The strategy of savagery employed by ISIS

David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith write: Of Egyptian background, [the jihadist theorist, Abu Bakr] Naji, like [Abu Musab] al-Suri, was an al-Qaeda insider with links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq prior to the latter’s death in 2008. Ultimately, the purpose of violence, whether in the West or in Raqqa, as Naji explained, is to secure the borders of the Islamic State. As he analyzed in The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass, the chaos of savagery represents the intermediate stage of state breakdown, which the revolutionary cadre must manage en route to the purified Islamic realm. Naji declares: “If we succeed in the management of savagery, that stage will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate.” Here we can discern that in his thinking about how to conduct jihad, Naji has read, and is clearly influenced by, Mao Tse-tung’s thinking on protracted people’s war.

In his attachment to a “stages theory” of revolution, Naji, in the manner of a Marxist dialectician, distinguishes between: a) the stage of state breakdown characterized as one of “vexation and exhaustion” where the failing state’s power, as in the Palestinian Authority or contemporary Afghanistan, for example, remains contested and b) the subsequent stage of “savage chaos,” where the people “yearn for someone to manage the savagery.”

The management of the stage of savagery therefore requires securing the region’s borders, providing basic food and medical treatment, and establishing sharia justice, prior to transition to the final historical stage of the reformed Caliphate. Stages One and Two clearly conform to Mao’s understanding of the “Strategic Defensive” and “Strategic Equilibrium” phases of protracted people’s war, as enunciated in On Guerrilla Warfare (1936).

As with Mao, so it is with Naji, the control of the people and the support of the masses in achieving both unity and power are secured “through armed struggle.” The only difference is that Naji’s strategy is intended to facilitate not the liberation of the poor and tabula rasa peasantry, but the implementation of sharia justice. To achieve this, Naji points out, “violence is crucial.” Any backsliding or “softness” will “be a major factor in the loss of the element of strength.” Again, this has strong parallels with Maoist thought, which held that demonstrative acts of terror would be necessary to enforce conformity to the goals of revolution.

Even if the Caliphate is not achieved in the short-term, it is not the end of the matter. Naji continues chillingly, “the more abominable the level of savagery is,” it is still less abominable than enduring stability under “the order of unbelief, nizam al kufir by several degrees.” Indeed, here one can note a further general tendency in Western commentary to discount – often in its totality – the strategic debate that takes place within the Islamist/jihadist domain.

Islamism is – to adapt another Maoist aphorism – a sea in which many fish swim and there is a continuous and often little remarked-upon self-critique that goes on within its ranks about the best means to attain its goals. [Continue reading…]

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