Beyond Islamophobofascism

Al Qaeda's strategists have a battle plan. Scott McLemee wants to duck and cover....

November 28, 2007

Not long ago, this column tried to launch into the world a neologism that seemed clumsy but (alas) necessary: “Islamophobofascism.” Indignation at this coinage was not surprising, of course; nor was it long in coming. That the expression was presented with tongue at least slightly in cheek seemed obvious. But not obvious enough, perhaps. Islamophobes hate it when you compare them to fascists.

And in any case, the joke was on me. One week later, David Horowitz’s young supporters at Michigan State University celebrated Islamofascism Awareness Week by hosting a speaker from the British National Party – one of those groups that, until recently, held that the Holocaust did not happen, but that if it had happened, which it didn’t, the whole thing would have been totally understandable. It seems they have rethought this question and now conclude that there was a Holocaust, after all. Apart from conducting subtle historical debates, the BNP has increased the efficiency of Britain’s skinheads by, so to speak, giving them a list of the kinds of people they should concentrate on beating up.

It seems that Islamofascism Awareness was a howling success, and that another such week is already being planned for the spring, but I’m sure everyone will be more careful in the future. It might sound like a really fun idea to hold a torchlight parade, for example, and end with a rally calling for Muslims to be put in special camps – but it’s probably to be a fiasco, public relations-wise. You live and you learn.

Some who objected to the term “Islamophobofascism” clearly had certain difficulties in regard to reading comprehension – objecting, for one thing, that I downplayed the menace of terrorism. Actually I made perfectly explicit that ignoring it is not an option for someone who lives in a bull’s eye city like Washington, DC. But it doesn’t follow that stirring up the nativism and xenophobia of your fellow citizens strikes all of us as the best way to deal with such anxieties.

Just for the record, it might be a good idea to spell out very clearly something that was implied in that earlier column:

The organizers of stunts like Islamofascism Awareness Week are the “useful idiots” of jihadism. They are directly helping the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. Short of stealing plutonium or blowing yourself up, one of the best things you can do to help spread terrorism is to support efforts that make the United States look like the enemy of Islam. Just remember, Al Qaeda is counting on you to raise “Islamofascism Awareness.”

That may sound like hyperbole. It isn’t. I mean it as literally as possible. Leaders of Al Qaeda have spoken on the matter, and their message is clear.

A blueprint and timeline for global jihad can be found in a book called Al Qaeda: The Second Generation, by Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist who befriended a circle of then-obscure mid-level leaders when they were imprisoned in Jordan during the 1990s. One of them, a jihadi named Abu Musab, al-Zarqawi, went on to bigger things. According to Hussein, this circle developed a strategic perspective intended to unify the Muslim world against the West by 2020.

Hussein’s work was serialized in 2005 by Al-Quds Al-'Arabi, an Arabic publication based in London. It seems not to be available in translation – an astonishing circumstance, all things considered. I learned of it through the extensive synopsis provided by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their new book Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, published last month by Walker & Company.

The crux of the younger generation of jihadi strategists’ thinking – so runs the account in Deception – turns on their realization that 9/11 had yielded only limited benefits for Al Qaeda. It might cheer up some of those with animosity toward the American behemoth, but it didn’t really advance jihad that much. At the end of the day, hostility towards the U.S. was a much weaker force in the world than respect for the power of the dollar. Even spectacular acts of destruction were just not enough. A long-term plan was required.

The challenge was to destroy American “soft power” while stoking rage within the Muslim world. To go beyond the “Awakening” created by 9/11, it would be necessary to begin a second stage that the planners referred to as “Opening Eyes.” This phase would have two aspects – one per eye, I suppose.

One eye would be opened when ordinary Muslims saw that the United States and Europe were fundamentally hostile to Islam itself. This process would advance when “draconian laws [were] enacted in North America and Europe which appeared ... to discriminate against even well-integrated Muslims,” write Levy and Scott-Clark. The other eye would open through intensifying sectarian violence between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. The cumulative effect would be to halt and reverse any influence that the non-Islamic world might have upon the faithful. If everything went well, “Opening Eyes” would take until about 2006.

Mission accomplished! Of course, the Iraq war has been valuable to Al Qaeda, and not for inciting new hostilities between Sunni and Shia. It opened a recruiting station and training ground for holy warriors,conveniently located and funded by the American taxpayer. But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of activities such as Islamofascism Awareness Week in consolidating the success of “Opening Eyes.” According to Hussein’s account of Al Qaeda’s strategic thinking, it is absolutely vital for long-term plans that educated and capable people from Islamic countries feel unwelcome in the United States.

The important thing is for smart young Muslims to stay home – keeping their brains and money safely contained within Muslim countries. That will preserve them from baleful outside influences. It will also mean that Al Qaeda will have a better crack at recruiting them – thus carrying forward the later phases of the plan.

In keeping with the extended metaphor of awakening and activating future jihadi warriors, the current phase of operations (stage three) is called “Rising and Standing Up.” Its goal, in short, is to destroy secular authority within the Islamic world. By the early years of the next decade, the Al Qaeda strategists expect to be able “to burn Arab oil, to use gold rather than dollars, harming the global economy, and to launch a sustained period of cyberterrorism,” write Levy and Scott-Clark.

“The U.S. would by then be weak,” they write in their paraphrase of Hussein’s book, “and unable to shoulder responsibility for the current world order. Instead, Washington would retreat into isolationism, impacting on Israel’s ability to defend itself. All these events would enable the fifth stage, the declaration of an Islamic state between 2013 and 2016, a period when Western influence would have been so greatly reduced in the Islamic world that resistance to al-Qaeda’s ideas would be negligible.”

The sixth phase, “Total Confrontation,” calls for atomic, biological, and chemical assault by “faith against atheism.” The final conflict should be complete by 2020.

Hussein’s book is “wide-ranging, difficult, and in places impenetrable,” write Levy and Scott-Clark, “with plenty of it unsourced and some of it unintelligible.” Its author “stressed that he had gone to extreme lengths to verify most of what he had been told,” they note, but “the nature of the organization and the war it is involved in made it impossible for Hussein to straighten out all of the allegations put to him.”

It was, nevertheless, a best-seller. Whatever challenges it might pose to a translator, this Al Qaeda version of the Pentagon Papers seems like it would have an audience in English. We might want to pay attention to one bit in particular.

“Those who had spoken to Fouad Hussein between 1996 and 2002,” report the authors, “claimed that an American-led war in Iran over its nuclear programme was what they were working towards. The US would be unable to resist assaulting Iran’s nuclear sites, they predicted.” It would be a welcome development for Al Qaeda (which is Sunni) since leveling Iran would be a blow at the Shia. The country would then be opened up to Sunni influence.

As Levy and Scott-Clark note, the whole scenario would sound improbable if it didn’t seem to be working. And if American campuses turn into places where no Muslim feels welcome, that would mean a nice little boost to recruitment. Indeed, it sounds like the jihadis are positively counting on it.


Scott McLemee writes Intellectual Affairs each week. Suggestions and ideas for future columns are welcome.


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