Stories of Jihad from U.S. Intelligence

11.30.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“The only ones who are spending the money and time translating Jihad literature are the Western intelligence services,” wrote Islamic radical Anwar al-Awlaki, “and too bad, they would not be willing to share it with you.” (“Born in U.S., a Radical Cleric Inspires Terror” by Scott Shane, New York Times, November 19).

In fact, a growing number of websites offer jihadist literature and sermons in English.  But it is true that U.S. intelligence maintains a prolific translation activity focused on Islamic extremist literature, and that most of the resulting translations are not intended for public distribution.

The DNI Open Source Center recently translated an Indonesian anthology of four short stories about aspiring young jihadists entitled “Wind From Paradise” (pdf). The stories describe how their protagonists came to take part in jihadist campaigns in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Chechnya, and the ensuing “martyrdom” that they or their fellows found there.

It is not a particularly rewarding collection, on any level– esthetic, theological or political.  But the narrators and their stories have several characteristic features that may be worth pointing out.

Remarkably, their primary conflicts seem to be those of adolescence.  Their Islam is not concerned with the divine will as much as it is with themselves and their own unruly passions.  (“I drowned all my feelings by reading the Koran slowly,” one says.  “So a feeling of happiness and relief runs through my whole body,” writes another.  “I also have the feeling that the guilt that has plagued me all this time has now been uprooted.”)

But above all, the stories portray jihad as an appropriate, even noble response to external oppression by the non-Muslim world.  (“The mujahidin had to fight against the Christian United States, which wanted to control and dominate Afghanistan.”  The Western enemy mercilessly abuses prisoners, “but no matter how cruelly they interrogated and tortured him, [he] kept quiet.”)

The logic of jihad is predicated on the victimization of Muslims by infidel forces, the stories repeatedly insist.  (“So now he was defending his Muslim brothers who had been so cruelly oppressed.”)  The oppression of Muslims by other Muslims is beyond the narrators’ ken.  So is the possibility of confronting oppression by non-violent political means, except perhaps through the propagation of stories like these.

The translated stories have not been approved for public release.  Rather improbably, their “authorized use is for national security purposes of the United States Government only.”  But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Indonesia: Translation of Jihadist Book ‘Wind From Paradise’,” Open Source Center, 1 March 2009.