Monday, December 20, 2004

Defining the enemy part 2

OK, I did an earlier post on this, and this'll continue that one. But it's been long enough since the first I'll take an instant to summarize.

Al Qaeda is part (and presently lead) of a global insurgency, of which its roots can be traced to the Muslim Brotherhood of the 1950s/1960s. Their objective is quite literally world domination.

This insurgency is built off an Islamic basis, and so it's worthwhile to note some critical core dynamics which come into play.

First and foremost is history - to some degree myth, but based upon fact. The myth is the Abbasid empire (though with touches of the Timurid empire). The three critical components of this empire follow:

1) Extraordinarily far-reaching. It replaced the Umayyid empire in the mid 700s, and lasted through the mid-1200s. Mythically this stretched through the Cordoban Dynasty of the Iberian peninsula (Reality, this ~80% occupation of Spain and Portugal was a residual Umayyad element) through Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India and into Indonesia (Never mind again that this was the Seljuk empire). And even partially into China, with the western province of Xinxiang still almost entirely Islamic today. Tamerlane's empire added Turkey and Southern Europe (the Ottomans) to include today's Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, southen Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The whole was a land greater than held by Alexander the Great - almost double.

2) Politically peculiar - amazingly decentralized. This one echoes today and is truly worth noting. One of the reasons the Umayyad were overcome was the lack of support of the 'peoples of the empire'. The Umayyads were relatively secular in that regardless of whether you were Islamic (and you WERE), your ethnicity still mattered. No non-pure Arab could ever be more than middle management. The Abbasids pushed "true Islam" - that all men were equal under Allah and position was by qualification, not ethnicity. It should be apparent that there were limits to this - the top job of "Caliph" (a religio/political position) was restricted to a narrow group of ethnics - but it was still amazingly broadminded. (Important Tidbit. Under the Umayyads, the capital was in Damascus. Under the Abbasids the city of Baghdad was [re]built on the Tigris to serve as the new capital. Among other things this weakened the effectiveness of the Arabs, pulling the Persians into power.) You can see echoes of Persian bureaucratic structure from literally centuries prior in what followed.

For example, the Abbasids didn't appoint a Persian governor for the Maghrib of the African Med (of which area rulers came from the Almoravids, the Almohads, and the Berbers) or the Ghanas and Malis and Songhwanas of Saharan Africa or the Seljuks or the Fatimids or... The model was what we think of as an empire - an uber-nation of nations, each predominately self-governing as long as they follow the overarching principles.

I mentioned this applies today. Islam as a faith is very decentralized - bearing much more in common with Protestant churches such as the Presbyterians or the Baptists instead of the more hierarchical structure of the Catholics. Higher church officials are not rulers of subordinate churches, but rather are respected as more knowledgeable and, due to the knowledge, are followed willingly. [Very workable analogy as long as you strip the US-biased negatives - Billy Graham is an Ayatollah and quite possibly an Imam of the Protestant Christian faith. His interpretations of biblical thought are not commanded upon any, but an extraordinary number of people will tend to accept them as authoritive.] Governance is understood to require more force - more direct authority - but for the most part effective knowledge is more important than birth lineage. (There are faults and exceptions to this, and I'll return to that fact later. This is the general rule, though - the MYTH of the Islamic Empire.)

But at root, the empire was known for a tendency to allow all good Muslims to prosper and adjust to local needs subject only to the need to be good Muslims. (And, of course, some allowance for non-Muslims. The law allowed some harassment of the non-Muslim, but the bounds were more permissive than, say, a Jew could expect in the Holy Roman Empire [HRE] of the same time-frame.)

3) Finally, there is the great boogeyman. Unlike (for example) the Roman Empire or Alexandrian Empire or HRE, the Abbasid empire was not destroyed by rot from within - well, not entirely. It was weakened by internal conflict, but it was brought down by a foreign intruder - the Mongol. Beginning with the fall of Bukhara and Samarkand to Genghis in 1220 (and barring a brief success in 1221 at Parwan), the Mongols were nigh unstoppable till the beginning of 1260 when Damascus and Allepo fell. They quite possibly would have continued had not the death of Great Khan Moltge required an election. The delay allowed the Mamluks to organize. It's possible the Mamluks might have succeeded anyway, but their implementation of warning signal towers and military plans were made during the brief delay, and it was the Mamluks who drove the Mongols out of Syria by the end of 1260. Out of this come two mythical powers - first, that the Mongol Hordes are nigh-unstoppable, and second that strong warriors of the faith CAN stop them.

A diversion to explain this better. The Mamluks were a fluke. They were multigenerational Turkish slave warriors for the Egyptian Abuyyids (aka Abbasids) who'd conducted a successful coup a scant few years earlier but who'd agreed to the loose reins of the empire (they were Muslim after all). They were extremely similar to the Mongols - a culture that was devoted almost entirely to military training with all else subordinate to the "warrior". Administration, intellect, and any other facet of culture was subordinate to skill at arms. However, as they'd been the warriors for a 'civilized' culture they'd developed some bonuses - they'd used horseshoes since about 1244, and understood the need to attack logistics by burning every grassland the Mongols in Syria used for pasture. But at heart, it was the ascetic warrior who stopped the Mongols, not the more 'cosmopolitan' empire. And the empire was never really restored.

4) Not really part of the myth, but it matters. Tamid aka Tamerlane briefly restored the empire, but it wasn't the same. He was partially Mongol himself, and his drives into nominally Muslim lands were extremely reminiscent of the attacks of a mere century before. Indeed, Tamid is a boogeyman to scare much of today's Iran and Iraq residents. Yet some of the great leaders of Islam - more myths - come from the post-Tamid time: Suleyman of the Ottomans; Abbas the Great of the Safavids; and Babur and Akbar of the Mughals. Scholars among the Islamic faith will know that the Mongols were between the Abbasid and Tamid empires, that the Tamid spun off to the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal much as the Alexandrian empire spun apart. But mythically, the "people" will think it an unbroken history of greatness cast down by the Mongol invasions - much as many USians will think of the US as being mostly peaceful between the Revolution and the Civil War, and again till the World Wars of the 1900s. "We're not a history of empire builders and conquerors, we were too busy for that sort of stuff. That was the Europeans." ahem - sorry, I digress.

End of the history overview, now what does this mean for our global insurgents?

This myth is the ideology and environment which underlies the Insurgent strategy.

The Western World - the US and its allies - is cast as the Mongol Horde. Certainly they brought a time of peace - it is true an unwed maiden carrying a bag of gold could travel from one end to the other without fear of brigands. However, she would live in total fear of the Mongol overlords, who were brutal and took all they wished. Who destroyed mosques and executed religious leadership for little reason - changing their minds about "mercy" and such without warning. The Mongols ruled by picking "leaders" unattentive to their (Islamic) knowledge, but solely on whether they would maintain the peace and the flow of wealth to the Khan. The easy parallels should be obvious.

The objective of the GI is global domination. The subobjectives are:
1) Successfully supplanting the leadership of the Greater Islamic Empire [GIE], which consists of:
- The Arabic Pensinsula;
- Northern and Saharan Africa;
- Spain and Portugal;
- All of Europe east of the Alps and south of a line drawn from the northern edge of the Caspian Sea to Switzerland;
- The 'Stans of Russia;
- Pakistan, India, and the coast of southeast Asia through Indonesia;
- Western China.
2) Causing the "Mongols" to collapse upon themselves. (ie, the deaths of Genghis and of Moltge had the same effect - the end of Mongol power for a long time, enough for those waiting the opportunity to strike effectively.)
3) With the first two in place, leverage the GIE's strength to finish "taking over the world" for the glory of Allah.

A critical point to the overall objective is that no single Leader is required. The Myth - and to an extent the History - is that the end does not require one Great Ruler, though out of the many great rulers of the GIE one shall be known as a Great Ruler. But the Caliphs - both de jure and de facto - have come from many lands after the Mongols arrived. Equally, there is no requirement for the leader to be first of nation-state - in fact, especial emphasis on a state tends to reduce the end strength of the sub-empire.

I want to interject here to remind that historical insurgencies do not require equal levels of success at all times in all regions they hope to overcome. Strong successes create "safe harbors" from which setbacks elsewhere can be resolved and overcome. In the Global arena this is even more significant, as regions may be entire nations with all the protections sovereignty can grant. I'll note that the Taliban overdid it, and equally that it appears other nations that might have been equally rude have become more diplomatic, though equally resistant to our actions. This ability, by the way, makes effective substitution for the normal requirement of external support that insurgents usually require for success.

To recap the dynamics of the Global Insurgency:
- It has a decentralized leadership - though individual leaders exist, they are subordinate to an "idea". Lest this be scoffed at, I'll ask: what great single leader led the greater insurgency of the 1770s in the American Colonies?
- Its ideology is the "golden age" of the Islamic Empire - an empire under rule of Sharia that abounds in wealth and wisdom.
- The objective is first restoration of the GIE, and subsequently the rule of the world - first the West, then the East.
- Its environment is the Myth, and the geography is that of the World. The guides are the lessons of the Mamluks.
- The external support is not truly present, though the sea of Islamic followers and a few Islamic nations plus some that have fallen or are held hostage by the insurgents provide equivalent support. PLEASE NOTE: the insurgents are not agents of the state(s), but rather the states are the 'safe harbors' of the insurgents.
- Globally the insurgency is in strategic defense. A significant proportion of the Middle East is in 'stalemate'. There are a very few states in the offensive or even 'owned' stages - surprisingly few actually in the Middle East. Confusing the issue is that some nations the GI's see as agents of the West yet to be conquered have also provides support (safe harbor and/or 'external support') for them against other nations. This is not a new tactic - playing foes against one another - but it's still difficult for us to see clearly. This is especially true as a major subobjective to support "The Myth" is the recapture of the Historic Capitals of Baghdad and Damascus and the "lesser" capitals of Isfahan (Iran); Samarkand (Uzbekistan); Istanbul (Turkey); and Agra (India), each in turn.

A significant weakness of the MYTH (see, told you I'd return) is that it's not the history. While the earlier Islamic nations did bond against outsiders even despite their differences, for the later empires this wasn't true. The Umayyads were Sunni, the Abbasids were Shia. The Ottomans great success was the defeat of Timur. The Sufavid were (surprise) the source of the Sufi sect, and fought constantly with both the Ottomans and the Mughal, who were in turn a near-schism themselves, tolerant of not only Christian and Jew but Hindu, Jain, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist as well.

The insurgents play upon the MYTH. It is a significant weakness that HISTORY fails the MYTH - provided this difference can be exploited.


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