Stop the presses: Islamic forces in Chechnya have declared jihad! The cause, explains jihadist spokesman Movladi Udugov, was the killing last week of former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov in a Russian raid. ??¢â???¬?????By killing Maskhadov,??¢â???¬ Udugov fulminated, ??¢â???¬?????the Kremlin has killed the last illusion of those Chechens who, despite everything, still believed in so-called ??¢â???¬????international law??¢â???¬â???¢ and a civilized form of dealing with the current terrorist regime in Moscow??¢â???¬ ¦We ask God to accept the holy war of…Aslan Maskhadov!??¢â???¬
Western observers may be forgiven for finding this puzzling. Maskhadov was a mastermind of the Beslan school massacre, in which Chechen jihadists held over a thousand schoolchildren and adults hostage for several days, murdering many and engaging in wanton acts of brutality. When one hostage-taker asked Maskhadov and Chechen jihad leader Shamil Basayev why they were doing this, he was told: ??¢â???¬?????Because we need to start a war across the Caucasus.??¢â???¬ That war was to be waged in order to establish an Islamic state in the region — which is also the goal of Osama bin Laden and other jihad terrorists around the world.
Long before the Chechen massacre, in November 2003 the Shariah Council of State Defense Council (Majlis al-Shura) of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria declared that ??¢â???¬?????jihad for Chechnya and its neighbors today is mandatory.??¢â???¬ Yet Udugov is declaring jihad only now? What have they been fighting all this time? The fact that he would issue this statement this week, with all the evidence that the Chechen jihad has been raging for years, is another indication of how jihadists use current events as pretexts to justify what they are doing. Again and again they portray themselves as merely reacting to grievous provocations from the enemies of Islam. By this means they both gain recruits and sway public opinion.
By fulminating about international law, Udugov hopes to obscure the fact that Maskhadov was killed because of Beslan, thus diverting attention from the blood on the jihadists??¢â???¬â???¢ hands. This is the same tactic that is used to great effect in reference to Israel, Iraq, and more. Conventional wisdom today among a surprisingly broad spectrum of both Left and Right is that the global jihad movement is a response to some provocation or other — the invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Israel, the toppling of Iran??¢â???¬â???¢s Mossadegh — or a more generalized offense such as ??¢â???¬?????American neo-colonialism??¢â???¬ or ??¢â???¬?????the lust for oil.??¢â???¬ Some who are particularly forgetful of history blame it on newly-minted epiphenomena such as Abu Ghraib.
But the jihadists were fighting before Abu Ghraib, before the Iraqi enterprise altogether, before the founding of Israel, and even before the independence of the U.S. that they now identify as the Great Satan and the cause of all their woes. Long before Aslan Maskhadov was killed, the Chechen jihadists had given up on ??¢â???¬?????so-called ??¢â???¬????international law??¢â???¬â???¢ and a civilized form of dealing with the current terrorist regime in Moscow??¢â???¬ enough to commit the Beslan atrocities. Udugov??¢â???¬â???¢s declaration of jihad is just a recruitment tool designed to win over more Chechens to his cause. The fundamental error of all too many Western analysts is that they consistently confuse such recruitment tools and pretexts with root causes — and seem unable or unwilling to face the reality of the jihad ideology that is actually the source of so many modern-day global conflicts. The Chechen Majlis al-Shura emphasized this in its November 2003 declaration by quoting rulings of three of the four principal schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence to the effect that jihad is ??¢â???¬?????a war against Kafirs (the infidels).??¢â???¬ The Council added that the purpose of jihad was the ??¢â???¬?????protection and spreading of Islam.??¢â???¬
Will the Chechen jihadists consider this purpose accomplished if an independent Islamic state is established in the Caucasus? Will jihadists in the Middle East call it a day if a fully independent Palestinian state is born? Will jihadists worldwide lay down their arms in their respective countries if their particular grievances are redressed? The open-ended nature of the jihad mission as stated by the Chechen authorities and others suggests otherwise. Washington analysts consistently dismiss such talk as theological window-dressing; that same short-sightedness resulted in their discounting the threat to the Shah posed by Khomeini in the 1970s until it was too late to do anything about it.
If the State Department and the defense establishment don??¢â???¬â???¢t stop confusing pretexts with root causes, they will be blindsided again, in the same way — not only about Chechnya, but about the global jihad as well.