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De-Legitimising The Ideology of Violent Jihad

(Washington, DC--March 30, 2004) An expert on political Islam told a RFE/RL audience recently that political Islam's current manifestation as a quasi-totalitarian ideology advocating terrorism can be countered by exposing its political absurdity and thereby undermining its legitimacy.

Daniel Kimmage, RFE/RL's Central Asia analyst, said that, in studying the political tracts of a new generation of Islamists that use the Internet as their primary publishing venue, he had concluded that their call for violent jihad is a political act supported by a set of specific core beliefs. Kimmage asserted that these beliefs should not be treated as a perversion of Islam -- "it is rather an extremist political ideology."

Kimmage also asserted that the supporters of violent jihad can be undermined because "it is a relatively new movement dating back to 1997-98." One of its main ideologues, Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, met Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the mid-1980's while fighting the Soviet military in Afghanistan, and eventually convinced Bin Laden to declare jihad on the United States in February 1998, according to Kimmage.

Ideologues such as al-Zawahiri have, Kimmage said, "reduced Islam to jihad... understood as suicide attacks and hyper-terrorism meant to produce a maximum number of civilian casualties." The terrorists, Kimmage reported, believe in the "fragility of American power in economic and moral terms, which itself is based on an unstable global system defined in similar terms used by the anti-globalist movement." For the terrorists, the "best case scenario," according to Kimmage, is the "collapse of the global economy, a breakdown of Western alliances, revolutions in the Muslim world, seizure and the use of the energy weapon, the destruction of Israel, the victory of salafi (revivalist) Islam and a clash of civilizations."

But, Kimmage contends that the terrorists have a "global focus without a global plan," which means that their mid-term goal is to engage in "tactical strikes to move things along," and possibly settle for a minimum program: "the expulsion of foreign influences from the Muslim heartland and the destruction of Israel."

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