20 October 2009

The Awakening

The idea for this blog started with a series of e-mail conversations between a group of current and former military folks who had recently returned from serving together in Iraq. As we all moved on to different locations, we recognized the need for continued discussion and critical thought about what lay ahead. Our goal is to identify and analyze emerging trends in intelligence and irregular warfare - in terms of threat, mission, and environment. The idea is to inspire reasoned, informed debate and discussion among a wide range of participants who can offer alternative perspectives.

The name of the blog - al Sahwa - translates to "the Awakening" in English and is inspired in part by a concept explained in the Arabic-language book "al-Zarqawi - al-Qaida's Second Generation, " by a Lebanese journalist Fouad Hussein. Written in 2005, the book is perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) master plan to date. Drawing heavily on an interview conducted with Saif al Adl (a top AQ operational planner and security chief), Hussein lays out a seven-phased campaign that will occur over the next 20 years.

As Lawrence Wright explains in his 2006 article in the New Yorker:

"Al Qaeda’s twenty-year plan began on September 11th, with a stage that Hussein calls “The Awakening.” The ideologues within Al Qaeda believed that “the Islamic nation was in a state of hibernation,” because of repeated catastrophes inflicted upon Muslims by the West. By striking America—“the head of the serpent”—Al Qaeda caused the United States to “lose consciousness and act chaotically against those who attacked it. This entitled the party that hit the serpent to lead the Islamic nation.” This first stage, says Hussein, ended in 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad." (see full article in The New Yorker)

Our blog aims to serve as an opposition to this awakening and growth of radical Islam and jihadist thought - manifested primarily in organizations like al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM). Through our discussions and analysis, we hope to identify ways to innovate and improve our intelligence and irregular warfare capabilities.

The blog's name also alludes to the recent growth and success of the "Sahwa (Awakening)" movement in Iraq. First formed in Iraq's western-most Anbar province in 2005, this grass-roots movement morphed into an informal coalition of small groups of local leaders and citizens who made the decision to stand up to increasingly violent Al Qaeda forces operating in their towns and villages. Armed with an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the enemy, these groups were critical in the fight to secure Iraq and limit the influence of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In much the same way, we aim to gain a deep understanding of our enemies' motivations, methods, and intentions. We must develop this rich understanding in order to inform our discussions on how to improve our plans and policy - at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

We want to involve as many folks as possible in the process - from intelligence analyst to deployed infantry Soldier, to DC think-tanker, to government policymaker. Please take part in these discussions and feel free to agree, disagree, and suggest new topics or points for discussion.


  1. I think this opportunity to be both a call to responsible scholarship and public leadership.

    In reading the mission statement, I appreciate and agree with the Blog's method of interaction, as it ensures a solid way of sharing information and advancing knowledge.

    I foresee myself adding perspective and insight mainly in terms of AQ "mission," as this a) focuses predominantly on the intersection between religion and culture and b) highlights the systematic educational/training programs in support of, psychological/social motivation for, and theological/dogmatic belief in political and militant activity(ies).

    Perhaps a driving force for me - in the midst of the grey areas of frustration that pervade AQ discussion - is the seeking after and investigation of truth. Cicero himself said in De Officiio, Imprimisque hominis est propria veri inquisitio atque investigatio: "The first duty of [hu]man is the seeking after and investigation of truth." Let this be, in a sense, the Awakening we strive for in light of the responsibility we share; namely, to produce intelligence and protect liberty.

  2. Thanks! Looking forward to the great perspective you will bring based on your in-depth studies of Islamic jihadist doctrine while you were at Harvard Divinity. Please challenge our thoughts/assertions at every opportunity!