Sunday, November 20, 2016

Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict

On Saturday 19 November, I addressed the annual national conference of the Australian Christian Nation Association (ACNA). The Sydney-based organisation works to raise awareness of Australia’s Christian heritage and to preserve the Christian values on which the nation was founded.

Themed ‘Islamic Terrorism and Australia’s Response,’ the conference speakers covered areas including media, prison chaplaincy and policy.

My presentation – Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict – draws heavily on material in my new book – After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016) – in particular, chapters 3 “Hasten to Success” and 7 “Myth-busting the Syrian Crisis.”


Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict 
By Elizabeth Kendal
Sydney, Australia, 19 November 2016

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and a leading scholar in the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. During an interview on Egyptian television in February 2013, he made a most incredible admission.

Defending Islam’s law mandating death for apostasy, Qaradawi said, “If they [Muslims] had gotten rid of the punishment [usually death] for apostasy, Islam would not exist today.”

His admission confirms what a Coptic missionary working in the Middle East once told me: “If there was ever true religious freedom in the Muslim world, it would not be long before there was barely a Muslim left.”

Islam is so philosophically weak that it can only retain its adherents through terror -- by threatening ‘death for apostasy’ and ‘death for blasphemy’.

Likewise, it is precisely because Islam is militarily weak that it resorts to terrorism. After all, what is a suicide bomber but “a poor man’s smart bomb”?

Of course, it has not always been this way; Islamic armies have not always been weaker than the non-Islamic armies.

For a thousand years – from the 7th to the 17th Century – Islam was militarily strong.

Sultan Mehmed II rides
into Constantinople, 1453.
First it was the Arabs, who conquered the Arabian Pen, the Holy Land, Mesopotamia and Persia, north Africa and Spain. Then it was the Turks, who, after invading Anatolia in the 11th Century, moved into the Balkans, conquering the Slavic holy land of Kosovo in 1389 and Constantinople – the capital of Eastern Christianity – in 1453.

By the time the Turks had arrived at the Gates of Vienna in 1529, the armies of Islam had devoured three quarters of the Old Christian World.

Crusade historian Thomas Madden writes:

“When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there. (. . .)

“By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world.

“(. . .) Of course, that is not what happened. But it very nearly did.”

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 is generally regarded as the pivotal moment when, after a millennium of advance, a millennium of success, Islam was finally stopped in its tracks. Subsequently, Islamic military and imperialist power began to fade and crumble beneath the rising industrial, military, scientific, technological, economic and imperial power of energised, post-Reformation Europe.

Islam might have been in retreat and in decline, yet five times a day, day after day, year after year after year, the call to prayer continued to ring out. And while the call to prayer is both a statement of faith and a call to faith, it also holds out ONE promise. Can you pick it?

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. 
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. 
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah. 
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah.
Hasten to the Prayer, hasten to the Prayer.
Hasten to success, hasten to success.
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest.
There is none worthy of worship but Allah.

The promise is, come to Islam and you'll come to success – a success that is understood in purely worldly and material terms: prosperity and power.

As Palestinian-American Islamic philosopher Isma’il al-Faruqi explains, “Falah [success] – or positive achievement in space and time of the divine will – is the Islamic counterpart of Christian ‘deliverance’ and ‘redemption’.”

Islam and Christianity are NOT the same! They are, in fact, polar opposites.

Christianity teaches that humanity’s problem is sin, which separates us from God and results in eternal death. The only solution to which is forgiveness, which God provides through Jesus Christ. Through faith, the believer is rescued, saved, delivered – redeemed. Christians then are called to go into all the world and share the Good News of what God has done.

Islam, on the other hand, teaches that humanity’s problem is ignorance, the solution to which is guidance, which Allah provides in the Quran and through the example of Muhammad. Islam rejects the concept of original sin, and maintains that humanity does not need saving.
Rather: those who submit to Allah guidance are promised success.

For a 1000 years, Muslims were able to reach out and take what Allah had promised – success, power and privilege – because they had the military capabilities to do so.

From the 17th Century however, Islam went into retreat and in decline as an energised, post-Reformation Europe literally rode over its head.

For Muslims, this reversal of fortunes has been truly shocking – and indeed, totally unacceptable. The Islamic response has been two-fold:

(1) Islamic resistance. The 18th C, but especially the 19th C and into the early 20th C – was an era of especially bloody Islamic resistance as Muslims preferred to kill rather than accommodate those they believed were beneath them.

(2) Islamic Reformation.  From the mid 18th C Islamic reformers such as al-Wahhab called Muslims to return to traditional, fundamentalist, pure Islam and strict Sharia observance. This, they maintained, was the only way to reverse Islam’s fortunes so that Islam might be successful once again.

Sayyid Qutb (1906 - 1966) 
Naturally, the call for Islamic Reformation grew loader and more urgent after the crushing blow of WWI, the dissolution of Ottoman Empire, the abolition of the Caliphate, and the breakup of the Arab world under Western mandates. In the wake of these and other ‘catastrophes’, Islamic reformers such as Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb called for Islamic Reformation, while stoking the fires of grievance and victimhood and railing against the West’s never ending “international crusaderism.”

And all the while, five times every day, from mosque minarets all around the world, muezzins continued to sound the call: “hasten to success, hasten to success”.

And all the while, across the Middle East, global post war trends such as rapid population growth and rapid urbanisation were converging with economic distress and poor governance to produce mass disaffection – a trend that was picked up by the fundamentalist, reforming clerics in the slums of Tehran, Riyadh, Cairo, Homs etc who posited: “Islam is the Solution.” Eventually, in 1979, mass disaffection converged with Islamic reformation to produce – Islamic Revolution.

A successful Islamic revolution in Iran saw power transferred from the US-allied Shah to fundamentalist Shi’ite clerics. Later the same year, an attempted Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia, though it failed to overthrow the US-allied House of al-Saud, succeeded in that it empowered fundamentalist Wahhabi, Sunni clerics who now pull the strings in Saudi Arabia, albeit covertly from behind the benign facade of the US-allied House of al-Saud. Islamic reformation had shifted into overdrive – globally.

The result: Islam is back!   
(Reading from After Saturday Comes Sunday, page 59)

“Today, after centuries of decline and decades of weakness, Islam is back, and back with a vengeance.

Chibok girls (Christians) Nigeria.
Kidnapped,  enslaved and Islamized
by Boko Haram. 
“Islamic expansion is back and with it, invasion, conquest and colonization, including predatory migration. Subjugation is back and with it, the repression and persecution of non-Muslims and the inequity and injustice of dhimmitude (subjugation) which includes the demand for jizya (tribute or protection money as mandated in the Qur’an in Sura 9:29). Sharia (Islamic law) is back and with it, barbaric, cruel and inhumane punishments, including death for blasphemers (be they in Pakistan or Paris) along with lashings, amputations, beheadings, crucifixions and burnings—all live-tweeted for our entertainment and edification. By July 2014 the Caliphate was back, and with it, the mass slaughter of men, the enslavement of women and children, ethnic-religious cleansing and even genocide.

“Islam is back, which means the sword is back above the necks not only of Christians but of all who will not yield—all who dare stand in the way of Islam’s success. None of what we are witnessing today is “unprecedented”, none of it!
ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

“It is sobering to realize however, that the main reason Islam is back in the twenty-first Century is because, having forgotten history, having forgotten the threat of Islam, the West has sided with Islam, aided Islam, funded Islam, armed Islam, appeased Islam, romanticized Islam and protected Islam, all the while failing to confront the philosophical weakness of Islam, a weakness Islam counters through gross human rights abuses such as the cruel subjugation and persecution of unbelievers, denial of freedoms, and penalties such as death for blasphemy and death for apostasy.”

BUT – while Islam is back, it is still as yet militarily weak; not weaker than you and me, but weaker than any national army and any state that isn’t in chaos. And because Islam is military weak, it MUST fight asymmetrically.

Consequently, it is imperative that we understand how asymmetric conflict is prosecuted, not the least because we are integral to it.


An asymmetric conflict is one fought between unequal forces: one weak, one strong. It might be a case of persecuted, repressed or occupied peoples (weak) taking on their oppressive overlords (strong) in a struggle for liberty. On the other hand, it might be a case of separatists, usurpers or even terrorists (weak) taking on the state (strong) in a grab for power.

Examples of recent asymmetric conflicts include the Vietcong (weak) versus the USA (strong); the Afghan mujahideen (weak) versus the Soviet occupation (strong); Bosnian Islamic-secessionists (weak) versus the State of Yugoslavia (strong); Muslim ethnic-Albanian separatists in Serbia’s Kosovo province (weak) versus the State of Serbia (strong); Muslim militias (weak) versus the State of Ivory Coast (strong); Benghazi Islamic-secessionists (weak) versus the   Libyan regime in Tripoli (strong); the Afghan Taliban (weak) versus NATO (strong).

In all the examples listed above, the weak prevailed against the strong. In fact, it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult in this technological age, for a strong force to prevail against a weaker foe that has perfected the art of asymmetric warfare.

Traditionally, a weaker force would not pick a fight with a stronger force unless it believed it stood a fair chance of winning. That is because traditionally, the only alternative to winning was losing, which usually meant dying.

Today however, there is an alternative to winning or losing. Today, political mileage is up for grabs. Today, militarily weak groups like Hamas achieve their goals precisely by picking a fight they know they cannot win and then making political mileage out of being weak and getting clobbered!


Lacking military might, weak forces must rely on Psychological Operations (PSYOPS). 

Psychological Operations can be aimed at convincing the enemy not to fight – i.e. to go home (as the Vietcong did with the US in Vietnam) or convincing the enemy to surrender on its own turf (as Islam is doing in the West today).

Psychological Operations can also be aimed at securing military aid from an even stronger power – a superpower.

You might ask: Why would a strong democracy want to get involved in a conflict far away against a state that is no threat to them? Answer: they don’t – at least not unless there is something to gain from it. Any intervention must serve the superpower’s economic and/or geo-strategic interests; it has been this way since wars began.

However, in today’s world, no democratically elected leader will intervene in a foreign conflict if they fear it might cost them their political life. Consequently, before they can intervene, an elected government must first undertake a massive campaign to saturate the electorate with propaganda, so as to establish that the weak force (often Islamic jihadists) are worthy victims, and the stronger force (often a market competitor) is an evil regime.

What’s more, the development of internet technologies, mobile phones and social networking has made disseminating propaganda easier than ever.  

We are drowning in propaganda.

Two of the most commonly used tactics that weak forces use to generate propaganda and establish narrative are the use of human shields, and the false flag operation.

Human Shields

When a weak force provokes the enemy from behind a line of unarmed civilians, they can be said to be exploiting human shields. The strong force must then decide whether it will withhold fire (so as to protect civilians), or return fire in which case civilian casualties are all but guaranteed. If they return fire, the “massacre” will then be reported, along with sensational (often staged) images, by eager, gullible journalists who accept the narrative unquestioningly in their rush for the exclusive scoop. The media disseminates the propaganda, and then, just as expected, a compassionate society will have an emotional response.

This is precisely why Islamic jihadists establish bases in, and fire rockets from, markets, hospitals, schools and kindergartens, UN posts and safe havens, even from behind pro-democracy rallies.

Jaish al-Islam parade 50 cages of Alawite captives
through the streets of Douma and Eastern Ghouta, Syria (Nov 2015).

False Flags

A “False Flag” operation is one in which the weaker force perpetrates an appalling attack that is then attributed to the enemy. Generally this means acquiring enemy uniforms and then brutally slaughtering disposable civilians while making sure there are plenty of observers, especially reporters who are desperate to be first with exclusive stories and sensational images. The Houla massacre and the sarin gas attack in Ghouta are two examples of False Flag operations in Syria.

German war correspondent Jugen Todenhofer calls it “massacre marketing” – saying (referring to rebel activity in Syria): “It is among the most disgusting things I have witnessed in an armed conflict”.

 Houla Massacre (Syria, May 2012)
Child survivor: the family (all dead) was Sunni and pro-government.
The father was a retired Syrian soldier.
To get into the house, the killers  ('rebels')
-- who 'had big bushy beards and shaved heads'  (i.e. takfiri / Salafi-style) --
claimed (falsely) to be shabiha  (pro-government militia).  



Terrorism is a Psychological Operation (PSYOP): a weapon of the weak used to extract concessions from the strong. Though people die in a terror attack, they are not the actually targets of the operation. A terror attack is deemed successful when the public is so terrorized it is able to pressure the government to appease the terrorists so they (presumably) won’t do it again. Of course they always do ‘do it again’ escalating the terror and increasing the demands with each subsequent attack.

Every time we give in to Islamic terrorism, or fall for the PSYOPS of Islamic jihadist and propagandists, we strengthen and advance Islam.  We cannot afford to be doing that, for while Islam might be militarily weak today, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. 

In Mesopotamia, transnational jihadists – Arabs, Africans, Europeans, Chechens, Uighurs, Turkmen and other Asians – already get around in tanks (including US Abrams Tanks) and have sophisticated automatic weapons. They already have access to US-made TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles; and increasingly to Man-portable air-defense systems (also known as MANPADS or shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles) which can shoot planes out of the sky.

Eventually Islamic powers and their jihadist proxies (including ISIS and al-Qaeda) will be able to conduct crippling cyber-warfare, and will have access long-range missiles, nuclear material and possibly even electro-magnetic pulse weapons.

If the West continues to side with Islam, aide Islam, fund Islam, arm Islam, appease Islam, romanticize Islam and protect Islam, all the while failing to confront the philosophical weakness of Islam – then eventually Islam will no longer be militarily weak and the West will be devoured.

Consequently, it is urgent that we understand exactly what is going on – so we can reject the propaganda, resist the terror, confront the ideology and turn back this battle.