Notes on U.S. and western jihadis returning home

1.) As America enters the seventeenth year of the war that much of Islam formally began waging against it in 1996, American and other Western Muslims have been traveling to support and/or fight alongside the mujahideen since the mid-1980s.

  • The first Western jihadis went to fight with the Afghan mujahideen against the Red Army in the mid-1980s.
  • Westerners continued to trickle into the jihads in such places as the North Caucasus, Somalia, and the Balkans in the 1990s, but the big increase in their numbers occurred after Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States in August, 1996, and especially after al-Qaeda’s impressive victories on 9/11.
  • Today, Syria and Somalia seem to be the most prominent destinations for U.S. and Western Muslim fighters, although some have turned up in North Africa and the Sahel as well.

2.) From the 1980s through today, U.S. Muslim citizens who go overseas to fight jihad return to America with several attributes, some old and some knew, but all strongly held.

  • They return home, of course, with the same religious faith that motivated to travel abroad to fight, but it will be strengthened by the simple fact that they were on the winning side.
  • Since 1996, America has been engaged in what is preeminently a religious war for those who are waging it, not withstanding the deliberately misleading protests against this reality by our last three presidents.
  • That American Muslim fighters have traveled, fought, survived, won, and returned home safely proves two things to themselves, their families, and their religious communities:
  • God was pleased by their actions and ensured they were successful.
  • And for the younger people in the U.S. Muslim community — especially for young males — they will become role models in terms of an individual fulfilling his religious responsibility to defend Islam.
  • They also will return with increased talent in the use of small arms and explosives — a teachable talent — and with increased skills at building covert organizations. They will likewise return with confidence that victory is possible. They and their colleagues know that they inflicted humiliating defeats on the U.S. and NATO militaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that knowledge will boost morale and recruitment.
  • Finally, the American fighters will return with a greatly enhanced knowledge of and contacts with other similarly minded men from across the Muslim world. All of the jihads to which American Muslims travel are fought by locals and an assortment of other men from countries that span the globe. The Americans will come home fully aware that the movement bin Laden started and led is now truly international in scope, and is quickly growing in numbers and geographical reach. They also will come home with a list of contacts among their fellow mujahideen from whom they can seek advice or more material forms of assistance.

3.) As I noted at the start, the subject of our discussion today is about a phenomenon that is nearly 40 years old. It is clearly more dangerous today than ever before, but the factors that cause the problem — the factors that motivate young Muslim Americans to jihad — have been the same over time.

  • And while there are a number of factors that motivate these young people — including Saudi-sponsored and funded religious education in the United States, and the bonds of family, clan, tribe, and nationalism that remain strong and vibrant even after immigration — the first and most important motivation for these American Muslims to go to war is the bipartisan and interventionist foreign policy of the U.S. government and the existence of Israel and numerous un-Islamic tyrannies in the Arab world, all supported by the United States.
  • Indeed, since Laden declared war on America in 1996, al-Qaeda and its allies have had — from their perspective —only two indispensable allies: Allah and U.S. and Western interventionism.

4.) To conclude my opening statement, I would say that while what American Muslim mujahideen bring back with them from jihad is important, what they find in the United States upon returning is will be much more important in motivating what I believe will become combat situations — like the recent event in Nairobi and others much worse — in the United States over the next decade.

  • And what they will find on their return will be a steady-as-she-goes interventionist U.S. foreign policy which has been a constant for more than thirty years.
  • We will be continuing to unquestionably arm, support, and justify Israel.
  • We will continue to support tyranny in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
  • We will continue preaching democracy but stand ready to immediately intervene to undermine fairly elected governments in places like Palestine and Egypt.
  • And certainly most dangerous for U.S. national security, we will continue to prosecute the clash of civilizations, initiated by President Bush and accelerated by President Obama and Mrs. Clinton, designed to impose secularism, democracy, and women’s rights on an Islamic world ready and willing to fight forced Westernization to the death.
  • In terms of the length of our war with Islam, this attempt to teach our little, brown Muslim brothers to be just like us will lengthen the war every bit as much as the unprovoked and unnecessary military interventions in Libya, Mali, and Iraq.

5.) And if you think that I place too much emphasis on the motivation provided to U.S. citizens and other Western mujahideen by U.S. and Western interventionism, I would draw your attention to the reality that, to the best of my knowledge, neither we nor any of our NATO partners have yet to capture a Western Islamist fighter whose words or documents have shown a motivation to attack based on hatred for liberty, elections, or gender equality. Invariably, they attribute their motivation to U.S. and Western military intervention in the Islamic world and U.S. and Western support for Israel and various Muslim tyrannies.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and he helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.