The fall of ISIS will not have a major impact on the global struggle against violent extremism.  It will be a tactical win which will generate little strategic effect.  The strategic problem is the global struggle for the soul of Islam and the ever-growing wave of Islamist ideology.  The source of most of this ideology is the Muslim Brotherhood, prominent in some 80+ countries around the world.  If the ideology is not debunked and the source of it attacked, then tactical victories such as ISIS will be meaningless.

In Canada and the United States, as in Europe, a variety of Muslim Brotherhood  front groups are deeply rooted in the body politicFrance may face civil war, according to public statements by senior government officials while other countries struggle with social violence and integration problems.

The Global Struggle and the “Islamic Reformation”

Almost everywhere there is Islam, there is violence.  To be more specific, there is violence every where there are IslamistMuslims.  This in in large part due to the current global struggle for the soul of Islam. This struggle has many factions, but the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is foremost among those which advocate the supremacy of Islam, violence and oppression.

The outcome of this “Islamic Reformation” is far from clear, although the Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood appear to have the momentum. They are pushing hard on societies such as France, the UK, Pakistan (and others) and an organized push back has not yet occurred.

If the push-back does occur and societies dissolve into even greater conflict, future historians may record that the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna was the individual who destroyed Islam with his ideology that requires perpetual confrontation.[1]

Looking Forward

Several observers and pundits have created the illusion that that downfall of ISIS represents a major turning point.[2] It does not. As with previous conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Somalia and Yemen, it has become clear there is little strategic vision for “what comes next?”

The weakening and fall of ISIS will be a tactical victory which will have little strategic effect.  The widespread fight against extremism will be largely unaffected by this high-profile event, while the global struggle for the soul of Islam[3] continues unabated.

The lack of strategic vision around defeating ISIS is not unusual. Recent conflicts show that the development of a strategic vision for the future of Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Chad and Mali is also missing. While the West has become proficient at technology and the tactical disruption of the enemy, we are not planning for strategic victory in the global struggle against extremism. Consider the use of drone in Afghanistan and Yemen.  They are good at tactical disruption, but much debate exists on how they fit into an overall strategy.[4]  A political vision of what should happen next continues to be absent.

This type of “strategic illiteracy” is distressingly common in the West.  As Prof.dr. I.G.B.M. Duyvesteyn of Leiden University rather bluntly stated:

We can at present not but come to the conclusion that we are quite good at tactical disruption of our enemy, instead of generating strategic effect. [5]

ISIS is not the problem.  It is just one symptom.  The real challenge is the extremist Islamist[6] ideology which has proliferated not just in the Islamic world, but throughout most of the globe.

The Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS

To understand ISIS, it is critical to understand the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and its sister organization Jamaat-e-Islami. As noted, they are the well-spring of ideology for almost all other major Islamacist supremacist organizations, including ISIS.  Abū Bakr al-Baghdādi is the first Caliph of the ISIS Caliphate. He quotes ideas and beliefs from al-Maududi and from the Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb (and others) during his only public sermon in Mosul in July of 2014. This was immediately following the ISIS victories in Syria and Iraq in June of 2014. Of note, al-Maududi himself is a former Muslim Brotherhood member, along with other key extremist figures such as al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri16 and al Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam.[7]

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, is the ideological well-spring of almost all the Islamist ideology which abounds today. This includes the ideology behind terrorist entities such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Jamaat-e-Islami, HAMAS, Boko Haram, and the Abu Sayyaf Group.  These groups were founded by Muslim Brotherhood adherents.  Other major groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir are spinoffs of the Muslim Brotherhood and are having a major impact.

The ideology and objectives of these groups is common – they are Islamist and supremacist in their orientation.  Where they differ is in strategy and tactics, especially with respect to the use of violence.  All of them, including the Muslim Brotherhood, believe that violence has a role to play. The differences between them are on the timing and utility of that violence.  ISIS, for instance, appears to believe that direct violence is the solution to almost every challenge and problem.  The Muslim Brotherhood, when it operates in the West, believes that violence should be avoided until such time they are in the position to ensure victory.  The frequent disputes and debates between ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood or between al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood rotate around the utility and timing of violence. Consider the book Knights under the Prophets Banner by Ayman al Zawahiri. This extensive volume containing 21 chapters was published in a serialized format in late 2001 and 2002. The main aim of the book was to justify violence while being hyper-critical of the Muslim Brotherhood for not advocating violence at all times.[8]

The Muslim Brotherhood, as both a highly structured group and as the producers of ideology, are a greater existential threat to Western society and values than any other extremist group.  With an organized presence in some 80+ countries, the Muslim Brotherhood can be considered a truly global in nature.

Through the processes of settlement, Dawah and civilizational jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood’s aim is to crush all other Muslim and Islamist organizations to be the hegemon of the Muslim ummah (community).  Further to that, its aim is to impose its own politicized version of Islam on all others – Muslims and non-Muslims – and displace or destroy all other forms of political, religious, social, civil and economic belief systems.  Their interpretation of Islam as a “peaceful religion” simply means that all other opposing religious, ideologies, political systems or philosophical views will be destroyed.  Women are to be forced back into subservience.   The process by which they do this is called, by their own people, “Civilization Jihad.”[9]

The Muslim Brotherhood continues to grow through its policies of dawah, denial, Entryism, student recruiting, lawfare and misogyny.  Frequently mislabeled as a “moderate group” the Muslim Brotherhood itself can be broken down into factions which are presently violent, and those which are not-yet-violent.  The Muslim Brotherhood has gone through several periods of attempting to shrug off violence.  As of 2015[10], the Muslim Brotherhood or the “Ikhwan” are now calling for a period of “uncompromising jihad” while demanding that its adherents to be “aware that we are in the process of a new phase, where we summon what is latent in our strength, where we recall the meanings of jihad and prepare ourselves, our wives, our sons, our daughters, and whoever marched on our path to a long, uncompromising jihad, and during this stage we ask for martyrdom.

The Muslim Brotherhood should be recognized for what it is:

  1. Islamist: they believe in a political form of Islam which they have the right to impose on all others. This is a form of religious totalitarianism.
  2. Salafist: they advocate a return to the traditions of the “salaf or devout ancestors who existed at the time of the Prophet Mohamed (i.e. the 600s AD)
  3. Jihadist: they believe in the selected use of violence to achieve aims, including offensive actions or offensive jihad
  4. Takfirist: they believe it is acceptable to call another Muslim impure or a non-believer. By doing so, they are also calling for the death of that individual.
  5. Supremacist: according to the MB, no other form of Islam is acceptable. No other belief system of any nature should be allowed to exist.
  6. Misogynist: despite claims that women’s rights are respected, the reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood advocates extraordinary violence against women who do not conform to their restrictive beliefs. In the Western context, women are allowed to take some organizational roles, especially converts, as a deceptive front to appease Western beliefs that women have rights.

Outlook

There is no strategic vision or leadership in the West in general concerning the issue of confronting the global wave of Islamist extremism.  Some countries are realizing too late they have a problem (France) while other countries remain firmly in denial that there is even an issue.

Dr Duyvesteyn was right.  We are good at tactical disruption, but we lack any ability to frame the most important issues in strategic terms.

 

Footnotes

[1] Will Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood Destroy Islam?  http://tsecnetwork.ca/2015/09/07/will-hassan-al-banna-and-the-muslim-brotherhood-destroy-islam/

[2] Daniel Byman,  ISIS is in retreat, American campaign ignores battlefield successes, Posted Oct 29, 2016 at 7:37 PM

Updated Oct 29, 2016 at 7:37 PM. The article can be seen online at http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/opinion/20161029/byman-isis-is-in-retreat .

[3] See, among many others, A Struggle for the Soul of Islam, by Tarek Osman.  The article is available online at https://www.thecairoreview.com/tahrir-forum/a-struggle-for-the-soul-of-islam/  or at http://www.tarekosman.com/a-struggle-for-the-soul-of-islam/ .

[4] The Strategic Effects of a Lethal Drones Policy, Understanding Drones in a Broader Context, http://www.americansecurityproject.org/asymmetric-operations/the-strategic-effects-of-a-lethal-drones-policy/ .  See also Afghan Drone War in Steep Decline. Dan Lamothe, MARCH 28, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/28/afghan-drone-war-in-steep-decline/ .

[5]  Prof.dr. I.G.B.M. Duyvesteyn, Leiden University, Special Chair in Strategic Studies,  Strategic Illiteracy: The Art of Strategic Thinking in Modern Military Operations.  This 2013 lecture and paper can be seen at file:///C:/Users/User/Pictures/Duyvestyn%20strategic%20illiteracy.pdf or at http://www.slideshare.net/UniversiteitLeiden/inaugural-lecture-duyvesteyn

[6] Islamist – An Islamist is one who would impose any given interpretation of politicized Islam over society by law.  For current Islamist groups such as ISIS, al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, this means a heavily politicized form of Islam which is Salafist, jihadist and takfirist.  In short, it is a form of theocratic extremism with a distinctive relationship with violence.

[7] Parts of this paragraph was originally published by the Mackenzie Institute in The Muslim Brotherhood in Canada: Civilization Jihad, Tom Quiggin, 11/30/2015.  The article can be seen online at http://mackenzieinstitute.com/muslim-brotherhood-canada-civilization-jihad-2/ .

[8] Understanding al-Qaeda’s Ideology for Counter-Narrative Work, Tom Quiggin, Perspectives on Terrorism Journal, Vol 3, No 2 (2009).  The article is available online at http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/67/html

[9] Mackenzie Institute, The Muslim Brotherhood in Canada: Civilization Jihad.  The article is available online at http://mackenzieinstitute.com/muslim-brotherhood-canada-civilization-jihad-2/

[10] MB Communique: We Should Prepare Ourselves For Lengthy Jihad, Hunger For Martyrs Death,