An excerpt from
American Hegemony and Interstate Cooperation
in the War on Terrorism
From Local Jihads to a Global Jihad
The concept of jihad is not new; it has been embedded within Islam from its inception. Its implementation has oscillated between genuine attempts to carry out holy war (such as Salah ad Din’s war against the Crusaders) and its use as a mobilization tool by cynical leaders (for example, Saddam Hussein’s attempts to portray his wars as jihad). But its appeal has receded in the last few hundred years. Until recently, even when the concept of jihad was invoked, it was restricted to a narrow context within specific countries and their populations. Furthermore, its declaration and undertaking were largely the responsibility of leaders. Thus it is puzzling that jihad became such a familiar notion in world politics at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This chapter focuses on the revival of jihad and how it has acquired a global dimension. It seeks to explain how jihad evolved from a localized struggle, involving mostly local Muslims, into one that has attracted or compelled the participation of Muslims throughout the world—even if in relatively small numbers. This globalization of jihad is critical to understanding the jihadi movement as a systemic threat rather than a narrow one directed at the sovereignty of a few states only.
I trace the roots of jihad’s globalization to the 1980s war in Afghanistan. While jihadist groups had already been operating in various Muslim states throughout the twentieth century, jihad took a significant turn with the Afghanistan war. This war led to the revival of the notion of jihad as a collective duty; for many of the volunteers who came to central Asia to wage or support the military effort, it instilled the belief that jihad was the solution to the ummah’s weakness and the key to returning it to its glory days. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States provided technical and financial aid to the anti-Soviet resistance and encouraged young Muslims throughout the world to travel to Afghanistan. But the jihad they supported out of political calculations turned out to be a double-edged sword, as its state sponsors lost control over its application and zealous jihadi radicals sought to export it outside of Afghanistan. The personal connections forged between mujahideen from different nations reinforced their extreme beliefs while increasing their capabilities through battleground experience and the exchange of knowledge of military and terror operations. The Soviets’ eventual retreat further boosted the jihadis’ belief in the feasibility of success.
But the war in Afghanistan, while necessary for the globalization of jihad, was insufficient for its consolidation on a global scale. Two additional stages were required to create a global phenomenon from a set of disconnected local struggles between jihadi groups and governments. The second stage took place during the 1990s as veterans of the Afghan war tried and failed to win separate struggles against their home governments. Less controversial jihadist attempts on the periphery—Chechnya, Bosnia, and Kashmir—also resulted in little success. Against these obstacles, a third alternative offered by Osama bin Laden won out. Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network provided an organizational and ideological base for a jihadi movement comprising members from different nations, a global reach, and an ideology with global scope.
The third stage in the globalization of jihad started with the 9/11 attack on the United States and the ensuing American responses. The dynamics of the engagement between radical Islamists and states, mainly the United States, in the period following 9/11 shaped public perceptions of the struggle as global, causing even local terror attacks to be perceived as part of the broader struggle. This change in framing relieved but did not eliminate the problems of collective action, resource allocation, and constant personal conflicts that had characterized the Islamist movement in the past. Various jihadi groups could now operate either locally or internationally and still be regarded as part of a larger movement, their actions perceived as serving the attempt to undermine not only the local but also the international order.
This chapter details the three stages of the globalization of jihad, from the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Stage One: The War in Afghanistan
On December 26, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to prevent the fall of the communist regime in Kabul. The invasion sent shockwaves throughout the world. In the West, it was perceived as a violation of the “rules of the game” between the two superpowers. Coming on the heels of the Iranian revolution and the takeover of the American embassy in Iran, the Soviets’ step appeared to confirm the prevalent perception of growing American weakness. The view from the Middle East was different, as the invasion was viewed in the context of growing turmoil in the Muslim world. The invasion of a Muslim country by a non-Muslim state aroused coreligionists’ sentiments, as many enraged Muslims understood the Soviet intervention as an aggression against the whole Muslim nation, requiring a powerful response to force a retreat.
This reaction was promoted on two levels: by states and by jihadist entrepreneurs. The second level of reaction allowed networks below the state level to sustain the jihad even when state sponsorship decreased substantially or was no longer available. At the state level, the Afghan resistance was supported mainly by Pakistan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, all of whose interests converged to support fighting the Soviets. While states’ sponsorship of the jihad was highly significant, their direct contribution to its funding amounted to no more than 25 percent. This number attests to the importance of the Muslim NGOs and networks of Muslim activists who traveled around the world collecting donations and recruiting volunteers. Some of these non-state elements sowed the seeds for the global proliferation of jihad.
The globalizers of jihad were of Arab descent. This determination is rather counterintuitive, since the role of the Arab volunteers in the actual fighting against the Soviets was at best marginal. For example, Burke argues that whereas at any given time there were between 100,000 and 250,000 Afghans fighting, only a few hundred Arab volunteers took part along the front line. By all accounts, Arab mujahideen hardly participated in actual combat before the mid-1980s, and only a few of them demonstrated notable fighting skills. The overall number of Arab volunteers who made their way to Pakistan, especially in the first years of the war, was also very modest. Most served in supportive roles in humanitarian agencies, media offices, political organizations, and hospitals. Only in the mid-1980s was there a noticeable increase in their participation, which reached its peak only after the Soviets had withdrawn. Even then, it did not amount to more than a few thousand at any given time.
Friction between the locals and Arab volunteers, with many local Afghan mujahideen resenting the “arrogant” Arabs, further marginalized the foreigners’ role. Conflicts between Afghans and Arabs became more frequent as the number of radical Arabs adhering to a strict interpretation of Islam, which rejected traditional Afghan practices as violations of Islam’s purity, increased. Nevertheless, despite their insignificant role in this specific jihad, the experience of the Arab mujahideen shaped the future direction of radical Islam and served as a launching pad for a movement with global goals and global reach.
Paving the road: Azzam and the evolution of jihad. The emergence of a group of Arabs willing to go to Afghanistan to participate in jihad was itself an important development. Arab regimes, in particular the Saudi regime, encouraged young Muslims to join the ranks of the mujahideen. But technical and financial support was not enough; the war also had to be framed in religious terms and propagated as a religious duty. Prior to the war in Afghanistan there was little discussion about the contemporary use of jihad even among the radical Salafis. It was Abdallah Azzam—a Palestinian theologian who left his job in Saudi Arabia shortly after the Soviet invasion, took a teaching position in Pakistan, and started inciting for a jihad—who constructed the religious legitimation for Arab participation and gave the war its needed religious and transnational dimension.
According to Islamic tradition, there are two categories of jihad as a war. Offensive jihad serves to enlarge the Dar al Islam—the house of Islam—and is considered a collective duty managed by a Muslim ruler. Defensive jihad, on the other hand, is invoked when a Muslim territory and population come under attack by non-Muslims. In such a case, participation becomes the responsibility of every individual Muslim: the mujahideen do not even need family permission to fulfill this duty. Azzam framed the war in Afghanistan as a defensive jihad, reviving the theory of circles of obligation. Under this theory, the responsibility falls initially on those Muslims nearest the enemy. If they are unable to repel the enemy, then the obligation expands to the next circle. Obviously, fighting a superpower required the mobilization of the entire ummah.
Azzam’s role was not restricted to providing religious justification for jihad; he also played a very significant role in the community of mujahideen close to the front line. His importance grew in the mid-1980s with the substantial increase in Arab volunteers coming to Peshawar, the Pakistani border city where most Afghan refugees found shelter and where the headquarters of the seven Afghan parties were located. The flow of volunteers required the creation of an infrastructure for housing and training. Because many arrived for only a few months at a time and moved between Peshawar, the training camps, and the missions inside Afghanistan, there was also a need to keep records of their whereabouts. This need stemmed in part from the wish to provide information to the volunteers’ families, who inquired about the fates of their loved ones. In 1984, Azzam, together with his disciple Osama bin Laden, established the Maktab al Khidamat (MAK) or Services’ Office, one of fifteen Arab aid organizations established to serve the mujahideen and the Afghan refugees. Azzam also founded the most important journal in Peshawar, al Jihad, which served the mujahideen and brought news from the jihad arena to interested Muslims throughout the Arab world.
Azzam traveled often to spread the call for jihad, to recruit enthusiastic youth (mainly from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood), and to collect financial contributions. He even journeyed to the United States. His activities were critical to the evolution of the jihad in Afghanistan from a local effort supported by a few Arab volunteers to a duty that resonated with a larger Arab audience and created the precedent for Muslims fighting outside their country under the banner of jihad.
But Azzam’s contribution goes even further. First, he rejected all options but violent jihad to free Muslim lands. Second, he stressed that jihad should not stop in Afghanistan, but rather “will remain an individual duty until all other lands which formerly were Muslim come back to us and Islam reigns within them once again.” Third, the revival of the notion of defensive jihad and its adaptation to contemporary affairs allowed its use some years later by violent Salafi groups seeking to justify their deeds. Groups such as the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) combined Azzam’s concept of defensive jihad with the justification for excommunicating Muslim rulers that was formulated by Sayyid Qutb, who had been executed in Egypt in 1966. These most violent groups of Islamists distorted the concepts of jihad and took them to the extreme, using them to justify the mass killing of Muslims. Fourth, Azzam articulated the notion of the Muslim vanguard, the spearhead in the front of the camp that would carry out jihad against the infidels and encourage the Muslim masses to follow through and join the effort. Azzam believed that most Muslims were still unprepared to accept the responsibilities of their religion and that every ideology had first to be implemented by a select group of people dedicated to the cause. In fact, by the time Azzam started writing about this vanguard, he was already thinking about how he could channel the energies of the mujahideen into other missions in the name of jihad. He envisioned the veterans of the Afghan war as a mobile strike force throughout the Islamic world.
Islamist opposition groups and the war in Afghanistan. The Arab volunteers came from numerous countries and belonged to various classes and Islamic traditions. Many came individually; others were encouraged by local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood movement or by Wahhabi clerics. In addition, Islamic activists from violent opposition groups in the Arab world, who had been hunted down in their own countries, found in the war in Afghanistan both a refuge and a novel cause. The Arab regimes were happy to see these troublemakers leave to fight the Soviets, and they thought little about the longer-term consequences of bringing together a large group of radicals from different countries.
When opponents of the Arab regimes started arriving in large numbers in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, they gradually transformed the shape and ideology of the Arab Afghan movement. Whereas Azzam’s vision of jihad focused on Muslim lands under non-Muslim control and precluded the idea of jihad against Muslim leaders, the opposition elements subscribed to a more radical ideology inspired by Qutb’s writing. Azzam’s vision had to compete with this more radical view and the growing influence its proponents gained among the community of Arab mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
To some extent, this was a struggle for the loyalty of the enthusiastic youth who came to Afghanistan without any previous affiliation to the Islamic opposition groups, and it often resulted in the radicalization of these young and still uncommitted volunteers. They quickly gained leadership positions among the Arab Afghans. Indeed, some of al Qaeda’s leading figures were Egyptians who had come to Afghanistan without previous affiliation with the Egyptian opposition, but who were radicalized through their fighting experience and through exposure to the rhetoric of Ayman al Zawahiri—a leader of the Egyptian al Jihad groups, and today bin Laden’s deputy—and others like him. As the stream of inexperienced volunteers increased, more training camps were needed for them. Consequently there was an increase in the role and influence of the more experienced leaders, usually drawn from the ranks of the organized Islamic groups, as well as in their ability to recruit new members. At the same time, new groups from states that had previously lacked such organizations—most importantly, Saudi Arabia—started to emerge.
Meanwhile, another process increased the lethality of the movement. Islamists from different countries spent significant time discussing the condition of the Muslim ummah and how to revitalize it, introducing ideas that were anchored in their local experiences. These encounters helped bridge some doctrinal differences and further radicalized the ideology of many activists. The growing fellowship of radicals from various countries also had the effect of improving their operational skills and building upon the training they received. Each group brought its expertise and learned from the strengths of others.
The Arab mujahideen were usually affiliated with Afghan parties (mainly the parties of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Gulbuddin Hekmatiar, who were close to Saudi Arabia) and trained in their camps. But as the war progressed, special training camps were also built for the Arab Afghans. Experience gained through participation in active combat was another force multiplier. Although it was more relevant to guerrilla warfare than to terrorism tactics, this fighting experience increased the mujahideens’ knowledge of explosives, shooting skills, and other less tangible assets such as self-confidence and the ability to function under tremendous pressure.
One of the war’s most underestimated contributions to the emergence of the global jihadi movement was the interpersonal connection created among the Arab Afghans. The Arab participants were usually organized in groups according to their own nationalities, but there was still significant interaction among mujahideen of different nationalities in Peshawar, in the training camps, and on the battleground. Such interactions, especially inside Afghanistan, were instrumental in cementing interpersonal relations among individual mujahideen, for many of whom the war served as a formative experience that would shape their adult lives.Al Zawahiri and bin Laden provide two examples of mujahideen who argue that the experience changed their lives, enriched them, and gave them a sense of satisfaction, destination, and confirmation of their beliefs at the highest levels. The Arab mujahideen not only shared their religious zeal, but through this transformative event also shared memories and experiences with their brothers from other countries. Once created, the bonds were robust and they helped the newborn global jihadi movement to surpass national boundaries and organizational affiliations. They would hold for years to come, and would facilitate future cooperation. Organizational affiliation remained a highly significant factor in the politics of the Arab mujahideen, but these interpersonal connections functioned as another layer in their relations and allowed them to cooperate without official sanctioning from the groups with which they were affiliated.
In his book Knights under the Banner of the Prophet, al Zawahiri summarizes the contribution of the jihad in Afghanistan to its participants this way:
… it also gave young Muslim mujahideen—Arabs, Pakistanis, Turks, and Muslims from Central and East Asia—a great opportunity to get acquainted with each other on the land of the Afghan jihad through their comradeship-at-arms against the enemies of Islam … came to know each other closely, changed expertise, and learned to understand their brethren’s problems.
But discord existed among the Arab mujahideen as well. The sources of contention were many, mainly involving ideological differences and conflicts over strategy and financial resources, as well as personal conflicts. Azzam’s MAK, the beneficiary of large sums of money, was one such area. Azzam wanted to use the funds in the Afghan arena first, later directing them to Palestine and other occupied Muslim lands—a plan that required an emphasis on training in guerrilla warfare and channeling money away from struggles against Arab regimes. Al Zawahiri and his Egyptian followers had entirely different ideas about how the money should be spent, focusing on diverting some of it back to the Egyptian arena and to training in terrorism tactics.
The relationship between bin Laden and Azzam also deteriorated around that time. The rift can be attributed in part to the influence on bin Laden of al Zawahiri and Hekmatiar, who resented Azzam for personal reasons (such as Azzam’s defense of the Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud) and disagreed with his strategic thinking. Bin Laden had become increasingly disenchanted with the Arab regimes that Azzam continued to view as important allies, and he also supported building special training camps for the foreign mujahideen whereas Azzam wanted volunteers to operate alongside their Afghan coreligionists. Lastly, bin Laden did not hide his dissatisfaction with what he saw as Azzam’s nepotism.
At that stage, bin Laden was already much more self-confident and less dependent on his mentor. He spent more time near the front line and even in actual combat, and in 1986 he established several camps of his own within Afghanistan. However, he did not leave the MAK. A tacit battle for control over the MAK ended with Azzam’s assassination in November 1989. The mystery of his death remains unsolved, with responsibility assigned to various parties. The most intriguing claim implicates al Zawahiri and his people in the murder. Bin Laden himself was in Saudi Arabia at the time, and there is no evidence linking him with Azzam’s death. In any case, he subsequently was able to complete his takeover of the MAK’s facilities, finances, and broad recruiting network after easily marginalizing Azzam’s son-in-law.
Stage Two: Failures of the Afghan Alumni and the Redirection of Global Jihad
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, but continued to prop up the communist regime in Kabul. Meanwhile, as the war drew near its end, infighting among the Afghan factions increased as they attempted to position themselves for the postwar era. These internal rivalries were at least partially responsible for delaying the regime’s collapse. However, the Soviet retreat marked for many Arab Afghans the end of their Afghan experience.
The mujahideen left Afghanistan with a stronger commitment to jihad and a more radical perspective. Emboldened by the Soviet retreat, they understood their victory and the consequent disintegration of the Soviet Union as the result of their own—and only their own—deeds, supported by God. It was seen as a sign that the long-hoped-for resurgence of Muslims’ past glory had finally arrived. Attributing the collapse of the Soviet Union solely to their work reflected the mujahideen’s genuine belief but it also served some tactical purposes. First, it magnified their strength and consequently reinforced their confidence in their ability to prevail in the next phase of the holy war, whichever direction it might take. Second, it created a myth that would assist them in recruiting new members.
With the end of the Afghanistan chapter, the Arab mujahideen were now ready to look ahead. Some went home and returned to mundane lives. Others married locals and chose to live in Pakistan or Afghanistan. There was also a large group who wanted to use their new knowledge and experience to keep the flame of jihad alive. They were joined by mujahideen who had been denied entry to their home countries, or had been arrested and harassed there, and so were forced to retain their careers as jihadis. But the committed jihadis were conflicted about what they should do next. Some, especially those who had come with previous experience in fighting Arab governments, were inclined to bring jihad back to their home countries. Others, however, argued that the mujahideen should travel to other places where Muslims were oppressed by non-Muslims. This latter direction appeared to be in line with the late Azzam’s ideas about the future of jihad. These two strands—one focusing on change in Arab states and the other seeking to spread jihad—characterized the jihadi movement of the 1990s, and by the end of the decade, the failure of localized jihads had tilted the balance toward globalization.
Bin Laden’s position at that point regarding the future direction of the jihadi movement is not clear. It appears that he saw value in both agendas, but preferred to focus on preserving the movement’s international nature rather than deciding what it should do next. In the unity of the mujahideen, bin Laden found a crucial source of power. Thus, he acted to prevent discord among them and to maintain the international alliance that had been created during the war. To this end, he established al Qaeda in August 1988 with a very small group of fellow mujahideen. The new organization relied on the infrastructure of the MAK; but its ideological orientation was unsure and its operational capabilities almost nonexistent.
The following sections will look at the development of the different jihadi strands throughout the 1990s and the emergence of al Qaeda’s perspective as dominant.
Local jihads. Local jihads were the most common form of violent Islamic opposition before the war in Afghanistan. With the end of the war, Arab states saw a resurgence of Islamic domestic violence as more zealous and able Afghan returnees started working to undermine local regimes. The Arab Afghans found themselves to be the most radical elements among the Islamist opposition to the Arab regimes. They adhered to the most rigid ideology and were more inclined to use force indiscriminately in order to advance their goals.
The influence of the returnees was most pronounced in Algeria and Egypt. In Algeria, the situation began to heat up when a relatively moderate Islamic movement, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), emerged successful in the first round of general elections, leading the military to abolish the second round and take power in January 1992. The Arab Afghans—mostly members of the GIA—responded with a brutal fight. Soon after, the country spiraled into a deadly civil war in which both sides, but mainly the radicals, used unprecedented brutality, leading to the death of nearly 100,000 people during the 1990s. The GIA’s extreme ideology led them to massacre many civilians for “un-Islamic” behavior, which in the radicals’ eyes rendered them infidels and worthy of death.
Gilles Kepel sees in the Algerian experience a reflection of the Islamic movement’s failure during the 1990s. He argues that the movement was based on a fragile alliance between the young urban poor and the devout middle class. This alliance was ill-prepared and unable to engage in a protracted confrontation with the entrenched state authorities. Thus, as pressure on the movement mounted, the jihadis escalated the violence. This escalation broke down the consensus and created a rift between the jihadis and the more moderate middle-class Islamists, who were appalled by the level of violence. When the GIA lost the support of the more recognized Islamist intelligentsia, it also lost its compound identity and fragmented into a multitude of tiny groups that were even less inhibited in their brutality, thus distancing themselves further from the public.
Afghan returnees reinvigorated the radical Islamic movement in Egypt as well. The Egyptian violent opposition had suffered severe blows after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and its operation was brought almost to a standstill. Operatives from al Gama’ah al Islamiyah and al Jihad were imprisoned in large numbers, and many others left the country for Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and to recuperate. When the Egyptian mujahideen returned home, they became the backbone of the violent Islamic opposition. They launched a terror campaign against regime figures and symbols but registered little overall success. Their brutality, though not remotely close to the level exhibited by the Algerians, backfired more than once when innocents were killed as a result of their terror attacks. Their failed attempt to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak during a visit to Addis Ababa in 1995, and the massacre of about sixty tourists at Luxor in 1997, cost the radical movements public support and enabled the regime to crack down on them. With the local agenda blocked, most of the leadership of al Gama’ah al Islamiyah offered a truce to the Egyptian regime and denounced the use of violence. Those who wanted to continue the violent struggle had to leave the country in order to regroup—but the Egyptian regime continued to pursue them even outside Egypt. The regime’s pressure and endemic financial problems rendered a new violent campaign inside Egypt almost impractical. Under these circumstances, al Zawahiri decided it was time to change strategy and join forces with bin Laden, thus shifting to the globalist camp.
Jihad on the periphery of the Muslim world. Jihad against non-Muslim rulers was less controversial than the struggles against Arab regimes. Fighting in the name of Islam in these arenas did not involve the difficult religious questions of a Muslim ruler’s rights and duties and the conditions that justify the waging of jihad against that ruler. While many in the Islamist camp agreed that such an enterprise could be justified on the basis of the ruler’s policies and failure to act in accordance with the shari’ah, it was much more difficult to mobilize sympathizers around this cause, since most Muslim scholars consider a ruler who demonstrates effective control and does not grossly violate the shari’ah to be legitimate. Such considerations do not exist, however, when the issue is non-Muslims oppressing Muslims and “infidels” occupying a Muslim land. The self-identity of the global jihadi movement emerging from the Afghanistan war embodied this latter type of jihad. Moreover, participating in such conflicts improved the operational skills of the mujahideen and increased their religious zeal, thus strengthening the jihadi movement. Furthermore, as in Afghanistan, interpersonal bonds were created by bringing together volunteers from various Muslim countries, and these relations would help to spread and reproduce the individual-based networks. Therefore, the controversy was not whether Muslims should fight in these struggles, but rather whether they should get priority.
The main weakness of this directional shift was that none of these arenas of jihad succeeded in becoming a focal point to mobilize large numbers of Muslims. Although Muslims were supportive of the cause, that support was not translated into action. The number of foreign volunteers in Bosnia and Chechnya never exceeded the high hundreds, with a much smaller number involved at most times. Furthermore, in Kashmir, the one arena where the mujahideen were a meaningful force, they were an instrument of a state—Pakistan—and yet they failed to achieve their political goals. Thus, while this type of jihad was not meaningless and continued to exist alongside the others, it could not be the leading ideology for the jihadi movement.
Global jihad: taking on the “far enemy.” As jihad against non-Muslim rulers failed to attract support and the local fighters failed to topple secular Arab regimes, an alternative strategy of globalized jihad started taking root. Globalized jihad was a mix of a worldwide agenda linked to local struggles, and it provided a new focal point around which the different jihadi movements would eventually converge.
Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan in 1989. Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 he offered to form a force of mujahideen, but to his dismay the Saudi regime rejected his offer. When the regime allowed the deployment of foreign troops on Saudi soil, the cradle of Islam, bin Laden was enraged. Later, the maintenance of a U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia in the absence of its original rationale (the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait) cemented the perception of an American occupation of Islam’s holiest sites. Even during his years in Afghanistan, when the United States had been one of the greatest supporters of the mujahideen, bin Laden had shown no affection for the United States. In 1987 he started calling for an economic boycott of American goods. And after the Gulf War, the United States gradually became the focal point of his view of the troubles in the Muslim ummah and the required response to those problems.
In the first years after the Gulf War, bin Laden’s ideas were still not consolidated into a coherent perspective. He was occupied with the problems in his home country and his troubled relations with the Saudi regime. He supported the independent Sahwa (“Awakening”) ulama who called for strict implementation of the shari’ah, an end to corruption and immoral behavior among members of the royal family, and the ejection of the American forces. Although he did not take a leading role in the opposition, the aura that surrounded him because of his role in the war in Afghanistan made his vocal disagreement disquieting enough for the Saudi authorities. These authorities were especially disturbed to see the legitimacy of the official religious establishment eroding due to its support of the regime, while the popularity of the opposition—the Sahwa and people like bin Laden—soared.
The authorities warned bin Laden several times to stop his incitement against the royal family. When he refused, his passport was revoked. Unwilling to stay in Saudi Arabia as a prisoner, he outsmarted the authorities and left the country. In 1992, following an invitation from Sudan’s pan-Islamic leader Hasan al Turabi, bin Laden gathered a small group of close associates and settled in Sudan. He then dedicated most of his efforts and time to economic enterprises, thus helping his host country while also providing work for fellow mujahideen who were no longer welcome in Pakistan or in their home countries. At the same time, he developed a comprehensive theory regarding the troubles of the Muslim world and the required military solution. Terrorism, while contemplated and encouraged, was still on the back burner, not a main occupation.
In 1996, it became clear that all three principal arenas of jihad—Egypt, Algeria, and Bosnia—had failed to achieve their goals. The field was now open for bin Laden’s version. In his view, the local jihads had failed due to U.S. support of the secular regimes. He perceived the Arab rulers as slaves serving their American masters, who in return supported their regimes and guaranteed their survival. As long as American power lay behind those regimes, the mujahideen could not achieve their goals; the United States would protect the rulers even if it necessitated direct intervention. Thus, the American military presence in the Gulf countries was seen as an escalation of U.S. involvement in the region. As al Zawahiri later wrote: “In the Gulf war the U.S. moved to the region to oversee the management of its interests by itself. Hence, it transformed its role of hidden mover of events into the role of the Muslims’ direct opponent.” The remedy to this situation was to confront the United States and bring about its collapse. Once it fell, the Arab regimes would lose their shield and the believers could take control.
Identifying the United States as a target was also useful in light of the continuous power struggles within the jihadi camp. The jihadis could not agree on any one Arab country upon which to concentrate their efforts; groups from within individual countries were trapped in bitter rivalry over ideology, strategy, and distribution of resources. Above all were the never-ending personal rivalries that hindered cooperation among groups and fragmented the movement even further. All too familiar with these personal rivalries and their devastating effect on the jihadi movement, bin Laden was careful to present himself not as a competitor for leadership, but as a devout mujahid, focused on the goals and free of personal interest. His demeanor after attacks, and al Qaeda’s avoidance of claiming responsibility for their work, helped to consolidate that image and lubricated the flow of many radical groups into his sphere of influence.
Articulating the connection between the hated Arab regimes and the United States enabled the mujahideen to surpass earlier debates about their own future and that of jihad. By rechanneling the resources of their movement to attack the United States and remove its influence from the Muslim world, the advocates of local jihads could be accommodated. With defeat of the United States would come the fall of the hypocritical and oppressive Muslim rulers, thus paving the way to installing Islamic regimes in their stead. Furthermore, the focus on American targets could still damage local governments by demonstrating their incompetence in providing security to their “American masters.” Consequently, such attacks could sow discord between the United States and the Arab regimes, as well as damaging the reputations of the local regimes in the eyes of their people and the world.
However, bin Laden had to convince the jihadi movement that it could indeed beat the United States. After all, if the jihadis were unsuccessful in their local struggles, how could they defeat a superpower? The solution lay in the experience of the war in Afghanistan, which enabled bin Laden to argue that unity was crucial to success and could produce unimaginable results. Instead of dividing the power of the jihadi movement, he said, its various factions should unite against the real target: the United States.
The war against the Soviets had generated other lessons as well. Attributing the Soviet Union’s disintegration solely to the work of the mujahideen implied the corresponding weakness of the United States, which had struggled with the Soviet Union for fifty years without prevailing whereas the Muslim fighters, despite their material weakness, had emerged victorious. This comparison led to the conclusion that strength of belief had been crucial to the mujahideen’s success and that American power was no more than a myth. To support his dismissal of American power, bin Laden pointed to the U.S. retreats from Vietnam, Beirut, and especially Somalia after meeting with resistance. The fate of the Soviets also served to draw parallels for the coming confrontation with the United States: the Americans were bound to lose, and with their fall the problem of the Arab regimes would be solved. As bin Laden stated: “Russia was the head of the communist bloc. With the disintegration of Russia, communism withered away in Eastern Europe. Similarly, if the U.S. is beheaded the Arab kingdoms will wither away.” Bin Laden’s inevitable conclusion, therefore, was that the mujahideen who had brought about the collapse of one superpower could destroy the other superpower as well.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure that had been created in Afghanistan continued to produce a new generation of mujahideen. Pakistan wanted to use the mujahideen and Afghanistan as a strategic weapon to advance its own geostrategic interests, particularly in conflict-ridden Kashmir, and thus it supported the preservation and even enlargement of this infrastructure. It encouraged devout youth from the madrassas network to get training; later, driven by religious zeal, these young men would fight in the name of Islam while also serving Pakistani interests. Thus, not all of the training camps were al Qaeda’s. In fact, before the Taliban grabbed power in Afghanistan in 1996, bin Laden had little influence in the country. He was respected for his contribution to the war during the previous decade, but his political power was relatively low. While some of his close allies in al Qaeda operated training camps in Afghanistan, they were only part of a larger group of Arabs with similar camps. Bin Laden himself was focused at that point on his enterprises in Sudan.
Only after he established substantial influence over the Taliban did bin Laden receive authority over non-Pakistani jihadis in Afghanistan. His importance grew as he began to provide the Taliban with a conventional force—Brigade 055—made up largely of Arabs who fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance (led by Massoud); eventually the Taliban became dependent on his skillful infantry force. Under these conditions, al Qaeda broadened its training camp system and its overall influence among the mujahideen. It is important to note that most visitors to its facilities were trained as foot soldiers to serve in the different jihad arenas and with the Taliban. Only a small fraction received training for terrorist missions, and only a select few were offered the chance to join al Qaeda’s ranks.
Admission to the training camps often depended on personal connections: the ability to bring a recommendation from an Afghan alumnus or from reliable acquaintances of the mujahideen. This was another example of the reproduction of global jihad: a second generation of mujahideen used the war veterans’ connections to enter the melting pot that had created the first generation.
The training camps were essential for preserving the spirit of global jihad, producing a new pool of able and dedicated members. In addition to extensive military training, the trainees went through several hours of indoctrination—religious and political—every day. The camps also enabled youth from different countries to interact. They all were socialized around a goal that surpassed national boundaries and provided all trainees with a salient shared identity.
Some of the volunteers came for a new experience and stayed for only a short while without participating in any real fighting. Others remained in the camps for additional training, or traveled to other jihad grounds to fight the “infidels.” Still others were already members of radical groups seeking to improve their operational skills for use back home. A small number of highly qualified trainees remained in the camps’ system to serve as trainers. The camps’ graduates would spread the message and become recruitment magnets.
In promoting his vision of globalized Jihad, bin Laden was sensitive enough to avoid competing with other radical groups. Instead, in its early years al Qaeda functioned mainly as a facilitator, extending assistance to various others. It provided training for volunteers from throughout the Muslim world, regardless of organizational affiliation, and also provided financial and technical support for terror operations. By backing nationally based groups of radicals, al Qaeda made them increasingly dependent on its services, thus increasing its leverage. But its influence existed at the individual level too, as members of those groups who received training in the al Qaeda camps met its charismatic leading figures and were indoctrinated into its ideology. Furthermore, since al Qaeda was the only militant group with transnational membership and an ideology that linked a global platform with local struggles, its members could help to advance the network while retaining their affiliation to local and nationally based groups. Thus the network managed to create bridgeheads to those groups; Hambali, for example, played a significant role in both al Qaeda and the southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah. As a result, al Qaeda gained substantial influence and even absorbed some of these fundamentalist groups. It also guided mujahideen toward participating actively in fighting in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Yemen, and Kosovo, thus further cementing its credentials in the fundamentalist camp.
Through its role as facilitator, al Qaeda became stronger and better able to undertake independent operations. More important, it became the spearhead of the fundamentalist camp. Bin Laden knew that the small core of al Qaeda operatives would be insufficient to achieve the network’s goals. His intention was that Al Qaeda should function as the vanguard, but for change to take place the various components of the Islamic movement had to collaborate and the Muslim street had to be awakened. Understanding the benefits of ambiguity, al Qaeda avoided taking responsibility for operations that were linked to or carried out by the network, thus demonstrating a lack of regard for prestige and, consequently, obtaining the trust of other groups. Bin Laden himself always emphasized his role in inciting the people rather than in executing attacks.
Feeling ready to move forward, al Qaeda began a new stage in its operations in February 1998 when bin Laden announced the creation of the “World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders,” which encompassed a number of terrorist organizations. In taking this step, bin Laden reorganized and formalized al Qaeda’s connection with its various affiliates. The front issued a fatwah (an Islamic religious ruling) signed by bin Laden and the heads of other organizations, calling on Muslims to consider it their personal duty to kill Americans and their allies in order to liberate the holy places in Saudi Arabia and Palestine. To give the fatwah further legitimacy and to counter claims that bin Laden was not authorized to issue religious rulings, bin Laden convinced Muslim scholars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and London to issue supporting opinions. In the spirit of the fatwah, and in order to establish its credentials within Islamist circles, al Qaeda started carrying out independent attacks. The bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (1998) and the attack on the American destroyer USS Cole (2000) should be understood against this background. With these operations, al Qaeda signaled its capacity to move beyond its facilitator role, as well as its readiness to advance its agenda through action. The attacks were also designed to increase it recruiting appeal and to radicalize the Muslim street.
Stage Three: 9/11 and Its Aftermath
The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington marked the beginning of the third and current stage in the globalization of jihad. They were designed to change the nature of the battle by provoking the United States to become. involved in an unwinnable war that would eventually erode its base of power and lead it to retreat from the Middle East region. This weakening would result in its demise and open the field to a new power structure in which the Muslim ummah would dominate.
Al Qaeda is attentive to the psychology of its Muslim audience. It plays on the grudges that resonate with Muslims (for example, by increasing the number of references to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict after the intifada), attempting to trigger the response that will best serve its goals. It observed the effects on Muslim public opinion of the futile American retaliation to the embassy bombings in August 1998. The failed strike on the training camps in Afghanistan boosted bin Laden’s public image and increased his network’s appeal, reinforcing the perception that al Qaeda attacks on U.S. soil would provoke a forceful response, and in turn awakening “the Muslim street” and causing it to rise against both invading U.S. forces and corrupt Arab regimes.
Indeed, the Muslim masses play a vital role in al Qaeda’s strategy. Bin Laden and his lieutenants understood that they could not achieve their goals with only the network’s resources. Al Qaeda could not be more than a vanguard; success hinged on mobilizing the masses, hence the constant appeal to Muslims to join the cause and start taking action. In his book, al Zawahiri articulates the relations between the vanguard and the masses: “The jihad movement must come closer to the masses . . . . We must win the people’s confidence, respect, and affection. The people will not love us unless they felt that we love them, care about them, and are ready to defend them…The jihad movement must be in the middle or ahead of the ummah. We must not blame the ummah for not responding or not living up to the task.”
Yet al Qaeda was well aware of the difficulties in mobilizing the Muslim public. Bin Laden identified Muslims’ disbelief in their power to affect reality, and their concomitant passivity, as two of the main factors in the malaise. By successfully hitting the most important symbols of American power, bin Laden wanted to restore the ummah’s confidence in its own ability to triumph over even the strongest power. Thus, by force of example and success, bin Laden sought to free Muslims from their state of submission. His appeal to the youth—the more physically able, and more easily influenced—should be understood in this context as well, because the youth are also less captivated by years of degeneration and passivity.
Nonetheless, empowering the Muslim youth would have a higher payoff if al Qaeda could draw the United States into an unwinnable battle inside the Muslim world. Bin Laden rightly assumed that the United States would have to respond to the 9/11 attacks, and he hoped to draw American foot soldiers into the Afghan swamp. The assassination of Massoud, commander of the Northern Alliance, a few days before the attacks was not merely a gift from bin Laden to the Taliban. It was also intended to guarantee that the United States would not have any capable proxy on the ground and would have to engage the mujahideen with its own ground forces. Al Qaeda believed that with American forces on the ground combating Muslims, it would be easier to hit the United States. Perhaps more important, the call to jihad would reverberate louder.
Pictures from the battlefield would help in awakening Muslims. When the mujahideen fought the Soviets, news about the war was disseminated to the Muslim public through written and often government-controlled media. But the 1990s technological revolution made it easier for non-state actors to gain access to the newly emerged independent media outlets, to quickly reach a much larger Muslim audience attentive to Muslim-oriented issues, and to take advantage of the power of pictures to simplify and distort a complicated reality. Media-savvy bin Laden quickly understood the media’s power to help him in reaching his audience. His video- and audiotapes, aired by satellite networks such as al Jazeera, rapidly reached many millions. The focus of the Arab media on the suffering of Muslims at the hands of non-Muslims served bin Laden’s interests by providing visual evidence that seemed to support al Qaeda’s claims. Even American acts that were clear responses to al Qaeda’s operations received the appropriate spin, successfully depicting the United States as the undeniable source of evil. In this way, the media became an important mobilization tool.
In making Afghanistan the principal battleground with the United States, bin Laden saw a number of advantages. Afghanistan carries high symbolic value, its role as the “graveyard of empires” burned deeply into Muslim consciousness. Just a little over a decade after the defeat of the Soviets, al Qaeda assumed that the symbolism of a superpower fighting poor but resolved Muslims would not be lost on its audience and would facilitate the expected awakening. Afghanistan seemed a promising battleground on a tactical basis too: its people had a reputation as ferocious and relentless warriors. Moreover, its harsh weather conditions and extremely difficult terrain would make the invaders’ mission torturous.
Bin Laden believed that once on the ground, the American forces would find themselves trapped and beaten, much like the Soviets and the British before them. His lack of respect for the standing power of the United States reinforced this perception. In interviews, bin Laden repeatedly referred to the American experience in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia as testimonies to the weakness of the U.S. military and of American society. Therefore, he argued, once American soldiers began to return in “body bags,” the United States would retreat from the Middle East. This failure would then trigger a process of collapse similar to the one the Soviets experienced. The corrupt Arab regimes would lose power without U.S. support, and would be replaced by “true believers” who would establish the new Caliphate. In this entity, Islam could reclaim its past glory and realize its expansionist mission to bring Islam to all mankind.
But the attacks produced only some of their intended effects. The United States did respond forcefully by invading Afghanistan. However, the assassination of Massoud, three weeks later than initially planned, came too late and failed to bring about the expected disintegration of the Northern Alliance. With a local Muslim proxy on the ground, the United States was free to employ its overwhelming military advantage, topple the Taliban regime, and send al Qaeda on the run. Long after the Taliban’s collapse, al Qaeda operatives engaged in a postmortem analysis of the defeat, blaming weak Taliban forces as well as various careless al Qaeda fighters for the ease of the American victory.
Even worse, the 9/11 attacks and the American reprisal failed to produce the expected awakening and mobilization of the “Muslim street.” Gilles Kepel argues that al Qaeda made a gross miscalculation, putting too much faith in the emotional reaction of the Muslim masses and no effort into organizing and mobilizing them. Popular response following the invasion of Afghanistan is striking when compared to the reaction to the Soviet intervention in the same country twenty years earlier. Apparently, the “Muslim street” did not share bin Laden’s view of the Taliban as the only legitimate Islamic state. Few Muslims shed tears over the fall of the ruthless regime, although many were disappointed at the ease with which the United States managed to oust it. Al-Zawahiri’s argument that the jihad needed an arena inside the heart of the Arab world appeared truer than ever. Afghanistan could not serve as a magnet for new mujahideen.
Despite these failures, the 9/11 attacks did serve al Qaeda’s goals to some extent. The war in Afghanistan increased Muslim resentment towards the United States. This anger was further fed by the constant pictures of Afghan suffering widely distributed by the Arab media outlets. President Bush’s verbal slip, calling the war on al Qaeda a crusade, was interpreted literally by many and reinforced the perception of a war on Islam. The retraction of the statement and countless explanations and clarifications provided little help. Thus, U.S. steps at that stage of the war on terror sowed the seeds for future and more successful attempts to rally the Muslim street.
In addition, 9/11 helped al Qaeda in uniting most of the militant groups behind it. The response of the international community put all Islamic groups under tremendous pressure. As Montasser al Zayyat, a spokesman for the Egyptian al Gama’ah al Islamiyah complained, the attack turned many Islamic groups into “victims” of a war in which they had not chosen to take part. Al Zayyat’s perspective does not appear to be shared by the vast majority of radical groups, although other militant organizations, in particular the Palestinian groups and Hezbollah, condemned the attacks and tried to dissociate themselves from al Qaeda. But other radical groups did find themselves drawn into the conflict. The transnational nature of al Qaeda’s membership and the network’s global reach rendered the struggle against it global. Its extensive links with groups around the Muslim world, and the interpersonal web of connections that became a defining characteristic of the jihadi movement, trapped governments and militants in a direct confrontation.
The stakes were raised by President Bush’s statement that in this battle one could not sit on the sidelines but needed to take sides. As al Zayyat complains: “In the post-9/11 world no countries can afford to be accused of harboring the enemies of the U.S. No one ever imagined that a Western European country would extradite Islamists who live on its lands . . . . After September 11 2001, everything changed.” States all around the world started legislating or amending laws that gave their governments more instruments in confronting the terrorist threat. Greater pressure on the militants resulted from improved and much more extensive cooperation among states. Some states also took advantage of the permissive atmosphere to increase the pressure on their local Islamic opposition, with less concern for possible repercussions from the international community.
Al Qaeda lost Afghanistan as a base of operations, but other unruly regions (in Somalia, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries), though less comfortable, were still available. The network also found cyberspace to be a useful alternative. The growth in the number of Internet users in the Muslim world opened a new public space and enabled those sympathetic to the radicals’ ideology to gain more information that reinforced their disposition. Furthermore, the Internet has been instrumental in shifting sympathizers from passive support to active participation. This is done mainly through lively discussions in chat rooms and through detailed publications that provide professional instructions to those interested in joining the cause.
Conditions became more favorable to al Qaeda’s goals with the American invasion of Iraq. On its face, Iraq was the ideal arena for jihad and could serve as the focal point that the Taliban’s Afghanistan had failed to become. As the home of the Abbasid caliphate, Iraq has a central place in the history of the Muslim nation. The fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in the thirteenth century still stands as one of the most significant traumas in the history of the Muslim ummah and serves as an effective symbol around which Muslims can be mobilized. Those perceptions are reinforced by the negative image of the United States and especially of the Bush administration. The near consensus among Muslims that the administration rushed to an unjust war in order to serve the narrow interests of the United States and Israel renders the historical analogy more vivid. Moreover, coming on the heels of the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war increased the sense of the invasion as part of a broader American campaign against Islam.
The American presence in Iraq also provides the jihadis with operational opportunities. More than 130,000 coalition soldiers provide ample targets. Large caches of weapons, leftovers from Saddam’s regime, have been readily available throughout Iraq. That weaponry has compensated for the lack of the sort of state sponsorship the mujahideen enjoyed in Afghanistan twenty years ago. Young Muslims, largely from Arab countries, have been heeding bin Laden’s call to travel to Iraq, taking advantage of its porous borders. Iran and Syria’s silent cooperation or reluctance to stop the infiltration of volunteers also helped Iraq’s development as the new jihad arena. The U.S. failure to stabilize the country further empowered the radicals, and their increasing confidence strengthened the movement’s ability to recruit. The appeal of this recruitment drive has become evident in Europe, where well-established networks that surround radical imams and jihad alumni capitalize on the anger against the United States. Further, European countries’ failure to integrate their disenfranchised Muslim population has rendered these youth a receptive audience to al Qaeda’s call. Indeed some, even if a notably small segment of the Muslim population, have made their way from Europe to Iraq. Others have joined the effort to carry out terrorism on European soil, as demonstrated by the attacks on the transportation systems in Madrid (on March 11, 2004) and London (on July 7 and 21, 2005).
The war in Iraq also supplied the radicals with ample ammunition against the Arab regimes. No Muslim state stood forcefully against the United States: most voiced public opposition while doing nothing more, and some—mainly the Gulf countries—even cooperated with the Americans. The failure of the leaders of the Muslim states to come to the aid of a “sister state” served the jihadis’ propaganda machine. Under the softest critique, the Muslim leaders were accused of being incompetent and unable to protect the interests of the Muslim ummah. Harsher critics accused them of complicity with the U.S. acts. Their behavior was portrayed as confirmation that they were illegitimate American puppets in the service of American interests. At the same time, the jihadis were able to contrast the “apostate” leaders’ betrayal with the jihadis’ fight against the occupation forces, and to present themselves as the only real force safeguarding the interests of the people.
Consequent to the war in Iraq, it appears that al Qaeda has managed to complete the transition from local to global jihad. The transition is largely psychological. Most attacks are being carried out by local groups in their own countries, mainly inside the Muslim world. But there is some shift in the targeting policies of those groups. The jihadis pick targets identified with the West or with Israel and Jews, including tourist sites (arenas of Western penetration and immorality) and Western embassies, as well as Western economic enterprises and contractors. By focusing on this type of target, the militants hit both the “far enemy” (the United States and its allies) and the “close enemy” (the Muslim regimes). In this way, al Qaeda provides the jihadi camp with another bridge between local and global agendas. The continuous U.S. assertion that the war on terror is global in scope further cements the perception that nearly any terror attack is part of a larger global scheme orchestrated or inspired by al Qaeda.
Paradoxically, al Qaeda’s success in instilling its ideological perspective among jihadis, and in fact shaping a dangerous worldwide jihadi movement, came at the same time that the network lost much of its ability to carry out independent spectaculars like the 9/11 attack and nearly disintegrated as an operating terrorist entity. However, the focus on Iraq and the half-measures taken by Pakistan and the United States, resulting in a failure to uproot jihadi bases in Pakistan’s tribal frontier areas, assisted in the reconstitution of al Qaeda and the strengthening of its Taliban allies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The rage of many dissatisfied Muslims, the lack of strong condemnation of the jihadis by Muslim community leaders, the availability of doctrinal and instructional material online, and the ability to form connections in cyberspace all supported a temporary strengthening of a protean movement.
But the success of the jihadis must be qualified, as al Qaeda found itself repeating the mistakes of other jihadi groups. It succeeded in bringing chaos to Iraq but the carnage, particularly the killing of innocent Muslim civilians, gradually undermined its image among Muslims. The jihadis’ unrestrained brutality led some important groups among Iraq’s Sunni tribes to stand up to the jihadis and unravel what appeared until 2006 to be a tremendous success story. Jihadis’ brutality in other Muslim states further weakened local support. And yet, despite the transformations and turbulences al Qaeda has been experiencing, the global jihadi movement is clearly very much alive and lethal seven years after the 9/11 attacks.
Would the globalization of jihad have occurred without bin Laden? I argue cautiously that it would have, but probably a few years later. The Islamists’ aspirations to revive the Islamic ummah are perpetual; only the strategy and the timing may vary. Bin Laden served as a strategy entrepreneur. His aspiration to reestablish the caliphate and spread Islam throughout the world was shared by many Islamists. His distinct contribution was in providing a new explanation for the surprising failure of the jihadi movement after its tremendous success against the Soviet Union; in designing a strategy focused on the United States; and in staging daring and deadly attacks against the United States.
Absent bin Laden, someone else would have pointed at the United States as the reason for the failed struggles. After all, his ideas have evolved not in a vacuum but through continuous discussions and debates within the jihadi camp. Furthermore, the failure of alternative diagnoses, the growing awareness of the interdependency of events throughout the world, and the global reach of the United States (fostered by the globalization of communication systems) made bin Laden’s view an explanation waiting to be articulated.
Even without bin Laden, the United States would inevitably have suffered a devastating attack on its home front. Recall that the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993, was masterminded by Ramzi Yousef with only a loose connection to bin Laden. The Egyptian sheikh Omar Abd al Rahman, a prominent leader within the jihadi movement, inspired a group of followers to attack other New York landmarks as well. Even though these plots failed to achieve their desired outcomes, they clearly indicate that the United States was in the jihadi sights and that grandiose plans to attack it were being designed by actors other than bin Laden. If not bin Laden, then someone else would have picked up where the followers of Abd al Rahman left off. The increased accessibility of ever more lethal weapons would have resulted eventually in a devastating attack, provoking a massive American response.
Holy war is an old concept in Islam; but there has never been a consensus about its prominence. For some Muslim scholars its importance was temporary, conditional, and usually attached to Islam’s early years. Even large parts of the Salafi movement negate the implementation of jihad in today’s context. But for others, jihad is “the neglected duty,” an underestimated and underutilized fundamental tenet of Islam. Because of such views, jihad as a holy war has never completely disappeared from the Islamic discourse, as Muslim thinkers have continuously called for its revival and tried to reinterpret it in light of different political circumstances and considerations. There have also been occasions, including in the twentieth century, when the discourse of jihad has been used to legitimize and reinvigorate local struggles.
On its face, it seems sensible that in a world penetrated by processes of globalization, jihad would take on a global dimension as well. But this is not enough of an explanation. In order to understand jihad’s globalization, I have traced the process from the war in Afghanistan, a critical turning point in the modern use of jihad, to the present. I have highlighted a myriad of political, security, socioeconomic, religious, personal, and perceptual factors that have shaped the form of the jihadi camp. Today’s jihadi movement, led by al Qaeda, has created a bridge—though one with unstable foundations—between national and global agendas. This movement is in no way the authoritative interpreter of Islam in general or of jihad in particular, but it claims to be the correct one and is intolerant of alternative interpretations. In its actions and through the responses it provokes from the United States and other countries, it does manage to radicalize the discourse among Muslims about jihad, and to gain new recruits. In the following chapter I will argue that the process culminating in the globalization of jihad has rendered the jihadi movement a systemic threat—one requiring a systemic response from the members of the international society.