Maneuvering within Islam`s narrative space
January-March 2018
By: Brian L Steed

Maneuver is gaining a position of advantage. In considering maneuver, one is then forced to consider the definitions of position and advantage. Position connotes location and is often associated with physical space and specific geography: crossroad, hilltop, river crossing, etc. This may be true. A position of advantage could also be a website or IP address; a political or religious title or authority; connection to historic or mythic people, places or events; or ideological beliefs. Advantage is relative. It is a position that gives greater opportunity or power to the actor with respect to the opponent in the conflict, counterpart in the competition or partner. 

As this is relational, it is critical that the actor understand values placed on the various locations, whether they be fixed and physical or conceptual, by the various participants. For example, one hilltop may have value for the placement of artillery to threaten a specific village, but it may have no advantage whatsoever in terms of shaping the thoughts and behaviors of the villagers. Whereas a simple shrine may have tremendous value to the community, but have no technical or tactical military, diplomatic or political value. Another example of relative power comes from words themselves. The vocabulary in any human interaction can be used to place a person or people in a position of advantage or disadvantage. This is true of simple vocabulary, but it becomes even more powerfully relevant when the vocabulary fits within deep-flowing narratives.

Center of gravity

According to contemporary US military thought and doctrine, there is one aspect toward which maneuver should be directed, and that is the center of gravity. This is explained first and best by the 19th-century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, as he describes it as “the hub of all power” and “the point at which all our energies should be directed.” Clausewitz further explains that in an ideal world, a single center of gravity can be comprehended if one fully understands both self and the opponent. Elsewhere, Clausewitz will state and imply that there may be more than one center of gravity. He typically states the army as a center of gravity, but he also includes cities and infrastructure as possible options.

A center of gravity is that thing which, if threatened, will cause a change in the behavior of the opponent. It is the thing which the opponent cannot dare risk and will cause adjustments in the opponent’s behavior to protect. In contemporary conflict, it is questionable that such a thing exists. Despite this uncertainty, the term is regularly used in the planning and execution of conflict actions. Center of gravity most succinctly captures the ideal of maneuver – a position so vital as to lead to an overthrow of the opponent. Truly a position of advantage.

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