violent actors, we focus at the tip of the spear to prevent terrorist attacks on the homeland. We are orienting all our resources, intelligence, homeland defense, against preventing attacks. We have very few resources, in my view, oriented on everything that leads up to the point of attack — the radicalization process. And because we don't have a model for the war on terror, we don't fully even understand what that radicalization process looks like. What is the infrastructure of it? Who's involved in it? What is the ideology undergirding that radicalization process? So we still, I would argue, seven years into the war on terror, have big gaps in our strategic thinking about the fight we're in. I think those gaps explain some of the challenges we are facing in the prosecution of this war, such as, at least from what I've read in media sources, strategic communications programs.
Q: Are we getting the message out in a way that will speak to the moderates in some of these countries?
Well, part of our problem getting our message out, I think, in terms of strategic communications [is] you have to first understand who you're communicating with, you've got to understand them before you try to communicate yourself to them. And the second component is you have to truly understand yourself. And, arguably, maybe Americans aren't fully confident in who they are anymore as a people and a nation — again, my personal opinion.
Q: Do you think that academia could do more in scrutinizing the types of issues that you talk about, the real threat, what we're dealing with — is it even a threat?
A: Well, I don't want to speak specifically to foreign countries, because that's not my lane to do that. But obviously academia contributes or should help to contribute to our understanding and conceptualizing the world and the global war on terror. I think that in our military professional education systems we need to do more to orient on enemy threat doctrine and try to understand who the enemy is. I am concerned about foreign influences and foreign funding in our academic programs across the country. Dr. Walid Phares mentioned once that [a high percentage] of our Middle Eastern studies programs are being funded by the Saudis.
Now, I would argue, go back to the Cold War and imagine if 90 percent of our Russian studies programs were being funded by the Soviets. I mean, there's potential implications in terms of strategic influence that I think needs better scrutiny.
Q: And in your opinion, then, why was there so much more of a concentrated focus on the Soviet Union back in the '50s and '60s, not just within the military and realms of government but within the universities?
A: There was a real focus on Soviet studies, and I think you raise a very important question and an important contrast with the Cold War and the war we're in today. One, I think there was a consensus on the nature of the threat we were facing in the Cold War. The paradigmatic doctrine for the Cold War was produced in a Democratic administration of [Harry S] Truman. And that doctrine carried forward post-World War II, and it took five years for our national security establishment to really come to grips and come to consensus on the Soviet Union in the post-World War II era. And that was promulgated in NSC-68 that drove American foreign policy and American strategic thinking for maybe 30 years until the Berlin Wall fell. We have yet to come to a strategic consensus on the nature of the war we're in. We do not have what I would call policy consensus on it, and in fact, fundamentally, we haven't even gone through the strategic doctrinal analysis of the enemy. We're really not at step one. We're basically engaged in a lot of ancillary activities, we have a lot of motion but the motion is not being directed in my view, my personal opinion, to clear objectives. You have to objectively understand the enemy. And if that enemy is an ideology then you have to be able to understand how that ideology plays out globally, and we have said we're in a global war.
Matt Korade can be reached at email@example.com.