Summary: The fires expand over the Middle East, driven by centuries of relative decline and corrupt rule, stoked by our interventions. We struggle to understand this phenomenon, cutting through the lies and misinformation fed us. Today guest author Hal Kempfer takes us to the logical starting point: what to call this movement.
“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.”
— Attributed to Mohammad.
What’s in a terrorist name? Perhaps some meaning.
By Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired)
There is an active debate on terminology regarding the type of terrorists we see involving or inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. (aka the Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria, or ISIL, where they refer to the “Levant” vice “Greater Syria”). ISIS is a former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate that has almost eclipsed AQ.
The White House does not like the term “Radical Islam” in describing this threat. However, it is descriptive since it implies from whence their beliefs came. However, it also misses what makes them significantly different from mainstream believers of the Islamic faith.
When Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them school kids, we didn’t call that “Radical Christianity,” nor did we do so in describing the events near Waco, Texas in 1993 or when Larry McQuilliams attacked the Mexican Consulate, Police Headquarters and federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, around Thanksgiving of last year. Further, when Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. attacked the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility in Overland Park, Kansas, in April of 2014, we didn’t call it “Radical Paganism,” even though his motivational beliefs were the same as the Nazi pagan cult of WWII.
So there does seem to be a semantic inconsistency.
A broken Islam world
Countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and Libya are actually borders defined by former European colonial rulers (e.g., Britain, France, Russia). They are borders that too often divide nationalities, ethnicities and tribes — are artificial constructs defying functioning socio-economic alignment.
The acronym laden name of “Pakistan” exemplifies the problem. Hence, the world is littered with “failed states” (i.e., “fragile states“). Historically these states were only successfully ruled by brutal strongmen like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gadhafi, or repeated military dictatorships. Absent these autocracies, these states have mostly devolved into various levels of civil war and become territories that export terrorism abroad.
However abhorrent, ISIS and AQ provide an alternative, albeit an ideal built on bloodshed.
From the time of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad (early 600s AD) to the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 there had usually been an Islamic Empire or Islamic state. The successors of Muhammad after his death in 632 AD were called Caliphs (i.e., rightly guided ones”). What Al Qaeda and ISIS want is the restoration of the Caliphate, re-creating an Islamic empire to conquer all territories that are predominantly Muslim. The collective of Islamic believers or Muslims worldwide is the Ummah; they see their new Caliphate ruling the entire Ummah. This poses an existential threat to the Nation-state system and international order.
Restoring the Caliphate
The Caliphate is an institution that came immediately after Muhammad. It is a political concept first and foremost, the unifying principal to maintain rule over the territories conquered by Muhammad under Islam. Soon after Muhammad’s death factions arose in Islam, and the Caliphate become more political as religious beliefs splintered.
Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, calls himself the new Caliph and his “Islamic State” the new Caliphate. But he does not represent the Ummah, but only a tiny violent faction.
The Caliphate is both a political and religious concept since the authority of the Caliph comes as the successor of the Prophet Muhammad. Its legal authority is Sharia Law, albeit there are several schools with significantly differences. ISIS seeks to impose a brutal, medieval idea of justice, one that Mongol invaders or European Crusaders of an eon ago would easily understand. As would Romans, who ruled with similar ruthless.
ISIS was kicked out of AQ in 2013 for being too brutal.
Choosing an operationally useful label
For a term that more descriptive than “Radical Islam,” I suggest “Caliphists.” To some Muslims it may seem as untoward as “Papist” to Roman Catholics. That’s a inappropriate comparison, shifting the name from a religious to political political basis. Unlike the papacy, there is no true Caliphate in the modern age. Rather than impugn the name of the entire religion, “Caliphists” refers to those who wish to impose a new political empire on the world, achieved through overwhelming violence. It removes the aspersion to mainstream or peaceful Islam, and puts the “name” towards describing a small warring faction that sees political rule through mass terror as its end state.
The White House wants to refer to AQ, ISIS/ISIL and their affiliates, and homegrown followers, as generic “terrorists” or “violent extremists.” That works if you seek to respond to terrorism, but it is a meaningless if your seek to prevent terrorism by by identifying terrorists before they act.
Every violent extremist spawns from something that isn’t inherently violent or extreme, something that in the mainstream of life. I suggest describing the critical differences between the faction and the mainstream, such as their goal. Absent that, we either don’t describing the threat or doing so by a broad brush on one of the world’s largest religious faiths.
About the author
Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired) is the CEO and Founder of Knowledge and Intelligence Program Professionals Inc. (KIPP,) in Long Beach, California. He has been involved in terrorism issues in the military and civilian sectors for almost a quarter century.
KIPP’s clients have included the Naval Postgraduate School, U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Task Force Homeland Defense, the National Guard’s National Interagency Civil-Military Institute and California Specialized Training Institute.
Hal served with the USMC in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He was Director of Intelligence (G/J-2) for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, CENTCOM’s Combined/Joint Task Force Consequence Management, and the joint/interagency fusion center (JRIC) at Camp Pendleton.
Hal is a senior instructor and course developer for the Terrorism Liaison Officer courses, Infrastructure Liaison Officer (InfraGard) course, Al Qaeda Doctrine (AQD) seminar, Human Skills workshop, Pre-Incident Indicator workshop, and a variety of other courses, workshops, seminars and Homeland Security exercises.
He holds a Master’s degree from Thunderbird School of Global Management, a Bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, and is a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College, the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Warfare School and completed all academic curriculum of the Air War College, holding military officer specialties in intelligence, amphibious reconnaissance, infantry and engineering.
For More Information
Terrorism is an American tradition. See Wikipedia’s Terrorism in America page, with a long but very partial listing of incidents since 1900 (including the thousands in the 19th C would have made it one of their longest entries). It’s sorted by date and type. It’s a game most American political movements have played.
For more reliable and detailed information see the 2014 Global Terrorism Index by the London-based The Institute for Economics and Peace. To see the history of terrorism at home: “Terrorist Attacks in the U.S. between 1970 and 2013: Data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD)“, Erin Miller, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2014.
But the money is in fighting foreign enemies, not those at home. See the FBI’s CounterTerrorism Guide; it lists only foreign groups. It’s also the politically easy choice.
- The Fight for Islamic Hearts and Minds.
- We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning.
- Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on America to win.
- We seek a future of war with Islam, while wearing a cloak of virtue.
- We cannot defeat al Qaeda unless we understand it. And since we’re told mostly exaggerations and lies…
- Well-funded organizations inciting us to hate & fear, again. How gullible are we?
- France volunteers itself as a front line in the clash of civilizations.
- We’re goading our enemies to attack America. Eventually we’ll succeed, and they will.
Posts about Islam:
- Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work?
- Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?
- Hard (and disturbing) information about schools in Pakistan – the madāris.