The jihad after Afghanistan

Commentary: Jihadism has the potential to become a global player of world geopolitics and, above all, of world geo-economics

A member of the Taliban (C) stands outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 16. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer

How will the jihadists’ global threat evolve after Afghanistan is back under Taliban rule? It should not be forgotten that the Taliban are the victorious expression of a people of over thirty million inhabitants. A people that is in no way represented by those few who are trying to flee the country and are crowding Kabul airport, as some Westerners in bad faith miserably try to propagandize. At the end of the 1970s the Vietnamese were not the few boat people, but the over forty million inhabitants who had liberated the country from foreign occupation.

What shape will Muslim radicalism take vis-à-vis the US-friendly anachronistic Arab monarchies, as well as towards the nationalist-secular Arab countries and towards Western countries?

The answer to this question is particularly complex because, while the bilateral confrontation between the USA and the USSR, prior to jihadism, which replaced the Cold War - as the bogeyman of the United States - was a contrast between two ideologies and two political practices that both stemmed from Western culture (liberal-bourgeois-capitalist law and socialist law), today what we see as the “global jihad” is completely unrelated to the above-mentioned systems. This symbolic, communicative, strategic and political extraneousness makes it difficult to understand Islamic law, whose 'holy war', the jihad, represents its own legal institution, which the “fine souls” and beautiful minds of our superficial Western world, consider to be out of time - just to use the words of the late Prof. Giorgio Vercellin, quoted in my previous article:

«Islam and the Muslim world are presented on the same archaeological level (and therefore devoid of evolution until today) as the ancient Greeks and Romans. [...] The real crux is that the Society of Italian Historians has considered the “Muslim world”, so to speak, automatically as part of the “ancient world”».

Therefore, if the institutions of Muslim law are considered outdated by those who think that their own 'Kantian' law is an absolute value that must take precedence - especially with bombs - over the values of faith, morality and ethical economics, it is obvious that any hint coming from the East (people’s Republic of China and Russia included) is somehow beastly and brutal. Hence we should not be surprised that we, in turn, are given a taste of their own medicine and are paid back in kind.

While NATO and the Warsaw Pact were not superimposable but replaceable, today, instead, the ideological and political-military universe of the jihad is not only not superimposable to that of all the Western creeds and policies, but is even incomprehensible for the reasons mentioned above. This has led many Western governments to believe - again using a Kantian metaphor - that "a hundred possible thalers" were the same as "a hundred real thalers".

In other words, the Western global bipolar confrontation with the Marxist-Leninist universe had its own codes, which allowed both detente and pressure from one side on the other up to the limit of the outbreak of nuclear war - while Marxism-Leninism was an ideology that promised to overcome capitalism and pick up "the flags that the bourgeoisie had dropped in the mud", according to Stalin's phrase taken up by Togliatti.

In the case of global jihad, there is not this structural affinity and similarity between the two ideologies in global contrast: they are two completely different aspects, which have neither mother nor father in common. On the contrary, there is a rejection of the entire West, both in its socialist and anti-capitalist variants and in its liberal and capitalist determinants. 

It is therefore structurally difficult to apply the classic and infantile US Fukuyama-style crystal ball that, by predicting the end of history and Kantian universal peace, ignored a phenomenon that deliberately escapes these categories, as well as the time of analysis, while the perceptive and cultural incommunicability is part of Clausewitz’s "fog of war" and is also knowingly and institutionally used by the jihad as an irreplaceable instrument of psychological warfare.

Let us better analyze, however, how to thematize the structural dynamics of Islamic fundamentalism.  

The jihadist informal groups accept the radical Islamist ideology, generically called Salafist, that is defined by the practical and religious example of Prophet Muhammad’s first believers. The Salafists’ relationship is with the Muslim Brothers and with the Deobandi school, an interpretative tradition of Islam born in India in the second half of the 19th century. It is, therefore, a simplified Islam, which rejects both the atheistic and materialistic West and the long tradition - often Quietist and dialogue-oriented - which characterized the Islam of the Ottoman Empire.

The jihad has no leaders, and adapts rapidly to the transformation of the battlefield where it is actively engaged in various parts of the world, as well as to the penetration - with the same adaptive and operative rules and therefore maximum camouflage - into the Western world of destination, both as a still silent cell and as the initial nucleus of the jihad in the Dār al-kufr, the territory of unbelief. 

The assumption of the jihad without leaders works well in the phase of penetration, indoctrination and training of the fundamentalist cells, which corresponds to the maximum cultural and operative camouflage with the world outside of the cell, while it is less effective in describing the operations on the ground.

The jihad, which is fundamentalist (and it should be recalled that the word "fundamentalism" originated in the sectarian tradition of US Protestantism), has not the predictive times and mechanisms - not to mention the objectives - of a movement with Western political roots, although extremely minority and violent.

It should also be recalled that, on the basis of the Sunni tradition of Ibn Taymiyyah's medieval commentaries, the jihad - by Muslim law - is the second duty of the Muslim after the Articles of Faith (Iman). It is a collective duty and concerns the simultaneous struggle against the external enemy (the crusaders allied with the Zionists) and against the internal enemy (the nationalist and secular Arab governments).

Here lies the issue of the “great jihad” (the spiritual effort of the individuals to improve themselves) and of the “small jihad” against the visible and external enemy, from which it follows that the corrupt rulers and “friends/servants of the West” no longer have any legal-religious authority to rule the ummah (the global community of believers).

This is a strategic and mental set-up that is completely different from that of the Western armies and political systems, which find themselves taken aback - from the first moment - by an enemy that is global and local, and has a chain of command unknown to the Western strategic tradition (and to much of the secularized and nationalist Arab tradition).

The global jihad is obviously not a Western strategy, nor is it a Sun Tzu-style Eastern one, in which the timescales of war are inevitably similar but shorter than those of politics. It is a cornerstone of Islamic law which, after the abolition of the Caliphate (March 3, 1924) has been resumed - in principle - in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, and is essentially directed against “the crusaders and the Zionists”.

Furthermore, terrorism (the weapon of the poor) is not the essence of the jihad, but a simple tactic of recent implementation, according to the particular model of hierarchical and centre-periphery relations described above. The jihad is a geopolitical project that concerns the political-military unification of the Islamic ummah all over the world, both where it is the majority and where it is the minority, with all that this implies against the State of Israel and the Western economic power, trying to create a relationship of Wests’ geoeconomic subordination and subjection towards the Islamic world, both in the oil and financial fields.

Jihadism has therefore attracted - so as to later exhaust it, both politically and economically - the US global power in the most suitable areas, which have been the secular Iraq, Afghanistan and the socialist Libya of the Arab Jamāhīriyya, while the United States, the West and the allied Arab monarchies have attempted to destabilize the secular and socialist Syria to oppose the Chinese Silk Road.

The jihadist Islamisation, however, is currently unable to define precise and universally recognizable hierarchies, and it also maintains that, without a da'wa - an Islamic preaching that covers all social behavior - the jihad is devoid of religious and legal foundations, and it is as worth and valid as the illegitimate taqfiri Islamic regimes that no longer follow the Koran guidelines in society, economy and law.

Islamism is based on the democracy=polytheism equation: hence the very essence of Western politics - in all its forms - is idolatrous and polytheistic taqfir.

The strategic objective is therefore very clear: the creation of a global Caliphate articulated in different areas, defined according to the majority or minority presence of Islamists within them. This would mean the dhimmitude of the other faithful, the People of the Book. I have been maintaining all this since ten years before the creation of ISIS, which was ultimately and fatally set up by the West to oppose Assad and China.

With reference to the Western logic of politics and the war clash, there is another dialectical pair that can help us build a probable future scenario of Jihadism and its moves. It is the centralization-decentralization pair.

For the West, decentralization is peaceful devolution and political federalism, but always in a Clausewitzian logic of military confrontation. This sees two or more state elements opposed to each other and equivalent, within a “fog of war” that lasts for a short time and where the Clausewitzian triad of government, army and people becomes essential. In the case of jihad, the behavior will be ever more decentralized and by autonomous poles of Mujahideen, with a maximum operative autonomy against Western targets. The strategic synthesis will regard propaganda, the management of the operations concerning the anti-Western psychological warfare, and the scanning of the pace and localization of the operations, through their own internal communication networks.

The variables which will lead to this scenario - which are not materially calculable today - concern: the share of militants who will be able to become operative; the persistence of the cover networks both in Islam and in the West; the shift - in the Western field - from a regional competition between the powers that have used the regional imbalance of the jihad to acquire new spheres of interest, to an active collaboration - on the North-South axis - against the global jihad.

While it is true that by now, the axis of the "holy war" involves all Central Asia (including the Chinese Xinjiang Weiwu'er) and Northern India, the variable that could overturn the jihadism strategic equation concerns the active collaboration between Russia, the People's Republic of China, the European Union and the United States to avoid the South (and the Eastern Asiatic region) of the world becoming jihad areas at the moment in which what occurs is the combination between various Western economic and financial crises (with Chinese and Russian "after-effects") and the current US defeat in Afghanistan, which would greatly favor Islamic fundamentalism.

In analytical terms, after the expulsion of the United States from Afghanistan, the jihadism global strategy is:

(a) to impose a network of structured militants, to be later turned into local caliphates (see the examples in Africa, after the destabilization of Libya, and the strong Islamic minorities in Europe);

c) to extend the jihad to the secular and nationalist Islamic countries close to Iraq and Afghanistan (and here the variable of the Sunni hatred towards the Shiites becomes crucial vis-à-vis Iran - which, in the future, could channel the common interests of Israel and Iran);

d) to cause the final clash between the Middle East jihad and the State of Israel, which has wisely stayed out of Afghanistan.

A prospect which is coordinated with the jihadist project as far as the West is concerned, as well as the now takfiri Muslim countries, in which six phases can be identified:

1) the "Islamic awakening" which has caused the chaotic and irresponsible action of the United States;

2) the massive recruitment at the time of the maximum US and Western commitment in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, which is matched - as a command-control-military management network - by the "electronic jihad", which in fact has become massive in those phases;

3) the strengthening, to define a clash with the Islam geographically closer to the West and more secularized, such as Turkey, after having failed (together with the West) in Syria (protected by the Russian forces); 

4) the real "economic war", which would lead to the constant attack for the control of the Middle East’s oil infrastructure and hence to the collapse of the Arab Wahhabi monarchies which, however, are still friendly to the United States;

5) the declaration of an "Islamic caliphate" which will close its relations with the West and open - in all likelihood - economic ties with China and the growing medium-sized powers of East Asia (as is already being planned in the Emirate of Afghanistan);

6) finally, the confrontation with the West could be turned from regional - in the Islamic countries and in the Middle East - to global, with the "revolutionary" management of the Islamist networks in Europe and the United States.

What could make these jihadist scenarios fail? While it is true that phase 1) has laid the conditions for a chaotic US action, it is equally true that so far jihadism has not demonstrated, in fact, an ability of Islamist political synthesis of the Central Asian and Middle East regional jihads.

In other words, it is possible that the Chechen, Tajik, intra-Pakistani, Indian, Xinjiang Weiwu'er and Afghan jihads cannot be unified only with the glue of the radical Salafist Islam. The Pakistani interests of the jihad, for example, could not coincide with those of a foreseeable Afghan hegemony in the Central Asian jihad, which Iran has so far used to close the strategic leeway of its traditional and religious adversary, i.e. Pakistan.

The variable of the objective national and ethnic-tribal interests could make the Qaedist glue of "Asia’s Caliphate" completely decorative or purely ideological. Obviously, we are talking about concrete national interests, not about psychological or ideological national and ethnic identities. We do not believe that the victorious Afghan Emirate would agree with the jihadisms’ global strategy of destroying the logistic networks, which are essential for the survival of the Country.

Also in the case of the future clash in Turkey, the jihadist network could certainly create a severe situation of friction and weakening of the Anatolian strategic rampart towards the Persian Gulf area, and make the Mediterranean a "sea of jihad". Here, however, there are two variables: the scarce cultural and religious homogeneity of the Turkish Islam, with the presence of many and strong minorities, of which the Alevis are one of the most numerous, and the immensity of the Anatolian plateau, which needs a mass of jihadists not easy to recruit so as not to conquer it, but only to control it with interdiction operations. We should also consider the role of the Kurdish minority between Iraq and Turkey that would certainly not be interested in relinquishing the US protection to be diluted in the jihadist melting pot, without achieving its own constituent objectives.

Indeed, after the closure of the Iraqi front, the expansion into Turkey is also less probable than the jihadists may imagine. In fact, we must not overlook the strategic correlation between unitary nationalism, which is more profound in many Arab States than we may believe, and the ethnic-religious dispersion, which does not permit a fast spreading of the global jihad.

It should be recalled that there are several non-Islamic religious minorities in the Arab world that can be divided into three groups: Christians (Monophysites and Catholics), Jews and the Heterodox (including, for example, the animist religions of Sudan), for a total of over 22 million people.

In this context, indeed, paradoxically it is precisely the "religious awakening" of the Salafists connected to the jihad that can lead to the rediscovery of the local, identity and ethnic roots that differentiate each group from the globalist metaphysics of the Caliphate’s “sword jihad”.

Therefore, on an ideological level and in terms of psychological warfare, the identity and Salafist call of Islam can be overturned counter-dialectically: the identity of the histories of tribes and nations - often preceding European colonialism - against the globalization of the “sword jihad”, opposite and equal to the flattening and levelling of Western globalization.

It should also be added that the destructuring and disruption of the dollar system starting from the oil area (an attempt that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein, who had opted for the euro) and the discontinuity of the crude oil supply from the OPEC countries to the West, as well as the transition to gold and, later, to a basket of currencies to replace the US dollar as lender of first and last resort, are still an effective threat. But the variable of the jihadist strategy is the following: how much and to what extent are the economies of the main OPEC countries really linked to the direct extraction of crude oil?

If - as is well-known - dependence on oil is bilateral, the scarcity of supply - natural or caused by the OPEC quota system - cannot go so far as to make the other non-oil energy technologies profitable, nor can it be in the interest of the OPEC system to see the backwardness of the oil-derived Western infrastructure, which can extend the lifecycle of wells, and improve oil extraction technology in the Islamic OPEC countries.

Hence there is an objective interest of the OPEC area in financial differentiation, but at the same time there is also an interest in not lowering the relative value of the US dollar too much. Indeed, the jihad strategies can be useful in a phase of friction between the oil Islam and the West, but they cannot become structural in the relations with the crude oil consuming countries, without risking diminishing the very strategic value of the "oil weapon".

Furthermore, considering the strategic correlation between the US financial market and the People’s Republic of China, a choice by the jihadists to turn the Islamic oil market to China - once the Middle-East Caliphate is established - seems an option hard to be achieved and having significant, but not destructive, geostrategic effects.

Therefore, jihadism is capable of unifying the South of the world in "revolutionary" terms. This means it has the potential to become a global player of world geopolitics and, above all, of world geo-economics. It has the ability to force both the "crowds" and the Islamic governments, whether friendly or not, to make radically anti-Western choices and confront the USA, NATO and the EU. It can define actions of structural destabilization of the European countries and the United States, on the basis of the old "indirect strategy" model of Soviet tradition, by manipulating and organizing the Islamist or, anyway, extremist public of these countries. It is not foreseeable, however, that it can become a caliphate capable of incorporating the medium-sized Islamic OPEC powers and inserting itself - managing it for its own purposes - in the structural crisis of the Western geopolitical power, above all, the US one, in a phase of strategic non-polarity.

Jihadism is and will predictably be - in the future - an element capable of challenging and sometimes beating the West on the ground where it wants to call its adversaries. It will be a very strong frictional factor in the inter-Arab equilibria and in the management of the Arab crowds’ psychology. Finally, in all likelihood, it will be able to open a new front in Central and South Asia. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to succeed in replacing the Arab States’ system, and it shall always come to terms with a significant part of the Islamic world that does not intend to be incorporated or assimilated into the West.


Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

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