The Caliphate will cali-fail because of administrative incompetence

As the great general and military strategist Carl von Clausewitz noted in his 1832 book On War, war ‘necessarily involves the feelings’. War is waged as much in our emotions as it is on the battlefield. Each side tries to maintain their own emotional resolve and self-command, while at the same time using violence, shock, and unremitting pressure to ‘wear down’ the enemy’s emotional resources until their will is broken and they submit.

Clausewitz was writing in the early 1800s, after the Napoleonic wars, and paid little attention to the unconventional warfare of terrorism. But his theory holds true for the war between Jihadism and the rest of the world. Terrorism is a form of war aimed at the emotions of civilian populations - like the city-bombing campaigns of World War II. Our emotions are part of the battlefield.

This week, I had the dubious pleasure of reading a sort of Jihadist version of On War, called The Management of Savagery. It appeared online in 2004, apparently written by an Egyptian Jihadist then fighting in Iraq, and offers a roadmap for waging Jihad and establishing a Caliphate.

According to this roadmap, we’re now in what’s called ‘the time of vexation’, where small Jihadi groups attack infidel states and their citizens, creating horror. It is easy to create horror among us, the author says, because we are ‘soft’, ‘effeminate’, ‘atheist’, pleasure-seeking, wanting only to protect our luxurious lifestyles while ignoring the inequities in our society. This ‘stage of effeminacy’ makes us ‘unable to sustain battles for a long period of time’.

Compare us to the Mujahideen, who understands that ‘softness is one of the ingredients for the failure of any jihadi action’. He understands that jihad is ‘nought but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening and massacring’. He aspires to be like the companions of the Prophet, who burned unbelievers ‘because they knew the effect of rough violence in times of need’. He accepts without tears the loss of his own life, his family's lives, his soldiers's lives, and the lives of innocent men, women and children, because ‘this is war’.

Alas, the author notes, too many Muslims have become unwilling to embrace brutality. But young people offer some hope - with their ‘pure, innate nature’ they are more prepared to follow the path of extreme violence.

While the Jihadi is habituated to violence, we want war by remote control, by professional armies, by drone and missile, on the enemy’s streets far away, out of sight. So when violence comes onto our streets, into our sight, we are horrified. Our emotions overwhelm our strategic reasoning, and we over-react, demanding immediate response from our government, who then act in ways that are counter-productive: rejecting refugees, turning on our own Muslim citizens, randomly bombing enemy-occupied cities so as to create more traumatized young people willing to die for revenge. This creates the polarisation Jihadis seek - their aim is to ‘transform societies into two opposing groups’.

The continued terrorist attacks makes us vexed to exhaustion, and we seek reconciliation with the enemy - this reconciliation enables the Jihadi ‘to catch their breath and progress…We do not believe in an armistice with the infidel’. We withdraw into our shell, retreating from the peripheries of the world and letting them fall into chaos. And then, out of this chaos, the Jihadis establish ‘the management of savagery’ - their own grand state, the Caliphate.

Administrative incompetence

Yet how well can Jihadi groups actually manage large-scale administration? This is the soft underbelly of Islamic radicalism - their administrative incompetence. And it is this, ultimately, which will defeat the idea, just as Marxism was defeated by the administrative incompetence of successive regimes in the USSR, China, Cuba and North Korea.

The Management of Savagery notes that the greatest challenge facing the movement is lack of administrative know-how. The ‘time is coming’ when ‘hundreds of thousands’ will ‘require administration’ (Islamic State now has a population of 10 million). One Jihadi asked the author anxiously, ‘who will take over the ministry of agriculture, trade, economics etc?’

This showed a lack of faith, the author insists. The Jihadi can - must - learn ‘the art of management’. ‘We must make use of books on the subject of administration, especially management studies and theories which have been recently published. There is more than one site on the Internet in which one can obtain management books’, the author notes hopefully. He even tries his hand at management wisdom: ‘Every leader is a manager, but not every manager is a leader.’ Nice.

Anyway,  the way of the Mujahadeen is ‘the way of limbs, blood, corpses. It is not prerequisite that they be prepared for agriculture, trade and industry’. That can be taken care of by ‘paid employees who are not members of the movement’.

It is a telling moment. The author appears more scared of 'agriculture, trade and industry' than 'limbs, blood and corpses'. The latter is home terrain, the former enemy territory. So he quickly turns away from worrying bureacratic questions, to the reassuring tone of charismatic prophecy. ‘By God! It is as if I see the mujahids given victory in the Arabian Peninsula…The throngs will apply themselves (by the aid of God) to liberating Jerusalem and that which surrounds it and liberating Bukhara, Samarkand, Andalusia, and we will begin liberating the earth and humanity from the hegemony of unbelief and tyranny through the power of God.’ Right. Never mind the frightening challenge of administration. Everything will be OK in the End.

Except it won’t. History teaches us that utopian states fail because of their own administrative incompetence - from the apocalyptic Anabaptist movements of the Reformation, to the Commonwealth of the Puritans, to the USSR. With their eyes turned to heaven, utopians let everything turn to crap on earth. And eventually the masses become sick of them, because they cannot provide them with quality of life - security, comfort, well-being, free thought, joy. So the author is right to fear the challenge of bureaucracy - it is the nemesis of charismatic political movements.

Western liberal civilisation, meanwhile, offers better administration, better government, better hospitals, schools and universities, better economies, better freedoms and opportunities to follow your dreams. That also means more freedom to seek God, to seek His truth rather than the truth as defined by any ruling class. Theocracies place too much power and faith in elite priesthoods rather than in God. The Caliphate is a false idol.

The Caliphate will Caliphail because of its own administrative incompetence. But its failure may take some time. It’s almost an argument for letting it exist, so that people can see the failure of the dream when it becomes reality.

In the meantime, our enemies will try to vex us, and we must refuse to be vexed. In the long emotional battle of wills, what Clausewitz called ‘the intoxication of enthusiasm’ doesn't last forever, and the hangover is a bitch.