Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ayman al-Zawahiri

The Jihad Farm System

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

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Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, the American vice president referred to them as “knock-off jihadis.” Never mind the real bombs, the real deaths, and the real Islamic radicalism—they were wannabe terrorists because only two confused posers could elude the sophisticated security apparatuses of at least two countries and successfully execute a deadly double bomb plot in broad daylight. The point is this: the knock-off-real-deal jihad distinction is one we make for political reasons—acknowledging the scope of the threat would mean expanding the scope of the fight. This distinction is wholly nonsensical to our enemy. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t use the Joe Biden jihad legitimacy test. Give a little, give a lot; the important thing is that you give.

It’s very enterprising of al-Qaeda proper to support and utilize lesser affiliates. It’s also likely to increase as the organization comes to see that Americans won’t wage war on mere knock-offs. 

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Is Israel’s Safety No Longer a Western Interest?

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

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Appeasement Won’t Woo Terrorists

Yesterday President Obama declared that in light of the “unsettled situation” in Yemen, he will not be transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to that country. At the same time, Obama declared:

But make no mistake:  We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On the surface, that sounds like a persuasive case. Here’s why it’s not.

While the presence of Guantanamo Bay is used as a “recruiting tool” for al-Qaeda, it’s important to understand that, as Charles Krauthammer points out here, al-Qaeda’s grievances against America are almost endless. Like a game of Whack-A-Mole, if we got rid of one grievance, it would be replaced by another, and another, and another. Indeed, if Gitmo were closed, does anyone seriously think that it would satiate the demands of militant jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Would it make any difference in their war on us – or make it less likely that they could recruit people like the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks?

We are not dealing with rational state-to-state actors with whom we can negotiate reasonable demands; rather, we are dealing with Islamic fanatics who want to cut our throats and watch us bleed and watch us die. Closing Gitmo won’t change that. The roots of their hatred for America go much deeper than that.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in his 1996 fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” bin Laden said the latest indignity against Islam – “one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims since the death of the Prophet” – was the presence of American and coalition troops in Saudi Arabia. And a 1998 fatwa cited grievances against America that included sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and “serv[ing] the Jews’ petty state [Israel].” At that time, those were the “recruiting tools” for al-Qaeda. New ones emerge whenever it is convenient for al-Qaeda. And of course the attacks on 9/11 came before we were detaining any Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama has convinced himself that closing Guantanamo Bay is of crucial, and perhaps decisive, importance in our war against jihadism. That is self-delusion on a large scale and something we have seen before (witness Obama’s statement during the campaign that meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions might well convince the Iranian regime to fundamentally change its behavior). More than that, it means that on some basic level the president still does not understand the true nature of this struggle, of what is driving it, and what will be needed to eventually prevail in it.

If and when Obama finally does get around to closing Guantanamo Bay, he will discover how insignificant an issue it has been for jihadists. Militant Islamists will want to murder us as much then as they do now.

Yesterday President Obama declared that in light of the “unsettled situation” in Yemen, he will not be transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to that country. At the same time, Obama declared:

But make no mistake:  We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On the surface, that sounds like a persuasive case. Here’s why it’s not.

While the presence of Guantanamo Bay is used as a “recruiting tool” for al-Qaeda, it’s important to understand that, as Charles Krauthammer points out here, al-Qaeda’s grievances against America are almost endless. Like a game of Whack-A-Mole, if we got rid of one grievance, it would be replaced by another, and another, and another. Indeed, if Gitmo were closed, does anyone seriously think that it would satiate the demands of militant jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Would it make any difference in their war on us – or make it less likely that they could recruit people like the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks?

We are not dealing with rational state-to-state actors with whom we can negotiate reasonable demands; rather, we are dealing with Islamic fanatics who want to cut our throats and watch us bleed and watch us die. Closing Gitmo won’t change that. The roots of their hatred for America go much deeper than that.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in his 1996 fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” bin Laden said the latest indignity against Islam – “one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims since the death of the Prophet” – was the presence of American and coalition troops in Saudi Arabia. And a 1998 fatwa cited grievances against America that included sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and “serv[ing] the Jews’ petty state [Israel].” At that time, those were the “recruiting tools” for al-Qaeda. New ones emerge whenever it is convenient for al-Qaeda. And of course the attacks on 9/11 came before we were detaining any Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama has convinced himself that closing Guantanamo Bay is of crucial, and perhaps decisive, importance in our war against jihadism. That is self-delusion on a large scale and something we have seen before (witness Obama’s statement during the campaign that meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions might well convince the Iranian regime to fundamentally change its behavior). More than that, it means that on some basic level the president still does not understand the true nature of this struggle, of what is driving it, and what will be needed to eventually prevail in it.

If and when Obama finally does get around to closing Guantanamo Bay, he will discover how insignificant an issue it has been for jihadists. Militant Islamists will want to murder us as much then as they do now.

Read Less

Wright on al-Qaeda

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-”such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-”such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

Read Less

Why The Bin Laden Speculation?

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

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The Pride After The Fall

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

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Al Qaeda in . . . Mesopotamia?

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

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In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

In a single sentence, the Times does three things. First, it refers to Iraq as Mesopotamia, thereby using a more obscure term in an effort to disconnect al Qaeda from Iraq. Second, it goes out of its way to say that “homegrown Sunni Arab extremists” constitute the group, thereby emphasizing the indigenous rather than foreign element of al Qaeda in Iraq. And third, it attempts to put a question mark around the foreign involvement of AQI by saying that “American intelligence” has concluded it’s being run by foreigners.

The problem is that while the Times wants to separate the Iraq war from al Qaeda, al Qaeda itself does not. Osama bin Laden has declared:

The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.

As for the homegrown aspect of AQI: it’s true (as you would expect) that many members of AQI are Iraq Sunnis—and it’s also true that our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists brought into Iraq for a single purpose: to blow themselves up in the cause of killing innocent Iraqis, which in turn will push Iraq closer to civil war.

As for the foreign composition of AQI: it’s not incidental. Al Qaeda in Iraq was in fact (not alleged to have been) founded by foreign terrorists linked to senior al Qaeda leadership. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded AQI—and his successor (Zarqawi was killed in June 2006) is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is Egyptian. Zarqawi, who ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, had long-standing relations with senior al Qaeda leaders and had met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of al Qaeda. In 2004, Zarqawi and his jihadist organization formally joined al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden, promising to “follow his orders in jihad.” And bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the “prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.”

Clearly the Times wants to disconnect the Iraq war from al Qaeda and the wider war against Islamic jihadists. The more they can pry the two apart, the more unpopular the Iraq war will be. And the Times, if it wants anything at all, wants America’s involvement in Iraq to end, regardless of the cost, including genocide, a victory and safe haven for jihadists, a victory for Iran, and a wider regional war. And as we have seen, they will go to ridiculous ends to play their part.

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Ramadan’s Exclusion

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.

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Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.


Even leaving aside this and other contacts with leading terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, and the “blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center—all of which Ramadan denies—his claim to be a leading moderate who seeks to “westernize Islam” and believes in freedom of speech does not square with his public pronouncements. (For fuller documentation of these charges against Ramadan, please see this from the indispensible Daniel Pipes.) It is rank hypocrisy for Ramadan, who rarely condemns censorship in the Muslim world, to accuse the United States of “muffling critical opinion” and “requiring all its citizens to think the same way.”

Ramadan justified the protests against Danish cartoons of Mohammed, claiming that the Koran prohibits representations of Islamic prophets. (In fact, it does not.) He supported the Islamist campaign to ban Voltaire’s play about Mohammed, Fanaticism, at the French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. He refers to Islamist atrocities such as 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and Bali as “interventions” and denies that bin Laden was behind 9/11. He has praised the genocidal Sudanese Islamist regime. He attacked the French intellectuals Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy for “betraying the French Republic” by their support for “sectarianism”, a euphemism for Zionism, and scandalized many by identifying them as Jews. According to Mike Whine, head of the British Community Security Trust, an organization which monitors anti-Semitism, Ramadan has made many anti-Jewish statements and “is at the soft end of the extreme Islamist spectrum.”

We do not know precisely why the U.S. Department for Homeland Security has repeatedly turned down his application for a visa, despite elements in the State Department who would like to revoke the ban. The evidence against him may well include classified information. What we do know is that Ramadan has never abandoned his project of Islamification, and that he wants to pursue it in the heart of the United States. As the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan sees his own destiny in exalted terms. In his Chronicle piece, he speaks of the “period of transition” on which the West has embarked since the emergence of large Muslim minorities, who will require the host societies to make “major adjustments” to accommodate them. “We must move forward from integration,” he declares, while Muslims “must no longer see themselves as a ‘minority.’”

What does all this mean? What is Western society supposed to be in transition to—an Islamic one? What are these “major adjustments” that the Western democracies must make? What is wrong with the model of integration, which has served the United States well in the past, and why is it no longer good enough for Muslims? And why must Muslims no longer see themselves as a minority, if that is what they are?

Ramadan’s manifesto, moderate as it may sound, in reality amounts to a program of Islamification by stealth. His family was exiled from Egypt, and Ramadan remains persona non grata there, because the Muslim Brotherhood was and is seen as dangerous. It was the first and is still the largest Islamist organization in the world. Ramadan has achieved respectability in Europe, where he is feted by academics at Oxford and Geneva—he was even invited by the British government to sit on an advisory committee after the 7/7 subway bombings in London.

But the United States has looked more carefully at his record and decided that he represents a threat. To allow Ramadan’s brand of Islamism a platform in the heart of the American academy would be the equivalent of allowing, say, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt to lecture in the United States during the Third Reich. It was the judge who had prosecuted many Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, who warned that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” It is not incumbent on a democracy to allow its enemies the freedom to subvert its very existence. Tariq Ramadan is just such an enemy.

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