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Catfish and Cod
Thursday, May 20, 2004
The only battlefield: III. Mystical vs. realistic goals.
(Fishmonger's wares)

Reader Joshua Scholar points out that al-Qaeda does not act in a completely Clausewitzian manner.

"You're assuming that AQ has a world view similar to ours and that their thinking is more logical than mystical...Logic and planning are not the realms of AQ thought, mysticism is. Murderous mysticism."

Joshua has clearly read Al-Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology, by Lee Harris. Harris points out that many al-Qaeda members believe that their actions will have effects that a scientific, rational analysis would not posit. Instead, al-Qaeda is acting out a sort of politico-religious passion play or grand-scale theater, in which their effects are mainly geared towards their own followers and not toward actual results.

Unfortunately, al-Qaeda's fantasy ideology does align somewhat with rational goals. Suborning the enemy through propaganda means is one of them. Even more unfortunately, al-Qaeda does seem to have some long-range planners -- an al-Qaeda General Staff, if you will -- who are not blinded by their own Qutbist rhetoric used for propaganda, recruitment, and general public relations. Zarqawi is one of them; the Zarqawi memo is more logical than mystical in its reasoning. The al-Qaeda General Staff is not numerous, and has taken attrition since September 11; but a number of them remain close by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, and while this isolates them somewhat it also protects them.

Joshua also points out that the Superpower Caliphate, al-Qaeda's current goal, is not their final one:

"They intend to make war, literally until judgment day because their version of the scriptures states that Allah won't find them worthy of the his coming and bring on judgment day until they, among other things, kill the Jews (that probably means ALL of the Jews). So while a caliphate is a short term (!!!) goal, nothing stops with its creation, not if it's an Al Qa'eda run caliphate! Note that even Hamas has stated that their own war will continue "until Islam rules the universe".

Joshua is probably correct concerning al-Qaeda's final goals; he is certainly correct in the proposition that jihad, under Qutbist doctrine, does not end until Judgement Day. But rational assumptions, and even al-Qaeda's own estimates, conclude that al-Qaeda would have to retrench and develop its own internal state structure in the unlikely event that it acheived all its goals and became a Pan-Muslim Caliphate. This would necessitate a truce, or a slowing of jihad, and this can be taken as a reasonable estimate of the end of the current conflict. It is also reasonable to believe that al-Qaeda's goals would not change until this list is complete, as (even in its fantasy ideology) it considers this list vital to its final victory.

Thus, I can use this list as a good description of al-Qaeda's goals. I can also describe some of its actions as rational attempts to acheive those goals. Other attempts are indeed mystical attempts to invoke the power of Allah; but such mysticism can be incorporated into a rational framework as propaganda targeted at Muslims. It is certainly regarded as such in the West, and it may be regarded as such by the al-Qaeda General Staff (who are, by definition, those who are thinking of planning al-Qaeda actions in rational and not mystical terms).

I wish al-Qaeda's plans were pure fantasy; they would be easier to defeat if they were. But they do sometimes do the rational thing, and we must oppose those efforts as well.

Next up: the promised strategic analysis!