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Afghanistan, Islam and the origins of a global jihad

The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 opened the door that had been closed since 1258, when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, the political and cultural center of the Muslim Abbasid dynasty. It gave the Muslim fundamentalists an opportunity to finally make their cause a global call for justice and unite the Muslims throughout the world into one unified group, the “Umma.”

An old Arab adage, “The enemy of one’s enemy could be your potential ally” defines the relationship between the war in Afghanistan and the present day threats against the U.S. and its Western allies. The two super powers, the Soviet Union and the U.S., were still at a Cold War standoff. One enemy, the U.S., helped them fight against their other enemy, the Soviet Union. They were thus able to solve their present problem with the Soviet Union and leave the door open for a later advancement against the remaining infidel super power, the U.S. Hence, “The enemy of one’s enemy could be your potential ally.”

Beginning in 1979, and increasing greatly in numbers by the mid 1980’s, thousands of young Arab freedom fighters traveled to Afghanistan to help their fellow Muslim brothers rid their world of one major enemy and super power, the Soviet Union. It was this very group of young men who formed the first international brigade of the modern Islamist freedom fighters, or the Jihadists global movement. They came largely from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan. They banded together to free Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and to set in motion their long call for an “Islamists Umma.”

They were mostly Salafists, Muslims who were products of the more radical Islamic schools, or madrassas, particularly some of those in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood  schools in Egypt, as well as many of the Wahhabi madrassas which are spread throughout the Muslim world. They had one goal: to fight the infidels face-to-face, as real Jihadists, not as Arab/Muslim soldiers of apostate regimes.

This call for a Jihad (struggle) had been silently issued for hundreds of years, since the Prophet’s return to Mecca and has been even more prominent since the fall of the Islamic empire in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Also, their ultimate goal has been to reinstate the Caliphate, which was abolished on 3 March 1924 by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, thus officially ending the Ottoman dynasty and empire. Since that time, Muslims have not had one true Caliph. 

It was these young freedom fighters in Afghanistan, dedicated to their prestigious past, who looked for -- and needed -- a martyrdom or victory to prove that Allah was with them in their battle for an Islamic Umma. The Afghanistan war and the defeat of one enemy super power, the Soviet Union, gave these young fighters the prestige and face-saving that their Islamic community had lost hundreds of years ago.  

It is important to note that these young volunteers, who were the Arab “freedom fighters” and were known as the Arab Afghans, later became the core of the fighting machine known as the Al Qaeda. During the Cold War, most Arab regimes, particularly those who had an alliance with the Soviet Union, such as Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and Yemen, mistrusted their Arab Afghans. They were also problematic for the pro-American governments such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But the U.S. Government had a sustained policy of supporting the Mujahidin in Afghanistan and the international allies who came to fight with them.

As long as the Cold War was still in effect, the Jihad terrorist was a secondary priority for the U.S. and its Western allies. The U.S. perceived these young Islamist Jihadists as an objective ally against the Soviet Union. The U.S. intelligence community failed to acknowledge that the international call for a Jihad was a separate entity from the war in Afghanistan, since once the Jihadists had defeated one super power they would turn against the remaining super power, even if it had helped them obtain this defeat. The enemy of one’s enemy could be your potential ally.

Basically, what happened is that events moved much faster than the evolution of Western understanding. The former Jihadist allies in the struggle against the Soviet Union did not wait long before they launched their new Jihad against the U.S. and its allies.                   

“Ihna asqatna al soviet!” (We brought the Soviets down). “la mish ibna Allah asquat al Soviet!” (No, not us, Allah brought the Soviets down.

This quote from Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban following the defeat of the Soviet Union inAfghanistan should have sent a signal to the U.S. and the Western powers of

 what was to be their new challenge in the 1990’s and beyond. This one statement, made by Bin Laden, revealed both the political and religious thinking of the new Arab Afghans and their call for a Jihad. Their victory over the Soviet Union proved to the Arab Afghans, or Jihadists, that Allah was with them and they could not lose. 

Who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan? For these young Muslim fighters, the answer to this question was very simple. The Jihadists did, and Allah was their ally and the power that allowed it. With Allah in their favor, no one could defeat them. It

was the perfect time to take their Jihad global. A question frequently asked by the public, in both the U.S. and other Western nations, was, Why did the Soviet Union collapse immediately after it was defeated in Afghanistan? 

In the minds of the young Arab Afghans, who had fought so hard in Afghanistan, the fall of the Soviet Union was not due to a failure of the Soviet economy, but rather to their use of  “one enemy against another.” Allah had blessed them and helped them destroy, the infidel Soviet Union, one of the most dangerous atheist nations in the world. 

This very powerful, but simple, reasoning by the Jihadist was missed or ignored by the U.S. and other Western nations. For the Jihadist, this was the perfect time to re-open their call for an international Jihad and the return of the Islamic Umma.

If a war against one’s enemy can be led by the right people, following the Qur’an, and the Hadith, and the Shariah laws -- and if it is sanctioned by an Islamic cleric, and it comes at the right time, then Allah would secure their victory. The Islamist Jihadists are confident that they are the right people and now is the right time. The downfall of the Soviet Union validated this belief and convinced them that they could attack and defeat any enemy of Islam, no matter how powerful and influential they were. The U.S. and its allies would automatically become the next project on their list. Everything the Jihadists were doing pleased Allah; therefore, they could not lose.

Allah had given a pure victory to his own fighters and therefore proved to the world, not only to the Muslims, that no power on earth, not even a super power like the Soviet Union or the U.S., can defeat a Jihad.

What led to the attack on 9/11 and the terrorist attacks since the war in Afghanistan was not based primarily on economic and geopolitical factors, but on religious beliefs. For the terrorists who have called for a global Jihad, their logic and goals are totally based on theological reasoning, which may seem irrational to some scholars. Yet this is the primary motivation of the Islamist Jihadists and they are convinced of the undeniable support of Allah in their present call for a Global Jihad.

The current goal of the Islamist Jihadists is defeating the U.S. the exact same way they defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The enemy of one’s enemy could be your potential ally.”                                     

Who might that enemy be?

The most infamous individual who came out of the alliance and the war in Afghanistan is Osama Bin Laden. Many people have written about his life history, his family wealth, his education, his speeches, the horrendous terrorist attacks for which he was responsible and his mesmeric abilities to recruit young followers. But what is really important are his visions, his strategies and the reasoning behind what he does. A study of his leadership skills and abilities, and how he uses them, is of course of interest, but what is most crucial to the U.S. Government is the impact he has had on the Jihadists, their movements, and the generations who are following him.

Who might that enemy be? That’s a question that I believe the people in power should keep very much in mind. Could it be China? Would they even consider Iran or North Korea? This is a big question, not only for the Jihadists, but also for the U.S. 

 

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