Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Decline Of The Al Qaeda Brand

The New Republic (TNR) has published an article, "The Unraveling," on the decline of jihadism and the pushback within the jihadi community against the type of indiscriminate and extreme violence regularly practiced by al Qaeda. The decline is well documented, as well as the changing attitudes towards al Qaeda in the Muslim world. The TNR authors do a good job of documenting the tactical differences within the jihadi community. Unfortunately, the authors misdiagnose both the cause of radical Islam and the reason for the pushback against the violence. The TNR article is also of note for the facts it raises about al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 belief in America’s weakness and how that played into the decision to attack the U.S.


You can find the TNR article here. It traces the growth of resistance to al Qaeda from within the jihadi community and is well worth the read.

Unfortunately, the resistance the author’s document to al Qaeda and its brand of indiscriminate violent jihad comes not from the type of rethinking of values that might lead to a true revolution within Islam. Rather, it is largely rooted in abhorrence of the indiscriminate violence that seems most directed at innocent Muslims. This is important, but it is at best a small step towards lessening the fundamental problems presented by radical Islam. For every radical who turns away from al Qaeda today, there are tens of thousands of children around the world being trained in a Saudi Salafi / Wahhabi curricula that has among its explicitly stated goals "to prepare students physically and mentally for jihad for the sake of Allah." Another stated goal of the curricula is "to arouse the spirit of Islamic jihad in order to fight our enemies, to restore our rights and our glory, and to fulfill the mission of Islam." In other words, the wheels of the jihadi factory are turning on a daily basis around the world in Saudi funded schools and mosques. The TNR authors completely miss this.

The authors don't seem to fully grasp that there are two prerequisites to ending Islamic radicalism. One is that Wahhabi / Salafi Islam must be engaged and either moved into a process of moderation through ijtihad or be de-legitimized. Wahhabi / Salafi Islam is a brutally repressive strain of Islam originating out of Arabia. It presents a very rigid, utopian view of Islam based on the millenium old teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah as embraced and interpreted by Ibn Wahhab in the 18th century. It is a strain of Islam that has only gained ascendancy in the Muslim world in the past 50 years on the back of the Saudi oil wealth.

Rather than identify terrorism with the dogma of Wahhabi / Salafi Islam, the TNR authors blame a particular doctrine as being at the heart of radical Islam’s problems:

Why have clerics and militants once considered allies by Al Qaeda's leaders turned against them? To a large extent, it is because Al Qaeda and its affiliates have increasingly adopted the doctrine of takfir, by which they claim the right to decide who is a "true" Muslim. Al Qaeda's Muslim critics know what results from this takfiri view: First, the radicals deem some Muslims apostates; after that, the radicals start killing them. . . .

The authors completely misperceive this. The doctrine of takfir has always been at the very heart of Wahhabi / Salafi Islam. It was the religious justification the Saud clan used to massacre their way to power within the past century. It is not innovation by al Qaeda. To the contrary:

The radical medieval Islamic scholar . . . Ibn Taymiyyah established a precedent for the declaration of takfir . . . The 18th Century Islamic Revivalist Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab referred back to Ibn Taymiyyah in constructing an interpretation of Islam that allowed him to fight his fellow Muslims. He condemned many mainstream Muslim traditions (such as Sufism) as bid'a (innovation of the religion) and his followers slew many Muslims for allegedly kufr practises. . . .

Read the entire article. The problem is the sect of Wahhabi Salafi Islam – and as several insightful commentors have noted before, it is not that bin Laden has bastardized Wahhabi Salafi Islam, it is that bin Laden has fully effectuated its teachings. Winston Churchill, who spent many years in Middle East, described Salafi / Wahhabi Islam as "a form of Mohammedanism which bears, roughly speaking, the same relationship to orthodox Islam as the most militant form of Calvinism would have borne to Rome in the fiercest times of [Europe's] religious wars." You can find a list of some of the more radical aspects of Wahhabi / Salafi Islam here, and you can read former Salafi terrorist Tawfiq Hamid’s missive about the incredible dangers posed by Salafi / Wahhabi Islam here.

So long as Wahhabi / Salafi Islam remains in its current form and the practitioners of that sect continue to be supported by vast oil wealth of the Middle East, we will not see an end to radical Islam. And indeed, Islamic terrorism, while it may recede in the interim, will always be a threat. It is one that will increase exponentially should the Middle Eastern countries – and in particular Saudi Arabia – join the club of nuclear armed nations. That is a distinct possibility as Saudi Arabia, along with most countries in the Middle East, are looking to develop nuclear capability in response to Iran.

Which brings us to the second prerequisite if we are to see the end of radical Islam. There must be a moderating or de-legitimization of the Khomeinist Shia variant of radical Islam practiced in Iran. It is every bit as radical, expansionist and triumphalist as Wahhabi / Salafi Islam and, indeed, Khomeini appears to have been directly effect by Wahhabism in the development of his own philosophy, the velyat e faqi. It is a philosophy that broke with over a millenium of Shia apolitical tradition to require theocratic rule and that seeks the expansion of its revolution throughout the Middle East and the larger world.

Another aspect of the TNR article is quite troubling. At one point, the authors describe the severe problem that Britain has as the West’s home with radical Islamists:

. . . It is in Britain that many leaders of the jihadist movement have settled as political refugees, and "Londonistan" has long been a key barometer of future Islamist trends. There are probably more supporters of Al Qaeda in Britain than any other Western country, and, because most British Muslims are of Pakistani origin, British militants easily can obtain terrorist training in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Al Qaeda's main operational hub since September 11. And now, because it is difficult for Al Qaeda to send Middle Eastern passport holders to the United States, the organization has particularly targeted radicalized Muslims in Britain for recruitment. . . .

The authors go on to note that the British government has allied with organizations that are off-shoots of the Muslim Brotherhood to combat violent jihadism in Britain. The authors portray the Brotherhood as a type of moderate organization. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, relying on the Brotherhood to stop radical Islam is akin to making a deal with the devil to fight evil. The difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda is purely one of tactics.

The Muslim Brotherhood eschews the indiscriminate violence of al Qaeda, but it seeks to subvert the freedoms of the West and to achieve precisely the same goals of Islamic dominance – and it too is founded in the Wahhabi / Salafi ideology. It is neither non-violent nor non-radical. Indeed, yesterday, the head of the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was on television praising bin Laden. The motto of the organization should be a hint: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." Fjordman has done an extensive essay on the Muslim Brotherhood and the dangers it poses to the West that I posted here. If Britain is looking to the Brotherhood as its ally against radical Islam, it is in even deeper trouble than I have articulated in previous posts, such as here.

Lastly, the article brings up a fact well worth remembering, particularly by those on the left who are wedded to declaring Iraq a defeat and withdrawing from that country while simultaneously undertaking direct talks with Iran. The TNR article opens with discussion of a meeting held by al Qaeda in 2000 as bin Laden sought to enlist other terror organizations under his banner:

Within a few minutes of Noman Benotman's arrival at the Kandahar guest house, Osama bin Laden came to welcome him. . . . It was the summer of 2000, and Benotman, then a leader of a group trying to overthrow the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, had been invited by bin Laden to a conference of jihadists from around the Arab world, . . .

. . . Benotman also told bin Laden that the Al Qaeda leader's decision to target the United States would only sabotage attempts by groups like Benotman's to overthrow the secular dictatorships in the Arab world. "We made a clear-cut request for him to stop his campaign against the United States because it was going to lead to nowhere," Benotman recalls, "but they laughed when I told them that America would attack the whole region if they launched another attack against it." . . .

The important point here is that we were attacked in large part because bin Laden and his associates did not fear us. They believed the West was weak and would not respond forcefully. The starting point for that belief was our legislated defeat in Vietnam – a point repeatedly raised over the years by Ayman al Zawahiri in his speeches. It was a view further strengthened when al Qaeda attacked the West and America at the margins throughout the 1990's. The U.S. response to each provocation was seen by the jihadis as weak and ineffectual. Remember the Khobar Towers bombing, the bombing of our embassies in Africa, Blackhawk Down and the bombing of the USS Cole. The 9-11 attacks were simply the natural evolution of the jihadi paradigm. That should be an abject lesson in why pulling out of Iraq at this point would be suicidal folly. It would only reinforce the same beliefs that led to the 9-11 attacks.

This is an important point as to Iran also. A motto of the leader of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, was that the "U.S. can’t do a damned thing." He was utterly convinced of the impotence of the West, and it is a central theme within the Iranian theocracy to this day. The theocrats in Iran do not believe the West has the stomach to challenge them, and they are acting accordingly. They have regularly attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East and are doing so now in a proxy war in Iraq. They do not believe the West will do anything to stop them as they move forwards towards a nuclear arsenal, dominate Lebanon, attack Israel through Hamas, and wreak bloodshed and havoc throughout the Middle East. We have no chance of engaging Iran and making them alter their murderous ways until they come to believe that we are not impotent and we are quite willing to pull the trigger. It is why Obama’s utopian strategy to eschew the stick and engage Iran in presidential talks is the height of folly.

While this is an informative article by TNR, to the extent that it gives the impression that our problems with radical Islam are ameliorating within the Jihadi community, it is only partly correct - and only a small part at that.

(H/T The Belmont Club)

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