Islamism and Stratagem, Part V

Below is the fifth of six parts of an article by John J. Dziak about the Islamic counterintelligence state.

The article is reprinted here with permission of the author. It first appeared in Papers & Studies by the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Washington, D.C., on 6 April 2007. It was later republished in the Summer/Fall 2007 issue of Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies.

Previously: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Islamism and Stratagem
by John J. Dziak, Ph.D

V. Stratagem in the Islamic Tradition

Tariq RamadanFrom its earliest history Islam has practiced what westerners label stratagem, deception, dissimulation, concealment, etc., in its dealings with not only the Infidel but with other Muslims as well.[27] Islamic scripture itself could be referenced for an early example of this with apologists’ oft quoted Koranic verse, “There is no compulsion in religion” (Koran, Surah II: 256),[28] as an example of alleged Islamic tolerance for other faiths. What is not admitted or mentioned is the doctrine of abrogation in which, for all practical purposes, that particular Surah is cancelled out by harsher, more intolerant, and more violent verses coming from chronologically later revelations. Other similar examples in the deceptive use of the Koran and Hadith abound.

“Taqiyya” and “kitman” are the relevant and operative Islamic terms covering such practices and have been used for centuries; they acquired renewed purchase with the ascendancy of Islamist terrorism in recent decades. Taqiyya — deliberate dissimulation or deception — was originally developed in Shia Islam as a defensive mechanism against Sunnis, but has since come to be accepted practice by both branches of Islam; it initially entailed masking one’s true religious beliefs, especially in the face of danger by those hostile to such beliefs.[29] Closely related but lower on the ladder of deception is kitman, akin to mental reservation or, as one wag put it, holy hypocrisy. Still another and related technique in this genre and heavily used by Islamist apologists (even Bin Laden himself) is “tu quoque”, a Latin phrase for a common fallacy in argument and debate wherein a defense against a charge is made by turning the charge or critique back against the accuser in a manner that is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. It is the standard “red herring” of politics and yellow journalism but is a good diversionary tactic as well as a broader strategy since the accuser quickly becomes the accused. It works especially well against contemporary western societies subject to fads of guilt-ridden political correctness. Islamists and their apologists use it quite effectively in the media during debates or especially in sound bite interviews, press releases, and international discourse. The more audacious the taqiyya, kitman, or tu quoque item, the more likely it will be successful. For instance when an Islamist apologist insists that Jihad is merely a spiritual striving rather than Jihad of the sword, and hides the fact that the former definition is a relatively recent one in Islam (a little over a century), he is practicing kitman.[30]

It is not only in the higher political and public realms that these Islamic practices have practical utility and psychological impact. In the operational realms of terrorism and counterterrorism Islamists have grasped their applicability:
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Al-Qaeda training manuals…carry detailed instructions on the use of deception by terrorists in Western target countries…. The study of taqiyya and kitman is crucial to an understanding of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism ranging from the issuing of false terrorist threats, operational and strategic disinformation issued by al-Qaeda in the form of “intelligence chatter,” to the use of taqiyya and kitman by terrorists during interrogation and the use of systematically misleading expressions concerning Islam and terrorism by Muslim spokesmen.[31]

Joseph StalinWestern interrogators of captured Islamists are at a distinct disadvantage if they have neither the language nor a foundation in Islamic history and culture to enable them to grasp the subtleties of when any of these deceptive techniques are being worked against them. For instance, it is especially dangerous to rely exclusively on indigenous translators as funnels or screeners for intelligence from such sources. Indeed, this vulnerability extends well beyond the unprepared intelligence interrogator to the higher reaches of the intelligence, counterintelligence, and policy communities where a struggle is still underway to determine who the enemy actually is, so intimidated are we about naming him. In the face of such cognitive dissonance, Islamists need not fear that we’ll soon catch on to the subtleties of taqiyya, kitman, or tu quoque. It is not that Islamists are so deviously adept at their brand of strategic and tactical deception. We may be exhibiting some of the same symptoms that Stalin portrayed in his refusal to recognize what was facing him across his western frontiers. German deception operations against him before June 1941 were not so sophisticated that Soviet intelligence couldn’t detect them. Many capable NKVD and GRU officers did precisely that — but Stalin didn’t like what they had to say because of his paranoia against his own subordinates, his deep preconceptions, his ignorance of the “other”, his denial of the obvious, and his willful self-deception. Likewise, Islamic ambitions and associated stratagems have been part of the world’s story for almost fourteen hundred years and have been rubbing up against the frontiers of western civilization for most of that time. Now due to heavy Islamic immigration and declining western demographics militant Islam is a significant presence within those frontiers — yet we still can’t fathom it.

Next: VI Conclusions

© Copyright 2007, John J. Dziak

John J. DziakJohn J. Dziak is an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft and national security affairs in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a course on comparative intelligence systems. Dr. Dziak is also Senior Fellow, Counterintelligence and Strategic Technology, at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and the president of Dziak Group, Inc. He retired from a distinguished career in the U.S. intelligence community in 1996. Dr. Dziak has written extensively on Russian intelligence, and holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.


[27]   This part of the discussion draws from several articles from the daily offerings of Jihad Watch, and DhimmiWatch; and “Taqiyya and Kitman: The Role of Deception in Islamic Terrorism”.
[28]   Marmaduke Pickthall (commentator/translator), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, NY: Alfred A. Knopf/Everyman’s Library, 1930/1992, p.59.
[29]   Alalmah Tabatabai, Shiite Islam, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1975, p. 223.
[30]   Jihad Watch, 13 January 2005.
[31]   As quoted in: Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Ruth Margolies Beitler, “Tactical Deception and Strategic Surprise in Al-Qai’da’s Operations,” MERIA Journal, Vol.8, No.2, June 2004, p. 4.

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