Dr. Walid Phares
Jihad Like Yoga?
October 8, 2009
Following is an interview with Professor Walid Phares in Nowe Panstwo
(Our Times), a Politics and History Journal in Poland, conducted by Olga
Doleśniak-Harczuk. The title of the interview in Polish is "ihad jak
joga" which translate to "Jihad like Yoga." In this extensive
discussion, Professor Phares addresses the strategic structure of al
Qaeda, Europe's readiness to confront the threat, the Obama
Administration ability to win a war of ideas over the Jihadists, the
necessary Western Rethinking of the conflict, indoctrination and
penetration in the US, the role of Oil lobbies, the influence of
theological texts on Jihadists, the numbers of Islamists in Europe,
Western inability to fight this war, and Polish American relations in
the war with the Jihadists.
QUESTION: In an interview, you mentioned the second generation of
al-Qaeda. What is the role of Usama bin Laden for the younger generation
of terrorists? Is he "only" a symbol of the global jihadists movement,
or still a real "true-born" leader?
WALID PHARES: al Qaeda as an organization has a hard core center linked
to its chief, Usama Bin Laden, and it has affiliate organizations
operating in various areas, such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, etc. In
addition there are Jihadist movements and organizations allied to al
Qaeda, such as Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jemaa Islamiya in
south Asia, Shabaab al Jihad in Somalia, Abu sayyaf in the Philippines
etc. The sum of all these organizations and movement is a Salafist
nebulous, which I define as combat Salafists. Those who believe that
terror Jihad is the shorter way to reach their goal of reestablishing
the Caliphate. In that web al Qaeda is seen as the center and its
commander Bin laden as the 'Fuehrer.'
But this Jihadi nebula is not the only one. There are other nebulae such
as the classical Wahabis, Muslim Brotherhoods, Deobandis, etc, who along
with al Qaeda nebulous form a large bloc of Global Salafi Jihadism. Bin
Laden is the hero of his own nebula and he is somewhat seen as a
popular, but irresponsible leader within the classical nebulae. So, as
you see it is complex. But in terms of al Qaeda, he is unquestionably
the supreme leader. But in the daily practical life of these movements,
he is not the chief executive; he is sort of a high-ranking symbolic
leader. It is mostly Ayman Zawahiri who plays the role of chief
executive. And among the affiliates, it is the local emirs who lead the
QUESTION: How would you describe the European way of understanding and
defining the global jihad danger? Some European politicians seem to not
take the global terrorism seriously enough.
ANSWER: Europe's academic elite, or perhaps mostly Western European
intellectuals, have been influenced by the oil producing regimes for
years, as were most governments. Since 1973, the oil shock intimidated
the economic and political elite of the then Western Europe who feared a
repeat of the boycott. Since then, what, in my books, I have coined
Petro Jihad left an influence on the European perception of
international relations, and soon enough on European handling of
Jihadism on the continent. European chanceries catered to the oil
producing regimes in the region, and thus to the ideologies of Wahabism
and Salafism. Academic scholarship, often funded directly or indirectly
by oil interests, advised European Governments and later on the European
Union institutions, not to confront these ideologies because it would
ignite the wrath of the petro-regimes. Even as the Jihadists, such as al
Qaeda and others, hit the US on 9/11 and later Madrid in 2004, London in
2005, and were behind violence in the Netherlands, Italy, France,
Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia, the expert body at the European Union
level has always and continues to advise against coining the threat as
an ideology and calling it Jihadism.
In my many briefings and testimonies over many years at European
institutions, I realized that European bureaucrats and their advisors
avoid identifying terror with an ideological root. They decline
admitting that behind the actions of Jihadi terrorism there is a
totalitarian ideology, despite all research and facts saying so. But I
also noticed that central and eastern European legislators and experts
are more sensitive to totalitarian ideologies and to the tactics of
penetration used by the Jihadists. Naturally, eastern Europeans are more
experienced with terror having lived under totalitarian regimes for many
decades. However, let me also note that many Western Europeans are
becoming much more aware of the Jihadi threat because of their own
research and the incidents they have been observing on European soil.
Today at the European Parliament, there is a large group of MEPs who
have been finally able to define the threat as Jihadism and are moving
in this direction.
QUESTION: After President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim World on
June the 4th 2009, the spokesman of the Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas said: "It shows there is a new and different American policy
toward the Palestinian issue." What role may Barack Obama have in the
confrontation with global terrorism in this context?
ANSWER: During the electoral campaign the Obama team was clear as to the
changes they wanted to enact in foreign policy and regarding the ongoing
confrontation with the Jihadists worldwide. As advised by its experts,
the Obama Administration is changing US official outlook towards the
past 8 years of conflict. First it is abandoning the concept of a "war
on terror." In fact it is true that this is not a war against a tactic.
One cannot wage a war against Blitzkrieg for example. But what they came
up with is a more serious mistake. They abandoned the identification of
the threat doctrine, as Jihadism, and they narrowed it to al Qaeda. It
would be as if in WWII the Allies were only fighting the SS, the
Luftwaffe, but not Nazism. The Obama Administration is as badly advised
as the European Union, on the ideological conflict, again because the
expertise behind this new policy is compromised by the influence of the
oil producing powers. If we don't identify the ideology and counter it,
it will continue to grow and indoctrinate and recruit people. Hence, in
the Cairo speech the President spoke of changes, but in the abstract.
Nothing will change or move forward as long as the Jihadi totalitarians
aren't isolated internationally and the democracy forces in the Muslim
world are supported. That is not what is happening now.
As far as the Palestinian question is concerned, it is not about
appointing a new envoy, which is not going to solve the problem. It is
about identifying the forces that are blocking the peace process between
Israel and the Palestinians. The latter, as in many ethnic conflicts,
have so many issues to address. But the forces obstructing the peace
process are third parties: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Iran.
So, the Jihadist axis in the region.
QUESTION: In your third book; The Confrontation. Winning the War Against
Future Jihad, You argue that there must be a "Western Rethinking" of the
conflict. What did you mean, Mr. Phares?
ANSWER: In my last book, I called for a Western rethinking of the
conflict based on the necessity of a strategic understanding of the
threat and where it is going to develop. Current and past Western
policies clearly show that we aren't going anywhere near the end of that
conflict. First inside the US and Europe, let alone Australia and
Canada, the homegrown Jihadists are multiplying and organizing. At some
point, they will begin an "urban Jihad" where these cities will witness
acts of violence and war waged by these groups. In Iraq and Afghanistan,
despite the courage, sacrifices, determination and successes of US,
Coalition and NATO forces, all indicates that Taliban or al Qaeda and
the likes are still going to strike, eight years after 2001. So where is
the problem? It is in the fact that the West refused to fight a war of
ideas along with the war against the Terror forces. Hence, I had called
on a strategic rethinking beginning with debates at the European
Parliament and the US Congress as well as national legislatures to
re-focus the conflict. And based on this, the West must engage in an
ideological campaign to isolate the Jihadi forces and engage with the
democratic forces in the Muslim world. Instead, the West now is doing
the opposite: retreating from defining the threat, fleeing the debate
about it and engaging the wrong forces: Taliban, Hezbollah, Iran and
other Salafi Jihadists.
I also called on forming a large international alliance, or at least
coordinating with countries that have a Jihadi problem, such as India,
and many African states. And despite all the problems and crises, with
Russia or with Russian leaders who see eye to eye on the Jihadi threat.
Another component of the Western rethinking is to work on energy
independence from oil regimes supportive of these ideologies. Last but
not least, a Western rethinking should promote significant support, even
moral, to dissidents, democracy seekers, women, students and other
sectors in the Muslim world who oppose the radicals. And they do exist.
QUESTION: How strong is the ideological indoctrination of the jihadists
in the USA? I mean the influence on the public life, specially the
infiltration of the US academic world.
ANSWER: The ideological indoctrination by the Jihadists is mainly
performed by the oil producing regimes and the militant networks
providing the human resources. As with the end of the 1970s and mid
1980s, millions of petrodollars have been invested in America on
building a web of influence within the educational system and foreign
policy circles. Funding has targeted Middle East Studies, Islamic
studies, international relations studies under the aegis of "better
knowing the Middle East and its cultures." In fact that funding impacted
the American classrooms in two ways. On the one hand, it eliminated the
study of all issues related to human rights in the region, including
women, minorities, youth, etc. On the other hand, it blurred the vision
of students regarding the concepts of Jihad and the related ideologies.
To some extent, mainstream studies presented Jihad as some sort of Yoga!
And from these specialized classrooms graduated those who were hired by
the US Government, media and NGOs. So, the Wahabi funding basically
derailed the understanding of the threat for years. This is why the
American public was stunned on 9/11 and couldn't understand what was
happening. It was manipulated educationally by apologists of the
Jihadist ideology so that the US Government is disabled from acting
against the threat. Which explained why the US did not respond
rationally after the attacks of Beirut in 1983, New York in 1993, Khobar
in 1995, Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and after the attack against the USS
Cole in 2000. It has all to do with the blurring of the public vision of
the threat. Today other democracies must be attentive to this strategy,
especially central and eastern European democracies, which are targeted
by oil producing regimes to fund similar programs. This is a form of the
war of ideas.
QUESTION: The Qur'an said: those who believe, fight in the cause of
Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So you
fight against the friends of Satan. Is the West civilization "a friend
of Satan" for the jihadists or is the using of references to Qur'an only
a political argument without any religious background?
ANSWER: This is a complex question. The Jihadists basically use the
Koran and Hadith as a pillar of their indoctrination agenda. In other
words they cite verses from the theological sources and convince their
recruits that it is their duty to carry out the orders of Allah. The
fact that there are stipulations in the text that mentions Jihad or
kuffar (infidels) is not enough to produce a Jihadist. It is the
existence of a network of ideologues, cadres, operatives and
organizations which uses the theological texts to create an ideology.
Once the ideology is accepted as such, the person who is recruited
doesn't see it as an ideology but as a religious injunction, hence the
confusion. I make a distinction between what is theological, and that
has its own debate, and what is ideological and is part of the Jihadist
efforts to expand. The West must focus on the ideological tool not on
the theological text. The latter must be part of a natural debate within
the Muslim world and with other groups.
QUESTION: According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the
total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 war about 53 million. Mark
Steyn, wrote in his book America Alone that the future belongs to Islam
- the West is growing old and "Islam has youth and will." Is the West
lost for opening the gates for the Islamic invasion or is such a theory
only an overreaction for global changes?
ANSWER: Every social and demographic phenomenon has its apex and its
regressive moment. It is true that over the past decades, the numbers of
the Muslim population in Europe, outside the Balkans where they are
native, has grown. But that was the natural consequence of Western
Europe's economic elites which wanted cheap immigrant labor and also its
Governments which were under the 1973 Oil shock syndrome. This
quantitative equation was predictable and should not surprise Europeans.
So on paper, decisions made in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of
immigration policy were to affect the demographic balance. Why would
Europeans be surprised and shocked about what they have decided to do to
enjoy their lifestyle? Well, I guess the public is shocked nowadays
because it was not informed by its own elite that Jihadism was making
progress within the immigrant communities. That is the missing link.
Because Jihad was equated to Yoga, the public didn't pay attention until
urban unrest hit its cities and Jihadi Terror started to strike harder.
At this point Europeans must put their priorities in order. They need to
deal immediately with the ideological issue then handle the demographic
equations. Unfortunately, since the European Union is afraid or
unwilling to touch the ideological issue, its populations are left alone
to figure out the problem. This is why you read and hear European
essayists talking about Muslim demographics instead of trying to isolate
the Jihadist threat first. Europe lacks strategists to deal with the
issue and I am not saying the US is in a better shape.
QUESTION: In Europe we had in the last years a strong wave of conversion
to Islam. How would you explain the growing interests for Islam in
Europe even after the 9/11.
ANSWER: One would ask where are these conversions to Islam coming from?
The committed Christians and Jews or the less committed? From Atheists
or from religious? Also, if you study the parameters of the converts and
establish common trends, what do you see? Is it happening in the
mainstream of societies or at the fringes? Is it happening to
individuals who have a doubt about their spiritual identity or to
persons confident about it? You must ask sociologists to research the
question. But so far, it seems that the perception of conversions is
bigger than the actual conversions. For according to studies a large
segment of conversions comes naturally from non Muslim spouses of
European Muslims. It is like a snow ball. The larger the initial
community is, the higher the numbers of conversions are. The global
numbers should not surprise people. I guess the reason why Europeans are
asking the question is the dwindling numbers of the native populations
versus the immigrants and also the shrinking numbers of European
practicing Christians. If Europe's mainstream population and religions
are regressing then yes the conversion to Islam becomes meaningful in
terms of numbers. Without getting into the details in this interview as
this subject is fascinating, the main question I raise is ‘why are
Europeans so surprised about all these matters. It was so predictable.’
What blocked them from realizing this years ago? Here you may get
interesting answers. Also one must look at the entire equation as well:
while it is true that there are many conversions into Islam, but there
are also significant conversions within the Muslim communities of
Europe, not only to Christianity but also to Atheism. It is very
QUESTION: In an interview, you said: "I wrote on the clash of
civilization 14 years before Samuel Huntington. My message was basically
a warning to the West that jihadism is on the rise, and is going to hit
America and the rest of the free world". That was a very hard statement,
especially when we know what happened in New York 22 years later. Why
did Western civilization ignore the danger of global terrorism?
ANSWER: Indeed, when Eastern Europe was living under Soviet Communism, I
published my first book in 1979 in which I advanced the idea that the
Jihadists will push for a clash of civilizations and in following books
I argued that the struggle for freedom must come from the inside of the
Muslim world. A Jesuit scholar compared my early work with the dissident
work of Andrei Amalrick and said that what I was to the Muslim world
what dissidents were to the Soviet Union. But that was 14 years before
Huntington's article on the clash of civilizations. In following pieces
and books, I warned that eventually the Jihadists will strike the West,
and they began in the 1990s, while many Western and American writers
were talking about the end of history. And in the years preceding 9/11,
I briefed members of Congress about the forthcoming threat to mainland
US and worldwide. Unfortunately my voice and the voices of other
colleagues were ignored. The dominant intellectual establishment,
particularly in Middle East studies, was financially penetrated by the
Wahabis and other apologists. Our theses were dismissed and often we
were criticized. It was only after America was savagely attacked by al
Qaeda and later on Europe that my expertise was sought and praised by
many in the legislative and executive branches. In my book Future Jihad:
Terrorist strategies against America (against the West was the
international version) I showed the strategies of the Jihadists forces
over decades. In the following book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism against
Democracy, I explained why was it that the West ignored the warnings and
looked the other way. In short it was the result of a war of ideas waged
by the Jihadist global network. By inserting millions of dollars in
America's Middle East studies and foreign policy circles, the Wahabis
derailed the country's national security assessment. The 9/11 Commission
asked the question why weren't Americans prepared mentally to meet the
threat. Many said it was a failure of imagination. I counter argued and
said it was a failure of education. The enemy took out America's ability
of perceiving, understanding and acting against the threat before it
happened. A sort of a Pearl Harbor took place.
QUESTION: Has Western civilization with their slogans of tolerance and
disposition/inclination to wishful thinking any chance to win the war
ANSWER: The slogans of tolerance are only the result of the Jihadists
confusion strategy. The Jihad oil lobbies have convinced the uninformed
intellectuals and policy makers in the US that acting against the
Jihadists is acting against Muslims. This is naturally wrong. In fact
acting against the Jihadists is acting to free Muslims from the fascist
forces that are oppressing them. But unfortunately America's
intelligentsia (most of it) was fooled by the apologists and the Jihadi
propaganda operatives, as was the case with many Western intellectuals
during the Cold War. They were told that ordinary citizens in Eastern
Europe were very happy under the totalitarian regime. They didn't know
better until Solidarity began its uprising in Gdansk. Tolerance with
fascism is a form of collaboration with it. What the West must realize
is that they were made to believe that they had to be tolerant with the
most intolerant forces on the planet. This is the peak of deception, and
unfortunately the Jihadist propagandists were and are very good at it.
In recent years many officials in Western Europe, the US and Australia
were made to believe that by using the term Jihadists, they will be
conveying legitimacy to the terrorists. They were told that Jihad is in
fact a sort of a Yoga, very spiritual! So when the expertise is
compromised, decision makers can and have made huge strategic mistakes.
But the good news is that the younger generations of American students,
researchers and professionals in the fields of national security are
getting it. It will be a question of time before a new more educated
America rises from confusion and lead.
QUESTION: And finally a polish accent. In February 2007, Sally McNammara
wrote: "Poland has supported America's global leadership role and has
helped to expand security in unstable and unfriendly parts of the world.
Wherever America is doing good in the world, Poland is not far behind."
Mr. Phares, What is the future of the American-Polish relations through
the prism of the last presidential elections in United States?
WALID PHARES: Polish participation in the defense of the free world and
of democracy worldwide is a solid fact. It has been recognized in
America for years. Its role in Iraq, Afghanistan and in countering
terrorism worldwide made of Poland a pillar of resistance against Jihadi
totalitarianism. As I said earlier, Poles have experienced oppression
and terror, they know what it is and thus they are more prone to
understand the nature of the Jihadist threat perhaps more than other
Europeans who had colonies and empires and yet have caved in to oil
Jihad. Polish instincts against the threat are perhaps greater than
those of many Americans. But many in the United States are learning more
about the meaning of that threat. There is a silent, gradual
intellectual revolution happening in America regardless of its politics.
Even if we know that the Obama Administration is advised by experts and
pressure groups that want to disengage from the conflict and regress
away from the international threat, as was the case before Nazism’s rise
in the 1930s, the public in America is moving in another direction. The
democratic political process in the US will correct itself, no doubt
about it. But Poland could help tremendously in that awakening. If Poles
learn more about the nature of Jihadism and its challenges and add to it
their own historical instincts, they could have a significant influence
on the US, not the other way around. Americans will be surprised to
listen to the narrative coming from Eastern Europe and they respect it
very much. Warsaw, Prague and Budapest are very symbolic in America's
popular culture. If more Polish intellectuals and writers engage in this
field, surprisingly it will help Europe and America get out of their
the current US Administration plans on changing the role of Poland in
the web of international relations and let go of Poland's special role
in the war against the terrorists, it is clear that the American public,
and the Polish American community are too attached to the historic
relations between the two nations to allow this to happen.