Pentagon-Fired Expert’s Thesis on Jihad, Terrorism and Islamic Law

(The following is a close look at the thesis of Major Stephen Coughlin, prepared by LB with comments by RL)

The fact that Coughlin is being fired for pressing his approach to Islam — take Islam seriously in its own terms — illustrates what’s wrong with Western policy circles, even those whose primary role is our defense.

Major Stephen Coughlin is one of the Pentagon’s premier experts on Islamic law and Islamism. In March, he will become the Pentagon’s former expert. Reports coming from the Pentagon in the past month have indicated that after submitting his Master’s thesis, Coughlin was fired from the Joint Staff after he fell into the bad graces of Hasham Islam, a key aide to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. Islam and England have been aggressively reaching out to American Muslim groups, including the Islamic Society of North America, a group many critics call a front for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. During a meeting several weeks ago, Islam confronted Coughlin and called him “a Christian zealot with a pen.” The Pentagon decided that Coughlin was too controversial, and terminated his contract, effective this March.

The episode highlights intellectual weakness in the nation’s defense policy establishment and the influence of demopaths like Heshem Islam who is also a zealot with a pen who favors autobiographical fantasy. The Pentagon has apparently decided on an outlook that dictates that mainstream Islam stands for peace, that the Jihadi zealots represent a hi-jacking of the “true” religion, and will not countenance any evidence to the contrary. It also illustrates the way in which this “politically correct” approach acts as a form of cultural disarmament.

Coughlin’s recent 333 page Master’s thesis for the National Defense Intelligence College, entitled “To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad“, is well researched, well argued and fairly straightforward. That his recommendations are being sidelined makes one pessimistic about the direction of the intellectual underpinnings of U.S. defense policy.

Coughlin calls for a dispassionate analysis of the Jihadi threat. He argues that our enemies base their statements and actions in Islamic law, and use Islamic legal language, therefore our only way to seriously understand their motives and intentions is to listen to what they are saying and analyze it in the context of Islamic law.

According to Coughlin, it is irrelevant if Islam stands for peace or not. Even if most Muslims do not share the specifically Jihadist reading of Islam, Jihadi positions are grounded in mainstream Islamic law, and their language is rooted exclusively in Islamic terms. Coughlin calls the dominant contemporary intellectual approach the Current Approach what we at the Augean Stable call the PCP. The “Current Approach,” he argues, is useless because it refuses to acknowledge the doctrinal basis of the terrorists’ actions. Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about the danger of ignoring our enemies’ declared intentions on The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq at the National Defense University on December 1, 2005:

Likewise, the nature of today’s jihadist enemies can only be understood within the context of their declared strategic doctrine to dominate the world. Just as we ignored Mein Kampf ” to our great detriment” prior to World War II, so we are on the verge of suffering a similar fate today.

Of course, that is a comparison that, according to the rules of political correctness, cannot be made. And not being able to make it is part of our cultural disarmament. We are not permitted to even imagine that we might have an enemy as ruthless and imperialist as the Nazis. Just as it would be an insult to all Germans to call them Nazis, so it would be an insult to all Muslims to call them Jihadis. But what if a similar dynamic was at work whereby a small but dynamic minority began to gain inordinate influence over the larger majority? Could we not talk about it? And should honest Muslims, like honest Germans, be throttling such a discussion because it offends them? Whose side are they on? That of decency, or Islam “right or wrong”?

Coughlin starts with fundamental questions that, if answered honestly, should lead to an accurate understanding of the threat.

Why have we failed to do a doctrine-based threat assessment?
What is the doctrinal basis of the jihadi threat?
How can we come to understand the jihadi threat?

The efforts to define the doctrinal basis to the Jihadi threats were hampered in the first days after 9/11 by President Bush’s adamant assertions that Islam is a religion of peace, and the extraordinary assertion (for an outsider) those who commit violence in the name of Islam misread their religious texts and law.

Following the catastrophic events of 9-11 when 19 Muslim men attacked U.S. targets for reasons associated with jihad in furtherance of Islamic goals, President George Bush made broad statements that held Islam harmless:
The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.

While there is little doubt the President made these comments to allay fears in the Muslim community while staring-down thoughts of vigilante justice in some circles, his statements exerted a chilling effect on those tasked to define the enemy’s doctrine by effectively placing a policy bar on the unconstrained analysis of Islamic doctrine as a basis for this threat.

There is a faulty assumption of an underlying cause for terrorism that has pervaded the thinking on the Jihadi threat. That assumption is that poverty and despair lead to terrorism, even when the facts stand against that conclusion.

As recently as 15 May 2007, from the same utterance in which he acknowledged that “it is true that terrorist leaders seem more often than not to come from middle-class backgrounds,” U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson counterfactually asserted that “most people would find it hard to argue against the idea that [the underlying cause of] terrorist violence arises, sociologically speaking, out of poverty, despair, hopelessness and resentment.”

The logic behind insisting on poverty as the source of terrorism is, like so much of PCP, a desire to have a solution we can implement: we [think we] know how to deal with poverty and getting rid of that is a good liberal goal, so kill two birds with one stone. But even some economists — who have every professional motivation to adopt this position — disagree.

And yet, the defense community apparently still does not understand the enemy’s motivation (transgressing against Sun Tzu’s cardinal rule, “Know Thy Enemy”), which comes entirely from Islamic doctrine. Before we can understand the enemy and predict his intentions, the U.S. planners must have a solid grasp of what the terrorists themselves say motivates them.

More than five years into the War on Terror (WOT) against a threat that defines itself in Islamic terms, the national security community does not understand the most basic Islamic doctrines that the enemy self-identifies as being its primary motivating factor.

In 2006, Republican congressional intelligence leaders could not explain any difference between Sunni and Shia in response to a reporter’s questions. When Democrats took over later that year, the situation was no better. Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Democratic Chairman of the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence (and senior member of the Armed Services Committee), told the same reporter that al-Qaeda was predominantly Shia.

The “Current Approach” is characterized by two contradictory assertions, often made by the same individual- “Islam is a religion of peace” and “No one can say what Islam really stands for. There are a thousand ways to interpret Islam”. The intelligence establishment has a harmful practice of outsourcing crucial intelligence to experts who support the current approach and demand that the recipients of their expertise follow suit. Ironically, it’s as if the “Islamic experts” who adhere to the “Current Approach” get to inform the intelligence community on a “need to know basis.” Except that here, what we don’t know will hurt us.

Current Approach advocates are willing to make themselves available to help enforce this standard by providing decisionmakers and analysts with the information they are permitted to know under the sole condition that it be accepted both uncritically and unconditionally.

Coughlin disputes the characterization of Jihadists as extremists. They are directly inspired and guided by mainstream Islamic law, and calling them extremist suggests that their interpretation places them outside of standard understanding of that law. Regardless of whether they are misinterpreting Islam or not, the fact that they derive their direction and inspiration from specific, fundamental Islamic laws means that those laws are exactly what we should be studying in order to understand the enemy.

Specifically, “extremist” doctrine calls for a return to Islamic law, Islamic governance, a return of the Caliphate and the willingness to wage Jihad (which we call terrorism) in furtherance thereof. If these views accurately reflect the core principles of the enemy in the WOT and its followers believe it, act in furtherance of it, and are willing to kill because of it, then this is the idea-based doctrine that represents a threat to the United States, its citizens and allies.

The problem centers around the issue of why at any time Jihadi tendencies manifest in Islam. The “Islam is a religion of peace” school wants to argue that it’s only marginal minorities who exceptionally gain influence against the normative tradition of moderation. The “Islam is a belligerent religion” school wants to argue that the normative vision of Islam is war against the infidel, and only a sense of weakness or isolation lead to non-belligerent behavior.

In the West, much of the focus is spent fitting understanding of the Jihadist threat into our models and assumptions. Coughlin warns against this, and says, simply,

At the doctrinal level, understanding them has nothing to do with us.

The post-modernists, who regularly emphasize the “epistemological priority” of the (oppressed) “other” should take a page from Coughlin’s book. Rather than robbing them of their autonomy and treating them as an extension of our own mindset, we need to listen to them. Evaluating and understanding Jihadists through the prism of Islam is of the utmost importance. It is the difference between concluding that they act irrationally and understanding their past actions and potentially their next move. This “current approach” does precisely what its advocates try and avoid: it robs the “other” of his identity and turns him into a pale reflection of our hegemonic vision: The Jihadis must use our reason, not theirs.

Through the Cold War, national security analysts and decisionmakers evaluated the Soviet threat based on its known doctrine. Soviet military commanders trained their forces using Soviet warfighting doctrine and their competencies and capabilities were evaluated based on their conformance to it. When commanders deviated, they were evaluated to determine if they broke from it because they were inadequate to the task or whether instead they exceeded its parameters through sheer command of the operational art. In all cases, the evaluation was templated against the Soviet doctrine that defined their rules of engagement. If, rather than evaluating Soviet military commanders based on their doctrine, national security analysts and decisionmakers used U.S. warfighting standards, those analysts and decisionmakers would have concluded that Soviet warfighting was incoherent and therefore difficult to explain rationally. A Soviet meeting engagement was not the same as a U.S. movement to contact. This was true even as they appeared the same in battle because they reflected two different concepts of the battle based on competing theories of war. Islam is not Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism. Islamic law is not U.S. Constitutional, English common or European civil law.

Hence, to measure against those standards, or to allow Current Approach advocates to explain along those lines, is to find incoherence and an inability to explain – or predict – the rational decisions of a rational threat. This often leads one to erroneously conclude that we are facing an irrational threat making irrational decisions. Before being able to generate the ability to reliably plan against terrorism perpetuated in the name of Islam, one must first know Islamic doctrine and then Islamic doctrine as it relates to Islamic concepts of war.

This is crucial on two levels. If we want them to be rational, rather than understand their reasons, we project our own — “terrorism is caused by poverty, despair” — if we acknowledge that these cognitive band-aids are unsupported by empirical evidence, then they must be irrational. Anything but the acknowledgment that what drives them is precisely the kind of ideology that we rejected in order to establish civil society.

The paper then turns to Islamic law. Coughlin uses sources written by Muslims for Muslims, and uses Sunni sources that are widespread and accepted, and tries to stay away from Sunni teachings from the Hanbali school or contested Shi’ite sources, so one cannot claim that is a specifically Wahabbi or Salafi problem that does not reflect the rest of Islamic doctrine.

Stephen Schwartz, a convert to Islam, in the introduction to his book The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and its Role in Terrorism said: “Despite the proliferation of terrorist groups with diverse sounding names and backers, the real source of our problem is the perversion of Islamic teachings by the fascistic Wahhabi cult that resides at the heart of the Saudi establishment, our putative friends in the region.”

Islamic law is a dominant feature in the legal systems of all Arab and most Muslim countries. Even the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions proclaimed that Islamic law is the basis for their own laws and that no national law can conntradict or supersede it.

The two constitutions that the U.S. Government played a role in drafting provide strong deference to the role and supremacy of Islamic law that includes permissive language that supports “extremist” demands to constitutionally subordinate constitutional language with superseding requirements from Islamic law. A principle objective of “extremist” groups like al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood is the implementation of Islamic law in Muslim countries. Current Approach advocates failed to provide meaningful insight into how language in the Afghan and Iraqi Constitutions undercut democratic principles.

Terrorists blame Arab governments for betraying Islamic law by not supporting them, and they do have grounds for demanding that moderate Arab countries comply with Islamic law and join them in jihad against infidels. This is, incidentally, what Bin Laden used the Al Durah footage for: by emphasizing the impotence of Muslim leaders to avenge this lad’s death at the hands of the Jews, he destabilized them all.

If the national security community truly believes that the Current Approach accurately reflects the true state of events when asserting that “extremists” have taken “extreme” interpretations of Islamic law in furtherance of their “extreme” agendas, they should be on notice that, if such “extreme” language can be located and validated in the ‘Umdat al Salik, then it may reflect the end-state rule of law that the Islamic governments we currently assess as moderate should be following if they actually governed according to their national constitutions.

In other words, the moderates are moderate only by virtue of the fact that they’re not living up to the demands of their own religion’s law, and are therefore highly vulnerable to attack from the zealot “fringe.” Thus, identifying key elements of Islamic law that are inflexible should be a primary goal. Thus, the national security community will have a concrete test for determining what legal basis Jihadists operate on, and will not have to speculate in what way each precept is interpreted by individual Muslims.

The operating assumption will be that, once a doctrinal belief has been identified and confirmed, policy options that operate on the erroneous belief that such concepts are either passive, peripheral or malleable elements that can be manipulated to accommodate national security policies should be disfavored. The reverse will also be true. When an element of Islamic doctrine is properly assessed to be a non-optional element of belief, then questions concerning the subjective belief of individual Muslims will not be relevant to the ultimate determination of the issue in question… Applying the standard, the Muslim jurist could ask whether it reasonable for professionals in the American national security community with responsibility for the WOT to argue that they are unfamiliar with Islamic drivers to terrorism when the “extremists” explicitly state that they fight jihad in furtherance of those same Islamic principles?

Coughlin then identifies some of those basic tenets, and shows how ‘extremists’ root their ideas in standard Muslim law. For instance, the relationship with other monotheistic religions-

While Islamic objections to previously valid religions may cause problems with Western concepts of interfaith tolerance, from an Islamic context Jews and Christians can be tolerated by simply submitting to Islamic law, accepting submission, and paying the jizyah as stated in the Qur’an at Verse 9:29. This may not be the interfaith tolerance outreach member had in mind, but it may be the only kind Islamic law recognizes…

Sayed Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and author of extensive works on the Qur’an, believed that all societies that are not Muslim societies are Jahili (in a state of ignorance characteristic of before Muhammad’s revelation):
The Jahili society is any society other than the Muslim society … All Jewish and Christian societies today are also Jahili societies. They have distorted the original beliefs and ascribe certain attributes of Allah to other beings. This association with Allah has taken many forms, such as the Sonship of Allah or the Trinity; sometimes it is expressed in a concept of Allah which is remote from the true reality of Allah. (149, 150)
For this reason, contact with Jahili societies are to be limited:
The correct procedure is to mix with discretion, give and take with dignity, speak truth with love, and show the superiority of the Faith with humility. After all this, we must realize the fact that we live in the midst of Jahiliyyah, and that the change from Jahiliyyah to Islam is vast and far reaching. (262, 263)
With Bridges between Jahili and Muslim societies running in only one direction:
The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so that the people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that the people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam … (263)
Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones, Salimiah, Kuwait: International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations. 1978 [Written in prison pending execution, 1966].

Many argue that Qutb represents an extreme position, even if that underestimates both the extent to which Qutb is popular, especially in neo-Islamic circles (i.e., the new, global identity of Muslims in the Western diaspora). But it’s harder to argue that his challenge to “moderate” Muslim regimes like Mubarak’s does not carry great weight among believing Muslims. And this argument (that Qutb represents an extreme reading of Islamic law) minimizes Qutb’s connection to mainstream Islamic legal opinion on Jihad. There is nothing in Qutb’s writings that contradicts Belgian scholar Armand Arbel’s (the scholar who wrote the Dar al-Harb entry in the Encyclopedia of Islam) assessment of classical Jihad theory-


    For the Believer, the Koran presents the obligation to make war “in the way of God”. At the time when this text was revealed, it was justified by the need to defend the community at Medina against the attacks of the “polytheists” of Mecca, and by the need to extend and enrich it at the expense of the Judeo-Christians, in particular the Jews of Khaybar. To all people, the book offered conversion as a means of making peace. To the People of the Book, it left the choice between conversion and “redemption”, which at first was understood along the lines of the ancient manner in which the Arabs waged war, whereby the captive repurchased his freedom and his life at the cost of humiliation and a ransom.The hadith that shows the Prophet writing “to” Negus, “to” Caesar”, “to” Khosroès, in order to invite them to convert, is nothing but the seal of approval placed on this pretense, incorporating it into the totality of tradition that serves as a guide to the Umma. Together with the duty of the “war in the way of God” (or jihad), this universalistic aspiration would lead the Moslems to see the world as being divided fundamentally into two parts. On the one hand there was that part of the world where Islam prevailed, where salvation had been announced, where the religion that ought to reign was practiced; this was the Dar ul Islam. On the other hand, there was the part which still awaited the establishment of the saving religion and which constituted, by definition, the object of the holy war. This was the Dar ul Harb. The latter, in the view of the Moslem jurists, was not populated by people who had a natural right not to practice Islam, but rather by people destined to become Moslems who, through impiousness and rebellion, refused to accept this great benefit. Since they were destined sooner or later to be converted at the approach of the victorious armies of the Prophet’s successor, or else killed for their rebelliousness, they were the rebel subjects of the Caliph. Their kings were nothing but odious tyrants who, by opposing the progress of the saving religion together with their armies, were following a Satanic inspiration and rising up against the designs of Providence. And so no respite should be granted them, no truce: perpetual war should be their lot, waged in the course of the winter and summer ghazu. [razzias] If the sovereign of the country thus attacked desired peace, it was possible for him, just like for any other tributary or community, to pay the tribute for himself and for his subjects. Thus the [Byzantine] Empress Irene [d. 803] “purchased peace at the price of her humiliation”, according to the formula stated in the dhimma contract itself, by paying 70,000 pounds in gold annually to the Caliph of Baghdad. Many other princes agreed in this way to become tributaries – often after long struggles – and to see their dominions pass from the status of dar al Harb to that of dar al Sulh. In this way, those of their subjects who lived within the boundaries of the territory ruled by the Caliphate were spared the uncertainty of being exposed arbitrarily, without any guarantee, to the military operations of the summer ghazu and the winter ghazu: indeed, anything within the reach of the Moslem armies as they advanced, being property of impious men and rebels, was legitimately considered their booty; their men, seized by armed soldiers, were mercilessly consigned to the lot specified in the Koranic verse about the sword, and their women and children were treated like things. (Hat tip to AB)

Coughlin uses a mainstream 7th grade American Muslim textbook to how the same doctrines that drive the ‘extremists’ are taught in places considered moderate. Some of Coughlin’s links between the textbook and more pernicious aspects of Islamic law may strike the hostile reader as tenuous. The point is not that these young students are being indoctrinated directly into Jihadi principles, but that the normative principles of basic Islamic education provide the basis for the Jihadi doctrine.

Because it is doctrine, the primacy of Islam is taught to 7th grade American Muslim students today:
The Jews and Christians are invited by Allah to examine and accept His last revelation“. (5:15)
If any do so, they will be fulfilling the ultimate purpose of all the Prophets.” (4:172-175)
If they reject it arrogantly and say Allah only sent revelation to them, then they close their hearts and invite destruction upon themselves.” (5:18)
Those whom Allah wills to guide, He opens their hearts to Islam. Those whom He wills to leave straying, He makes their hearts closed and constricted as if they were climbing up into the skies. Allah (increases) the penalty on those who refuse to believe.” (6:125)220

Relying on respected Muslim legal scholars, Coughlin finds that their mainstream interpretation of Muslim law maintains basic precepts that Jihadists rely on.

In his book Theories of Islamic Law: The Methodology of Ijtihad, Imran Ashan Khan Nyazee discusses how the methodology of ijtihad can be used to extend Islamic law as the basis for all law in the Muslim state. Although a Hanafi jurist and Pakistani law professor, Nyazee relies on a methodology developed by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, a pre-eminent 11th century Shafi’i (and sufi) authority, to develop concepts of ijtihad tailored to meet the daily needs of governance in a contemporary Islamic society under Hanafi Islamic law. A serious legal treatise written by an Islamic legal scholar, Nyazee positions jihad as part of his larger overall treatment of Islamic governance:

    What are the goals of the Muslim community? The moment the maqasid are viewed as the goals of the Muslim community, the interest of Din moves up and represents its external goals. The positive aspect of this interest conveys a single goal: to spread the message of Islam in the whole world. The instrument utilized for attaining this goal is da’wah in conjunction with jihad. There are numerous opinions on the meaning and role of jihad in the modern age. These however, are not relevant for the present study as weare looking for the traditional point of view. What is relevant is the opinion of the jurists, and hence the law on this point.

Limiting his analysis of jihad to the fixed elements of Islamic law, Nyazee finds:

    • That this leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizyah] is to be exercised only after subjugation• That the aggressive propagation of Islam and the activity of jihad can be suspended with or without necessity in the opinion of some jurists, but it is only a transitory phase, for which some jurists fix a specified period, while others do not.• That Professor W. Montgomery Watt maintains that the expansion of Muhammad’s citystate into an empire raised the expectation that the Islamic empire would ultimately include the whole human race. We would agree with Professor Watt on this point with a slight qualification. The idea that Islam (not the Islamic Empire) would ultimately include the whole human race is not based on early conquests alone, but is an acknowledged goal of the Muslim community, and it arises from the texts of the Qur’an as well as the Sunnah, as quoted by ibn Rushd above. According to such reasoning, the Muslim community may be considered to be passing through a period of truce. In its present state of weakness, there is nothing much it can do about it.• Will this community annul this truce, if tomorrow, it were to gain its strength? Perhaps, this is what Watt has in mind when he says that that intentions of ultimate world domination are not so much a cause of worry for the non-Muslim states as are the treaties signed by the Muslim states, for “the division of the world into the sphere of Islam and the sphere of war” is by no means a thing of the past. In so far as traditional Islam grows in strength it could come into the forefront of world politics. Debating this point would be futile, as much depends on how far the world has progressed in terms of justice, fairplay, mutual cooperation, and freedom from exploitation, by the time the Muslim community gains in strength. It is to be hoped that in this modern world, where religion has been given a back seat in the general scheme of things and where other problems will continue to maintain the truce and agreements in a spirit of cooperation and focus more on the institution of da’wah (invitation) than on the instrument of jihad (holy war), especially when there are legal opinions supporting truce. (Nyazee, Ijtihad, 252-254, as quoted in Coughlin, 138)

The terrorists themselves urge their followers to use the language of Islam, and not that of the West, in order to ensure that the ideas of Jihad as set out in Islamic law are indeed guiding their actions. Using these terms will increase the appeal of those actions to observant Muslims.

Zarqawi argued that success in imposing those terms as the language of debate would set in motion Islamic concepts of jihad that run in only one direction in ways that legitimize the “extremist” agenda.

Some Muslim spokesmen see advantage in appealing to the West by framing the conflict in Western terms.

As a result, we have begun to hear the words resistance and clash of civilizations instead of jihad in Allah’s cause, and the words civilians and innocent people instead of infidels and combatants, and the words ‘the other side’ instead of Jews and Christians.

“Extremists” understand the power of the message. For Muslims to understand jihad, they first have to understand the terms of the debate that “extremists” understand to be the language of Islamic law. Once understood, the requirements of jihad become manifest by operation of law. Zarqawi realized that so long as contemporary Muslims call “non-military infidels and polytheists” civilians, it becomes problematic whether the Muslim population would accept them as legitimate targets in jihad. Far from being the incoherent ramblings of an itinerant “extremist,” Zarqawi’s linguistic argument was genuinely based on Islamic legal concepts that, once established, would generate traction inside Islamic cultures.

And here is the painful irony of the situation-

The language the enemy relies on to validate their claims is the same language Current Approach advocates actively seek to remove from the vocabulary of decisionmakers and analysts.

Coughlin goes on to suggest that one of the theses of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism‘, that Muslims should not listen to non-Muslims regarding Islam, has its roots in the Quran, and ‘extremists’ have used the Quran to make the same point. While in the Quran and subsequent exegeses there certainly are admonitions warning about non-believers turning Muslims away from the true path, Coughlin’s does not bring compelling enough evidence for this controversial point. On the other hand, it does present us with a fine formulation of our post-modern dilemma, the moebius strip of cognitive egocentrism.

But that is a secondary point. Coughlin’s main argument is that we render ourselves incapable of understanding the enemy in the War on Terror if we ignore the doctrinal basis of his belief’s and actions. Coughlin is calling for a new intelligence approach, based on honest analysis and observation, and not on preconceived notions of what one wants to believe.

“Extremists” state that they fight jihad in furtherance of Islamic causes. This fact remains true regardless of whether the enemy is ultimately correct in its understanding of Islam. Hence, there are Islamic drivers to the WOT that simply must be taken into account when developing the doctrinal template of the enemy. Failure to account for Islamic law will result in a failure to recognize the laws of jihad that the enemy consciously emulates. When a doctrinal template fails to account for legal doctrines of jihad that the enemy self-identifies as the basis of his doctrine, the resulting enemy COAs (course of action- lb) will be fatally flawed as will be the ensuing friendly COAs.

Coughlin’s analysis is reasonable, pertinent, and buttressed by research into and deep knowledge of Muslim law. The fact that an expert who is willing to take a wholly defensible and urgent position is fired by an agency charged with the safety of the country against Islamic terrorists is worrying indeed.

But many have come to Major Coughlin’s defense. Bill Gertz, in the Washington Times, writes that

Some Pentagon and military leaders, along with lots of working-level officials, are quietly rallying to support ousted Joint Staff counterterrorism analyst Stephen Coughlin.

Pentagon officials said a number of generals and admirals who share Mr. Coughlin’s well-reasoned assessment of the Islamic law underpinnings of Islamist terror are voicing support for the lawyer and former military intelligence official.

Andrew Bostom has covered the incident on the website, American Thinker.

Testimonials from both retired military, such as Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, and perhaps even more importantly, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, who currently commands the 1st Marine Expeditionary Corps, have confirmed the unique value of Coughlin’s presentations (based upon To Our Great Detriment). Lt. Gen. Helland proclaimed in a letter that Coughlin’s briefing for Marines bound for Iraq,

..hit the mark in explaining how jihadists use the Koran to justify their actions. Your [Coughlin’s] presentation has armed service men and women with more intellectual ammunition to take the fight to the enemy.

Diana West has captured the obscene warping of Department of Defense (DOD) priorities Coughlin’s firing epitomizes, and how Congressional oversight may be in order:

This high-level effort to, in effect, deny the connection between Islamic law and what the military calls the “enemy threat doctrine” should ring bells, not just in the military, but in Congress, which obviously has Pentagon oversight responsibilities. When such advice brings the military’s woefully belated education on jihad to a halt, it becomes shockingly clear that the Pentagon is more concerned with political correctness than protecting the nation.

Regardless, hope springs eternal that the Pentagon will come to its collective senses, retain, and promote the man whom Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (Ret.) assessed, rightly, as perhaps, “…the most knowledgeable person in the U.S. government on Islamic law.” McInerney, for one insisted that, “The secretary of defense should ensure that he stays at DOD.”

Bostom also recorded this letter to the editor printed in the Washington Times.

The military needs Maj. Stephen Coughlin

I would like to address the comments of Capt. Gordan E. Van Hook regarding Maj. Stephen Coughlin’s employment with the U.S. military and the value of his contributions as a lawyer and reserve military intelligence officer (“Differences of opinion,” Letters, Tuesday). I am an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College charged with educating military officers in strategic and operational planning to implement government policy. Additionally, I have more than three years’ experience conducting operational and strategic planning at U.S. Central Command during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war on terrorism.

Though I cannot assess the value of Mr. Coughlin to those inside the Beltway, outside the Beltway and on the front lines of this struggle, his understanding of the relationship between Islamic law and Islamist jihad doctrine is invaluable. Mr. Coughlin’s thesis, written for the National Defense Intelligence College, “To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad” is quickly becoming a must-read among my peers. Unfortunately, soon Mr. Coughlin will no longer be available to help us understand Islamic jihad, and we will again find ourselves at a severe disadvantage in this ideological struggle. I only wish more of my taxpayer dollars could be spent on such invaluable contracts that directly support those out in front.


Marine Corps, Norfolk

Dr. Tawfik Hamid, former member of the jihadist Jamaah Islamiyah, supports Coughlin’s claims, according to Bostom.

Dr. Hamid has examined contemporary jihadist ideology by “immersion” in order to better comprehend the nexus between such teachings, and acts of violence. The conclusions of this former jihadist, turned introspective analyst, provide a remarkable validation of Major Coughlin’s own extensive independent findings (summarized earlier, here, and here). Hamid states plainly that,These doctrines [of jihad] are not taken out of context, as many apologists for Islamism argue: They are central to the [Islamic] faith and ethics of millions of Muslims, and are currently being taught as part of the standard curriculum in many Islamic educational systems in the Middle East as well as in the West. Moreover, there is no single approved Islamic textbook that contradicts or provides an alternative to the [Qur’anic, and other sacred text] passages I have cited [advocating jihad violence, misogyny, Jew-hated, enslavement and rape of female war prisoners and the beating of women]. It has thus become clear to me that [jihadist] ideology is largely what is responsible for the so-called “clash of civilizations.”

Political scientist, lawyer, and jihad terrorism expert, Dr. Walid Phares recently expressed his puzzlement, at one level over the Coughlin affair: “I don’t understand why is there so much intellectual commotion about this matter in the West and in the US.” He added, “Muslim scholars and historians agree that the theological texts have also a military dimension. In Islamic studies there is no debate about that. So why is there one in non-Muslim research and political circles, particularly in America? Major Coughlin was studying the texts used by the Jihadists to call for military action.”

Phares argues that although politicians might attempt to separate Islam from Jihad for their own purposes, “the study of the theological roots of Jihad is something else, and that is an academic not a political issue.”

But perhaps Dr. Phares had already expressed matters most appositely a decade ago in his November, 1997 The Palestine Times essay (of the same title):

“Jihad is Jihad”

It is perfectly legitimate to contest Coughlin’s arguments which make connections that some might find questionable. But to argue that these issues should not even appear before us and therefore to seek his explusion from the defense policy discussion seems unwise to say the least. One can imagine a number of explanations: demopaths who don’t want their cover blown and their dupes, people intimidated by the threat of Muslim violence, or PCPers who fear that this argument might “win” and change the rules of the dialogue of peace that they so value.

Since neither tough cop nor nice cop will work with the current dynamics of apocalyptic violence that our ignorance has fostered, it seems that we need a fundamental change in our approach to the current thrash of cultures which has become so much more violent since 2000. And rather than swinging wildly from nice cop (PCP, Current Approach) to tough cop (HJP, Coughlin approach), we need to have our nice cops cease being dupes of demopaths, start listening to the tough cops, and ask — gently — some hard questions of all those Islamic “moderates” who promote a dialogue designed primarily to keep us in ignorance. If we can’t tell the difference between Muslim demopaths and real moderates, we are, indeed, preparing a terrible war further down the pike. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

UPDATE: Whitehall takes the wrong turn and they sound a lot like they’re writing a spoof from Mad Magazine.

Si vis bellum terribile para pacem.

20 Responses to Pentagon-Fired Expert’s Thesis on Jihad, Terrorism and Islamic Law

  1. Seymour Paine says:

    We all appreciate, I am sure, the work of Stephen Coughlin in attempting to open the government’s eyes regarding Islam and jihad. But I wonder about the need for in-depth analysis of the connection between jihad and Islamic law, the Koran, etc. Is it not sufficient to divide people into two broad groups: those in favor of core Western principles, liberal democracy, personal autonomy, freedom of thought, and so forth and those who are not. While it might help to distinguish, say, Communists and other non-religious totalitarians from Islamic fascists, why does it add value to know that, say, Al Qaeda finds inspiration in one sura and some other group of Islamic killers in another? It might be of intellectual interest, historical interest, but why more?

  2. […] Augean Stables added an interesting post on Pentagon-Fired Expertâs Thesis on Jihad, Terrorism and Islamic LawHere’s a small excerpt […]

  3. […] Augean Stables placed an observative post today on Pentagon-Fired Expertâs Thesis on Jihad, Terrorism and Islamic LawHere’s a quick excerpt […]

  4. chrisse says:

    Seymour, because we are fighting an aggressor with one eye closed. We are dealing with muslim associates, either local civilians or governments, believing we are speaking the same language when we are not. So, for example, how different would President Bush’s deal with Musharraf have been if he understood that Musharraf’s undertaking from the viewpoint of Islamic law. So we have, it is believed, bin laden holed up in the tribal areas of Pakistan with Musharraf doing nothing to get him. He can’t under Islamic law. He will only move on bin laden when bin laden moves on him. Understanding Islamic law explains Musharraf’s actions, which we cannot understand using our western viewpoint.

  5. fp says:


    >That his recommendations are being sidelined makes one pessimistic about the direction of the intellectual underpinnings of U.S. defense policy.

    So are you coming around to my point of view, then?


    chrisee is right, but that’s not the full answer to your question.

    if you fool yourself that islam is a religion of peace and jihad is a hijacking of it you blind yourself to the root of the problem and therefore (a) also to demopaths and taqiyah (deception), which is rooted in islam (b) you delude yourself that “moderate muslims” will marginalize radical jihadis (c) you believe that
    anti-west stance is a matter of grievances and appeasement will work.

    hence the utter failure of the west to confront the problem both strategically and tactically.

  6. fp says:

    there is also the issue of projection of your own culture/religion on moslems (“they are just like us and we can deal with them accordingly”) and of multiculturalism (all cultures are equivalent, ours is not preferable) which blinds you to 7th century atrocities and primitivity of sharia which they aspire to impose on the world.


  7. fp says:

    one example: the notion that palestinian violence and jihad is due to land claims, poverty abd oppression. this induces a western response of financial contributions, appeasement and pressure on israel to make concessions.

    but the conflict is rooted in islamic anti-semitism and arab honor-shame society and such a response achieves the exact opposite effect: it emboldens the terrorists and supports them and makes the west appear stupid and gullible and, therefore, manipulable and makes them believe that they can get rid of israel and once they do that, they can take on dar-el-harb.

  8. Seymour Paine says:

    My point was not to disagree about the nature of Islam. I’m pretty sure we are all on the same page about it, but to be clear: I believe it is an evil ideology, akin to Maoism or Nazism and should be addressed as such. Having said that, do I really need to understand the nuances of Nazism (well, it’s a bad example because it was so full of crap). Once you know they want to kill Jews and subjugate/eliminate the populations in Eastern Europe, isn’t that enough? Is it sufficient to know the following about Islam: 1) It wants to establish a world government under a Caliph; 2) non-Moslems are categorically inferior and will suffer in various ways, including extermination; 3) Moslems will wage war on non-Moslems until they have surrendered; 4) All Moslems subscribe to varying degrees of fealty to these statements, even if they never act on them.

    Do I need to know more?

  9. chrisse says:

    Seymour, maybe you don’t need to know more, but those entrusted with our security and defence do. Further, they need more than a four point statement. It must be factually justified.

    Politicians in a democracy do not come to that position full of knowledge of all things. They rely on advisers and selected specialists. At the moment, they are getting the wrong advice and selecting the wrong specialists. To change this, we need to structure our argument both cogently and supported with indisputable facts and sources. Our politicians, subject as they are to public opinion, and in the current environment of the hysterical self-flagellators having far to high a profile, need to know they are arguing from a rock solid base before they will stick their political necks out.

    We also need to change public opinion, the same applies. People are lazy by nature, that’s not an insult, it’s our nature to take the easy path where possible. This is challenging to accept. In 2008 we are faced with an unending war declared on all of humanity which will not end until submission to Allah is achieved globally. In 2008 we are facing a “holy” war – secular, Christianity-rejecting, West. The population has to a huge sea-change in outlook. I’ve accepted this based on my own research and the wonderful information being provided in the blogosphere. Most people simply will not do the hard yakka involved. Don’t blame them, cruising around enjoying life is, afterall, the achievement of our Western culture, it’s one world of peace and skipping around the maypole with flowers in our hair, and everybody on the planet wants that too; who wants to know that some things never change, and we were wrong.

  10. fp says:


    the “you” in my comments was not the literal you, but the average you for those who don’t understand the nature of radical islam.

    both chriss and i did respond to your question, but we seem not to have gotten through.

    it is not the nuances that we are talking about. it is its nature and roots, what drives it that is necessary for the strategy and tactics of response.

    jihad that is due to “grievances” and is the fault of the west requires one strategy and tactics of response; jihad that is due to theology and indoctrination requires a different response.

    by failing to identify the correct nature of jihad (indeed, by refusing to do so) the west is responding incorrectly and committing suicide. in fact, it is doing the very opposite of what it should do: it helps, supports and emboldens the jihad.

    the israeli-palestinian conflict is an excellent example, as per my example.

  11. fp says:

    Jihadists say they’re motivated by Islam, UK govt insists they’re not

    see what i mean?

  12. fp says:

    and more:

    Convert to Islam misunderstands her new religion, says Osama follows “correct” version of Islam

  13. Abu Al-Fin says:

    Coughlin is performing a necessary service in trying to understand the enemy in depth. There is no indication that Seymour is even involved in this war, so he can feel free to continue being a bystander. Others actually do have to learn a lot of painstaking detail about how the enemy thinks.

  14. fp says:


    >People are lazy by nature, that’s not an insult, it’s our nature to take the easy path where possible.

    There is truth in that, but it’s not the whole story. Social problems are resolved via collective, not individual action. And public choice/game theory indicates that collective action has inherent inhibitors: it is non-rational, from an individual’s cost-benefit analysis, to invest resources into informing oneself on subjects that require collective action. The classic treatment of this problem is:

    The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Harvard Economic Studies) by Mancur Olson

    This is a problem extremely difficult to resolve, particularly in western societies which are individualistic and rationalistic. Islamic societies which are collectivitics and non-rationalistic are much better at it, herdlike as they are.

    Serious, meaningful, knowledgeable leadership can help with this problem, but this is exactly what western societies lack.

  15. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 02/05/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  16. fp says:

    a clarification: in islamic society there is no need to invest resources at the individual level to inform oneself on collectivistic issues.

    all you need to know is the quran, which is instilled in you during your life anyway. it is then enough for “leaders” to call to action and the herd is in the street.

  17. Seymour, the specifics must be known by the military who oppose Jihad in the field because it gives them information on the strategic and tactical strengths and weaknesses embedded in the Jihadist/Islamic doctrine. This allows them to better overcome Jihadists, for Jihadists will not abandon their doctrine entirely. It is sacred, as narrated by the messenger of Allah, and may not be abandoned or worked around except in specific, constrained circumstances. And this is in itself a meta-weakness that can be exploited.

  18. […] Stables closely read Stephen Coughlin’s thesis and highlight some of the best parts. Read it all. Since neither tough cop nor nice cop will work with the current dynamics of apocalyptic violence […]

  19. […] Please see Fred Lucas’ report today (2/6/08) on Rep. Myrick’s press release here, and this excellent “exegesis” on Stephen Coughlin’s thesis by Richard Landes et al at Augean Stables here. […]

  20. fp says:

    Latest on Hesham Islam:

    Embattled Muslim aide to leave Pentagon job

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