The seemingly endless supply of martyrdom-seeking jihadists makes it tempting to abandon the battlefields, but withdrawal does not come without cost. For many Muslims, victory is a display of approval from Allah and defeat is judgment. One success can inspire a generation, while a series of undeniable losses can cause re-examination of the jihad’s merits.
The monotheistic religions have a history of viewing victories against insurmountable odds as miracles and defeats as divine punishment. The Terrorism & Homeland Security: 7th Edition textbook by Jonathan R. White explains that in the year 624, Mohammed and his followers fought a superior army from Medina that was unhappy with their raiding of caravans.
“It was a small battle, but politically important. Because of their victory at Badr, Muslims increasingly came to believe that God was on their side and that their cause would be championed in heaven,” White writes. Mohammed and his followers subsequently conquered Mecca.
The Muslim world has a much better memory than the West. Whereas most American students can name more Jersey Shore cast members than presidents, Muslim students can name battles, Caliphs and Islamic theologians. The Battle of Badr’s lesson is still valued today, as evidenced in that Iran named one of its proxies in Iraq as the Badr Brigade.
The U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon following the 1983 Marine barracks bombing and from Somalia following the 1993 ambush is seen as modern-day equivalents of the Battle of Badr. Long after most Americans forgot about the incidents, jihadists continue to reference them as proof that Allah was on their side against the “paper tiger.”
The galvanizing impact of jihadist victories is very difficult to reverse because of their emphasis on patience, faith and long-term thinking. The pain of a subsequent setback is dwarfed by the joy of the previous win. The only answer is a Western winning streak against the jihadists that cannot be denied or effectively spun.
A January 2011 letter by Adam Gadahn, an American that is now a senior Al-Qaeda member in Pakistan, shows that the unshakeable public confidence of some Al-Qaeda leaders is a farce.
He is demoralized over Al-Qaeda’s recent losses, particularly in Iraq where, for them, things seemed to be going so well. He pondered whether this was a “punishment by God on us because of our sins and injustices.”
Al-Qaeda’s massacring of Muslims is what offended Allah, he concluded. If Al-Qaeda were advancing, he would have concluded that Allah had blessed his group’s conduct.
Top Islamists feel the same way. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, more commonly known as “Dr. Al-Fadl,” is a long-time mentor of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. His works are widely respected and considered authoritative, particularly his 1988 jihadist text, “The Essential Guide for Preparation.”
In 2007, he rocked the jihadist world by authoring a text from his Egyptian jail cell titled, “The Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity.” Its criticism of Al-Qaeda is so scathing that Zawahiri had to publicly respond.
Al-Fadl argued that Al-Qaeda’s misfortunes since the September 11, 2001 attacks showed that Allah did not endorse the group’s jihad. He wrote:
“Allah, may He be praised, says that the Muslims’ misfortunes are because of themselves, and bin Laden and al-Zawahiri say they are because of America. Let the Muslims consider who they are going to follow: Allah, or bin Laden and al-Zawahiri?”
He blames Al-Qaeda for “every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq.” He criticized the 9/11 attacks as not only a violation of Sharia Law but idiotic:
“Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. [To] cross the ocean to go to your enemy in its own home and destroy one of its buildings, and it destroys the Taliban state—and then you claim to be a mujahid [holy warrior]—only an idiot would do such a thing.”
Al-Fadl writes that Allah is not blessing Al-Qaeda because its jihad is un-Islamic in multiple ways:
- It is counter-productive.
- It lacks approving fatwas from credible scholars.
- It targets Muslim and non-Muslim civilians.
- It uses human shields.
- It was partially financed through criminal activity.
- “There’s no such thing as ‘the goal justifies the means’ in Islam,” he told Al-Arabiya.
- It violates peace treaties and ceasefires with non-Muslims that protect Muslims.
- It is “not honorable” to infiltrate Western countries providing Muslims with refuge and opportunities in order to “betray” them.
- It targets Westerners living peacefully in Muslim countries who were invited there for work.
- It is forbidden to attack Muslims of a “different creed,” referring to attacks on Shiites.
Don’t mistake Al-Fadl’s criticism of Al-Qaeda as an opportunity to embrace a moderate, anti-Islamist leader. He wants to create Islamic States and his opposition to war with the U.S. is based in practicality. His criticism of Al-Qaeda is based on its tactics and strategy, not its end goal.
He predicts that the “jihad in Afghanistan will lead to the creation of an Islamic state with the triumph of the Taliban, God willing.” He endorses jihad in principle against the U.S. in Iraq and against Israel.
The point here is not that Al-Qaeda’s tactics are opposed by some Islamists. The point is that Al-Fadl argued that Al-Qaeda’s defeats and the consequences of 9/11 for the Muslim world prove that Allah is not in favor of the group.
The arguments about what is justifiable is settled by what happens on the battlefield. If you’re on the right side of the argument, Allah will bring you victory. If your interpretation of Islamic law is incorrect, Allah will let you dig your own grave or dig it for you.
You may agree or disagree with the West’s involvement in a specific battlefield, but once it arrives, it must win. When Western military forces leave, the jihadists must not be vindicated. The perception must not be that Allah intervened on their behalf.
Ryan Mauro is RadicalIslam.org’s National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.