The Management of Savagery

The Management of Savagery” is much more than the A-Z of how to establish a caliphate, it is an Islamist justification for the use of violence and in particular of exemplary violence for political (religious) ends. If Afghanistan was about Armed Politics according to Emile Simpson then what we are looking at with “The Management of Savagery” is as much Armed Evangelisation as it is caliphate building according to Abu Bakr Naji.
The Management of Savagery

Thus, we need to massacre (others) and (to take) actions like those that were undertaken against the Banu Qurayza and their like. But if God should give us power and we take control and justice spreads, how tender the people of faith will be at that time and they will say to the people: “Go, for you are free.”

The Management of Savagery

Having looked already at Hybrid War and the new UK doctrine of Integrated Action I thought this time that I would look at what is reputed to be the doctrine that ISIS is following.

The Management of Savagery” was written circa 2004 by Abu Bakr Naji and is assessed to be highly influential within jihadist and specifically ISIS circles. “The Management of Savagery” is much more than the A-Z of how to establish a caliphate, it is an Islamist justification for the use of violence and in particular of exemplary violence for political (religious) ends. If Afghanistan was about Armed Politics according to Emile Simpson then what we are looking at with “The Management of Savagery” is as much Armed Evangelisation as it is caliphate building according to Abu Bakr Naji.

The book has been translated into English and is widely available through the power of Google; the version I have used is the 2006 translation by William McCants of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. It is important to note that while I have spent time in the Middle East and am familiar with some Islamic and Islamist teachings I am not an Arabist.

The title “The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass” refers not to the stage managed savagery for which ISIS is infamous. Rather it refers to the interim stage between the collapse of the old order and the establishment of the caliphate and reflects the characteristics of that stage; ungoverned space where life is brutal, the politics savage and where order must be established and the Umma (nation or community) defended.

The Stages to Establishing the Caliphate
The Stages to Establishing the Caliphate

Figure 1: The Stages to establishing the Caliphate.

It is immediately apparent from reading it that the logic of the work and the worldview of the author is significantly different from that familiar to many in the West. The structure is both more circular and multi-active than linear and sequential, and the world is viewed through an Islamic and eschatological lens. This is important because although beating ISIS militarily may be straightforward, in order to defeat the movement we have to defeat them in terms that they recognise, and the logic of their campaign plan and narrative may not be apparent to us. A force can be defeated militarily, but a movement is only defeated when it recognises itself as defeated in its own terms; the narrative of any campaign must reflect this. It is also very clear that this doctrine is part indoctrination as well as doctrine, it is the “why” as well as the “what” and the “how”. It explains its ideological roots and is much more holistic than UK doctrine: a mix of Fukyama’s “The Origins of Political Order”, Clausewitz’s “On War”, “ADP Operations” and JDP 3-40 “Security and Stabilisation: The Military Contribution” in one document and underpinned throughout by theological justification. This should make it abundantly clear that the struggle against Islamist groups such as ISIS is a much broader struggle than a purely military one. Indeed considering the focus given to the theological underpinning of the document I go so far as to state that the Centre of Gravity for Islamists who follow these teachings is likely in their particular strain of Islamist theology.

“The Management of Savagery” is divided into five topics:

1)   Definition of “the management of savagery” and an overview of its historical precedents

2)   The path for establishing an Islamic state.

3)   The most important principles and policies for implementing the plan of action and achieving, in general, the goals of the stage of “the power of vexation and exhaustion”; and, in particular, the goals of the stage of “the management of savagery.

4)   The most important problems and obstacles that we will face, and ways of dealing with them.

5)   Conclusion: Are there other solutions that are easier than this solution?

The text is a holistic guide to a putative campaign to establish a caliphate and covers a broad spectrum of topics. Topic three for example, is sub-divided into a further 10 sub-topics.

Topic 3: Principles and Policies (illustrating the broad range covered)
Topic 3: Principles and Policies (illustrating the broad range covered)

Figure 2: Principles and Policies contained in Topic Three.

Throughout the emphasis is on teaching not what to do, but what subjects should be thought of and the way to think about them. In that sense this is very much conceptual as opposed to practical doctrine, although it does give practical advice and historical vignettes. As conceptual doctrine it reminds me in part of the German doctrine of Auftragstaktik as it enables operations to be conducted with unity of purpose in the absence of effective communications. It is worth noting that the text is evidence of a coherent analysis of recent campaigns and as such even dispersed non-state groups now have the means as well as the motive to conduct a lessons learnt loop and then publish and disseminate the results.

Throughout the book these elements are clear in the design methodology:

  • This is a religious struggle to establish a theocratic (shari’a) state.
  • War is the means by which this will be brought about.
  • This war is a religious duty (active jihad).
  • This war must demonstrate strength and shari’ah justice.
  • The use of violence is essential to the campaign narrative; it is both justified and exemplary.
  • This violence sends a message and the message must be consistent with the war (strength and shari’ah justice) narrative.

The use of violence (and the Islamic justification for it) pervades the text. Active jihad is raised under the interpretation given here to a level equal with if not beyond that of spiritual jihad: “when we say that the religious practice of jihad —despite the blood, corpses, and limbs which encompass it and the killing and fighting which its practice entails —is among the most blessed acts of worship for the servants, if not the most blessed in reality”. Violence is designed to be exemplary, to terrorize and deter the opponent. As such the information campaign is indistinguishable from the military campaign. The fight is as much about the message as it is about the tactical effect and the violence must always be considered in terms of the campaign narrative. In the UK we still tend to think of the tactical actions first and the Influence effects second (although our new doctrine of Integrated Action is designed to change this). In “The Management of Savagery” Shari’ah comes first, the campaign narrative supports this and the violence supports this; they are nested within each other.

The Place of Violence (central and nested)
The Place of Violence (central and nested)

Figure 3: The Place of Violence.

The violence is also designed to provoke a Western response which will in turn inflame a Muslim response. This is based on an analysis of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan where it was assessed that intervention both weakened the Soviet state and inspired Muslims to conduct jihad. The greater the West’s participation in the fight, the greater the reaction from the Umma and the greater momentum imparted to the struggle. The West and its proxies will be seen as unable to win and the initiative and momentum will shift to the Islamists. Not escalating into this narrative is therefore going to be one of the West’s significant strategic challenges.

Building momentum in the struggle.
Building momentum in the struggle

Figure 4: Building Momentum.

Bearing in mind that this was written in 2004, the following extract on “paying the price” highlights the exemplary nature of the violence and indicates the possible underlying thinking of ISIS in how they killed Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasaesbeh:

As for the stage of “the administration of savagery,” we will confront the problem of theaerial attacks of the enemy – crusader or apostate – on military training camps or residential regions in areas which we administer. Even though defensive fortifications and trenches are put in place to deal with that problem, we should also follow the policy of “paying the price” when confronting the crime of the enemy. The policy of “paying the price” in this situation will deter the enemy and make him think one thousand times before attacking regions managed by a regime of the administration of savagery because he knows that he will pay the price (for doing so), even if (the retribution) comes later.

Violence and war are seen as both a political and religious means to an end, hardening and purifying the Umma as well a means of spreading fear amongst and defeating the enemy. Significant theological exposition and justification is given throughout the text for this radical approach to violence. The very radical nature of this ideology possibly contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as the theology stretches most mainstream schools of Islam. However countering this ideology can only be done effectively through these selfsame mainstream schools and for those who have not been exposed to contrary Islamic interpretations the ideology will seem credible.

As Clausewitz says: “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking.” Understanding “The Management of Savagery” is an indispensible first step towards understanding the kind of war that some Islamist groups have embarked upon; it is not necessarily the war we think it is. For those involved in campaign planning at the operational and strategic levels this is undoubtedly a text worth understanding, it should also be essential reading for those involved in Influence activities.

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