Interview with Thomas Lennartz (MEOSA / SWIAC): „Militarily and politically, the fight against Islamism and jihadism cannot be won with conventional means at the moment.“
Global Review had the honor and opportunity to interview Thomas Lennartz, Director (CO) of Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts and of the Special Warfare Intelligence and Analysis Center. Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts conducts security policy studies and provides analyzes with a focus on the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and Islamic-oriented countries and societies worldwide. Your research results and analyzes are available to GOs, NGOs as well as industry and trade in the states of NATO, EU and West. Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts is committed to the Atlantic idea.
Global Review: Mr. Lennartz, as director (CO) of the Middle East and Oriental Security Analyst and the Special Warfare Intelligence and Analysis Center, you will have noticed that the US’s new National Security Strategy emphasizes the great powers China and Russia, as well as the rogue states Iran and North Korea , but puts Islamism at the very lowest level. The NATO Report 2030 by Thomas De Mazière and A. Wess Mitchell takes a similar view, although it mentions terrorism, but Islamism as a term does not appear in the document at all. On the one hand: Wasn’t it a mistake to reduce Islamism only to the terrorist manifestations, i.e. only to find it interesting to what extent forms of Islamism could affect Western territory in a terrorist manner and, on the other hand, to put Islamism so far behind and only see great power and rogue states competition ?
Thomas Lennartz: The purpose of the US National Security Strategy is, by definition, to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of the United States with its underlying values and institutions in an intact condition. This is why this US National Security Strategy or a NATO strategy must provide the broadest possible picture of an enemy „as we soldiers call it. This also includes an assessment of the size and timeliness of the respective threat. Islamism, or rather jihadism, is unfortunately only part of the spectrum. A strategy or a situation assessment always has the weakness of the ability to forecast from the moment. I agree with you that with the end of the „state“ existence of the Da’esh caliphate, Islamist or jihadist terrorism with a Sunni character was less perceived as an organized form of threat.
Only a few recognized that Da’esh had shifted its geographical focus from the Middle East to Africa and Central Asia. Nevertheless, Da’esh remains a threat in Syria and Iraq. The further the state development in Syria and Iraq is delayed, the more structures like Da’esh will solidify again. They will benefit from the predetermined breaking points in these regions, from the unresolved conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Da’esh is already working to gain control of important connecting roads. The jihadists have already collected tariffs in some places and levy taxes near their places of retreat. Da’esh’s capacity for external operations in Europe has been significantly reduced. What allowed Da’esh to carry out devastating attacks like those in Paris or Brussels was the steady influx of volunteer fighters from abroad who could be trained and sent back to kill.
But now there is no longer a caliphate into which one could immigrate, the radicalization of people or groups in the respective target states now has priority. Another shift in focus has taken place from the quasi “state” practiced jihadism of the caliphate to, I will call it “individual terrorism” of the “lone wolf”, which radicalizes itself individually. However, I expressly warn against equating Islamism and terrorism, even though the one can very well lead to the other and Islamism is the breeding ground for jihadist radicalization. In Germany we make a clear distinction between political Islam (Islamism) and its terrorist manifestations (jihadism). The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution defines Islamism as “a form of political extremism. With reference to Islam, Islamism aims at the partial or complete abolition of the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany. Islamism is based on the conviction that Islam is not only a personal, private matter, but also determines or at least partially regulates social life and the political order. Islamism postulates the existence of a divinely willed and therefore, true and absolute order that stands above the human-made orders. „
I am convinced that the fight against Islamism or jihadism cannot be won militarily or politically in the long term if the Western community cannot. to anchor their values in the minds of the people, and by that I mean not only in the minds of immigrants or people with a migration background from Islamic countries, but that even people who grew up without being Islamists in a western-influenced democracy sometimes do not have our values can or want to live, the events of recent times make it abundantly clear.
Global Review: Putin advisor and Valdai Club member Prof. Rahr assumes that the world will be divided into three parts in the medium term: a transatlantic bloc, a Eurasian bloc and an Islamist bloc. However, with the head of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, Global Review believes that we will see three Islamist belts. On the one hand, the AKP Muslim Brotherhood-dominated neo-Ottoman belt from the MENA region via the Caucasus to Pakistan and Malaysia. Second, the Iran-dominated Shiite crescent from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Hamas, to Bahrain, Yemen and northern Saudi Arabia, as well as a Boko Haram / IS / Al Shabab-dominated belt from Nigeria via the Sahel to Somalia. Most recently, the FAZ article “Why more and more people are joining Boko Haram” speaks for this thesis that the Western 5 G Sahel group and Nigeria’s security forces are likely to fail. Do you agree with the 3-belt theory and what would be the strategic consequences? Should one play the Islamists off against one another, maybe even use the AKP-Muslim Brotherhood-dominated belt as a bulwark against the IS belt, especially since Turkey is also a NATO member. Is that even possible?
Thomas Lennartz: First of all, what I said about the ability to make predictions applies here. There are certainly good reasons for each of the theories mentioned, especially since both theories do not fundamentally contradict each other. Daniel Pipes only breaks down the Islamic (not necessarily Islamist) block in his theory. The schism of Islam in Sunnah and Shia is a fact that runs across most Islamic countries regardless of geography. Iran, as a self-proclaimed Shiite leading power, will always try to exert influence through the Shiites, more in states with strong Shiite populations and less in other states. However, it will remain a latent source of unrest throughout the Islamic world. It remains to be seen whether Turkey will succeed in building a kind of neo-Ottoman empire as a hegemon. Here, too, we can probably assume that the autocrats in the Turanian-Islamic successor states of the Soviet Union would not accept this without resistance, not to mention the Sunni competitor Saudi Arabia, and the nuclear power Pakistan will hardly be subordinate either. Turkey will In addition, they have to decide whether they look to the West, NATO and Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean as a member of the EU and NATO, to Pan-Turanism towards Central Asia or to engage in the Middle East and North Africa. The state on the Bosporus will not be able to achieve everything, it would clearly overstretcj itself.
Africa is a continent on the move, here Islam is currently still trapped within ethnic boundaries, just as the continent is still suffering from its colonial past. Whether Islamist and jihadist movements will manage to unite to form an African umma across ethnic borders is still doubtful to me at the moment, as is the long-term survival of post-colonial structures and interests. I am more inclined to believe that in an Africa of the future we will see a break-up of post-colonial borders and a territorial reorganization as well as a return to African culture and religions, which could then be at the expense of the Abrahamic religions in Africa.
To come back to your question about the strategic consequences, I do not see a homogeneous Islamic bloc, like Prof. Rahr, but rather a few decades of fragmentation within the Islamic world, which does not mean that not-short-term, rapidly changing alliances against one but can also form common opponents against each other. In our case, the West will have to adjust strategically to this with a view to the Islamic world.
Let me briefly touch on Russia and China. There should be little doubt that China will grow into an economic and military super-heavyweight in the coming decades and will attain supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. Strategically, the West will have to prepare for an intensifying confrontation between the US and China. However, India and Pakistan should not be disregarded in these assessments.
As for Russia, the world’s largest country is still at a crossroads. After the end of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin completely focused on himself and replaced the communist ideology with a Christian-Russian-nationalist-orthodox one. This arouses displeasure within Russia’s numerically strong and rapidly growing Muslim community, and we will have to wait and see in which direction a successor to Putin will emerge. You will have to think in every direction and develop strategic models accordingly.
Global Review: In his criticism of the Iran deal, Trump had criticized the fact that it did not properly control the development of nuclear weapons and that even if this control were accepted, it would only mean that Islamist Iran would renounce nuclear weapons for 10 years while it was using its missile. and satellite programs, expansion in the Shiite crescent as well as support for terrorism, especially against Israel, in order to then acquire nuclear weapons on an expanded basis after the Iran deal is over. In addition, Iran wants a ring of fire around Israel with modern, precisely targeted mass rockets from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Is an Israeli-Iranian war even avoidable and can Biden advance a new Iran deal?
Thomas Lennartz: There will probably not be a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will re-enter the old treaty or seek a bilateral or trilateral agreement (USA-Israel-Iran) JCPOA treaty preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is basically idle, as is whether the International Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty does anything. After all, Iran also agreed to this on July 7, 2017, although it has not yet signed it. With such treaties we will have to rely on the contractual loyalty of the signatory states, since in today’s world it will hardly be feasible to forcibly decouple individual states from technological development. Of course, this forces us to include all options in strategic planning. A unilateral exit as under the Trump administration, however, as the world has observed, cannot be a solution, Iran relaunched its A-weapons program and put the US and, in its wake, Israel under dangerous pressure. At the moment it looks as if Iran is building its long- and medium-range missile program only as a threatening gesture and instead is trying to involve Israel in a hybrid attrition war through its proxies, which it is equipping in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. In my opinion, Iran is currently only paying lip service to the destruction of Israel (in the long term, of course, it remains the declared aim of the mullahs), it seems to have been postponed in favor of another strategic line. According to my observation, Iran is trying to gain a foothold in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the short and medium term. The intermediate goal seems to be the establishment of a passage to the Mediterranean. If they can secure ports in Syria and Lebanon – and the necessary supplies there – for Iran, the strategic options would fundamentally change not only for Israel but also for Europe.
Global Review: Is the fight against Islamism feasible in terms of security or is there not also a need for a deradicalization strategy that requires an ideological propaganda offensive, perhaps with a kind of anti-Islamist Al Jazzerra and the fight against parallel societies and the promotion of reform Islam, as formulated in Macron’s Islamic speech? In the FAZ call “An answer to political Islam is necessary” by Lucia Puttrich (CDU), Hessian Minister of State for Federal and European Affairs and authorized representative of the State of Hesse at the federal level and Professor Dr. Susanne Schröter, Director of the Frankfurt Research Center Global Islam, both support Macron’s Islamic speech and his demands. What would a comprehensive anti-Islamism concept look like?
Thomas Lennartz: I’ve actually already answered this question. Militarily and politically, the fight against Islamism and jihadism cannot be won by conventional means at the moment. The conflict must take place in the minds of the people, as I already explained at the beginning. Of course, this includes de-radicalization and information strategies. The integration of Muslims into our society, equal opportunities, the promotion of language skills and the independent training of Islamic clergy at our universities are just as important. However, all of this must take into account our values of democracy, reasonable tolerance and freedom of expression; dull counter-propaganda would only pull us down to the level of jihadism. Crimes, criminals and terrorists must, however, be fought with all necessary severity. The western states must leave no room for doubt about their determination.
Of course, this can only happen within our borders and population. For deradicalization in the countries of origin, other strategies must be considered. This includes, above all, an improvement in local living conditions, but also the „state building“ that is often criticized by interested circles or that is defamed as having failed.The enforcement of state power in “failed states”under conditions of state change have to be strengthened. In addition, states in processes of change or those with weak state structures have to face the challenges that the (re) establishment of state structures and tasks brings with it. It must be possible to provide assistance in this regard, without us bringing ideological or financial reservations to the fore.
Charles Tilly, American historian, political scientist and sociologist, describes State Building as follows: “State Building provides for the creation of skilled personnel, control over the consolidated territory, the loyalty and permanence, permanent institutions with a centralized and autonomous state that has a monopoly of power over a certain population. „
Global Review: How do you assess the development of Islamism in the Greater Middle East and can the West or NATO even stop the advance of Islamism in terms of security and military policy? Especially since NATO only wants to turn to China and Russia and maybe also to terrorism?
Thomas Lennartz: I think I have already discussed this question. Your question suggests that you assess jihadist terrorism as different from other types of terror. I cannot agree with that. Terrorism as a means of achieving political and military goals is as old as the world and counter-terrorism must recognize and combat terrorist threats as a whole. Defense against terrorism at home is primarily the task of the police authorities and intelligence services. Military and supranational political alliances like NATO can only see counter-terrorism as part of their mission, so NATO’s objective of focusing on rival threats and terrorism, as you describe it, is the way to go. A military option can and will achieve limited or partial success. The Da’esh Caliphate could be wiped out as a territory by military means, but as we have seen, Da’esh is still active as a terrorist group, as is the „parent organization“ al-Qaeda and numerous jihadist militias that are based on Da ‚esh and al-Qaeda and are part of them. Terrorism, whether Islamic or otherwise, is part of hybrid or decentralized warfare (4th Generation Warfare) and is particularly prevalent in complex and long-term conflicts of low intensity, non-national or transnational, highly decentralized hostilities, as well as disputes in which the conditions laid down under international law War and peace are blurred and in which actors act who would have to justify themselves to the international community using conventional methods, unfortunately continue to find their place and we will have to align our strategic options accordingly