It is important, said Phares that "Europeans identifies the phenomenon of Jihadism, understand why their perception of it was compromised for so long, and move forward to design new more efficient policies to contain it." Phares expanded as follows:
a. While Jihadists may have local demands in the various European countries, they still have one ideological display, mostly Salafi Jihadism. When one examines the ideological roots of almost all cases of violence, a unified doctrinal background is clearly detected. Next to Salafism, Khomeinism can also be found.
b. A battle of Identification has been taking place for years between a school of analysis claiming that at the roots of Jihadism are European Foreign Policies, economic disparities and socio-psychological tensions; and another opposing school raising the issue of theological issues behind violence. But in reality, and despite the impact of all the above components, it is an "ideology" which has been found systematically at the strategic roots of the strikes and Terror activities.
c. This ideology has a history beginning in the 1920s with the Wahsbis and the Muslim Brotherhoods and as of 1979 with the Khomeinists; it has developed global strategies; and as we can see clearer now, it waged three wars of ideas to confuse its foes, democracies."
EPC Reporting on the lecture
Summarizing the lecture, the EPC newsletter reported that Phares said that a national security policy is needed to prevent future incidents of Jihadist terrorism like those in Spain in 2004 and the UK in 2005; secondly, the EU needs to take long-term measures to address the civil and urban tensions which fan this violence; and thirdly, the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy needs to include measures to prevent it spreading outside Europe’s borders.
What is Jihad?
Mr Phares said Western governments have not been able to deal with the Jihadist threat, as they have not fully understood how it is growing both in Europe and in Muslim countries, so the first step is to define Jihadism, in order to be able to prevent it.
Jihadism is the movement for those who follow Jihad, and is a particularly radical interpretation of Islam, but the Jihadism as a religious movement has been “transformed” into an ideology. It responds both to local demands - for example, it is used as a recruiting ground by appealing to people’s discontent over the handling of issues such as immigration, or internal security, and Jihad also has a broader world “vision”.
Jihadism has two branches: Salafism, based on Wahhibist thought, developed by the Muslim brotherhood during the early part of the 20th century, and now espoused by second- and third-generation Salafists; and Khomeinism, based on the strand of Shiism developed by Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
Dr Phares with moderator Mrs Shada Islam during the discussion period
Mr Phares disagreed with those who argue that Jihadism is essentially a school of thought which has developed as a reaction to Western foreign policy in the Middle East. He pointed out that it began in the 1920s, long before the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He also disagreed with those who claim that the Jihadist movement is born out of frustration over economic disparities, pointing out that its supporters come from all levels of society - while some are poor, many are engineers or doctors and it is funded by members of rich upper-class Muslim benefactors.
The failure to see the rise of the Jihadist movement
Mr Phares said the world had failed to detect the rise of the Salafist movement, which was founded in the 1920s and became more visible from 1945 onwards, during the period of de-colonization. At this time, the Jihadists were able to inject their ideology into anti-colonialist thinking, through educating young men in the network of madrasas or religious schools founded throughout the Muslim world thanks to support from oil-rich Arab nations.
Jihadism achieved greater prominence after 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which Jihadists see as a “defining moment”.
The Jihadists were able to expel Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and when this was followed by the - totally unrelated - collapse of the USSR, they believed their actions had brought down one of the strongest countries on earth. They took this as a sign that, despite the huge imbalance of forces, they had won, through Allah’s intervention. So, they argued, what can the West do in the face of such a movement?
Currently, there are two branches of Jihadism: the realists and the radicals. The realists do not believe in engaging with the major powers such as the EU or the US, so take their fight elsewhere - to Chechnya or the Philippines. They also believe in biding their time until they are strong enough to win.
The radicals, on the other hand, believe in taking immediate action - for example, Osama Bin Laden’s attack on the Twin Towers. They argue that this will provoke engagement with the West and Allah will intervene to grant them success. Realists within Al-Qaeda have recently criticized Bin Laden for carrying out the 9/11 attacks when he could not win the larger battle.
Dealing with Jihadists
Mr Phares outlined several measures which would help prevent the spread of Jihadism.
The first is to define the ideology so one knows who one is dealing with.
The second is to work with the moderates in the Arab and Muslim world to define Jihadist ideology, and Mr Phares was scathing about what he described as “the battle of the lexicon”, in which Western policy-makers draw up a list of words to be avoided in order not to fan Muslim-Western tensions.
Thirdly, one should explain to the public exactly what Jihadism is trying to achieve and the disasters that will result if its proponents are not stopped.
Fourthly, one should encourage an open debate about both the theology and the politics of Jihadism. The “tipping point” will be reached when one can engage with the democratic forces in the Arab and Muslim world. In Europe, the debate should include all Arab and Muslim communities, giving a space for all political and religious forces - not just the Salafists or the Khomeinists - to speak (End of EPC Reporting)