From time to time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s most senior military officer below the commander-in-chief himself, puts out a National Military Strategy. This document is intended for senior American military commanders around the world and sets out big picture strategy guidance for how the U.S. military ought to cope with the myriad threats it may face in the line of duty.
New Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine General Joseph Dunford is compiling a new National Military Strategy. Special Operations Command (SoCom), the branch of the military charged with hunting down and killing terrorists, is providing input and expertise to the report.
SoCom is pushing for Salafi jihadism to be discussed in the report as the branch of Sunni Islam responsible for most global terrorism in the world today. It is the ideology shared by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
“If you look at threat doctrine from that perspective, it’s a much bigger problem because it’s not just the violent jihadists, it’s the non-violent jihadists who support them,” one person knowledgeable about the National Military Strategy told The Washington Times. “Pretending there is no relationship between the violent jihadists and Islam isn’t going to win. We’re completely ignoring the war of ideas. We’re still in denial. We’re pretending the enemy doesn’t exist.”
Dunford’s staff declined to comment on the upcoming report, which will be classified. The last National Military Strategy, by the previous chairman, General Martin Dempsey, was released publicly on the Joint Chiefs of Staff website. It did not make mention the ideological roots of terrorism.
Sources close to the team responsible for preparing the National Military Strategy told The Washington Times Dunford’s staff was not persuaded on the merits of including the term.
Quintan Wictorowicz, one of the architects of Obama’s national counter extremism policy, charted the relationships between Salafi jihadist groups (although he did not use that term) and other sects of Islam in a 2005 academic paper entitled A Genealogy of Radical Islam.
“Al Qaeda and the radical fundamentalists that constitute the new ‘global jihadi movement’ are not theological outliers. They are part of a broader community of Islamists known as ‘Salafis’ (commonly called ‘Wahhabis’).”
He distinguished between violent and non-violent Salafis saying “The jihadi faction believes that violence can be used to establish Islamic states and confront the United States and its allies. Non-violent Salafis, on the other hand, emphatically reject the use of violence and instead emphasize propagation and advice (usually private) to incumbent rulers in the Muslim world.”
Wictorowicz details several important theological points that distinguish this movement, notably the use of takfir to brand the enemies of the jihadi movement as apostates deserving of death and the concept of jahilliya which posits that the contemporary Muslim world is not really Muslim because they follow man-made laws and are therefore akin to the pagans who ruled Arabia before the time of Mohammed.
He names Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb as a central figure in the development of this doctrine.
Understanding this application of radical theology to the political sphere helps us to identify why certain groups are dedicated to fighting the United States and helps in setting out clearly the differences between Salafi jihadism and Sunni Islam in general.