THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2013
By Scott Stewart
Editor's Note: The following is the first installment of a five-part series examining the global jihadist movement. Click here for Part 2, which analyzes insurgent and terrorist theory. Part 3 defines the jihadist movement and evaluates its various elements. Part 4 looks at franchises and grassroots jihadists and Part 5 scrutinizes the al Qaeda core as well as gauging the overall implications for security.
Quite often when I am doing speaking engagements, client briefings or press interviews, I am asked questions like: “Given the events in Syria and Libya, is the jihadist movement stronger than ever?” It is a good question, but it is also one that is not easily answered in a five-second sound bite or a succinct quote for print media -- it really requires some detailed explanation. Because of this, I’ve decided to take some time to provide a more thorough treatment of the subject in written form for Stratfor readers. As I thought through the various aspects of the topic, I came to believe that adequately covering it requires more than one Security Weekly, so I will dedicate a series of articles to it.
When gauging the current state of the jihadist movement, I believe it is useful to use two different standards. The first is to take jihadists' goals and objectives and measure their progress toward achieving them. The second is to take a look at insurgent theory and terrorism models to see what they can tell us about the state of jihadist militant networks and their efforts. This week we will discuss the first standard: the jihadists’ goals and objectives. Next week we will discuss insurgency and terrorism theories, and then once we have established these two benchmarks we can use them to see how the various elements of the jihadist movement measure up.
Jihadist Goals and Objectives
There is a widely held narrative that jihadists are merely crazy people who employ violence for the sake of violence. This is clearly false. While there are unquestionably some psychotic and sociopathic personalities within the movement, taken as a whole, jihadists' use of violence -- both terrorism and insurgency -- is quite rational.
It is also worth remembering that terrorism is not associated with just one group of people; it is a tactic that has been employed by a wide array of actors. There is no single creed, ethnicity, political persuasion or nationality with a monopoly on terrorism. Jihadists employ terrorism as they do insurgency -- as one of many tools they can use to achieve their objectives.
Arguably, the objectives the jihadists are pursuing through the employment of violence are delusional. Although we can question whether or not they will be able to achieve them through violent means, we simply cannot dispute that they are employing violence intentionally and in a rational manner with a view to achieving their stated goals. With that in mind, we will take a deeper look at those objectives.