Following is an interview with Professor Walid Phares in Nowe Panstwo (Our Times), a Politics and History Journal in Poland, conducted by Olga Doleśniak-Harczuk. The title of the interview in Polish is “ihad jak joga” which translate to “Jihad like Yoga.” In this extensive discussion, Professor Phares addresses the strategic structure of al Qaeda, Europe’s readiness to confront the threat, the Obama Administration ability to win a war of ideas over the Jihadists, the necessary Western Rethinking of the conflict, indoctrination and penetration in the US, the role of Oil lobbies, the influence of theological texts on Jihadists, the numbers of Islamists in Europe, Western inability to fight this war, and Polish American relations in the war with the Jihadists.
QUESTION: In an interview, you mentioned the second generation of al-Qaeda. What is the role of Usama bin Laden for the younger generation of terrorists? Is he “only” a symbol of the global jihadists movement, or still a real “true-born” leader?
WALID PHARES: al Qaeda as an organization has a hard core center linked to its chief, Usama Bin Laden, and it has affiliate organizations operating in various areas, such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, etc. In addition there are Jihadist movements and organizations allied to al Qaeda, such as Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jemaa Islamiya in south Asia, Shabaab al Jihad in Somalia, Abu sayyaf in the Philippines etc. The sum of all these organizations and movement is a Salafist nebulous, which I define as combat Salafists. Those who believe that terror Jihad is the shorter way to reach their goal of reestablishing the Caliphate. In that web al Qaeda is seen as the center and its commander Bin laden as the ‘Fuehrer.’
But this Jihadi nebula is not the only one. There are other nebulae such as the classical Wahabis, Muslim Brotherhoods, Deobandis, etc, who along with al Qaeda nebulous form a large bloc of Global Salafi Jihadism. Bin Laden is the hero of his own nebula and he is somewhat seen as a popular, but irresponsible leader within the classical nebulae. So, as you see it is complex. But in terms of al Qaeda, he is unquestionably the supreme leader. But in the daily practical life of these movements, he is not the chief executive, he is sort of a high-ranking symbolic leader. It is mostly Ayman Zawahiri who plays the role of chief executive. And among the affiliates, it is the local emirs who lead the action.
QUESTION: How would you describe the European way of understanding and defining the global jihad danger? Some European politicians seem to not take the global terrorism seriously enough.
ANSWER: Europe’s academic elite, or perhaps mostly Western European intellectuals, have been influenced by the oil producing regimes for years, as were most governments. Since 1973, the oil shock intimidated the economic and political elite of the then Western Europe who feared a repeat of the boycott. Since then, what, in my books, I have coined Petro Jihad left an influence on the European perception of international relations, and soon enough on European handling of Jihadism on the continent. European chanceries catered to the oil producing regimes in the region, and thus to the ideologies of Wahabism and Salafism. Academic scholarship, often funded directly or indirectly by oil interests, advised European Governments and later on the European Union institutions, not to confront these ideologies because it would ignite the wrath of the petro-regimes. Even as the Jihadists, such as al Qaeda and others, hit the US on 9/11 and later Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, and were behind violence in the Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia, the expert body at the European Union level has always and continues to advise against coining the threat as an ideology and calling it Jihadism.
In my many briefings and testimonies over many years at European institutions, I realized that European bureaucrats and their advisors avoid identifying terror with an ideological root. They decline admitting that behind the actions of Jihadi terrorism there is a totalitarian ideology, despite all research and facts saying so. But I also noticed that central and eastern European legislators and experts are more sensitive to totalitarian ideologies and to the tactics of penetration used by the Jihadists. Naturally, eastern Europeans are more experienced with terror having lived under totalitarian regimes for many decades. However, let me also note that many Western Europeans are becoming much more aware of the Jihadi threat because of their own research and the incidents they have been observing on European soil. Today at the European Parliament, there is a large group of MEPs who have been finally able to define the threat as Jihadism and are moving in this direction.
QUESTION: After President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim World on June the 4th 2009, the spokesman of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “It shows there is a new and different American policy toward the Palestinian issue.” What role may Barack Obama have in the confrontation with global terrorism in this context?
ANSWER: During the electoral campaign the Obama team was clear as to the changes they wanted to enact in foreign policy and regarding the ongoing confrontation with the Jihadists worldwide. As advised by its experts, the Obama Administration is changing US official outlook towards the past 8 years of conflict. First it is abandoning the concept of a “war on terror.” In fact it is true that this is not a war against a tactic. One cannot wage a war against Blitzkrieg for example. But what they came up with is a more serious mistake. They abandoned the identification of the threat doctrine, as Jihadism, and they narrowed it to al Qaeda. It would be as if in WWII the Allies were only fighting the SS, the Luftwaffe, but not Nazism.
The Obama Administration is as badly advised as the European Union, on the ideological conflict, again because the expertise behind this new policy is compromised by the influence of the oil producing powers. If we don’t identify the ideology and counter it, it will continue to grow and indoctrinate and recruit people. Hence, in the Cairo speech the President spoke of changes, but in the abstract. Nothing will change or move forward as long as the Jihadi totalitarians aren’t isolated internationally and the democracy forces in the Muslim world are supported. That is not what is happening now.
As far as the Palestinian question is concerned, it is not about appointing a new envoy, which is not going to solve the problem. It is about identifying the forces that are blocking the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The latter, as in many ethnic conflicts, have so many issues to address. But the forces obstructing the peace process are third parties: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Iran. So, the Jihadist axis in the region.
QUESTION: In your third book; The Confrontation. Winning the War Against Future Jihad, You argue that there must be a “Western Rethinking” of the conflict. What did you mean, Mr. Phares?
ANSWER: In my last book, I called for a Western rethinking of the conflict based on the necessity of a strategic understanding of the threat and where it is going to develop. Current and past Western policies clearly show that we aren’t going anywhere near the end of that conflict. First inside the US and Europe, let alone Australia and Canada, the homegrown Jihadists are multiplying and organizing. At some point, they will begin an “urban Jihad” where these cities will witness acts of violence and war waged by these groups. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the courage, sacrifices, determination and successes of US, Coalition and NATO forces, all indicates that Taliban or al Qaeda and the likes are still going to strike, eight years after 2001. So where is the problem? It is in the fact that the West refused to fight a war of ideas along with the war against the Terror forces. Hence, I had called on a strategic rethinking beginning with debates at the European Parliament and the US Congress as well as national legislatures to re-focus the conflict. And based on this, the West must engage in an ideological campaign to isolate the Jihadi forces and engage with the democratic forces in the Muslim world. Instead, the West now is doing the opposite: retreating from defining the threat, fleeing the debate about it and engaging the wrong forces: Taliban, Hezbollah, Iran and other Salafi Jihadists.
I also called on forming a large international alliance, or at least coordinating with countries that have a Jihadi problem, such as India, and many African states. And despite all the problems and crises, with Russia or with Russian leaders who see eye to eye on the Jihadi threat. Another component of the Western rethinking is to work on energy independence from oil regimes supportive of these ideologies. Last but not least, a Western rethinking should promote significant support, even moral, to dissidents, democracy seekers, women, students and other sectors in the Muslim world who oppose the radicals. And they do exist.
QUESTION: How strong is the ideological indoctrination of the jihadists in the USA? I mean the influence on the public life, specially the infiltration of the US academic world.
ANSWER: The ideological indoctrination by the Jihadists is mainly performed by the oil producing regimes and the militant networks providing the human resources. As with the end of the 1970s and mid 1980s, millions of petrodollars have been invested in America on building a web of influence within the educational system and foreign policy circles. Funding has targeted Middle East Studies, Islamic studies, international relations studies under the aegis of “better knowing the Middle East and its cultures.” In fact that funding impacted the American classrooms in two ways. On the one hand, it eliminated the study of all issues related to human rights in the region, including women, minorities, youth, etc.
On the other hand, it blurred the vision of students regarding the concepts of Jihad and the related ideologies. To some extent, mainstream studies presented Jihad as some sort of Yoga! And from these specialized classrooms graduated those who were hired by the US Government, media and NGOs. So, the Wahabi funding basically derailed the understanding of the threat for years. This is why the American public was stunned on 9/11 and couldn’t understand what was happening. It was manipulated educationally by apologists of the Jihadist ideology so that the US Government is disabled from acting against the threat. Which explained why the US did not respond rationally after the attacks of Beirut in 1983, New York in 1993, Khobar in 1995, Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and after the attack against the USS Cole in 2000. It has all to do with the blurring of the public vision of the threat. Today other democracies must be attentive to this strategy, especially central and eastern European democracies, which are targeted by oil producing regimes to fund similar programs. This is a form of the war of ideas.
QUESTION: The Qur’an said: those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So you fight against the friends of Satan. Is the West civilization “a friend of Satan” for the jihadists or is the using of references to Qur’an only a political argument without any religious background?
ANSWER: This is a complex question. The Jihadists basically use the Koran and Hadith as a pillar of their indoctrination agenda. In other words they cite verses from the theological sources and convince their recruits that it is their duty to carry out the orders of Allah. The fact that there are stipulations in the text that mentions Jihad or kuffar (infidels) is not enough to produce a Jihadist. It is the existence of a network of ideologues, cadres, operatives and organizations which uses the theological texts to create an ideology. Once the ideology is accepted as such, the person who is recruited doesn’t see it as an ideology but as a religious injunction, hence the confusion. I make a distinction between what is theological, and that has its own debate, and what is ideological and is part of the Jihadist efforts to expand. The West must focus on the ideological tool not on the theological text. The latter must be part of a natural debate within the Muslim world and with other groups.
QUESTION: According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 war about 53 million. Mark Steyn, wrote in his book America Alone that the future belongs to Islam - the West is growing old and “Islam has youth and will.” Is the West lost for opening the gates for the Islamic invasion or is such a theory only an overreaction for global changes?
ANSWER: Every social and demographic phenomenon has its apex and its regressive moment. It is true that over the past decades, the numbers of the Muslim population in Europe, outside the Balkans where they are native, has grown. But that was the natural consequence of Western Europe’s economic elites which wanted cheap immigrant labor and also its Governments which were under the 1973 Oil shock syndrome. This quantitative equation was predictable and should not surprise Europeans. So on paper, decisions made in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of immigration policy were to affect the demographic balance. Why would Europeans be surprised and shocked about what they have decided to do to enjoy their lifestyle?
Well, I guess the public is shocked nowadays because it was not informed by its own elite that Jihadism was making progress within the immigrant communities. That is the missing link. Because Jihad was equated to Yoga, the public didn’t pay attention until urban unrest hit its cities and Jihadi Terror started to strike harder. At this point Europeans must put their priorities in order. They need to deal immediately with the ideological issue then handle the demographic equations. Unfortunately, since the European Union is afraid or unwilling to touch the ideological issue, its populations are left alone to figure out the problem. This is why you read and hear European essayists talking about Muslim demographics instead of trying to isolate the Jihadist threat first. Europe lacks strategists to deal with the issue and I am not saying the US is in a better shape.
QUESTION: In Europe we had in the last years a strong wave of conversion to Islam. How would you explain the growing interests for Islam in Europe even after the 9/11.
ANSWER: One would ask where are these conversions to Islam coming from? The committed Christians and Jews or the less committed? From Atheists or from religious? Also, if you study the parameters of the converts and establish common trends, what do you see? Is it happening in the mainstream of societies or at the fringes? Is it happening to individuals who have a doubt about their spiritual identity or to persons confident about it?
You must ask sociologists to research the question. But so far, it seems that the perception of conversions is bigger than the actual conversions. For according to studies a large segment of conversions comes naturally from non Muslim spouses of European Muslims. It is like a snow ball. The larger the initial community is, the higher the numbers of conversions are. The global numbers should not surprise people. I guess the reason why Europeans are asking the question is the dwindling numbers of the native populations versus the immigrants and also the shrinking numbers of European practicing Christians. If Europe’s mainstream population and religions are regressing then yes the conversion to Islam becomes meaningful in terms of numbers. Without getting into the details in this interview as this subject is fascinating, the main question I raise is ‘why are Europeans so surprised about all these matters. It was so predictable.’ What blocked them from realizing this years ago? Here you may get interesting answers.
Also one must look at the entire equation as well: while it is true that there are many conversions into Islam, but there are also significant conversions within the Muslim communities of Europe, not only to Christianity but also to Atheism. It is very complex.
QUESTION: In an interview, you said: “I wrote on the clash of civilization 14 years before Samuel Huntington. My message was basically a warning to the West that jihadism is on the rise, and is going to hit America and the rest of the free world”. That was a very hard statement, especially when we know what happened in New York 22 years later. Why did Western civilization ignore the danger of global terrorism?
ANSWER: Indeed, when Eastern Europe was living under Soviet Communism, I published my first book in 1979 in which I advanced the idea that the Jihadists will push for a clash of civilizations and in following books I argued that the struggle for freedom must come from the inside of the Muslim world. A Jesuit scholar compared my early work with the dissident work of Andrei Amalrick and said that what I was to the Muslim world what dissidents were to the Soviet Union. But that was 14 years before Huntington’s article on the clash of civilizations. In following pieces and books, I warned that eventually the Jihadists will strike the West, and they began in the 1990s, while many Western and American writers were talking about the end of history. And in the years preceding 9/11, I briefed members of Congress about the forthcoming threat to mainland US and worldwide.
Unfortunately my voice and the voices of other colleagues were ignored. The dominant intellectual establishment, particularly in Middle East studies, was financially penetrated by the Wahabis and other apologists. Our theses were dismissed and often we were criticized. It was only after America was savagely attacked by al Qaeda and later on Europe that my expertise was sought and praised by many in the legislative and executive branches.
In my book Future Jihad: Terrorist strategies against America (against the West was the international version) I showed the strategies of the Jihadists forces over decades. In the following book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy, I explained why was it that the West ignored the warnings and looked the other way. In short it was the result of a war of ideas waged by the Jihadist global network. By inserting millions of dollars in America’s Middle East studies and foreign policy circles, the Wahabis derailed the country’s national security assessment. The 9/11 Commission asked the question why weren’t Americans prepared mentally to meet the threat. Many said it was a failure of imagination. I counter argued and said it was a failure of education. The enemy took out America’s ability of perceiving, understanding and acting against the threat before it happened. A sort of a Pearl Harbor took place.
QUESTION: Has Western civilization with their slogans of tolerance and disposition/inclination to wishful thinking any chance to win the war against jihad?
ANSWER: The slogans of tolerance are only the result of the Jihadists confusion strategy. The Jihad oil lobbies have convinced the uninformed intellectuals and policy makers in the US that acting against the Jihadists is acting against Muslims. This is naturally wrong. In fact acting against the Jihadists is acting to free Muslims from the fascist forces that are oppressing them. But unfortunately America’s intelligentsia (most of it) was fooled by the apologists and the Jihadi propaganda operatives, as was the case with many Western intellectuals during the Cold War. They were told that ordinary citizens in Eastern Europe were very happy under the totalitarian regime. They didn’t know better until Solidarity began its uprising in Gdansk.
Tolerance with fascism is a form of collaboration with it. What the West must realize is that they were made to believe that they had to be tolerant with the most intolerant forces on the planet. This is the peak of deception, and unfortunately the Jihadist propagandists were and are very good at it. In recent years many officials in Western Europe, the US and Australia were made to believe that by using the term Jihadists, they will be conveying legitimacy to the terrorists. They were told that Jihad is in fact a sort of a Yoga, very spiritual! So when the expertise is compromised, decision makers can and have made huge strategic mistakes. But the good news is that the younger generations of American students, researchers and professionals in the fields of national security are getting it. It will be a question of time before a new more educated America rises from confusion and lead.
QUESTION: And finally a polish accent. In February 2007, Sally McNammara wrote: “Poland has supported America’s global leadership role and has helped to expand security in unstable and unfriendly parts of the world. Wherever America is doing good in the world, Poland is not far behind.” Mr. Phares, What is the future of the American-Polish relations through the prism of the last presidential elections in United States?
WALID PHARES: Polish participation in the defense of the free world and of democracy worldwide is a solid fact. It has been recognized in America for years. Its role in Iraq, Afghanistan and in countering terrorism worldwide made of Poland a pillar of resistance against Jihadi totalitarianism. As I said earlier, Poles have experienced oppression and terror, they know what it is and thus they are more prone to understand the nature of the Jihadist threat perhaps more than other Europeans who had colonies and empires and yet have caved in to oil Jihad. Polish instincts against the threat are perhaps greater than those of many Americans. But many in the United States are learning more about the meaning of that threat. There is a silent, gradual intellectual revolution happening in America regardless of its politics.
Even if we know that the Obama Administration is advised by experts and pressure groups that want to disengage from the conflict and regress away from the international threat, as was the case before Nazism’s rise in the 1930s, the public in America is moving in another direction. The democratic political process in the US will correct itself, no doubt about it. But Poland could help tremendously in that awakening. If Poles learn more about the nature of Jihadism and its challenges and add to it their own historical instincts, they could have a significant influence on the US, not the other way around. Americans will be surprised to listen to the narrative coming from Eastern Europe and they respect it very much. Warsaw, Prague and Budapest are very symbolic in America’s popular culture. If more Polish intellectuals and writers engage in this field, surprisingly it will help Europe and America get out of their confusion.
Even if the current US Administration plans on changing the role of Poland in the web of international relations and let go of Poland’s special role in the war against the terrorists, it is clear that the American public, and the Polish American community are too attached to the historic relations between the two nations to allow this to happen.
Dr. Walid Phares, Walidphares.com, is the author of the “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East,” and “The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy,” He is a Professor of Global Strategies and the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism. Dr. Phares can be reached at:Phares@walidphares.com