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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Religious Nationalists and the Near Enemy


Throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s jihadis devoted most of their resources to dislodging the near enemy and establishing theocratic states governed by Shariah (Islamic law). A review of their documents, manifestos, and actions indicates a preoccupation with the internal conditions of Muslims in disparate countries compared to those of the ummah as a whole. Little attention was paid to the need to confront the far enemy, particularly the United States. Since September 11, the received wisdom in the United States and the West generally has it that jihadis had always possessed an ambitious and expansive global agenda and had patiently waited for an opportune moment to execute it. Ironically, transnationalist jihadis, including Zawahiri, bin Laden, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, would also like us to believe this. The weight of evidence indicates otherwise, however, and the situation is much more complex than that.

Jihad Goes Local

Clearly, jihadis deeply mistrusted international arrangements that, in their eyes, discriminated against Muslims and kept them militarily impotent and politically and economically dependent. They also suspected the United States and the Soviet Union of being intrinsically hostile to dar al-islam, or the House of Islam, and more specifically to their revolutionary Islamist project. But throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and the first half of the 1990s the dominant thinking among leading jihadis was that the ability of the international system, dar al-harb, or the House of War, to dominate and subjugate dar al-islam depended on the collusion and submissiveness of local ruling “renegades.”