When the second jet slammed into the north World Trade Center Tower in Manhattan, I immediately told students standing next to me, “It’s a jihad Ghazwa ... they have chosen the Yarmuk option.” The eyes of a few students around me opened wide. That Tuesday morning the world was changing at a record rapid pace—and yet in a sense it was moving in slow motion for most Americans.
During that agonizing half hour from 8:45 A.M. to 9:15 A.M., my students, my colleagues, and I belonged to two different worlds. In the corner of the campus where I was teaching on that day of infamy, I felt very much alone: What I had known, researched, and watched building year after year was finally here, ravaging my new homeland. I was as shocked as anyone, but unlike many I was not surprised. What had come to pass was something I had studied and tried to warn others about for more than two decades. It made me more determined to impact the future of what I knew was coming from that point on.
Across America, people’s eyes were fixed on the smoke, the firefighters, the debris, the faces covered with blood and dust, and the gestures and declarations of America’s leaders. Americans felt like lost souls. People around the world—supporters of peace and democratic ideas, at any rate—felt that the losses could easily have been their own. Many of their leaders said they felt they were Americans during that tragic day. Spreading outward like a wave from the events of September 11 was a terrible new reality that enveloped the minds of an entire nation and perhaps the world.
TV crews rushed into the conference room of my building one hour after the massacre. I had been analyzing the jihad phenomenon for twenty-five years, yet as the technicians were setting up their cameras, I found myself wondering what to say. If I told them what I knew, they would simply not understand my logic. After all, it had taken me a lifetime to understand. If I did not try to explain it, I would be allowing America’s enemies to win on another day in the future. Other colleagues around the country faced a similar dilemma. Those few of us who knew about the danger and had tried to warn about it had been voices crying in the wilderness (often against enormous personal and institutional hostility); now our time had come. But the public vision was too blurred, the systems of knowledge were blocked, and the government had been failed by those charged with providing it with the truth.
The first question I took from the journalists was, of course, “What happened?” Twenty-two years earlier I had published my first book, followed by a plethora of other books, plus articles and hundreds of lectures, all addressing the clash to come. And it had finally come. How could I describe what had just occurred to the American people, and who had done this to them? When al Qaeda launched its mujahidin to bleed America in the early 1990s, very few in this country had projected a future jihad. By 2001, we were, in fact, already at war with an enemy unknown to most American citizens. The war was at least a decade old, but our media, elite, government, diplomats, and educators did not acknowledge this until the tragedy of September 11. Meanwhile, some of us had spent careers, lives, and resources studying this holy war and its strategies, tactics, and achievements; we had watched as it progressed unchecked. How could we explain the horrors of that Tuesday morning in an almost complete intellectual void? I wanted to help set the record straight and begin to unravel what was denied for so many years: the truth.
“This is the Pearl Harbor of terrorism” was my answer to the first question that morning.
As I said this, I recognized the gigantic walls that prevented Americans and westerners from absorbing the realities that had been building in the East for decades. I believed that these obstructionist tendencies would continue to block the presentation of what the public needed to understand the tragedy. But at that moment I wanted to explain that we as a nation had been attacked in a war that was already raging. Indeed, in the following years, I continued to remind audiences that the war had been in existence for far longer than had been acknowledged in the West. The United States was not attacked randomly, but as a part of a planned offensive war. This was not a mere lunatic reaction to U.S. foreign policy by a handful of deranged men; the enemies who targeted the United States on September 11 had a plan based on previous successes, all carefully planned, justified, and executed—and certainly it was a prelude to future attacks to come, in pursuit of clearly defined goals. Eventually America would have to understand the historical significance of what was happening, because it would now forever be linked to it.
The terrorists who attacked us that morning had planned their aggression over the long term, had strategic ambitions, wanted cataclysmic results, and did so as a first wave in a much larger, all-out war against America and all it stood for. The closest example that would resonate with the pre-September 11 mind of most Americans was Japan’s treacherous 1941 attack. The comparison is not perfect, however.
But in an imperfect collective state of consciousness, it was an eye-opener. The pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were not on their own mission. They were not frustrated individuals who decided one morning that Washington was evil and had to be punished. They were not an isolated unit but part of an army, and their army was not without political leadership, an ideology, and geopolitical ambitions. They were not a mafia punishing the police, nor a gang retaliating against officials. Likewise, Mohammed Atta and his men were a unit within a network—part of an international terror army, under a global command structure and political organization that was in turn the fruit of an ideology, one that has penetrated many countries and governments and has been calling for a world war against America and western society as a whole. In the West by 2005, we have come some way in understanding this, but we still have a long ways to go.
The war against terrorism should have been in the forefront of public debate and policy at least a decade before the September 11 aggression. So when we contemplate the events that led to the massacre in Manhattan and Washington in 2001, and the subsequent confrontations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Madrid, London, Riyadh, Pakistan, Bali, Istanbul, Beslan, Beirut, and the Sunni triangle, and when we revisit the general reaction to September 11 immediately after the dust settled, then we certainly draw the mother of all lessons: What went wrong? Bernard Lewis has provided a powerful analysis of “what went wrong” in the Muslim world that led to the attacks. I shift the question to failures in the targeted societies that led to the hole exploited by the jihadists. In simple terms, what went wrong in America, the West, and the international community? Why were we not ready as we should have been? And are we ready, even now, and after all that has happened, for what is to come?
We might linger a moment over the fact that the first question posed in the media, dizzying the elites and unleashing government soul-searching, was, “Why do they hate us?” How is it possible that a nation at war, as the 9/11 Commission later admitted we were, did not know why its enemies hated it? Who had blocked this knowledge? Historically, when nations are attacked, especially if these aggressions have been prepared for years, and more particularly if previous attacks have signaled this attitude (and given rise to an abundant literature), it is known. The enemy is not a complete surprise.
Regrettably, we must recognize that the fog of misinformation has not yet dissipated. Consider the number of articles, editorials, interviews, panels, books, forums, and discussions that have filled our airwaves and national debates—yet are still unable to say why the perpetrators “hate us”; is America really ready for what future jihad holds? One main objective of Future Jihad is to attempt to explain why “they” hate us—if it is about “hate” to start with—and what ingredients we still are not aware of that may be relevant to the future.
Unfortunately, the first question, “Why do they hate us?” was not the only troubling one. In the days, weeks, and months following the slaughter, and as the public inquiry mounted, a whole series of stunning questions followed from many sources. All indicate that the problem of perception adds to the complexity of what we are facing. When we review the questions even now, four years later, they are bewildering. How could America have been so unaware of such a massive threat? I listed the ten most common questions for the National Intelligence Conference on national security, held in Washington, D.C., in January 2005:
Who are they?
What did they want to happen?
Why did they launch the attacks of September 11?
Are they at war with us? Why? Since when?
What did they want to achieve?
Why didn’t we know about it?
Who obstructed our knowledge of it?
Are they planning on future wars?
Have these wars already started?
What can we do about them?
These are the questions that Future Jihad seeks to answer. I believe that the answers are still not clear and that we are in danger unless we face them.
WHO ARE THEY?
The second question to emerge from the endless writings and talks since the towers collapsed was: “Who are they?” With the exception of a couple of dozen analysts in very specialized agencies and another dozen experts in the Beltway’s think tanks, very few had uttered the words “al Qaeda” before September 11. During hearings of the 9/11 Commission, during the summer of 2004, two secretaries of state, two defense secretaries, and a counterterrorism czar were not able to agree on the birth date of bin Laden’s organization. A sea of experts, publishing at will—after the attacks, I might note—pored over the records of the 1990s looking for evidence and pieces of information. An Ali Baba’s cave opened up suddenly with a myriad of theories, conspiracy theories, and personal sagas. But despite psychological analysis of the organization’s membership, health profiles of its leaders, speculations on the latest move and the potential links, and even rumors, the “Who are they?” question remains on the table. Is al Qaeda a central organization or a federation of groups? Did Osama bin Laden create it, or did it create him? Why didn’t most Americans see him, hear him, or understand what it was about? Didn’t he declare war against America years before on al Jazeera? Is al Qaeda a product of an ideology? If so, what is it?
WHAT DID THEY WANT TO HAPPEN?
What did the perpetrators’ organization want, globally, historically, and ideologically? Was there a worldview behind al Qaeda’s action? Its members spoke of jihad, of kufr, of istishad, of Fatah; what did they mean by these concepts? They theorized about dar el harb and dar el Islam, as their domain and ours, respectively. Where are these zones? Where are New York, Washington, London, Madrid, Baghdad, Kabul, Riyadh, Istanbul, Beirut, and Khartoum in their vision—the one that brought them to Manhattan, Fallujah, and Beslan? Why are most Americans unable to answer these questions?
WHY DID THEY LAUNCH THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11?
Can we trust the statements explaining their rationale made by Osama bin Laden and his spokesperson, Suleiman Abu Ghaith? Were the real motivations behind September 11 the U.S. sanctions against Iraq’s regime, the U.S. support of Israel, and American troops stationed on Arabian soil? Was it true—as many academics, intellectuals, and activists affirmed—that the attacks were a direct response to American foreign policy? Did the terrorists launch the attacks in retaliation for U.S. actions or to trigger reactions? Were the operations opening a war or resuming it? On that Tuesday morning, few Americans were able to answer these questions, not even those in the highest offices of the land. Today, years later, the American people are still confused about the answers.
ARE THEY AT WAR WITH US? WHY? SINCE WHEN?
On February 22, 1998, Osama bin Laden proclaimed a world front for jihad and declared war against infidel America. He based it on religious edicts. He followed his declaration with twin strikes in August against U.S. embassies in Africa. Since the early 1990s, jihadinspired attacks had taken place against Americans, America, and other countries around the world. After the 1998 declaration of war, more strikes took place, including against the USS Cole in Yemen. But on September 10, 2001, the United States had not declared war against al Qaeda. During the summer of 2004, we learned from officials who were in charge of counterterrorism that al Qaeda had been targeted as early as 1998; there had been a number of opportunities to address its threats. The 9/11 Commission told us that U.S. agencies and institutions were spending energy, time, and money to bring down al Qaeda and its leaders; other groups were monitored for fundraising and other actions in support of terrorism for years. Yet: Were we or were we not at war with those who were at war with us? On the surface this question seems simple, but is in fact extremely difficult to answer. From all that ensued after September 11—before and after Tora Bora, before and since the removal of Saddam Hussein, and before and after the beginning of the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon—yes, there is a war against terrorism, that is, “them.” And from all that has been uncovered, reassessed by U.S. and western authorities, experts, intellectuals, historians, and debate architects since September 11, we now admit that a war was launched against America years earlier, with a declared agenda and clearly stated objectives.
WHAT DID THEY WANT TO ACHIEVE?
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most commentators and experts agreed, were highly symbolic. Jihad suicide bombers wanted to destory America’s credibility worldwide. Even the founder of al Qaeda said so on al Jazeera television in the weeks following the strikes. He, scores of his followers, and sympathizers in the Arab Muslim world rushed to conclude that the United States’s moral power was shattered with the damage and destruction of the buildings in its two greatest cities. Most debaters on all sides of the divide concluded that ultimately, Atta and his co-executioners had achieved their goals by penetrating U.S. security and destroying in forty minutes Americans’ trust in the homeland’s security. At first, this seems to be true. But there may have been more to it than scoring a victory with massive bloodshed. What mechanisms did the jihadists want to unleash, and did they succeed? Did they hope to ignite more than the suicidal attack of nineteen men? Were the objectives the ones announced, or were their objectives planted deeper—under the skin of our nation?
The questioning unleashed that Tuesday morning in September 2001 never stopped in my mind, even though it had hardly begun in the public realm. For the next list of questions was even more disturbing—though it took two more years before a high body in government would try to address them.
WHY DIDN’T WE KNOW ABOUT IT?
Hindsight is a psychological impediment to clear analysis. The collective experience of Americans since September 11 makes it hard to realize that most of what has been learned since the attacks was not known before. Because of the rush to action by government since, the overseas military engagements, and the exhaustive public debate during these wars and throughout the presidential election, the public tends to now believe that it always knew about the dangers and the threats. But harsh historical reality says otherwise. In fact, most Americans did not know that a malevolent foreign force had declared war against their country and had no knowledge of that enemy; most segments of the political and intellectual establishment were unaware of the existence of such organizations; if they knew about them, they did not know about their ideologies or consider them a national security threat. The main question, of why we as a nation were unaware, remains. Why didn’t our national leaders address their public, the legislative branch, or the media during the ten years before the attacks, as strikes and operations were taking place from (at least) the early 1990s on? Why didn’t the president address Congress after the August 1998 attacks against the embassies and ask for powers of war? Why wasn’t the Taliban removed that year, instead of several years and thousands of lives later?
These questions cannot be wished away. In the 1990s the essence of public debate about terrorism was focused on the root causes of violent groups and in most cases was tied to U.S. foreign policy mistakes. There was no governmental mission driven by resources aimed at fighting this war. There was little or no analysis of the roots of the jihadist movement worldwide, let alone its strategic articulation of aims and plans for campaigns. Even as the smoke of the disasters was still hanging in the skies, educational and information systems around the world were still focusing the public’s attention in other directions.
A few hours after the attacks, al Jazeera aired stories of all sorts to divert attention from the real perpetrators. One release accused the Japanese Red Army “in retaliation for Hiroshima and Nagasaki”; another fingered the “American Indians”; Internet reports were circulating about Mossad’s responsibility. Not only had Americans been mis-educated for years and poorly informed; the rest of the world had, and when the massacre took place, final attempts to continue blurring our vision were in place.
WHO OBSTRUCTED OUR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT IT?
But who would obstruct this much-needed knowledge, and why? At what stage did the misinformation occur? Was it a deliberate effort to mollify America and distract its attention from the aggressor in order to strike at will? Or was it indeed a failure of the systems that were supposed to educate, inform, and mobilize the nation? These are tough questions indeed-but for someone who spent the 1990s observing and analyzing the creeping spread of the jihad networks and culture into the nation’s systems, they cannot be dismissed as the result of hindsight. In comparing my analysis of jihad tactics during the 1990s to the findings of the 9/11 Commission, one conclusion emerges: An obstruction of knowledge took place.
Consider this: The 9/11 Commission released a tape, recorded a few minutes after the tragedy in Washington, in which a fighter pilot rushing to the scene over the Pentagon exclaims: “Gosh, the Russians got us!” Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the Russians were still being seen as the “strategic enemy”—not the jihadists who had been attacking America and Americans for over a decade.
If we go back to newspaper articles, columns, op-eds, documentaries, and round tables for the decade between the fall of the Soviet Union and September 11 and tabulate all that we find on the jihadi threat worldwide, it is clear that, on the whole, the media establishment was unaware of the growing realities of world politics. A few pieces investigated some suicide bombers in Israel; a few lines reported violence in Algeria, or the machine-gunning of tourists in Egypt’s Luxor. But the media missed the greater phenomenon: the growing spread of Islamic fundamentalist units and activities in various countries and specifically against the United States. It is not that the fundamentalists were operating in secret. Their abundant literature, disseminated across continents, should have been enough to trigger academic attention, research, and advice. In fact, it did-but for over a decade the dominant academic elite simply dismissed the threat and called jihad a myth.
I argue that the root of the denial was a full-scale cultural one, because I witnessed that denial firsthand throughout the decade preceding September 11. From day one after my arrival in this country in the fall of 1990, I noted the mechanism (the series of activities) that led to the tragedy. This is not to say that I knew where and when the attack would come, or that others should have. No one could have predicted the year, the day. and the hour, nor the instruments and the results. But those in government charged with identifying threats were blinded by a deceptive fog. In retrospect, the 9/11 Commission tried hard to connect the dots and come up with an answer as to why it happened and how. The criminal investigation mapped out the road to the strikes, and the political inquiry found out that shortcomings were universal and occurred at all levels of government and under multiple administrations. But the commission did not catch the bigger failure.
In his fiery testimony to the commission, counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke said: “I failed you, your government failed you.” But he did not say who had failed the government. The three branches of government and their agencies are not just buildings and papers; they are a chain of men and women with limited—sometimes extended—knowledge in particular fields.
As any political scientist knows, government is a related set of human teams, responding to each other and feeding each other with data and resources. The question thus is: Who failed the machine of the government? The hearings of 2004 provided us with a glimpse. A highly sophisticated group of commissioners tackled the question thoroughly, but at the end of the day stopped short of completion. On the day they offered their findings to the American people, two members of the commission addressed a select number of former officials and experts via a conference call. I was privileged to have been included in their briefing. The final conclusion of the 9/11 hearings shattered many taboos and released many old interdictions. The report finally spoke of jihad, jihadism, Islamic fundamentalism, and the litany of organizations involved. It retraced the decade-long history of their actions and attempts to hurt the United States and other nations around the world.
By comparison with the previous era, the report was a revolutionary text. It named names. While most world governments are still stuck with public diplomacy and “diplomatic” language, never crossing from the concept of “terrorism” to the “j-word,&rqduo; the commission told us there is another world out there, ruled by ideologies and terrorist strategies aiming at our cities, towns, countries, laws, peoples, and cultures. But the commission landed on its “Normandy” and stayed there. Now we know that there is a universe of jihad out there, totally at odds with the norms of international relations and not abiding by the modern era’s agreements on world politics. That reality was not officially acknowledged before September 11, but it is now.
But how did we fail to see that universe before? That question is very important today, as it may help us not only prevent a new tragedy from happening, but may allow us to win the war on terrorism. If we can understand how we “failed” to see it coming back in the 1990s, perhaps we can avoid new jihads. The commission concluded that “it was a failure of imagination.” In the final analysis, the bipartisan group reasoned that as Americans, we failed to imagine such a thing happening, and so could not fathom it even as it happened. After hearing this conclusion during the prebriefing on the commission’s findings, I exclaimed, “Yes, it was a failure of imagination, but it was caused by a failure of education.”
Had we been educated, our imagination would have been wider and greater. Had we been taught what jihad was, we could have predicted its drive. Had we been warned about jihadism, we could have devised a resistance to it. Had we been informed when the war first started, we could have defended ourselves thereafter. Education failed the public and the government. The question then is: Was this a deliberate attempt by the education community to hide the truth?
ARE THEY PLANNING FUTURE WARS?
It would take a whole decade to understand our failures and the missteps that led to September 11. But that is not a luxury America and other countries around the world have. The raids on New York and Washington were not the end of an era but the beginning of one. Historians will certainly consume much time in filling out the greater tableau. They have the time, but America’s national security doesn’t, nor does world peace. The “world”—people, movements, ideologies—that caused September 11 did not go away. True, the geopolitical map has certainly changed with the rise of homeland security in the United States, the removal of the Taliban, the uprooting of Saddam Hussein, elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ongoing popular uprisings in Lebanon and the Middle East. But Osama bin Laden is still at large, as are thousands of his followers; so is Ayman Thawahiri, his number two. The neo-Taliban still have an influence in the Muslim nuclear power, Pakistan. Al Zarqawi roams the Sunni triangle of Iraq, and al Qaeda’s chapters are increasingly threatening Saudi Arabia and the region.
Madrid’s judges arrested many terrorists after the Spanish government withdrew its troops from Iraq. But there are still plenty of Islamic fundamentalists on the Iberian Peninsula. Britain, France, and Germany have stepped up their counterterrorism measures, but those countries are in fact two decades, not one, behind. The Netherlands is discovering what has grown up inside its political culture. Russia has been hesitant on Iraq and sold weapons to Syria and nuclear material to Iran—only to see Beslan’s horror unfold. Indonesia has made arrests, but its jihadists have survived. The London bombings, a year after the Madrid train attacks, opened yet a wider battlefield in the war with jihadism. The terrorists proved their intentions to thrust jihad into Europe’s geopolitics and intimidate its populations as a prelude to submission to jihad’s diktat. The war on terror is proceeding, but the jihad wars are proceeding as well. In fact, what we are seeing is two planets colliding at a great speed.
HAS THE FUTURE OF JIHAD ALREADY BEGUN?
To put it bluntly, yes, the jihads of the future have already started. Now the United States and the international community have an opportunity to win the battle of foresight after they have realized in hindsight what was missed in the 1990s. By looking forward, I will attempt to analyze al Qaeda’s (and other offshoots’) strategic thinking with regard to future wars against the United States and its allies. There has been a fundamental misunderstanding about al Qaeda’s ultimate goals.
Strategic questions, such as what the jihadists want to achieve for the next decade or what al Qaeda’s long-term plans are, are yet unanswered. Is the “international army of holy war” seriously aiming at conquest of the West or at rebuilding what was lost in the past? Do jihadists really want to restore the caliphate that ruled the Islamic world (and significantly, parts of what we now call the West) for over a thousand years? An inquiry into such questions would help determine what the United States and its allies need to do to win this war.
In the text that follows, I attempt to answer such critical questions as: What are al Qaeda’s future strategies against the United States? How long will this war last? Is the United States secure on the inside? Will it have to engage the jihadists worldwide in multiple campaigns, and if so, where? Do al Qaeda and its nebulous allies—including potentially non-Sunni groups such as Hezbollah—have a world strategy to defeat the United States? How is victory defined by jihadists? What are the critical components of U.S. victory?
I show that the jihadist strategies include a deep infiltration of America’s government, defenses, and its youth. Jihadi doctrines do not rule out the acquisition and the possible use of weapons of mass destruction.
The war is expected to last more than a decade. I argue that the United States is mobilized domestically for this war but is not yet fully secured. It will take mass cultural adaptation to fight jihad. America must win the war of ideas—it must capture the minds of the women, youth, and elite that form the foundation of the future. Americans must learn a higher, more difficult truth about the terrorists—and also about what and who allowed the jihadists to be successful until September 11 and beyond—so that they can begin the actual resistance. Washington’s perception and planning for the global war on terrorism is only beginning. Many aspects of our response to and understanding of the jihadists need to be changed or developed: our national education, our justice system, our intelligence agencies, our political alliances around the world, and our spending policies. Some myths will have to be broken, and many realities must be unearthed.
A U.S. policy on jihad will have to be shaped; it will have to have its own men and women dedicated to it, and it must fought at all levels worldwide. We can compare America’s position today to the end of 1942. We have declared war against the new enemy and made some initial inroads, but the tide has not reversed. From their centers, the enemies are still waging global war against the West and the United States. In sum, major sacrifices are still ahead of us, and gigantic efforts and events are yet to occur. The high point of the conflict is yet to come.
The last four years created a major breach in how Americans and westerners look at world politics and international relations. The latest presidential election showed how issues of security, insecurity, and uncertainty prey on the minds of voters.
Images from overseas have changed the perceptions of viewers and readers: Beheadings, mass graves, and the statements made by the vast networks of jihadists and other radicals have brought home the weighty question of future holy wars against the United States and the West. Americans are now preoccupied by two wars: the jihad that has been launched against them and the war on terrorism that has been directed at the jihadists. Collectively we are searching for the answer as to which one shall be successful.
The answer is that al Qaeda has a world strategy—but it is not what we have thought or been led to believe it was. It is shaped by intellectual forces wider than the membership of the organization and far older than the cold war. The system at war with America is in fact centuries old and cannot be defined solely in terms of countries, regimes, or leaders. I call this system the “mother ship.” I have seen its mechanisms at work, its complexities, and its long-term vision. The jihadists’ vision of defeat has not yet been understood by the West. Jihadists do not see the death of Os am a or loss of Fallujah as a defeat. Neither do westerners correctly understand the jihadists’ vision of victory. In jihadists’ view, Allah determines both victory and defeat.
So then, why and how did the jihadists establish the basis for the new war against the United States? It is crucial to analyze bin Laden’s thinking, which can be done only from a jihadist perspective. The vision of a 9/11 attack was one decade old, but the ideology that led to it stretches far into the past. Osama built his vision upon sources that have also to be examined.
Reading, listening, and absorbing Islamic fundamentalist literature for over twelve years has enabled me to understand the mindset of Osama bin Laden and therefore the strategic planning of his organization. One of the least understood chapters of the war on terror is what can be considered the “thinking mode” of al Qaeda and other jihadists: What do they factor into their planning? How deep is their penetration of the western system, and since when? Who helps them from outside the organization? Was their assault on Manhattan and Washington only a raid? Or was it a trigger to a wider chain of events they thought would happen? From reading their declarations, websites, and chat rooms, the deep and strategic goals they had in mind are beginning to surface. From this knowledge base we can learn lessons about their future strategy and also plan our own.
Another important dimension of the struggle is al Qaeda’s reaction to U.S. reactions, especially in the 1990s. From a jihadist perspective, what was the meaning of the first attack against the Twin Towers in 1993? When was the decision for this first assault made, and why? Why were there attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia and against the Khubar Towers in the mid-1990s? Was al Qaeda the sole attacker?
Then, in 1996 and 1998 came the jihadist formal declarations of war against America—incredibly, an event hardly noticed by the western media. I will demonstrate that this declaration was the watershed that set the September 11 attacks in motion. Who were the clerics behind that move? The attack on the USS Cole and the millennium plot moved the plan forward, but these attacks were only the tip of the iceberg. Based on my careful analysis of the video and audiotapes aired on al Jazeera and on other media, I assert that al Qaeda’s plan was and remains more comprehensive than what is commonly believed. English-only analysts are at a big disadvantage when dealing with information from the Arab world. Not all of what was said in Arabic was translated, and not all of what was translated was understood in context.
Bin Laden had a plan, a substitute plan, and a counterplan. Future Jihad unveils them all. Al Qaeda strikes, but it then analyzes the subsequent reactions of its enemies. It has a long-term vision, but can revise its tactics as necessary. I show the real al Qaeda; I will also show how the dominant political culture in the West has helped to obfuscate it.
Ten Questions for the Future
A better understanding of the past leads us to a clearer analysis of future trends. Such analysis opens up the way for a series of critically important questions.
Do they wish to destroy the enemy (us) or absorb it?
Do they want to attack the West and the United States before they accomplish their goals in the Muslim world first? (A crucial question, leading to many others.)
Will it be possible to conclude peace with the jihadists? What would doing so entail?
What are al Qaeda’s priorities in its struggle against the United States?
What weaknesses and holes do the jihadists see in America and the West, and how would they use them?
Are the governments in the United States and other western nations ready for these future wars?
What would the next generations of Americans, today’s children and youth, have to face in these wars?
What should the United States and the West do to avoid future jihads?
Why wasn’t it already done in the past?
Are the jihadists alone, or do they have the backing of other powers and states?
My goal in writing Future Jihad is to help answer these questions. My first objective is to show that the future is very much about the past. The future of America depends on our understanding of the historical roots of jihadism. This is not a war with an enemy with whom governments can sign peace treaties or establish new frontiers. We are facing forces that link directly to ancient and modern history. Their ideology was born decades ago, but was inspired by doctrines from the Middle Ages. America has never engaged in a conflict with deeper roots in the past. Today’s terrorists see the world with different eyes and minds from all Americans-and from most communities worldwide.
To fully understand their mindset, we must learn about the terrorists’ history and their reading of history. The future of U.S. national security, international relations, and world stability lies in the hands of those who are first to learn about the terrorists’ relevant history. That is the key to their code, but it is not a secret one; it was simply hidden for too long by our own elite, which denied the public this fundamental knowledge. By severing the historical roots from contemporary conflicts waged by the terrorists, and by camouflaging their real long-term intents (which are also linked to their vision of history), our elite blurred or even blinded our vision.
In the book, I make the case that a central obligation in the war on terror, waged since the fall of 2001, is education of the public: the American public first, but international public opinion as well. The outcome of the conflict will be decided by how well citizens understand the threat. The Islamic fundamentalists’ jihadist strategies are not fully centered on classical state warfare. The resources of regimes have been merged with the capabilities of networks. The jihadists’ presence is fluid and their actions are stealthy until the final stages of an operation. But ironically; jihadists emerge, grow, and develop almost entirely in the open. If we look at their public manifestations and thinking, whether in chat room conversations or media like al Jazeera, we can begin to understand their objectives. And if we learn about their past and deeper history, we can understand their current and future strategies.
Many among us wonder about the global strategy of the jihadists. In the book, I not only show the existence of a global jihadist strategy, but I also uncover its several different components. Not only are the terror plans frightening; they are already underway on a global level. I show that terrorist and jihadist strategies against the United States and the West started earlier than most of us generally think, that terrorists have been more successful in infiltrating than we expect, and that they are readying themselves for far larger strikes than they have mounted in the past.
My aim is to participate in the global effort to educate the West about past mistakes in judgment that led to the terrorist advances. But more important, I hope to convey an urgent message to the reader: From what we now know regarding what really happened, and from what we know could have happened, comes a terrifying picture of what could happen around the world if the appropriate policies and measures are not taken.
Dr. Walid Phares is an advisor to members of the US Congress and a professor of Middle East Studies in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books on terrorism, including The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. This article is adapted with permission from an exceprt from Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America (Palgrave/McMillan, 2005) for Speroforum.com on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.