Paranoid Jihadists Are the Ultimate Conspiracy Theorists

Do these vehement statements chill you, and do you wonder what is behind them?

  • Zacarias Moussaoui in answer to the prosecutor’s question, “So you would be happy to see 9/11 again?”: “Every day until we get you.”
  • Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “The chain of plots by the American government against Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—aimed at governing the Middle East through the control of the Zionist regime—will not succeed.”
  • Mohammed Bouyeri who murdered the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh: “I did it out of conviction. If I ever get free, I would do it again.”
  • Osama bin Laden: The West must “stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery …”

Author Mary Habeck writes in the first chapter of her book, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror, “Jihadis are telling everyone in the world what they believe and how they will act. The question is whether anyone will listen to them.” Despite many pre-9/11 incidents with common roots, we did not wake up to the threat until that fateful day. Unless we understand what is behind the terrorism, she argues, it will grow, not shrink.

An associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies, Ms. Habeck has made a thorough study of the historic roots of today’s jihadist behavior. In effect, Osama bin Laden and his allies would like to see the reel of history rewound and run again, erasing what they see as “humiliations” of Islam exemplified by the Crusades, the 1492 success of the reconquista in Spain, the turning back of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1653, Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, European colonialism, Ataturk’s dismantling the remains of the Ottoman empire in 1924, the creation of Israel in 1948 and introduction of American culture and influence from mid-20th Century to today.

While most of the world’s approximately 1.3 billion Muslims want to live in peace and have reconciled their religion with modern life and secular government, a relatively small number insist that nothing less than a movement back to Islam’s roots in the 7th Century will solve the problems of the world. The jihadists’ impulse is, in effect, to start the world over again.

The author writes, “… the ideology that forms the basis for the jihadis’ actions necessarily implies a complete rejection of all other belief systems.” While most Muslims consider Islam to be the ultimate—the one true—religion (Judaism being “tribal” and Christianity being incomplete), most have no interest in destroying those who have different belief systems. The jihadis, however, have this as their goal.

Beginning with Abd al-Halim ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) and ending with Sayyid Qutb (1903-66), a series of Islamic intellectuals have provided the foundation and argumentation for the jihadis’ ideology. They believe that guidance for all human behavior is contained in the Koran and the Hadith (the Prophet Mohammed’s collected sayings and writings). Thus, there is no need for secular institutions. Indeed, they consider any Muslim who gives credence to a secular government to be an apostate and subject to elimination. This explains jihadist indifference to the killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq, for example.

How do the jihadists rationalize 9/11, blowing up embassies, trains and markets? According to the author, “… they are committed to the destruction of the entire secular world because they believe this is a necessary first step to create an Islamic utopia on earth.” In other words, they are quite willing to kill millions—including Muslims—to achieve utopia. Their ideology calls for no man to rule over another in this utopia. All would be equal. Of course an elite group of clerics—the ulema—based in the renewed Caliphate (presumably Baghdad) would be prosecutor, judge and jury in all matters, inasmuch as they would be the interpreters of God’s will.

The jihadist extremists are the ultimate conspiracy theorists. They have convinced themselves that the West in general—and the United States in particular—is out to destroy Islam. How should we deal with this paranoid phenomenon? The author has several recommendations. She says the jihadis have no interest in dialogue, that their ideology must be “confronted, challenged and defeated.” In the short term, we and our allies must deprive them of land, time and funding. Expelling extremist imams in European and American mosques will help, too, although we should work with moderate Muslims to prevent them from taking over mosques in the first place.

The author argues that settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take away “the single best recruiting tool” the jihadis have. She also calls for stigmatizing the extremists. One way to do this is to change the name of the conflict from “Global War on Terror” (which it is not) to something such as “The War on Jihadism” (which it is).

If you want us—that is, democratic civilization—to prevail in what is a life-and-death struggle, read this book.


Sign Up