The “Moqawamah” Doctrine of Perpetual Combat
In the seventh year of the post- 9/11war on terror, a new-old doctrine is taking hold in the Arab sector of the Muslim world. Translated literally, Moqawamah means “resistance.”
But in the context of the Western conflict against jihadist Islam, it is a military theology which promises an unending holy war, a jihad which is constant, persistent and perpetual. In the last couple of years, the concept has been spinning faster and faster around the Arab world collecting disciples. It has displaced the slough of despair in which the Arab-Muslim world had fallen in the mid-20th century.
Books discussing reasons for the Arabs’ loss of a place in contemporary history, current in the lingering crises sparked by the Arab armies’ failure to prevent the Israeli state from rising in 1948 and their defeat in 1967, have been set aside. Moqawamah’s message has been gratefully embraced instead by all three mainstream jihadist camps which are competing for pickings from America’s perceived weaknesses in battling Islamist terror and inexorable decline as the dominant power in the Middle East and Asia.
The three rival camps are Al Qaeda, its allies and offshoots, including the Afghan Taliban; radical Shiah headed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad; and the multi-branched Muslim Brotherhood, whose spearhead is the Palestinian Hamas.
While the three groups are more often than not at each other’s throats in such places as Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, yet they are brothers in the classical tactics of terror and, increasingly, in the doctrine of Moqawamah.
No-win, no-win becomes a winning strategy
1. These tactics and this doctrine in combination make it possible for the Muslim terrorist-fighters to dispense with victory as the declared goal against their perceived enemies: the United States, Western Europe, NATO, and Israel. Victory is displaced by a more attainable objective, depriving the enemy of victory by keeping all armed encounters inconclusive.
Muslims have taken this no-win, no-win strategy as a magic code for challenging the absolute supremacy of Western military technology. It fits the stealth tactics of suicide attacks, roadside bombs and primitive missiles which harass sophisticated armies, air forces and navies, and force the enemy and its populations to live behind walls. Moqawamah gives them military confidence for the first time since the Ottomans were turned back at the gates of Vienna in 1683. It means that constant combat is its own triumph and reward.
2. Although victory may be desirable, single engagements, big or small, do not have to be won. Here, too, unflagging combat, however costly in lives, is an end in itself. The Muslim struggle against the West is counted in generations. When Osama bin Laden envisaged the destruction of the United States and the West and the rise of caliphates on their ruins, he was looking into a timeless future.
The late Ahmad Yasin, one of the founding fathers of Hamas, regularly prophesied the State of Israel’s annihilation as a certainty, but he never specified any future target dates. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizballah demagogue, uses the metaphor of a slowly unwinding spider web for the ultimate downfall of America and Israel.
Moqawamah gained strength in the Muslim-Arab consciousness when America began facing daunting difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when Israel failed to vanquish Hizballah in the summer of 2006. The latter case was a perfect of example of how Moqawamah works in favor of the mujaheddin. They failed to beat Israel but came out ahead by denying the Israeli army a victory while still able to fight another day.
Military inferiority is a spur to greater combativeness
Some Muslim radicals have discovered the arcane study of gemetria – a method practiced by medieval Kabbalists to derive mystical insights from sacred writings by substituting numbers for letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They are reading trendy new books which play around with the Arabic alphabet to “calculate” the year in which the US and Israel are to be finally vanquished.
A new work flying off Cairo book shelves this month draws a parallel between their fate and that of the Soviet Union. Its writer builds on the 70-year life span of the Communist empire and takes it as the total period remaining for the Americans and Israelis to maintain their positions of strength. Their decline and fall are already in motion, he maintains; the Americans are losing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and the Israelis have fallen back against the Palestinians and Hizballah.
All the books selling these mystical calculations agree that the present generation will not live to hoist the Islamic flag of victory. Its mission is confined to self-sacrifice and will be carried on by its progeny. The triumph of their martyrdom lies several generations in the future.
3. The doctrine does not hide the absolute military inferiority of the faithful in armed confrontation with the enemy, whether it is the United States, NATO or the Israel Defense Forces. At the same time, Moqawamah obliges Muslims to treat this disadvantage as an incentive to spur their combativeness.
Syrian president Bashar Assad illustrated this point in a lecture he delivered at Damascus University during the 2006 Lebanon War.
He said Syria had made peace its strategic option, but peace is not the only course; “There is also Moqawamah.”
The first Arab ruler to bring this concept into the open, Assad used it to underscore his decision to forsake the legacy of his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, and his guiding principle of “strategic parity” between Israel, on the one hand, and Syria and the Arab world, on the other, as the precondition for war.
Instead, he invoked Moqawamah, which substitutes “strategic imbalance” – or Muslim inferiority – for “strategic parity” as the stronger inducement for war. Holders of the doctrine insist that this inferiority should be held up by Muslims as a point of pride from which they must never shrink.
The female martyr’s reward in paradise
4. According to this Islamic military ideology, war on unbelievers is not about territory but blood. Therefore, the American army could occupy all of Iraq, topple Saddam Hussein and his statue, seize Baghdad and drive al Qaeda out of its Anbar provincial strongholds, without winning or even ending the Iraq war.
Indeed, because the conflict remains inconclusive, they behave as though it is the prelude to the next war which could go on for generations. This is the thinking behind al Qaeda’s declarations that, however many reinforcements America may deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, they will change nothing on the ground. The war will go on.
5. Perhaps the most compelling of Moqawamah’s dictates concerns death as a weapon of the struggle. The shorter life is the better, say its disciples.
In the 1980s, Osama bin Laden adopted the powerful motto of his late mentor Sheik Azzam Abdullah, whom he later had murdered in order to lead al Qaeda himself. The sheikh was wont to say: “We Muslims are invincible because we love death, whereas you (the enemy) love life.”
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of the Gaza Strip, said at a recent Friday sermon in reference to Israel’s military action against its missiles: “We were not elected to be ministers, but to fall on our swords.”
Textbooks used in Muslim universities today deal very seriously with death and the questions it raises. Muslim sages and teachers invest hours on discussions about the life of a Jihadist, a Muslim fighter. They examine various aspects of the convention which promises 72 virgins to the shahid who reaches paradise.
One question commonly asked is this: Given the proliferation of martyrs, how do the virgins remain pure?
This question has brought forth a series of edicts which pronounce the maidens’ virginity to be perpetual and immutable, in the same way as the jihad is constant and unalterable.
Young Muslim students have also inquired about the reward due to a female suicide bomber. This question is the subject of lively debate and has produced a body of literature which is avidly consumed by young men and women who consider themselves candidate for jihad.
One answer is that the female martyr will have the privilege of choosing her husband out of the hundreds of saintly men who preceded her to paradise.
The West’s only effective weapon is fighting to win
6. The Moqawamah Doctrine has spawned a new political theory which is making the rounds of the Arab world and seriously perturbing the Arab regimes viewed as moderates by the United States and the West.
According to this theory, the Arab state is superfluous and serves no useful purpose. It is therefore to be treated as a failed state.
Al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban and the various Palestinian terror groups all declare that not only are they better fighters than the average Arab soldier, but also provide an alternative mechanism for social reform, capable of providing the needs of the general population for education, medical care and social welfare.
So who needs the state and its useless trappings? Arab state structures are nothing but artificial entities created by wheeling and dealing among the Western powers or Western infidels.
The Arab state is therefore obsolete. Muslims fighters may not respond to patriotic calls to fight in its defense.
Al Qaeda has taken this concept forward by establishing the “Islamic Emirate of Iraq,” in the face of opposition from its allies, indigenous Sunni Muslim insurgents. Al Qaeda’s emirate has no borders or aspirations to draw any. What matters is the apparatus dedicated to Allah – not the regime or the area unbounded by frontiers under its control.
Moqawamah adherents are not freedom fighters or liberators of territory, but soldiers of Allah fighting to establish the caliphate, the Halapha, which by definition is borderless. This principle is common to all three radical Muslim camps.
No single front may favored above others; the struggle moves between them all. The three main arenas are Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, but others may crop up at any time.
The “moderate” Arab and Muslim rulers have been watching anxiously for the United States and the West to display enough resolve to cut down the Moqawamah movement which is eroding their grip on power and luring young Arabs and Muslims into its toils. However, as the next articles in this issue report, Washington missed two chances of crushing or at least humiliating its adherents in the last few weeks, thereby giving Moqawamah a mighty boost.
This doctrine can be fought with the Western concept of victory – in the absence of an ideology capable of drawing this generation of Muslims out of its fatalistic obsession with perpetual combat and death. Adopting the Moqawamah way of quitting the battlefield before the fight is resolved is playing by its rules and into its hands.
The missed opportunities of the last few weeks have buoyed the spirits of its disciples and fueled their fervent belief in ultimately achieving the cataclysmic destruction of the West.