Commentary Magazine


The Gap Widens . . .

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.