Small Wars Journal

Jihad of the Pen

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Jihad of the Pen

A Practitioners Guide to Conducting Effective Influence Operations in an Insurgency

Special to the Small Wars Journal

by Colonel G. L. Lamborn, USAR (Ret.)

Download the full article: Jihad of the Pen

This small work is dedicated to all those who use the power of their minds guided by courage, humility, resourcefulness and compassion to achieve a better world in which the forces of tyranny, hatred, fanaticism, and ignorance are defeated.

In reading this small work, the practitioner must keep in mind the following. In Islam, the concept of "jihad" (the Arabic word means "struggle") consists of two aspects. The Lesser Jihad -- with which the world is unfortunately somewhat familiar -- is defined as "armed resistance in defense of the faith and the Believers,"—but only under prescribed conditions and under properly authorized leadership.

What most non-Muslims do not know is that in Islam the Greater Jihad is the struggle that takes place inwardly -- within each soul and person. It is a great struggle to conquer one's own evil and base desires, and triumph over one's own ignorance, barbarity and spiritual darkness. The Greater Jihad is Islam's great challenge to build a better world, one Believer at a time. Unfortunately, thanks to the cruel deeds of a relatively small number of extremists, the newspaper version of "jihad" has imprinted only a warped definition of the Lesser Jihad as meaning torture, murder, fanaticism, hatred, and xenophobia.

I chose the title "Jihad of the Pen" partly because the Prophet had once said: "The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr." In part, the title also derives from my fervent belief that the jihad of the pen is the battle all people must wage against ignorance everywhere. Each primary school student today, whether in America or Afghanistan, is carrying on his or her personal "Jihad of the Pen." For it is only through education and a true spirituality that enlightenment -- and peace on Earth -- can someday be realized. And for those of us who must fight the forces of an evil new Dark Age on the battlefield of ideas, "Jihad of the Pen" is equally appropriate. Firepower cannot defeat an Idea; only a better and more compelling Idea can overcome its cruel adversary. When spurred to action by blind hatred and fanaticism, ignorance is mankind's greatest enemy.

Ours is truly a struggle of the pen.

Download the full article: Jihad of the Pen

The author wishes to offer his grateful thanks to the following individuals for their help, expert advice, encouragement, and professional fellowship over the years. Several of the following individuals offered timely, insightful comments on this work while it was still in draft. All contributed over the years to the author's understanding of political warfare and influence operations in support of counterinsurgency efforts.

Dr. Arturo G. Munoz, RAND Corporation; Colonel Grant Newsham, USMC; Dr. John J. LeBeau, George C. Marshall Center; Dr. John Nagl, Center for a New American Security; Dr. David Kilcullen, The Crumpton Group; and Dr. Amin Tarzi, Marine Corps University. Special thanks go to Mr. Jack Shea, Department of Defense, Mr. Jason H. Campbell, RAND Corporation; and Captain David M. Lamborn, U.S. Army, for reviewing the manuscript on their own time and making valuable suggestions.

Special thanks also are due to Ms. Cassandra Sheehan for her help with the text, especially with regard to the charts, footnotes and bibliography and to Mr. Tor Achekzai, The MASY Group, who reviewed the Pashto-language proposed military Code of Conduct found in section 23. Author also wishes to thank many others who, though not named, at various times in the author's past have been of assistance. All are deeply appreciated.

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Backwards Observer

Thu, 11/22/2012 - 12:29am

An earlier piece by the author of "Arms of Little Value".. As Mike Few comments below, the optimism is strong with this one. If one is more accustomed to hearing, "who run bartertown?", " if you're not cop, you're little people", or "to keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss", it makes for an interesting read.

The media has used the word Jihad because America can relate to it. The word has become associated with Muslim's, which America has come to abhor. It is the one word that whenever an American hears it, they know exactly what the other one is talking about. While it is nice to know what Jihad really means, most Americans will not care and continue to be ignorant.

Anymouse (not verified)

Wed, 02/17/2010 - 3:57pm

Agree with Jay on this article. While very long for a SMJ article it is written in such a way as to make you think not absorb and it is something to shelve close by in order to refer back to. The author did a great job on this.

Jay (not verified)

Wed, 02/17/2010 - 2:52pm

Cogent, tightly reasoned and well scribed; this piece should be required reading for anyone involved with or interested in counterinsurgency. The author offers thoughtful reflections on a topic that has been grossly neglected since the Vietnam era.


I skipped Family Guy last night to read this article. That's a big sacrifice :). COL Lamborn's voice just drew me in.

He has many examples that we tried. I was just nodding my head thinking of how we did it well at times and not so well at others. With some of his other examples, I just shook my head thinking, "why didn't i consider that?"

As I stated in my first post, this is an excellent work. I may disagree with some of his conclusions, but this is an article that I'm going to read a second and third time to just to absorb the lessons.



Vito (not verified)

Mon, 02/15/2010 - 1:29pm

MikeF, you are a very fast reader. I'm only about 1/2 way through so far but this work offers much to think seriously about.

Well done sir. This work is one of the best post-World War II products on psychological operations that I've read. For some reason, we're seeing a flurry of good writings these days. I don't know why- maybe we're actually learning. I particularly liked your emphasis on deception and counter-propaganda. These tools have become a lost art for some.

The only point of contention or disagreement that I have with your work is on our ability to influence, but this difference is derived from my own practice and study. Like the fictional character Dagny Taggart, one of Ayn Rand's protagonist in Atlas Shrugged, I'd submit that you may be a bit overoptimistic and overconfident in our ability to force societal change onto others.

As you stated, "the greatest challenge we face in the present war is for the Afghan government to formulate and communicate a cause that is more powerful and compelling than that of the insurgents."

I'd submit that the issue in question is an Afghan problem not ours, but that's just my opinion. Sometimes, we have to understand the limits of our own control in relation with our social contracts with others. Sometimes, we can only help those that first ask for help.

Regardless of who's right or wrong in that existential dillema, your work offers great insight to the practisioner who is sorting through these intractable problems down in a rural village.

To whit, I plan on quoting and footnoting your words in my future writings :).


Mike Few