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Violence and Terrorism >
Is there a global jihad today?

Although jihad has been throughout the centuries and still is an important belief and practice, since the last half of the twentieth century, a globalization of jihad has occurred in religious thought and in action. On the one hand, jihad's primary Quranic religious and spiritual aspects—the “struggle” or effort to follow God's path, to lead a good life—remain central to Muslim spirituality. On the other hand, the concept of armed jihad has became more widespread, and has been used by resistance and liberation movements, as well as by extremist and terrorist organizations to legitimate, recruit, and motivate their followers.

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Muslim extremist groups primarily focused their attention locally, within their own countries. With the exception of bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993 and in Paris in 1995, most attacks against Westerners occurred within Muslim countries, from Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Indonesia. America and Europe remained secondary targets, “the far enemy.” But because of their military and economic support for oppressive regimes, hatred and fear of Western nations continued to build.

The 1979–89 Soviet-Afghan war marked a turning point; jihad went global in an unprecedented way. The globalization of the war in Afghanistan could be seen in the countries that supported it, the mass communications that covered it, and the way in which the mass media made it an immediate reality around the world. It took place during the Cold War, at a time when Western and many Muslim nations feared both the spread of Communism and Khomeini's export of the Iranian revolution. While many in America, Europe, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States condemned Iran's “evil” jihad, both Western and Muslim governments embraced and were anxious to support Afghanistan's “good” jihad against the Soviets with money, weapons, and advisers. The globalization of communications, technology, and travel heightened a new consciousness of the transnational identity and interconnectedness of the Islamic community (ummah). Events in Afghanistan were followed across the Muslim world on a daily, hourly basis. This reinforced a sense of solidarity and identification with this righteous struggle. The mujahidin holy war drew Muslims from many parts of the world. Regardless of their national origin, these fighters came to be called the Afghan Arabs.

In the aftermath of the Afghan war, the new global jihad became the common symbol and rallying cry for holy and unholy wars. The mujahidin and Taliban in Afghanistan and Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo, the southern Philippines, and Uzbekistan cast their armed struggles as jihads. Hizbollah, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), and Islamic Jihad Palestine have characterized violence and opposition against Israel as jihad. Al-Qaeda (the Base), through leader Osama bin Laden, claimed to be waging a global jihad against corrupt Muslim governments and the West.

Afghan Arabs moved on to fight other jihads in their home countries and in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Central Asia. Others stayed on or were trained and recruited in the new jihadi madrasas and training camps.

An outgrowth of the Afghan war was the development of a global jihad ideology among militants who saw Afghanistan as but one step in a global war against “un-Islamic” Muslim governments and the West. The policies of many authoritarian and oppressive Muslim regimes proved to be catalysts for radicalization and terrorism both within their countries and directed toward their Western supporters.

Al-Qaeda (modern in its use of technology: computers, faxes, Internet, cell phones, weapons), its affiliates, and other radical groups represent a new form of terrorism, born of transnationalism and globalization. They are transnational in identity and recruitment and global in ideology, strategy, targets, network of organizations, and economic transactions. Individuals and groups, religious and lay, have seized the right to declare and legitimate unholy wars in the name of Islam.

Terrorists like bin Laden and others go beyond classical Islam's criteria for a just jihad and recognize no limits but their own, employing any weapons and any means. They reject Islamic law's regulations regarding the goals and means of a valid jihad: that violence must be proportional and that only the necessary amount of force should be used to repel the enemy; that innocent civilians should not be targeted; and that jihad must be declared by the ruler or head of state.

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