Much is being made of “The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism,” by Lawrence Wright, in the June 2 issue of the New Yorker. One of Al-Qaeda’s chief theorists rejects terrorism! Peace is at hand!
Unfortunately, reality — as is usually the case — is not quite so comforting. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, Dr. Fadl, is not rejecting the idea that Muslims must strive to subjugate unbelievers under the rule of Islamic law. All he is doing is advocating a change in strategy: less terrorism, more stealth jihad. This news shouldn’t make Americans go back to sleep; it should spur them to become aware of the ways in which the jihadist agenda of Islamic supremacism is advancing without guns and bombs.
Some key excerpts:
[…] In 1997, rumors of a possible deal between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government reached Zawahiri, who was then hiding in an Al Qaeda safe house in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Montasser al-Zayyat, the Islamist lawyer, was brokering talks between the parties. Zayyat has often served as an emissary between the Islamists and the security apparatus, a role that makes him both universally distrusted and invaluable. In his biography of Zawahiri, “The Road to Al-Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man,” Zayyat reports that Zawahiri called him in March of that year, when Zayyat arrived in London on business. “Why are you making the brothers angry?” Zawahiri asked him. Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach. Zawahiri urged Zayyat to change his mind, even promising that he could secure political asylum for him in London. “I politely rejected his offer,” Zayyat writes.
Not, “Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to waged against infidels.” Just “Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach.”
[…] The talks between the Islamic Group and the government remained secret until July, when one of the imprisoned leaders, who was on trial in a military court, stood up and announced to stunned observers the organization’s intention to cease all violent activity. Incensed, Zawahiri wrote a letter addressed to the group’s imprisoned leaders. “God only knows the grief I felt when I heard about this initiative and the negative impact it has caused,” he wrote. “If we are going to stop now, why did we start in the first place?” In his opinion, the initiative was a surrender, “a massive loss for the jihadist movement as a whole.”
To Zawahiri’s annoyance, imprisoned members of Al Jihad also began to express an interest in joining the nonviolence initiative. “The leadership started to change its views,” said Abdel Moneim Moneeb, who, in 1993, was charged with being a member of Al Jihad. Although Moneeb was never convicted, he spent fourteen years in an Egyptian prison. “At one point, you might mention this idea, and all the voices would drown you out. Later, it became possible.” Independent thinking on the subject of violence was not easy when as many as thirty men were crammed into cells that were about nine feet by fifteen. Except for a few smuggled radios, the prisoners were largely deprived of sources of outside information. They occupied themselves with endless theological debates and glum speculation about where they had gone wrong. Eventually, though, these discussions prompted the imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad to open their own secret channel with the government.
Zawahiri became increasingly isolated. He understood that violence was the fuel that kept the radical Islamist organizations running; they had no future without terror.
That may be so for some organizations. Others, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, get along just fine without violence. In fact, the Brotherhood is the key force behind the stealth jihad agenda, which aims at (in the words of a Brotherhood operative in 1991) “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “˜sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
Oh, but they’re not blowing anything up in pursuit of this goal? Then why worry? Carry on, mujahedin!
[…] The Islamic Group’s imprisoned leaders wrote a series of books and pamphlets, collectively known as “the revisions,” in which they formally explained their new thinking. “We wanted to relay our experience to young people to protect them from falling into the same mistakes we did,” Zuhdy told me. He recalled that, in several television appearances, he “advised Ayman al-Zawahiri to read our responses with an open mind.” In 1999, the Islamic Group called for an end to all armed action, not only in Egypt but also against America. “The Islamic Group does not believe in the creed of killing by nationality,” one of its representatives later explained.
The new thinking among the leaders caught the attention of the clerics at Al Azhar, the thousand-year-old institution of Islamic learning in the center of ancient Cairo. During my stay in Egypt, I met with Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, at the nearby Dar al-Iftah, a government agency charged with issuing religious edicts””some five thousand fatwas a week. I waited for several hours in an antechamber while Gomaa finished a meeting with a delegation from the British House of Lords. Since 2003, when Gomaa was appointed Grand Mufti, a top religious post in Egypt, he has become a highly promoted champion of moderate Islam, with his own television show and occasional columns in Al Ahram, a government daily.
He’s a highly promoted champion of moderate Islam, but he supports Hizballah.
He is the kind of cleric the West longs for, because of his assurances that there is no conflict with democratic rule and no need for theocracy. Gomaa has also become an advocate for Muslim women, who he says should have equal standing with men.
He is an advocate for Muslim women who has spoken positively of wife-beating.
His forceful condemnations of extreme forms of Islam have made him an object of hatred among Islamists and an icon among progressives, whose voices have been overpowered by the thunder of the radicals.
His forceful condemnations of extreme forms of Islam have been accompanied by his denial of reports that he had rejected the traditional Islamic death sentence for apostates.
The door finally opened, and Gomaa emerged. He is fifty-five, tall and regal, with a round face and a trim beard. He wore a tan caftan and a white turban. He held a sprig of mint to his nose as an aide whispered to him my reasons for coming. On the wall behind his desk was a photograph of President Mubarak.
Gomaa was born in Beni Suef, the same town as Dr. Fadl. “I began going into the prisons in the nineteen-nineties,” he told me. “We had debates and dialogues with the prisoners, which continued for more than three years. Such debates became the nucleus for the revisionist thinking.”
Before the revisions were published, Gomaa reviewed them. “We accept the revisions conditionally, not as the true teachings of Islam but with the understanding that this process is like medicine for a particular time,” he said.
In other words, the true teachings of Islam include the mandate to wage violent jihad against unbelievers. But jihad violence can be set aside as “medicine for a particular time.” That is, different times call for different tactics, but the overall objective remains the same.
The fact that the prisoners were painfully reÃ«xamining their thinking struck him as progress enough. “Terrorism springs from rigidity, and rigidity from literalism,” he said. Each concept is a circle within a circle, and just getting a person to inch away from the center was a victory. “Our experience with such people is that it is very difficult to move them two or three degrees from where they are,” he said. “It’s easier to move from terrorism to extremism or from extremism to rigidity. We have not come across the person who can be moved all the way from terrorism to a normal life.”
Now there is an extraordinarily significant admission, given the much-ballyhooed claims by Major General Douglas Stone and others to cure jihadists of their jihadism.
[…] 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.
In order to declare jihad, Fadl writes, certain requirements must be observed. One must have a place of refuge. There should be adequate financial resources to wage the campaign. Fadl castigates Muslims who resort to theft or kidnapping to finance jihad: “There is no such thing in Islam as ends justifying the means.” Family members must be provided for. “There are those who strike and then escape, leaving their families, dependents, and other Muslims to suffer the consequences,” Fadl points out. “This is in no way religion or jihad. It is not manliness.” Finally, the enemy should be properly identified in order to prevent harm to innocents. “Those who have not followed these principles have committed the gravest of sins,” Fadl writes.
To wage jihad, one must first gain permission from one’s parents and creditors. The potential warrior also needs the blessing of a qualified imam or sheikh; he can’t simply respond to the summons of a charismatic leader acting in the name of Islam. “Oh, you young people, do not be deceived by the heroes of the Internet, the leaders of the microphones, who are launching statements inciting the youth while living under the protection of intelligence services, or of a tribe, or in a distant cave or under political asylum in an infidel country,” Fadl warns. “They have thrown many others before you into the infernos, graves, and prisons.”
Even if a person is fit and capable, jihad may not be required of him, Fadl says, pointing out that God also praises those who choose to isolate themselves from unbelievers rather than fight them. Nor is jihad required if the enemy is twice as powerful as the Muslims; in such an unequal contest, Fadl writes, “God permitted peace treaties and cease-fires with the infidels, either in exchange for money or without it””all of this in order to protect the Muslims, in contrast with those who push them into peril.” In what sounds like a deliberate swipe at Zawahiri, he remarks, “Those who have triggered clashes and pressed their brothers into unequal military confrontations are specialists neither in fatwas nor in military affairs. . . . Just as those who practice medicine without background should provide compensation for the damage they have done, the same goes for those who issue fatwas without being qualified to do so.”
Despite his previous call for jihad against unjust Muslim rulers, Fadl now says that such rulers can be fought only if they are unbelievers, and even then only to the extent that the battle will improve the situation of Muslims. Obviously, that has not been the case in Egypt or most other Islamic countries, where increased repression has been the usual result of armed insurgency. Fadl quotes the Prophet Muhammad advising Muslims to be patient with their flawed leaders: “Those who rebel against the Sultan shall die a pagan death.”
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. “If vice is mixed with virtue, all becomes sinful,” he writes. “There is no legal reason for harming people in any way.” The prohibition against killing applies even to foreigners inside Muslim countries, since many of them may be Muslims. “You cannot decide who is a Muslim or who is an unbeliever or who should be killed based on the color of his skin or hair or the language he speaks or because he wears Western fashion,” Fadl writes. “These are not proper indications for who is a Muslim and who is not.” As for foreigners who are non-Muslims, they may have been invited into the country for work, which is a kind of treaty. What’s more, there are many Muslims living in foreign lands considered inimical to Islam, and yet those Muslims are treated fairly; therefore, Muslims should reciprocate in their own countries. To Muslims living in non-Islamic countries, Fadl sternly writes, “I say it is not honorable to reside with people””even if they were nonbelievers and not part of a treaty, if they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum with a decent life and other acts of kindness””and then betray them, through killing and destruction. This was not in the manners and practices of the Prophet.”
Sounds great — but read on:
Fadl does not condemn all jihadist activity, however. “Jihad in Afghanistan will lead to the creation of an Islamic state with the triumph of the Taliban, God willing,” he declares. The jihads in Iraq and Palestine are more problematic. As Fadl sees it, “If it were not for the jihad in Palestine, the Jews would have crept toward the neighboring countries a long time ago.” Even so, he writes, “the Palestinian cause has, for some time, been a grape leaf used by the bankrupt leaders to cover their own faults.” 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.”
Fadl approaches the question of takfir with caution, especially given his reputation for promoting this tendency in the past. He observes that there are various kinds of takfir, and that the matter is so complex that it must be left in the hands of competent Islamic jurists; members of the public are not allowed to enforce the law. “It is not permissible for a Muslim to condemn another Muslim,” he writes, although he has been guilty of this on countless occasions. “He should renounce only the sin he commits.”
Fadl acknowledges that “terrorizing the enemy is a legitimate duty“; however, he points out, “legitimate terror” has many constraints. Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in America, London, and Madrid were wrong, because they were based on nationality, a form of indiscriminate slaughter forbidden by Islam. In his Al Hayat interview, Fadl labels 9/11 “a catastrophe for Muslims,” because Al Qaeda’s actions “caused the death of tens of thousands of Muslims””Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis and others.”
The most original argument in the book and the interview is Fadl’s assertion that the hijackers of 9/11 “betrayed the enemy,” because they had been given U.S. visas, which are a contract of protection. “The followers of bin Laden entered the United States with his knowledge, and on his orders double-crossed its population, killing and destroying,” Fadl continues. “The Prophet””God’s prayer and peace be upon him””said, “˜On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner up his anus proportionate to his treachery.” ”
At one point, Fadl observes, “People hate America, and the Islamist movements feel their hatred and their impotence. Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy”s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? . . . That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.”…
In other words, it was tactically stupid. Not morally wrong.