Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist who is always being interviewed on NPR, was discussing this “rethinking-within-Al-Qaeda” business on NPR, at the same time as Lawrence Wright appeared. He was very skeptical of Wright’s notion, and he had a grasp of things on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan that Wright clearly does not have, as well as an understanding of what prompts Al Qaeda, and all the other groups, named and unnamed, that are working, locally or more broadly, for the same goals.
Now Ahmad Rashid is a smooth and plausible journalist, not a fearless truth-teller but a quasi-truth-teller. His book Taliban is full of all kinds of defender-of-the-faith misstatements. And he never comes close to discussing, on the page, for Infidel prying eyes, the texts, tenets, attitudes, and atmospherics of Islam — with which, of course, he is perfectly familiar. He is, however, someone who does not relish the spreading power of the primitive Muslim true-believers, either in his own Pakistan or in those places in the West he likes to visit and live in. He works for a living, and is not, I think, in the same zamindar-league as the Bhuttos, Ispahanis, and such-like.
In Pakistani terms, or even Muslim terms, he might be described as a secularist, but he is still a Defender of the Faith when he feels he needs to be. Long ago he defined “Jihad,” in his book of the same name, in the usual “struggling-internally-to-be-a-good-Muslim” terms that would please Karen Armstrong and John Esposito. That was shameful. He would not, I trust, do so today, for several reasons. The first is that he knows that Infidels, or the more intelligent and alert Infidels, know perfectly well what nonsense that is, and would look askance if he tried at this point to convince them otherwise. And, furthermore, he, Ahmad Rashid, is more worried, I suspect, about the powers of resurrection or recuperation, and indeed the growing power, of the Taliban and of similar Muslim groups. To name them, and to carefully differentiate them, with all kinds of solemn parsing of their programs, would be largely silly, for even if they may sometimes have differences, or slightly different stated goals, when it comes to the Infidels (which is what we, the Infidels, care about), these groups all share the same attitudes, believe in the same tenets, and read the same texts.
But Rashid has a much keener sense of things than Lawrence Wright. Wright, like Peter Bergen, another journalist who does not really know much about Islam, came to the party late. Both of them could just as well be writing about the history of the computer industry, or the Colombian drug cartel, or something. Wright, like Bergen, was simply someone who became an “expert” on Islam based on finding out something about Al-Qaeda. In Bergen’s case, it was his having been able to interview Bin Laden, which apparently he has managed not only to dine out on, but to turn into a full-time career.
Neither Bergen nor Wright gives evidence of having spent years, or even months, studying the texts and tenets of Islam. Neither one appears to know a thing about the history of Islamic conquest and of the subsequent treatment of conquered non-Muslims. Neither one seems to think that that history, or those texts, those tenets, and the attitudes and atmospherics to which they naturally give rise in states and societies suffused with Islam, needs not only to be studied and restudied and carefully assimilated, but also to be understood in the context that is presented today. What, after all, were the instruments of Jihad that were available in 650 A.D. and 1000 A.D. and 1650 A.D.? And what happened to cause Jihad to fall into desuetude in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries? And why, in the last half century, has Jihad once again become possible, and what are the main instruments of that Jihad?
One has the distinct feeling that Wright and Bergen both think that Jihad is conducted only through qitaal, combat. One also has the feeling that they do not understand the centrality of Jihad. They think of it almost as some kind of curious afterthought, that only those wild-eyed extremists of Al Qaeda are likely to embrace.
Ahmad Rashid politely begged very much to differ on NPR with “my friend Lawrence.” Despite his occasional lapse into defender-of-the-faith apologetics, he does perceive Lawrence Wright’s essential and possibly incurable misunderstanding of Islam, and the deep impression that has been made on Wright by the former ideologist of Al Qaeda, the man whom Lawrence Wright too-respectfully kept calling on NPR “Dr. Fadl.” Lawrence Wright apparently is under the impression that Al Qaeda is the only real terrorist group, and the others are all “nationalists” — you know, like Laskar-Jihad, like Jund al-Islam, like Ansar al-Sunnah. Not to mention, of course, Hamas, Hizballah, and the redundantly-named Islamic Jihad, which helps maintain the ferocious “Islamic” credentials of those no-one-here-but-us-accountants leaders of the for-some-too-slow Slow Jihadists of Fatah. Yes, they”re all “nationalist” (that is his, Wright’s, word) groups, because this group, in Wright’s dreamy view, just wants — so he thinks — the Balkans, or that group just wants all of Israel (sorry, wants “justice for the ‘Palestinian people'”), and this group wants all of Kashmir, and then, for their second helping (l’appetit vient en mangeant) would like all of India, and so on — yes, “nationalist” groups all.
Wright, whose unjustifiably-ballyhooed New Yorker article about how Al Qaeda is now being undone from within because of some supposed re-thinking by its former ideological justifier and guide (think Mikhail Suslov, circa 1957), does not understand what “Jihad” is. He thinks, just like George Bush, that “Jihad” is limited to warfare of the obvious kind — either “terrorism” or other kinds of attacks, more conventional in nature and in target. It is true that for more than a millennium, based not only on the model of Muhammad, but also on the non-availability of other means, or instruments of Jihad, combat or “qitaal” was indeed the method of taking part in, or promoting Jihad. That changed, however, in the post-World War II era.
Three things happened to change the nature, and the effectiveness, and thus the allure, of Jihad. The first was the discovery of oil in the Middle East, and the uses found for that oil in the oil-consuming West, and then, the transfer of power and money that these oil deposits in Muslim lands (at one time ten of the eleven members of OPEC were Muslim-run states) permitted. Ten trillion dollars has been transferred from oil-consuming nations to the Muslim states of OPEC since 1973 alone, and at present prices, about a trillion dollars a year is still being transferred. This has permitted the development and deployment of what the Muslims themselves describe as the weapon of “gold,” that is, what we may call “the Money Weapon.” Saudi Arabia has by itself spent close to 100 billion dollars on mosques, madrasas, propaganda, armies of Western hirelings in the outside world, to help spread Islam, or to disguise the nature of Islam.
The second new instrument of Jihad comes from the fact that in the last 40 years, every Western country has allowed within its borders, without any thought, any discussion, any understanding of the possible perils, very large numbers — hundreds of thousands or, as in the case of France, millions of Muslims. These Muslims have not stopped regarding the Lands of the Infidels, the Bilad Al-Kufr, as places that must be conquered for Islam. For the whole world rightly belongs to Allah, and to the Muslims, the “Best of Peoples.” And they have brought as many fellow Muslims, legally or illegally, into these countries, and also had enormous families, for with the generous welfare benefits that the states of Western Europe provide — with free education and free medical care greatly superior to anything they could have had in a Muslim lands, and with free or subsidized housing, and with, in a frantic attempt to “integrate” these Muslims, free courses in language and national history and culture. They offer those courses as if that would do the trick, creating Muslims loyal to Infidels and to the Infidel nation-state. The immigrating Muslim families tend to be two, three, four, times larger than the families of the natives. And every year the percentage of the population that is Muslim inexorably increases.
And these Muslims, now numbering in the many millions, make incessant demands for changes, changes in the social arrangements, changes in the school curricula, changes in the laws, changes in the political institutions, changes in everything, so that everything may better conform to what Muslims want, what Islam demands. They sometimes win, and sometimes lose, in the battles that ensue over such requests and such pressures and such threats, sometimes, of violence. But the requests, or demands, or agitation, even if they do not work at this point, or at this, continue and will not stop, for Islam does not change, its demands do not change. And what may be called “demographic conquest” continues.
Furthermore, every Muslim is supposed to be a missionary for Islam. And there are efforts by Muslim groups, as well as by Muslim individuals, to target Infidels for conversion — or “reversion” — to Islam, by seeking out the economically or psychically marginal and playing upon that marginality.
And along with the oil-revenue trillions, and the effect of those Muslim-migrant millions, there is the new technology. It has been developed entirely by Infidels, but is appropriated for their own uses by Muslims. It is available to disseminate the message of Islam and the worldview of Islam both to Muslims and to non-Muslims.
Ahmad Rashid, as a Muslim still keenly interested in avoiding discussion of the instruments of Jihad besides terrorism, will not discuss all this. And that is understandable. He is still wedded to and deeply protective of Islam. As long as one understands that about him, what he writes can still be of some value. But Lawrence Wright is another matter. He is not a defender of Islam, out of fear or filial piety. He’s a misunderstander of Islam, who just can’t get it right.
He thinks, for example, and on NPR said several times, that aside from Al-Qaeda, the smaller terrorist groups had different, specific, local aims. Perhaps he thinks Hamas is only interested in destroying Israel, or Hizballah in destroying Israel and, perhaps, Lebanon. Perhaps he thinks that Lasker-Jihad or Sipah-e-Sahaba or Jund al-Islam only have this or that desire, to win Indian-held Kashmir or kick the Hindus (and Western tourists) out of Bali. He does not understand that the same texts, and the same tenets, and the same attitudes, and the same atmospherics, are what prompt the members of all of these groups, and their size, or their immediate goals, do not matter. In the end they must help one another. They must be loyal to all other members of the Umma conducting Jihad, wherever those members may be, or their chosen cause. Wright keeps talking about these smaller groups being “nationalist.” This testifies to his incomprehension. If he thinks, for example, that Hamas is a “nationalist” group, then he should take a look at the charter of Hamas, and ask himself what is “nationalist” about it, and what is, so obviously, simply “Islamic” — that is, rooted in Islam?
Lawrence Wright’s understanding of Jihad, and of these smaller groups that he thinks are “nationalist” in their goals and impulses, could be tested by asking him to examine the goals of those Muslims — the Uighurs — in western China, in Xinjiang. They would seem to be a perfect example of people simply out for their “liberation” from Chinese rule, in other words, people trying to establish their own nation-state, exhibiting that “nationalism” that Lawrence Wright claims is a feature of all these smaller groups that others, he thinks, so wrongly link to Al Qaeda.
Well, MEMRI put up recently a statement, by Muslim Uighurs, of what Muslim Uighurs want. Here it is:
“The Islamic Party of Turkestan” is a jihadist group operating in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known as Chinese Turkestan or Uyghuristan), a region in northwestern China inhabited mostly by Muslims.
On May 21, 2008, the Islamist forum Al-Ikhlas (hosted by Piradius.net in Malaysia) posted the party’s platform, as issued by its media department. The document sets out the party’s goals and beliefs.
The following are excerpts from the platform document:
“We are a group that promotes jihad for the sake of Allah… Its members, [united in] monotheism, devoutness, piety, and jihad for the sake of Allah, aim to liberate Muslim East Turkestan from the apostate Communist Chinese occupation… and impose shari’a [law] in [this region]. By cooperating with the Muslim mujahideen throughout the Islamic world [we aim to] restore the Islamic Caliphate and impose shari’a throughout the world.”
“Our Goals Are:
“To train the Muslim Turkestani youth to wage jihad…”
“To prepare the Muslim Turkestani masses [for jihad] and to bring them back to the right path [i.e. to the Salafi creed]…”
“To cooperate with all the groups waging jihad for the sake of Allah throughout the world, in order to repel the attacks of the apostates… and drive the Crusaders, Zionists and apostates from our Islamic world…”
“We believe that, like most Muslim countries, East Turkestan is under the direct and indirect occupation of apostates… and is governed by secular and democratic constitutions and laws…
“We believe that if Muslim countries are under direct or indirect occupation… waging jihad against those who rule them and subject them to apostate laws becomes a mandatory [duty].
“We believe that, since the apostate attacker has invaded our lands, jihad in the path of Allah has become a personal duty incumbent upon every Muslim in Turkestan…”
“We deem it necessary to impose shari’a in East Turkestan and in all [other] Muslim countries after they are liberated from the imperialists and apostates…
“We believe that any presence of the apostate Chinese occupiers – be it military, governmental, political or economic – is a legitimate target for jihad… This statement is a declaration of war upon them, and they must therefore leave East Turkestan immediately.”
“We consider the presence of Chinese immigrants in Muslim East Turkestan illegitimate. They represent the most tangible form of Chinese occupation… They must leave Turkestan and return to their places of origin. This statement is [our] first and last warning [to them]…
“We reject… all symbols of Jahili [i.e. non-Islamic] nationalism, as well as the deviant [ideology of] democracy in all its forms, and [declare] our opposition to them…
“We are an independent, organized Islamic group, under the command of an Emir and a leadership… in accordance with the Islamic principles of shura [consultation].”
Perhaps someone can send this article to Lawrence Wright and ask if he could tease out of it the “nationalist” demands that he apparently think describe the various Muslim groups conducting Jihad around the world. Be sure to ask him to discuss, in particular, this sentence, and to compare its significance with, say, Article 7 in the Hamas Charter:
“We deem it necessary to impose shari’a in East Turkestan and in all [other] Muslim countries after they are liberated from the imperialists and apostates…
And no further questions, Your Honor, of Lawrence Wright.