In the past I have commented on what the jihadis want, stating that "Bin Laden wants to establish an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Arabic Middle East. To do that, he needs to remove the secular regimes that are currently in power." Phares confirms this analysis, but elaborates a great deal. His explanations are enlightening, especially given the mixed messages about the nature of Islam and the role of jihad in that religion as portrayed by Western media. It is common to hear, at least in the West, an "Islamic Scholar" telling us that Islam is a religion of peace, and that jihadis are distorting the true message of Islam. Phares explains that the actual situation is far more complicated than such simple notions. Jihad is not one of the 5 pillars of Islam (which are witness, prayer, pilgrimage, alms, and fasting). It is, however, considered an unofficial 6th pillar of Islam--and understanding what that means requires delving into a bit of history.
Immediately following the death of Mohammed, the council of elders of Islam--the de-facto ruling body--set up a a system where a single ruler would be selected--the Caliph--and he would lead the Caliphate. Because Islam requires that the umma, or Islamic community, be expanded, the initial Caliphate had to grapple with the fundamental problem of how to do that--by military conquest, or by more peaceful means. For a variety of reasons, well articulated by Phares, Islam made the watershed decision to embrace the doctrine of "Fatah" or conquest, whereby they would spread Islam through a continual war against the infidel. Islamic historians perceive that Allah blessed this decision, because within the next 100 years the Caliphate rushed forth and conquered territory at a rate unprecedented in history. Particularly impressive was how this backward and barefoot mix of Arabian tribes roundly defeated both the Byzantine and Persian empires--the world's two super powers of the day--at the same time. This initial rush of conquest initially petered out--and this led to perhaps the key feature of the Jihadi mindset: there is a strong correlation between the decadence, corruption, and drift from the fundamentals of Islam in the ruling Caliphate, and the fortunes of this Islamic empire. The initial Caliphate quickly conquered most of the known world, but then as they began to enjoy their riches and drift from the teachings of Muhammad, they were beset by defeats by the Christian crusaders and the Mongols. The Mamelukes then arose out of
Each of these resurgent, fundamentalist groups that breathed new life into the Islamic world came onto the stage waging Jihad agaist the Infidel, and were awarded legitimacy based on the perception that their military victory in jihad was due to the blessing of Allah. And in each case, these jihads did in fact lead to a resurgence and blossoming of Islamic culture. It is through this lens that we must understand the modern Jihadi mindset: There is no legitimate Caliphate. The rulers of Islam have become decadent and corrupt. As a result, the former power and glory of Islam has been lost. It is their job--that of the Salafi Jihadist--to bring fundamentalism and military greatness back to the Islamic world. This theory is at least partially vindicated by the view that the Taliban victory in
Ultimately, Walid Phares provides an insight into the cultural ethos of the Islamic world--particularly the ethos of the culture that is inaccessible to the average American, that of the rural schools and smoky teahouses that line the (literally and figuratively) impenetrable warren of Islamic society. It is the kind of insight that someone like myself, who has studied Islam (through Western sources), who has traveled to multiple Islamic countries for numerous reasons (military deployment to Qatar, plain tourism in Morocco) just cannot pick up.