We’ve often heard critics of the war in Iraq assert that we’ve diverted attention away from the real war on terror, and need to focus attention on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan (as if we aren’t engaged against al-Qaeda operatives all over the world). Even Presidential candidates think it’s a winning statement, to push forth the belief that Iraq is still a disaster, and that we’ve only succeeded in “emboldening our enemies” and “We are seeing al-Qaeda stronger now than at any time since 2001.” The other criticism is to dismiss the level of influence of al Qaeda in Iraq, because foreign fighters make up a low percentage number of the insurgents.
Yet developments in Iraq have seen not only the success of the Surge, but also a rejection of al-Qaeda by all Iraqis including (and especially by) Sunnis; as well as a growing rejection of al-Qaeda theology in the Muslim world, in general. Iraq damaged al Qaeda’s image and any prestige they might have commanded, at one point. Al Qaeda knows this. Why doesn’t Senator Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ariana Huffington?
Last year, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a popular Saudi Islamic scholar criticized Osama bin Laden who once lionized him.
Mufti Sheikh Abd Al-’Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest Islamic religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. Tareq Al-Humaid, the editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, points out the significance:
“It is true that some of these [young people] have become enslaved by Al-Qaeda and its ideology, and are now beyond hope; however, the importance of the fatwa lies in the impact that it will have on most of the Saudi public, and in particular the fathers and mothers. Its value lies in the fact that it will wrest from the hands of the ‘politicized sheikhs’ the card that they have been using all this time.
“Where are the moderates?” Mainstream Muslims have been rejecting terrorism and al Qaeda’s brand of Islamic ideology, even as we remain suspicious of the sincerity and heart of those who profess to be practitioners of the Islamic faith.
The most recent astonishing and important rejection and condemnation of al Qaeda comes from Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl.
Who is Dr. Fadl?
Last May, a fax arrived at the London office of the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat from a shadowy figure in the radical Islamist movement who went by many names. Born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, he was the former leader of the Egyptian terrorist group Al Jihad [Egyptian Islamic Jihad], and known to those in the underground mainly as Dr. Fadl. Members of Al Jihad became part of the original core of Al Qaeda; among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant. Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.
Fadl’s fax confirmed rumors that imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad were part of a trend in which former terrorists renounced violence. His defection posed a terrible threat to the radical Islamists, because he directly challenged their authority. “There is a form of obedience that is greater than the obedience accorded to any leader, namely, obedience to God and His Messenger,” Fadl wrote, claiming that hundreds of Egyptian jihadists from various factions had endorsed his position.
Why my emphases? Because of my recent arguments with fellow war-on-terror conservatives, regarding the nature of Islam, and what approach to use in dealing with a religion of 1.5 billion, that seems to have a serious anger management problem.
Andrew McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, estimates that perhaps 20% of Muslims are an issue, when it comes to Islamic terror and Islamism. They are a vocal, “dynamic minority”, he said yesterday in an interview on the Dennis Prager Show. Most readers find Spencerian agreement with McCarthy in his assessment of the Islamist threat. But I do not think he goes so far as to condemn Islam as a whole, falling into the pitfalls of educated religious bigotry.
Can terrorists be reformed? Yes. Dr. Fadl may still be an Islamist whose values we still differ strongly with; but if he rejects the violence of terrorism and is a legitimate, influential voice for Islamic scholarship, then he is an important chess piece in winning the Long War.
The fact that a major, influential player in the “jihad” movement has now come out in rejection of violence as a method to spreading Islam should be welcomed and encouraged. And he is not alone:
Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-’Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad.~~~
Sheikh Salman alAwdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionised, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy.”
If we are going to win the War against Islamic Terror, it will not be by violently eradicating 1.5 billion plus Muslims into extinction, but by converting hearts and minds to reject terrorism; by convincing those who practice Islam that what they have been told by the Zawahiris regarding persecution from the West, is propaganda and lies. al-Qaeda has murdered more Muslims than President George W. Bush; and they have deceived and misled many more.
Islam critics claim that Islam cannot be reformed (unless, of course, it’s in the direction of more violence), that it’s incompatible with democracy, that there is no such thing as “radical” Islam. But a “pacified” Islam is exactly what was and has been taking place in Muslim countries. Many Muslims have accepted living under secular governments and not Sharia. It is the wahhabists, salafi fundamentalists, and modern “jihad” movement, as instigated by the likes of Zawahiri, Dr. Fadl, and Sayyid Qutb, who wish to derail the secular modernization of the Islamic faith- what they see as the erosion of “true” Islam- with their own backward reformation movement.
But al Qaeda is the enemy of us all, including Islam. it is influential modern works of Islamist scholars, such as Dr. Fadl’s ” “The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge” as much as anything found in the Koran or Hadith, from which “jihadis” draw their inspiration and motivation. Good, peaceful Muslims also read from the Koran. Not from the interpretive writings on Islam by radicalizers such as Sayyid Qutb and Abdul Qader bin Abdul Aziz (Dr. Fadl’s pen name under which he wrote the Compendium used for al Qaeda recruitment).
Today, Dr. Fadl’s most recent book “undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” and is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology”. And that’s a good thing.
There is an ideological/theological split in the “jihad” movement, and we should take advantage of that. Merely condemning Islam as an evil religion, as some commenters have done on my previous posts of this nature, does nothing to encourage this tearing asunder and fomenting of an ideological “civil war”.
If Islam wishes to survive beyond the 21st century, it will not be by embracing the romanticized, revisionist delusions of political Islamic scholars who wish to reform Islam away from secularized compatibility and modernity, and back toward 7th and 12th century intolerability and past glory.
Related post: CiA tells Congress Al Queda is losing hearts and minds