What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ideology of collateral damage

In the latest edition of the CTC Sentinel journal (May 2008, Vol.1: No.6.) Jarret Brachman and Abdullah Warius have an intriguing article on al-Qaida's rising figure, Abu Yahya al-Libbi, the Libyan who escaped from detention at Bagram airbase in 2005, after three years in Pakistani and U.S. custody.
Brachman and Warius' article has already received some attention over the blogosphere. It details al-Libbi's influential ideological work on the Hukm at-Tatarrus doctrine, a concept that deals with normative aspects of warfare on the boundary between dar al-harb and dar al-Islam, or, more exactly, there where the boundary is not so clear, with Muslims caught up, say, in a fortress under siege by Muslim armies, as human shields (either specifically or indirectly as human shields). Al-Libbi's interest is understandable - he is looking at battlegrounds in places like Afghanistan as the kind of fortress just mentioned. Through studying the application of Hukm at-Tatarrus, he is looking to modernise the concept, to make it fit the current nature of asymmetrical warfare on the 360-degree battlefield where jihadi tactics lead to Muslim passers-by dying in attacks.
Making a verdict on how much al-Libbi is or isn't using Hukm at-Tatarrus in accordance with the tenets of Islam and centuries of Islamic scholarship is beyond me. From Brachman and Warius' account it seems like he is trying to legitimise just about everything with a concept dealing with the human shield issue, which certainly looks like stretching it. (How unusual from an ideologue.) Arguably the most interesting part of the article is the one revealing omissions in al-Libbi's 36-page text. Brachman and Warius point out that he leaves the issues of compensation, for life and property lost, and the use of Muslims as human shields by the Muslim armies themselves, unaddressed.
In fact, to me, there seems to be a further subject avoided there. I'm not submerged at all in Islamic Studies, so I'm not the one who could definitively say this, but al-Libbi's work does recall in me the 1980s, when many Afghan refugees arrived in Pakistan regarding themselves as "mohajirs" instead of refugees, partly fulfilling religious duty when leaving their land, equally fulfilling such duty when returning there for on and off guerrilla fighting against the Soviets as "mujahedeen."
Ergo Al-Libbi today is depicting people, who were looked at in the 1980s as potential mohajirs by duty from a religious/ideological point of view, as helpless hostages when in the vicinity of non-Muslim "fortresses" (like, armoured convoys targeted by IEDs and operating bases mortared and rocketed) in his work. He is not suggesting they should be mohajirs. Possible reasons for why that interpretation of the situation is preferred could be interesting to look at.
- When, for example, an Afghan student-journalist in Balkh, northern Afghanistan - Parvaz Kambakhsh - can get a death sentence for downloading from the internet Iranian literature critical of Islam, it's tricky to call the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a place where one cannot practice the Islamic religion loyally. Consensus couldn't easily be found regarding such a statement, as past debates between globally oriented jihadists and local-player Afghan Taliban might show, too. Today's Afghan government is just very different from the one that communists in Moscow felt was trying to force modernist-communist dogma on traditional Afghan society too hard at the end of the 1970s.
- If you want to show you're a magician, you'll call for sunset when sunset shall come anyway, not five minutes after sun-up. Calling on Afghans to become mohajirs today would be an unrealistic demand. Now there's armed conflict in Pakistan, along with a food crisis, with reports that even Pakistani Taliban themselves have recently stopped shipments of flour about to be smuggled to the other side of the border from Pakistan. No massive flow of mohajirs would be welcome there, one feels. And UNHCR and NGO operations, with foreigners entering the FATA, wouldn't be welcome, either. As to could-be Afghan mohajirs themselves, no matter how religious one is, one typically won't take one's family to somewhere where they won't necessarily have what to eat. Not to say that they are not pushed by ISAF operations nearly as much as 1980s refugees were by the enemy-centric Soviet COIN tactics. In these circumstances, a none-too-influential call for departure of their needed local supporters likely doesn't seem productive from AQ guerrillas' point of view.
- Meanwhile, Pakistan's government is criticised by jihadi ideologues almost as much nowadays as the government of Afghanistan is. With the standards employed by jihadists, even Pakistan isn't entirely proper Islamic land. So where would true mohajirs have to go then? Iran surely wouldn't be a destination preferred by al-Libbi and his colleagues. Land ruled by the Pakistani Taliban could be, but, again, there's the food crisis to think of. And meanwhile the Taliban in Afghanistan wouldn't want to say that in Afghanistan they don't control any land at all that they could call stably their own (thus theoretically offering an alternative to land ruled by the Afghan government themselves).
Hence more of a need for jihadists for Hukm at-Tatarrus.

No comments: