by SWJ Editors
A Strategy of Exhaustion
Most Jihads do not die with a bang; they have historically gone out with a whimper. The first great wave of Islamic holy war effectively petered out within a century of the death of the Prophet Mohammed and Arabs were no longer actively leaders in the expansion of the Muslim faith after the tenth century A.D. when the peoples of the Turk branch of the Eurasian peoples picked up the banner of Islam. The last of a succession of waves of pre-industrial Jihad petered out at the walls of Vienna in 1683. As we deal with post-industrial Jihad, we may be able to learn something about Islamic holy wars of expansion that have been dealt with in the past.
Jihad was a powerful enough force that it was impossible to permanently defeat by purely military means. Unlike their Christian foes, the Muslim holy warriors were generally content to stop killing when their enemies surrendered and decided to convert to Islam. Jihads died because they reached a point of exhaustion. The most fervent warriors who sought martyrdom in battle could get it easily. This eventually left the Jihad bereft of its most enthusiastic fighters. Those less fanatic or more skillful collected enough slaves and riches in the holy wars to feel that God had rewarded them on earth for their fervor, and settled down to enjoy the good life that successful Jihad made possible. A final element in the death of successive waves of Jihad was internal dissention and struggles for power among the Jihadist leadership. The contest for control for leadership of the first Caliphate began almost immediately with the death of the Prophet Mohammed and culminated in the great Sunni-Shiite schism.
As Edward Luttwak points out in his new book, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantines studied this new enemy closely and came to realize that their only hope of survival against the lethal threat of expansionist Jihadism was a strategy of exhaustion. Luttwak's work is the first really comprehensive modern study of how the Eastern Roman empire survived and largely thrived in the face of expansionist Islam for eight centuries.
The author is a government employee and a former infantryman.