Several times I have urged anyone interested in understanding modern Islamist terrorism to read the manuals and other literature that the Islamist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State have taken as their guides. Recently I went one step further and posted an overview of the seminal Islamist writing by Sayyid Qutb: The Founder of Islamist Extremism and Terrorism.
Another major work whose influence is very clear throughout Islamist writings and public announcements is The Management of Savagery, published online in 2004 under the pseudonym Abu Bakr Naji.
There is no need to wonder why Islamist terrorists target civilians in the West for horrific deaths. Naji set out the tactic and its rationale for all to read. There is no secret. No mystery.
I will copy and paste a few relevant sections from this manual. The translation is by (oh no, here’s that name again William McCants. The copy I am using requires me to acknowledge the following:
Funding for this translation was provided by the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, and any use of this material must include a reference to the Institute.
That’s the formalities covered.
The management of savagery is the next stage that the Umma will pass through and it is considered the most critical stage. If we succeed in the management of this savagery, that stage (by the permission of God) will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate. If we fail – we seek refuge with God from that – it does not mean end of the matter; rather, this failure will lead to an increase in savagery!!
I skip the sections where Naji pinpoints times and places of supposedly comparable operations of savagery in history (e.g. resistance by numerous small bands to the Crusades).
A – The first goal: Destroy a large part of the respect for America and spread confidence in the souls of Muslims by means of:
(1) Reveal the deceptive media to be a power without force.
(2) Force America to abandon its war against Islam by proxy and force it to attack directly so that the noble ones among the masses and a few of the noble ones among the armies of apostasy will see that their fear of deposing the regimes because America is their protector is misplaced and that when they depose the regimes, they are capable of opposing America if it interferes.
B – The second goal: Replace the human casualties sustained by the renewal movement during the past thirty years by means of the human aid that will probably come for two reasons:
(1) Being dazzled by the operations which will be undertaken in opposition to America.
(2) Anger over the obvious, direct American interference in the Islamic world, such that that anger compounds the previous anger against America’s support for the Zionist entity. It also transforms the suppressed anger toward the regimes of apostasy and tyranny into a positive anger.
(C) – The third goal: Work to expose the weakness of America’s centralized power by pushing it to abandon the media psychological war and the war by proxy until it fights directly.
There is discussion of the appropriate targets of terrorist attacks. The aim is to spread the defensive forces of the State powers so thin as to be effectively useless as a guarantor of safety.
Hitting economic targets will force (the enemy) to goad the regimes, who are (already) exhausted from protecting the other remaining targets (economic or otherwise), into pumping in more forces for its protection. As a result, feebleness will start to appear in their forces, especially since their forces are limited . . . .
Thus, their forces are limited and select and the regimes have to put in place the following priorities:
First: Personal protection for the royal/ruling families and the presidential institutions.
Third: Petroleum and the economy.
Fourth: Entertainment spots.
. . . . .
There is an important principle which states, “If regular armies concentrate in one place they lose control. Conversely, if they spread out, they lose effectiveness”. . . .
When the best forces are positioned to protect thousands of petroleum or economic locations in a single country, the peripheries (of that country) and the crowded regions will be devoid of forces.
Organization is taken seriously. They are not amateurish hobbyists:
The most important skill of the art of administration that we must use is learning how to establish committees and specializations and dividing labor. . . .
We must make use of books on the subject of administration, especially the management studies and theories which have been recently published . . . .
And not only books on administration . . . .
— General books on the art of war, especially guerrilla wars . . .
Section three, page 28:
Using the Time-Tested Principles of Military Combat . . . .
Following the time-tested principles of military combat will shorten for us the long years in which we might suffer the corrupting influences of rigidity and random behavior. Truly, abandoning random behavior and adopting intellectual, academic methods and experimental military principles and actually implementing them and applying military science will facilitate our achievement of the goals . . .
Page 31 brings us to our main interest:
Those who study theoretical jihad, meaning they study only jihad as it is written on paper, will never grasp this point well. Regrettably, the youth in our Umma, since the time when they were stripped of weapons, no longer understand the nature of wars. One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening (others), and massacring—I am talking about jihad and fighting, not about Islam and one should not confuse them.
“Not about Islam”? “One should not confuse them”? That should not be surprising after reading Qutb’s Milestones. Qutb set out in black and white clarity the difference between Islamism and mainstream Muslims.
But never mind for now, let’s pick ourselves up and move along as if we never read that bit. . . .
We are now in circumstances resembling the circumstances after the death of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and the outbreak of apostasy or the like of that which the believers faced in the beginning of the jihad. Thus, we need to massacre (others) . . .
A large section of Management is devoted to media management. Example scenarios (e.g. hostage taking) are presented and appropriate ways to communicate with the media/public before, during and after such an operation.
Therefore, the first step in putting our plan in place should be to focus on justifying the action rationally and through the sharia and (to argue that) there is a benefit in this world and the next (for undertaking the plan).
That justification, as implied in the above words, means stressing the idealistic motives, the conformity to “true Islam” (contrary to mainstream “apostates”) — the appeal to win more idealistic jihadis.
Why Attack the Innocent?
“Paying the price” in the following refers to revenge attacks. Any hostile action by a Western power or a proxy of a Western power (e.g. Egypt) but be met by savage retaliation, to ensure a price is paid. Bolding emphasis is my own.
Here is an important point: It is best if those that undertake operations of “paying the price” are other groups in other regions against which no hostility has been directed. There are a number of benefits in this, which we will expand on in the section concerning “power” [shawka]. Among the most important benefits is making the enemy feel that he is surrounded and that his affairs are exposed. If the enemy undertakes a hostile action against a region in the Arabian Peninsula or in Iraq, then the response will occur in Morocco or Nigeria or Indonesia. This will cause embarrassment for the enemy, especially if the region in which the operation of “paying the price” occurred submits to the control of the regimes of unbelief or the regimes of apostasy. Thus, (the enemy) will not find a good arena in which to respond. Further, that operation will work to raise the morale of those who had received (the initial) hostility and communicate a practical message to Muslims in every place that we are one Umma and that assistance is not limited by borders.
And against Muslim targets, too:
In the preceding depiction, “paying the price” is not limited to the Crusader enemy. By way of example, if the apostate Egyptian regime undertakes an action to kill or capture a group of mujahids, the youth of jihad in Algeria or Morocco can direct a strike against the Egyptian embassy and issue a statement of justification, or they can kidnap Egyptian diplomats as hostages until the group of mujahids is freed, and so forth. The policy of violence must also be followed such that if the demands are not met, the hostages should be liquidated in a terrifying manner, which will send fear into the hearts of the enemy and his supporters.
The Aim is to Polarize Society
What follows is the tactic that enabled the rise of Islamic State in Iraq, or at least the precursor of the Islamic State. The following also shows that it doesn’t matter if the tactic succeeds in actually producing an Islamic State — failure will only mean more violence.
The section begins with another tirade against “mainstream Muslims”, those who call for “national unity”, who are classed with the enemy:
These groups (Muslim leaders calling for unity) are like the (Arab) Christians and the propagandists of nationalism among the secular, apostate parties; their like is legion. . . .
They even directed some people to hold meetings with the Arab Christians and the secular parties in order to find fault with the activities of the groups of jihad. . . .
The following is exactly what transpired in Iraq when Zarqawi terrorized Sunni regions so that the “silent majority” kept their heads down until a clear winner was evident. Others in fear for their lives chose to join the terrorists at an earlier stage of the campaign. Some — the few ideologues — joined willingly. This way the terrorists maximized their numbers and candidates for more martyrdom operations.
By polarization here, I mean dragging the masses into the battle such that polarization is created between all of the people. Thus, one group of them will go to the side of the people of truth, another group will go to the side of the people of falsehood, and a third group will remain neutral, awaiting the outcome of the battle in order to join the victor. We must attract the sympathy of this group and make it hope for the victory of the people of faith, especially since this group has a decisive role in the later stages of the present battle.
Dragging the masses into the battle requires more actions which will inflame opposition and which will make the people enter into the battle, willing or unwilling, such that each individual will go to the side which he supports. We must make this battle very violent, such that death is a heartbeat away [lit. “the closest thing to the souls”], so that the two groups will realize that entering this battle will frequently lead to death. That will be a powerful motive for the individual to choose to fight in the ranks of the people of truth in order to die well, which is better than dying for falsehood and losing both this world and the next. This was the policy of battle for the pioneers: to transform societies into two opposing groups, igniting a violent battle between them whose end is either victory or martyrdom, whose emblem is either glorious war or humiliating peace. One of the two opposing groups is in Paradise and the other is in Hell: “Our fallen warriors are in Paradise and their fallen warriors are in Hellfire “. [A statement attributed to `Umar, a Companion of the Prophet.] This battle alone, through its vehemence and its (ability to) separate (people), is that which will enable us to polarize the largest number of individuals toward our ranks such that we will not grieve afterwards over those who are destroyed in the other rank.
The same applies in places far away from the Middle East:
When savagery happens in several regions—whether we administer them or they are neighboring regions or further away—a spontaneous kind of polarization begins to happen among the people who live in the region of chaos. The people, seeking security, rally around the great personages of the country or a party organization or a jihadi organization or a military organization composed of the remainders of the army or the police of the regimes of apostasy.
The attacks encourage sympathizers to come out and join the jihad, especially the youth. The efforts by youth to leave their homes in the Europe, North America, Australia and join Islamic State were predicted (this is published in 2004; Islamic State was born in 2014):
We will find (by the permission of God) that along with this first step there will be a continuous emigration of the youth of other regions to our regions in order to assist them and live in them, despite the loss of lives and worldly gains [lit. “fruits”] or the pressure of the enemies upon these regions.
And the current mass emigration of refugees from the regions of violence — Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan — was also the anticipated “dream” of Naji and his Islamist thugs:
On that day we will see millions of people emigrating from the regions, fleeing the violence of battle with the regimes of apostasy or the Crusader-Zionist regimes, as happened when the battles flared up in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
His call here is to the youth who “sit at home” doing nothing about the injustices around them and goading them to join the revolutionary movement.
Idealistic and courageous youth have responded just as Naji predicted; societies have been polarized just as predicted.
And ten years after the publication of Management of Savagery the Islamic State emerged:
If we succeed in the management of this savagery, that stage (by the permission of God) will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate.
Terrorism is clearly not diminishing since 9/11. Everything seems to be going exactly according to the plan set out in Management of Savagery.
If we fail – we seek refuge with God from that – it does not mean end of the matter; rather, this failure will lead to an increase in savagery!!
Simply defeating them militarily will not work — at least if we can go by the plan set out here. Loss of areas of administration will simply mean renewed energies in terrorist attacks anywhere and everywhere. Isn’t that just what we are witnessing now as ISIS is suffering setbacks in Syria, Iraq and Libya?
I think that means we need to fight (a lot) smarter, not just harder.