Lumper or splitter?

Marc Lynch, of the Carnegie Endowment, has written an essay in which he divides analysts of Islamist movements between ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’. Lumpers, he writes, lump all Islamist movements into the same basket, and think the West is at war against them all. Splitters, on the other hand, analyse the many differences between movements, and see some (non-violent) Islamist groups as potential allies. Lumpers are wrong and splitters are right, according to Lynch.

On the face of it, I’m a lumper. I write often of a Sunni Islamist continuum. However, I think Lynch is too clumsy in his analysis; there are benefits to both approaches (it is important to know the differences between factions, even if you think they are all the enemy). Further, by lumping all lumpers into the same basket, Lynch does his analysis no favours.

Lynch appears to believe that lumpers see all Islamist movements as a coherent whole. This indicates he thinks lumpers think that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State, for instance, are in a grand, cooperative coalition—perhaps a Muslim variant of the Elders of Zion! While some might think that’s the case, I disagree. For a start, there is a difference between Muslim groups (i.e. Political groups that have Islam as part of their identity) and Islamist groups (i.e. Political groups whose objectives are defined by their interpretation of Islam). Membership of my Sunni Islamist continuum is determined by objectives: it consists only of groups that have the objective of establishing a Sunni caliphate. All Islamist groups that desire this goal, whether now or in 50 yeas, and whether violently or non-violently, are on the continuum and, despite the many differences between them, they are all the enemies of the West. This does not indicate that these groups are in cahoots, but merely they share a desired outcome. In that regard, I am a lumper, but that doesn’t mean I lump all Muslim groups into the one basket (and, certainly, Shi’ite groups or states like Hezbollah and Iran are in their own basket—what this blog and others label the Resistance Bloc).

(Further, Hamas has been wavering between membership of the Resistance Bloc and the Sunni Islamist continuum for years, as covered in other pages of this blog.)

But, of course, it is important to know the differences between the groups. Islamic State, for instance, can only be beaten with violence (although effective governance will help prevent the emergence of a similar group in the future). But the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan will be defeated through effective governance, secular education and increased civil rights. The tactics required to defeat each actor on the continuum are different, but the strategy is the same, to not only show everyone that being on the continuum leads to failure, but also that there are better options to secure health, wealth and safety for one’s country, community and family. Obviously, devining successful tactics and implementing them is hard, if not currently impossible, so the status quo will likely contnue for some time. But before we launch into implementing tactics—any tactics—we need to know what our strategy is. Does the West have a strategy? 

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