The Need for an “Inner Jihad” in America

by RYAN MAURO April 23, 2012

America needs an "inner jihad" in order to cope with the jihad being waged against us. That's the thought-provoking message of The Control Factor by Bill Siegel, a new book that analyzes the psychological impulses driving the West's misreading and denials of the jihadist threat.

Siegel argues that there's a psychological process, which he calls the "Control Factor," that copes with anxiety and insecurity from a lack of control. This is born into us and is not a reflection of one's nationality, personal strength or intelligence. Other circumstances fostering insecurity, such as America's economic condition, make the Control Factor more powerful.

This is a unique take on the problem. The downplaying of the Islamist threat is often condescendingly chalked up to a willful denial of reality by those who are weak or unintelligent. The Control Factor adds depth by identifying this psychological process so readers can see how it has been in motion since 9/11.

Insecurity is a major driving force behind human action and controlling behavior. It is, at least to a degree, why there are micromanaging bosses, strict parents and obsessive relationships. It is part of why there are so many Islamic preachers demanding punishment for those who criticize their religion. Insecurity and the resulting drive to control is something that is all around us and foreign policy formulation is no exception.

Radical Islam activates the Control Factor in a mighty way because it stimulates a feeling that we lack control from multiple angles. Its beliefs and methods are new to most Americans. It exposes vulnerabilities in things in which we previously found security, like our borders, military, Constitution and morals. For most, a true understanding of radical Islam requires an admission of one's own lack of foresight and knowledge. The Control Factor kicks into high gear.

When the Control Factor is activated, we review the past problems we've faced and solved. We find the closest match and utilize its accompanying solutions. Eventually, we recognize that we picked the wrong one and move onto the next closest match. There will be a lot of failure before we recognize that we are facing something we don't have a template for.

Siegel writes that one result of the Control Factor is the defining of the conflict as one against "terrorism." Terrorism is something we can psychologically cope with because it's been a problem for a long time and there are existing methodologies to deal with it. We're in control. An ideological struggle is vague, unpredictable and requires quick adaptations. High-stakes improvisation has to happen and mistakes are inevitable.

Our tendency to blame ourselves for the enemy's rage is not just about wanting to be liked or falsely assuming everyone thinks like us, he explains. It also comes from a desire to control the enemy's image of us. If we're responsible, we're in control. This results in a "compulsion to demonstrate how good we are."

America needs an "inner jihad," Siegel proposes, that permits us to come to terms with the three levels of jihad against us: Violent Jihad, Civilization Jihad and International Institutional Jihad. Think Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Organization of Islamic Conference, respectively. 

The first part of the "inner jihad" is to admit that "we do not yet know how to fight this war within the context of our own values, morals and laws." This is the toughest step to take because it leads to more insecurity and therefore enhances the attractiveness of ideas that reassure us that we're in control. This step requires an admission of the disadvantages that the West has in this conflict.

Americans need to learn about the enemy. Ignorance contributes to insecurity. The ability to cope with the reality increases as we feel less ignorant. As America becomes more educated on the topic, the better it can handle the Control Factor that leads to the misunderstandings and denials.  Once the enemy is understood, the burden of responsibility must be placed on the aggressor, not the victim.   

Siegel suggests that "mirroring" should be used as part of this struggle. This entails responding to the enemy's behavior in somewhat similar fashion. Basically, Siegel is proposing a tit-for-tat strategy. If Iran and Pakistan support the Taliban, we should support their own internal enemies. If they cross Afghanistan's borders to kill U.S. soldiers, we should cross Afghanistan's borders to destroy their terrorist training camps and bomb factories.

He also offers a good example over rhetoric. The Islamists lash out over cartoons depicting Mohammed and criticisms of their beliefs while assembling "Death to America" rallies and publishing anti-American cartoons. Our reaction is to ignore the rallies and vocally share the outrage over the Mohammed cartoons and desecration of Korans.

Siegel suggests that supporting Muslim reformists is a strategy worth trying and can serve as a "positive counterbalance" to the Control Factor. He is less optimistic about their chances than I am and is critical of terms like "radical Islam" and "Islamists," but nonetheless we both recognize supporting Muslim reformists as an important part of moving forward.

One idea he has for them is "reverse abrogation." It is often taught that when there is a contradiction in Islamic doctrine, the verse that came later is the authoritative one. Perhaps, Siegel opines, Muslim reformists should teach that Mohammed's time in Mecca, which was more peaceful, takes precedent over his time in Medina. Dr. Tawfik Hamid has some additional ideas here and here, as do the Muslim authors of The Illusion of an Islamic State.

Bill Siegel's book, The Control Factor, stands out because he doesn't just try to substantively refute the pervasive misconceptions about radical Islam. That's been done before. He identifies the psychological process behind them and how to handle it-with America's own "Inner Jihad."

Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters' national security analyst. He is a fellow with, the founder of and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at

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