Al Qaeda's Grand Strategy
By Dr. Mary Habeck, Visiting Scholar, AEI
Review by David T. Jones
In a densely written, 6,600 word lecture published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Dr Mary Habeck examines in detail the elements of what she believes is Al Qaeda’s “grand strategy” for attacking the West in general and the United States in particular.
Ultimately, she concludes that Al-Qaeda’s grand strategy is currently directed toward other Muslims; it is primarily about the rest of the world and not about us at all. She draws short term comfort from this judgment; however, notes that Al-Qaeda believes that it is doing well in achieving global objectives, having forced U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and anticipating our withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Dr Habeck carefully examines the aspects of Al-Qaeda thought contrasting them with mainstream Islam. Most prominently, she concludes that Al-Qaeda holds intensely exclusive beliefs including that “democracy” is an attempt to replace God and God’s law with popular control. For Al Qaeda, jihad is not “internal” self mastery but externally directed violence to bring others under its control. And Sharia has only one variantthat promulgated by Al Qaeda and imposed by violence if necessary.
She postulates several Al Qaeda objectives:
- rid the Muslim-majority world of all non-Muslim occupiers, including all “apostate rulers,” that is, all the current leadership of Muslim Middle Eastern countries. It also includes the expulsion of all Westerners of whatever nature.
- impose their version of Sharia and forcethrough violence if necessaryordinary Muslims to follow it.
- fight Jihadand ignore every peaceful method for change. Jihad should be considered an objective as well as a means for achieving other objectives.
- build on Jihad and the implementation of Sharia to set up Islamic governance.
Dr Habeck searches a bit for historical parallels. Although Al Qaeda views itself as a vanguard for purifying and expanding Islam, she rejects the potential ideological parallel with communism. Rather, given the intensity of Al Qaeda’s fanatical commitment, she sees it as holding a genocidal view of the world that compares “not with the cold and rational Bolsheviks, but rather the emotional and insane Nazis.”
Al Qaeda’s entire vision is focused on taking over the religion of Islam and twisting it for its own purposes and ends. While they foresee a mere 200-year war with the United States and all of the “occupation forces,” the fight will go on far longer. In fact, Al Qaeda believes that it will be engaged in a war until they conquer the entire world for their version of Islam and time comes to an end.
While normally rhetoric along these lines would be written in crayon on ruled paper, the persistent resiliency of its adherents requires thoughtful attention.