By Robbin Laird
When one talks about globalization, its benefits and its challenges, the discussion usually is upon the global economy.
But with globalization has come the opening of borders, legally and not, to the migration of peoples. In fact, we are experiencing one of the most significant periods of migratory change since the Second World War, the brutality of which also had the effect of dramatically moving peoples globally.
A defining element of globalization since the mid-1990s has been jihadism
With the emergence of Europe “free and whole,” the tableau upon which the jihadism picture has been painted is a Euro-Middle East.
This a region within which the flow of migrants from the Middle East as well as the rise of a more fundamentalist and less integrationist form of Islam has risen in significance within Europe itself.
A key goal Osama bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks in the United States was to encourage the United States to counter attack in the Middle East itself. He believed that such an engagement would create a recruiting sergeant for al-Queda in its strategic efforts to change the political landscape in the Middle East and bring the Muslim world closer his vision.
This means that from the outset, global jihadism has become a central part of globalization and to the rise of the 21stcentury authoritarian powers and the end of the “end of history” projection of globalization and the dominance of the liberal democracies.
What we are now witnessing is the growing impact of China, Russia, Turkey and jihadism as an ascendant force in global affairs against which the liberal democracies are reacting and in significant conflict about and in many ways in disarray with regard to the best paths ahead for them in such a world.
At the suggestion of Air Marshal (Retired) Geoff Brown, Chairman of the Williams Foundation, I recently read the book entitled Nine Lives. He expressed to me that the book should be “required reading in the political domain.”
I rarely have read a book that has provided both a good read as well as providing a way in to understand the nature, challenges and way ahead to deal with the variegated challenges of the West dealing with militant jihad.
The book is truly unique.
To quote the book jacket: “As one of al-Queda’s most respected bomb makers Aimen Dean rubbed shoulders with the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden himself.
“As a double agent at the hear of al-Qaeda’s chemical weapons program, he foiled attacks on civilians and saved countless lives, brushing with death so often that his handlers began to call him their spy with nine lives.”
That opening alone would make one want to read the book.
But what one then discovers when entering the world of the author is a chance to revisit the history of our Western interaction with militant Jihad and the evolution of the Muslim world both in Europe and the Middle East.
In 1995, I wrote an article on the interaction between Europe and the Middle East in which is was clear to me that that we were looking at a dynamic two way street in which both Westernization as well as Islam were interactively challenging one another.
What the life of Aimen Dean and his narrative about militant Jihad underscores is how central this interaction has become to both the future evolution of Europe and the Muslim Middle East.
He goes as a 15 year old Bahraini to Bosnia to defend the Muslims being slaughtered by the Serbs.
In fact, modern militant jihad has its origins in the mid-1990s in Bosnia.
“The conflict would sow bitter fruit. Two decades later, more than 300 Bosnians would trael to Syria and Iraq to support ISIS, one of the highest number per capita from anywhere in Europe. Bosnia was a crucible for modern jihad.”1
In Dean’s view, as a future member of al-Queda and who would later meet Osama bin Laden and swear an oath of loyalty to him, the future of jihadism was presaged in Bosnia.
“Influential jihadis such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would just a few years later mastermind the 9/11 attacks, were encouraging the belief that a war of civilizations was inevitable….
He quoted comments made by KSM to him at a wedding:
“Bosnia is a sideshow. America is the true enemy. The Arabs here (in Bosnia) should move to Afghanistan. There is a camp call Khalden in Khost province, where a new force is being built.”2
Over time Europe becomes both a recruitment center and infrastructure for support for the militant jihadists who were generated during the Iraq and Afghan wars, and who then became the foot soldiers for al-Queda and ISIS.
The author describes extensively throughout the book his time in the UK with the jihadists and the key role, which both Britain and Germany have played in providing, recruits to the cause.
After the author becomes an operative of British intelligence but remained a member of al-Queda he witnessed the European-wide operation.
“My employers were beginning to get a sense that Europe had an expanding and multifaceted problem: radicalization, recruitment and fundraising in what was essentially a continent-wide sanctuary.”3
The author quoted a senior leader of the jihadists who had lived extensively in Europe.
“Al-Suri believed Islamists already living in the West should be the shock troops of terrorism in the future. Having himself lived for years I Europe, he believed there was already significant sympathy for the jihadi cause there.
“More than nay other jihadi leader I met, he had an unbridle hatred for European secularism and lassitude,. While bin Laden obsessed about the United State, al-Suri had called on Algerian jihadis to ‘strike deeply in France,’ and he hated Britain just as venomously.”4
He argued toward the end of the book, that the modern period of militant jihad can be understood in terms of a building out of a number of phases of development.
“With the explosion of terror attacks worldwide, jihadism has evolved in my lifetime. I was one of the youngest members of the first generation, which came of age in jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan and among the mountains of Bosnia.
“The second generation emerged during the Iraq War.
“And now there is a third generation of often tech-savvy youngsters, who have grown up amongst the carnage and upheavals unleashed since the Arab Spring and the ruse of far-right anti-Muslim extremism in the West.”5
In the evolving phase, he describes the conflicts between ISIS and al-Queda and the conflicting variants of jihadism as the movement mutates going forward. But the author argues frequently throughout the book, that Westerners have not really grasped the fundamental religious character of these movements, driven by their visions of spiritual redemption.
“So many attempts by outsiders to capture the essence of these groups have underplayed their spiritual underpinnings. Western analysts tend to study jihadi movements through the prism of their own assumptions, believing that such groups will weigh risks and benefits and act rationally. Al-Qaeda was quite capable of that as the meticulous planning of the 9/11 attacks showed.
“But, ultimately, global jihad is guided by very specific interpretations of the Koran and the hadith.”6
From the perspective of someone inside the standing up and evolution of jihadism, the U.S. generated invasion of Iraq simply led to a very significant upsurge in recruits to the process and led to a rapid acceleration of its globalization.
As the author puts it: “the fiasco of the U.S. occupation of Iraq had become a recruiting sergeant for al-Queda.”7
From my perspective, the book can clearly be read as providing a clear understanding why the ill-fated attempt to do stability operations was clearly not only doomed to failure but enhanced the problem of dealing with the region.
On the one hand, inserting the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan as it has done in the Muslim Middle East has only enhanced recruiting the various radical Islam movements.Being an engaged ally is one thing; appearing as an occupier and organizer of stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is something quite different.
On the other hand, the challenge of militant jihad is clearly an internal Muslim challenge in terms of the war of ideas.
As the author as a devout Muslim argues throughout the book, jihadism is flawed ideology, one at odds with Islam.
And it needs to be challenged in these terms, something clearly not a good domain for players like U.S. forces to even be touching, and what is clearly part of what would be necessary for successful stability outcomes in the Middle East.
He discusses throughout the book but most notably at the end various ways this battle in the domain of ideas can be fought, and won. But it is clearly, not something I as an American am going to play a central role, to say the least.
The impact of jihadism on Europe is central to the fate and future of Europe and here the battle for the soul and future of Europe is closely entailed with the internal battle against jihadism.
How will the European debate and political resolution of migration and integration of Muslims best proceed?
How to deal with those Muslims living in Europe who have no interest in integration and have little in common with the secular values in Europe?
This means that although for the Middle East, sorting through the way ahead between Shia and Sunnis is central something for Muslims to sort out, the role of Europe and its secular culture will have its impact simply because of the challenge of working the integration challenge for the Muslims living and coming to Europe.
And that was what I argued in my earlier article about France and Islam with regard to the central challenge which secularism poses to the Muslim world.
The rise of Putin coincides as well global jihadism, in this case the war against the Chechens. To this day, we do not know whether the Russians themselves or terrorists set up the deadly explosions in Moscow, which brought Putin to power.
“Putin may not have ordered or even been aware of the plan to bomb Moscow. But it was a gift – whoever wrapped it – to the new hard man of Russian politics.”8
And in his life after MI-6, the author has worked with various clients to deal with global jihadism.
One of those clients has been the Chinese security services.
“The aftermath of 9/11 has touched every corner of the world; even China was not immune. The Taliban might have been ejected from Kabul, but their continuing resistance had p[provide the Uighurs with an escape route. How ironic that the government of Pakistan had gone with its begging bowl to Beijing seeking investment and trade even as its security services continued helping the Taliban on the quiet,”9
The book is clearly essential reading to understand the dynamics of change in our world, notably with jihadism as a significant global driver of change. This is an aspect of globalization usually left off the lists of the business-consulting firms when they are promoting the benefits of globalization.
The challenge to the West and liberal democracy is its commitment to secularism.
How does a secular society defend itself against an enemy within while dealing with an explosive force within the Middle East as well?
How can a secular society work its ability to defend itself against the rising authoritarian powers who are also at odds with one another.
Clearly, China and Russia are very concerned with global jihadism, but their actions even when cooperating with the West pursue their own trajectory.