Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Found this at Solomonia
On to the paper (after my own ramblings):
I received via email a very interesting paper by Stephen Ulph "Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad." I can't find the document online but its main thrust is that the Jihadi Salafist ideology, which recruits and propagandizes very efficiently via the web, is something that must be tackled in vigorous intellectual combat, not just by Muslims, but by non-Muslim westerners. Why? Because they have succeeded in erecting an intellectual edifice that sucks intelligent and well-to-do Mulsims into the Jihadi movement. Because the movement has a sustained intellectual basis, it calls for a systematic intellectual de-programming, in some cases, and immunization in others, if we hope to dry up the well of support for the enemy. This demands not only that we 'know the enemy' but know him well, and indeed meet him on his own intellectual turf, according to Ulph.
The paper is reproduced in full just below my post. It's a cut and paste of the pdf file, which I could not find online. So, caveats, its format is a bit screwed up, and it, no doubt has enough imperfections to annoy. But, it's a well taken, and well researched piece, by a guy that certainly knows his stuff.
Ulph points out that we need to be concerned with two basic facts about the Salafi Ideology.
First thing, 'Textualism':
1. Salafi Islam is "textualist". By this Ulph means to point out a feature that is similar, but not identical to what philosophers in the Christian West call 'divine command theory.' According to DTC, the mere fact that something is commanded by God literally makes that commanded thing good. The mere fact that something is forbidden by God makes that thing wrong. Likewise, the Salafist textualist believes that the mere fact that something has been written in the Qur’ān and the Hadīth gives justification for acting in ways described in the text.
In fact, the following passage seems to allow for a logical space between what is ethical, and what is textually justified. This is an important point, for the Salafist may argue that what our moral judgments or intuitions tell us about his actions (which include killing non-combatants and fellow Muslims) is utterly beside the point if indeed what he does is sanctioned or required by the holy texts. If he moves down this argumentative route, there is precious little we can do. But that does not mean there is nothing we can do. [More on that later]
The passage though, makes clear, that at least in Ulph's opinion, things aren't quite that difficult for us. Why? Because there is in fact an assumption behind textualism, that what is commanded via the select texts is good, and commanded because good. What is forbidden is forbidden because bad. Anyway, to the text itself. Ulph says about textualism:
...that is an interesting first pointer to where we have to focus our attention. Because, essentially, it is the dilemma between textualism – the recourse to the authority of a written text – and independent moral judgment. Since the Enlightenment, we have been quite happy to understand that independent moral judgement, whatever religious tradition you are in, somehow enriches that religious tradition. This debate has not yet been won in Islam. Textualism, in this case the dependence on the Qur’ān and the Hadīth, still trumps independent ethical thought. You may think something is right or wrong, but you have first to get the chapter‐and‐verse for confirmation. And this is an important starting point: the argument for that is quite simple for a jihadi, or a Salafist. It is that God communicated these texts to the Prophet via the angel Gabriel, so there can be no doubt about the rightness or wrongness of these. On the other hand, your independent moral judgement is a product of your imperfect human brain. So the exercise of making a decision based on the moral case is a priori flawed, and is not actually going to be worth all that much. You may indeed have a personal opinion on this or that, but you need the text to justify what you do or do not do. That is the nub of the problem.
Now, granted that the textualist is operating under the assumption that the texts do in fact catalogue morally right and wrong courses of action, and that it is up to us to seek textual backing for anything we intend to do, or refrain from doing, as a sort of justification of our beliefs that we are doing the right thing, we do have open to us a line of argument that Ulph is quite right to say has not enjoyed as robust a flourishing in the Islamic world as it has in the Christian West (during the Reformation especially), but the logic of which is hard to ignore. What is more, while it has not flourished in the Islamic world, Ulph takes pains to say this line of thought has found expression in the Islamic past, and also in the present. This is one of Danial Pipes' points in the debate with Dr. Sultan as well. In bare outline the line of reasoning that we can exploit is something like this:
1. If the decision procedure for determining the ethical worth of an act involves reference to written or spoken traditional texts, then in order for that reference to occur, there must be a reader or auditor who, of necessity, must interpret the texts. For short, let's call this person 'The Interpreter.'
2. If The Interpreter is someone other than myself, I will of necessity have to read or hear his transmittal of the text, and any explanatory additions he feels are necessary in order to aid my cognition of the text, i.e., what it actually says.
3. But, of necessity, he will actually be aiding me in cognizing what HE takes the text to be actually saying. Since he is not God, but a human being, there is room for his being mistaken, unless he is infallible. But no human is infallible, therefore he could be mistaken.
4. What is more, even assuming The Interpreter's infallibility, I know I am not infallible, so I may introduce mistakes in understanding of the text.
5. Granted that there is logical space for error in understanding of the holy texts, we must make efforts to reduce that space. Of necessity there are only two possible ways to do this:
A. Through recourse to other parts of the holy texts which either support the interpretation we believe to be true, or support a contrary of that interpretation.
B. Through recourse to extra-textual supporting or disconfirming materials. (This including our normal moral judgements and the like)
6. But, recourse to (A) will of necessity lead us back into the hermeneutic loop started in step (1)
7. If we make recourse to (B), then anyone that has access to those same resources is in just as good a position to judge the accuracy of the claim that the text in question was divinely inspired as am I.
8. That is, anyone that has access to the same resources is in just as good a position as I am to judge the accuracy of the claim that the course of action that is either commanded or forbidden by the text is in fact a morally correct course of action.
If this 8 step argument goes through, it is the driving wedge that allows 'outsiders', be they outside Muslims or non-Mulsims, to debate with the Salafist. Such debate would be a driver in social change in the Muslim world as it was in the Christian world.
This leads us to the second thing Ulph says we need to recognize about Salafist ideology:
Second: Islamic Totalism
We have to recognize the fact that Salafist Islam is a totalizing ideology just as familiar in its general contours as are Nazism, Communism, and other more secular forms of totalitarianism.
Ulph suggests that a way to approach the kind of engagement sketched in 5B above is for Westerners to point out that we are in fact in a better position, given our recent history, to recognize totalitarian ideologies than are Muslims, and that we should point out to would-be recruits to the Salafi world view that the similarities between the totalizing form of Islam and the other totalitarian ideologies is a strong indicator that the source of the ideology is not divine, but human.
There is of course, behind this line of argument, an assumption that totalitarian regimes are, as such, morally bad, therefore something that God (being all-good) would not condone. It is open to the Salafist to counter that this assumption is false. He will probably counter that only secular totalitarian regimes are bad. An Islamototalist regime, on the other hand, would, by definition be good. He is not going to share our Western assumption that freedom and a relatively open society is a good thing.
You can certainly see this tendency of thought as a sort of logical presupposition of the textualist outlook. One cannot but be struck by the sheer thoroughness of the Hadith prescriptions for all aspects of daily life, even including personal hygiene, prescriptions the details of which I prefer not to dwell upon. So, if the Salafist is depending on a set of traditional texts that in fact celebrate and prescribe an identity of the religious and the political and (to use a Western term that obscures the conceptual identity) the secular, in an obviously totalizing way, how then can we argue that God does not in fact want all this? To put a point on it, we will be arguing not only with the texts themselves, but with centuries of tradition, and developments? This is where the Muslim world must contribute to the argument. We cannot do this for them.
And now the complete paper:
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad
The Westminster Institute
December 10th 2009
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 2
The Resilience of the Ideology
Whether you like it or not, whether you consider it something too obscure to be bothered with, the ideology is the jihad’s most effective and most enduring weapon. Ideology is the most important arm because it is the most resilient. It is going to remain long after Bin Laden is gone, long after the individual groups have vanished. If, and when, all the strategies and tactics of these cells have been wound up, the jihad as an ideology will stay and will go on to generate the next group, and the next.
So how does the ideology provide this resilience?
It frames the conflict, and justifies it. It gives the Mujahideen a grand mission: the salvation, no less, of humanity. This is something that is not sufficiently understood. There is a common perception that these people must be nihilists, that they are just negatively‐minded people. They cannot be religious, because a religious person who reads books would not be acting the way that these do. If they are religious then they certainly cannot be doing any reading.1 Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. Because by looking at the ideological materials put out, you realize that it is very important to them to feel that they are engaged in a very important and noble cause for humanity. They are rescuing us from ourselves. As they see it, we are all sunk in the mire of jāhiliyya (a renewed ‘era of pagan ignorance’). We are diverted from the true course of how knowledge should be expounded, from the true course of the Faith. And the Mujahideen are given this role in their literature – that they alone are responsible for the salvation of humanity. That means, of course, that they can tolerate any amount of criticism because the criticism is coming from the damned.
It gives them a cause with a pedigree, and the pedigree is very important, because although we like to think of them as a revolutionary cause—that is the effect of what they are doing—they do not like to think of themselves as revolutionaries. They see themselves as very traditionally‐minded people, as the true, authentic Muslims. All other Muslims have been ‘got at’ by an epistemology which has been constructed by the Jews and the Christians. And they do not buy into that epistemology, and as for those Muslims who do, well, woe to them. The Mujahideen are the true authentic people, in their eyes. So that gives them a sense of authenticity. They are not coming up with something new, something revolutionary. They are re‐centralizing something which has been marginalized.
Under this system it turns death into constant victory. So you cannot even say in that sense that we are winning. Because with every death, with every martyrdom, it is yet further evidence that they are winning. The strategists who are measuring our progress against the terrorists fail to understand this. The Mujahideen are not fatally influenced by their performance on the field, because as far as they are concerned, this is a personal sacrifice, and this sacrifice is itself part of the victory. The more who fall on the field, the more suicide bombers, the greater the evidence that God is on their side. So it does not work the way it worked at the end of the Crusades, when you had Provencal poets saying it looks as though something is not right. These had set out for Outremer in the belief that Deus le volt (“God wills it”) would justify their cause. But then they started losing. So at the end of the Crusades there was a reconsideration of the relationship that had been constructed between faith and power, with the consequent decline in temporal ecclesiastical power. This, however, will not happen with the jihadis, since they can only see before them a constant array of victories. This means that without a serious effort to address the ideology, we will always have to respond retroactively to a mindset that is constantly outwitting us because we fail to get to their starting point.
Let us first of all understand them for the way they understand themselves. Let us remove this reticence to use the vocabulary of Islamic faith – something which strategists are loath to do – and get straight to the starting points. When you understand these points of departure, you understand the way they view the world. Once this is achieved, then we can talk about working out a method of undermining it, and the extent to which we can contribute to undermining this process.
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The Fear of Intellectual defeat
The threat of being defeated intellectually is the most dangerous threat there is for them. Former jihadist members continually flag this up. Dr. Tawfik Hamid, once a member of the Egyptian al‐Gamā‘a al‐Islāmiyya, put it very well when he said:
“If they hear Westerners saying: ‘it is culture, Islamism is not wrong’, they gain confidence and justification. Because they are convinced that therefore they are not defeated. We therefore need to heavily defeat them mentally too, and encourage this self‐doubt and criticism.” 2
As to how to defeat the ideology intellectually, we can get a clue to this, as in many areas, by simply listening to what they say and reading what they write. This may seem an obvious point to make, but it is surprising how little appreciation there is in media discourse of the ideological underpinning. Part of the problem, of course, is the limited quantity of material available to the general public. This point was highlighted by the jihadist Shaykh at the centre of media interest over the Fort Hood killings, Anwar Al‐Awlaki. In his 44 Ways of Supporting Jihad he wrote about the centrality of Arabic to the jihad, saying that:
Arabic is the international language of Jihad. Most of the Jihad literature is available only in Arabic and publishers are not willing to take the risk of translating it. The only ones who are spending the money and time translating Jihad literature are the Western intelligence services…and too bad, they would not be willing to share it with you.3
The majority of the material communicated to the general public by the media consists of summarized treatments of the latest al‐Qaeda statement (often with the religious content filtered out). For example, a report in April 2008 on al‐Zawahiri’s response to an ‘Ask al‐Qaeda’ questionnaire posted on the chat forums highlighted only those elements of interest to the western reader: questions on the killing of innocents and the lack of attacks against Israel. The author of the report then commented that:
The questions and answers were otherwise relatively uninteresting and aimed at Islamic insiders.4
The importance of the ‘relatively uninteresting’ materials—doctrinal propaganda in a religiously conceived conflict, and the fact that the ‘Islamic insiders’ are actually those who constitute the entirety of the intended audience (and not the Westerner)—clearly was not fully understood.
It is important that we make ourselves fully familiar with this material, rather than contenting ourselves with the idea that the material belongs to ‘Islamic insiders’ and that the task of refuting the ideology is in hand and being carried out by others in the know. For instance, a while back many commentators in the West waxed lyrical about the ‘beginning of the end for al‐Qaeda’ with the refutations of Bin Laden by leading Salafist scholars with jihadist sympathies, such as Shaykh Salmān al‐‘Awda and Sayyid Imām (‘Dr. Fadl’). But those who took the trouble to look at these refutations up close realized that the debate was no more than a matter of technicalities. There is no refutation of any substance occurring, they do not go to the point of saying that jihad as such—the idea of waging war for supremacy—is itself wrong. Instead, all the ‘criticism’ amounts to is that al‐Qaeda’s violence is mistimed, the Muslim world is not ready for it yet, and the losses are outweighing the gains. When they will be ready, the argument runs, then it will be a right and proper thing to do. The authenticity preoccupation prevents the argument from being otherwise.
Textualism vs. Reason
And that is an interesting first pointer to where we have to focus our attention. Because, essentially, it is the dilemma between textualism – the recourse to the authority of a written text – and independent moral judgment. Since the Enlightenment, we have been quite happy to understand that independent moral judgement, whatever religious tradition you are in, somehow enriches that religious tradition. This debate has not yet been won in Islam. Textualism, in this case the
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dependence on the Qur’ān and the Hadīth, still trumps independent ethical thought. You may think something is right or wrong, but you have first to get the chapter‐and‐verse for confirmation. And this is an important starting point: the argument for that is quite simple for a jihadi, or a Salafist. It is that God communicated these texts to the Prophet via the angel Gabriel, so there can be no doubt about the rightness or wrongness of these.5 On the other hand, your independent moral judgement is a product of your imperfect human brain. So the exercise of making a decision based on the moral case is a priori flawed, and is not actually going to be worth all that much. You may indeed have a personal opinion on this or that, but you need the text to justify what you do or do not do. That is the nub of the problem.
So first we must isolate out of this equation the idea that we can go straight to appealing to the jihadis on the basis of Reason. Or, that we can present them with our greater, more enlightened pluralistic counter‐arguments on the grounds that these obviously must be better than their arguments, so therefore they will see the strength of them. But remember, they have their own filter. They have the filter of the only true authenticity for moral evaluation that exists for them, which is textual authenticity. No matter how beguiling the logic of the Westerner or the non‐jihadist Muslim, it counts for nothing. This general suspicion of rationalism and logic is a characteristic feature of the jihadist. It goes back deep into history, and is coloured heavily by the position taken by Ibn Taymiyya:
“As for the books of logic, they do not contain knowledge that is commanded in the Sacred Law − even if the independent reasoning of some people have led them to the view that learning logic is communally obligatory. Some people have stated that the sciences are not established save with it − this is a gross error both rationally and legally.” 6
The effect of this is to ring‐fence areas where the enquiring mind may not go. It acts to outlaw the possibility of neutral ground or common intellectual space in which a debate may take place. This spells bad news for the prospects of a ‘debate’ with jihadism.
The Arab frame of the debate
First let me provide some of context. It has often been said that the mental universe of the jihadis responds to the problem of the globalization of ideas. You have an insecurity about your own status and your own role in the world, and your own historical world. You therefore seek a solution to this problem, a quest which is not actually the problem of yesterday, or of 9/11 or even of the 60s. In its modern form it extends back to the 19th century and the Muslim world’s confrontation with modernity. The solution to this confrontation was sought not through the indigenization of modernity, but by avoiding it and appealing to something even earlier. This is the solution espoused by Salafism, the intransigent school of thought which is the most textual of all in the spectrum of Islamic schools of thought. Throughout history, like any other civilization, Islam exhibits the whole range of approaches to knowledge. These range from the ‘Arab sciences’ – the textual sciences of Qur’ānic tafsīr (commentaries), Hadīth and the edifice of Islamic jurisprudence – to the ‘foreign (mainly Greek) sciences’ of a more rationalist stamp. There was an acrimonious dispute in the Middle Ages in the later years of the Caliphate of Baghdad between this Greek wing and the Arab wing of scholarship and learning. This was not a racial divide; they were all Arabs who were doing it, but a divide between those who brought themselves up on Hellenistic learning, which is at home with the concept of rationality, debate, and the principle evaluating something according to the internal authority of the argument, and those who prioritized the more truly Arab learning, as they considered it, which was the science of Hadīth—where the focus was on evaluating the lineage of authority.
There is an interesting study by Laurent Murawiec called The Mind of Jihad,7 where he underlines that this ‘Arab learning’ is probably an inheritance of the tribal conception of authority. Under this cultural template, genealogy is everything: lineage, pure blood, the time‐worn tradition of the group
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—not an individual element of what a human can or cannot do but who he is related to, how his actions conform to established practice, how far it is authentic to the tribe’s traditions. So the ‘tribal matrix’ as Murawiec puts it, and its fundamental preoccupation with lineage, seems to have fed in at a very early point into the development of Islamic thought as to what it was that constituted authority. That is to say that the edifice of Islamic Law has been built up under the influence of a post‐tribal shadow matrix, in which people evaluated authority on the basis of lineage. “There is a tradition that Muhammad said this ... We know this because Aisha said it...and this was reported on the authority of so and so, renowned for his veracity and piety...”and on it goes down, sometimes into elaborate page‐long genealogies. This genealogy constitutes the ultimate authority of the argument, not the quality of the argument itself.
And this is the arena where modern progressive Muslims are having to take on the radicals. Historically, this major debate between rationalism and textual authority was unfortunately resolved the wrong way in the Middle Ages, when the ‘Arab sciences’ were granted precedence over the ‘foreign’ or Hellenistic sciences. The result was the triumph of a ‘Salafist’ epistemology, a Salafist view of knowledge and authority.
The Salafist frame of the debate
What does this mean? The term ‘Salafist’ comes from the phrase al‐salaf al‐sālih—the ‘righteous predecessors.’ And that is the key word. They represent the correct doctrinal lineage. They have authenticity on their side. That is the strength of the Salafists’ argument—that whatever they do equates to the template of the earliest community. The advantage of the earliest community is that it is uncontaminated by historical and philosophical developments that have come since. So there you have an authenticity. Whatever we do as Salafist Muslims (of which the jihadists are a part) equates to a perfect model under the Prophet and the first generations of Muslims.
After that, all is fatally tainted. And that is the key to understanding what they are doing and why they consider themselves authentic. The example of the Salaf is the perfect and permanent model for the future. A whole body of literature, of legal thought, developed over the centuries. One wing of it was the wing represented by people whose names are familiar, people such as Ibn Taymiyya (1263‐1328), who is a favourite source of reference for the jihadis because he was confronted with what they think is a problem similar to today’s. He was faced with the cataclysmic Mongol onslaught, which laid waste vast areas of the Islamic world. He had to rationalize why this was happening to the true believers, and of course his rationalization was that Muslims were sinning, they were not holding true to the real doctrine. No wonder God had withdrawn his patronage to them. They were no longer like the Salaf, they were no longer like the predecessors. If they could just go back to the method of the predecessors and their starting points, all this contradiction – of God’s favoured community laid low by infidels – would be resolved.
The second element Ibn Taymiyya established was the legitimacy of opposing authority, and that is where the jihad comes in. Are you allowed to oppose authority? You could not normally do so under traditional legal statutes. But in this case the ‘true Muslims’ are allowed to do so because these others – the regimes and their supporters – may call themselves Muslims, but in truth they are nothing of the kind. How can they determine that? There is a simple litmus test: are these so‐called Muslims applying Sharī‘a law 100 per cent? And if they are not, then rebellion is allowed.
So that is the cultural context of where the jihadis are coming from. Many place their hope in the fact that the Salafis and the jihadi‐Salafis are at loggerheads because most Salafis are pietistic and not interested in politics. But the jihadis will always win the argument of who is the true Salafist, who is following closest to the way of the predecessors, because if you follow the logic, if you invest all your authority in the pristine template of these predecessors, as the Salafists say they do, then why stop at the paper door that says “do not commit acts of violence?” The Jihadi‐Salafists can simply say, “Well, it says here that the Prophet Muhammad was a mujahid and spent most of his life
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waging war; so we rest our case.” The tragedy now of the Middle East, which is progressively salafizing, is that it does not matter how well‐intentioned the imams are, if they are brought up and operate in a Salafist universe, they are unable to face down that argument.
I attended a seminar some weeks ago where some excellent scholars had analyzed the molecular debates going on in the Gulf in what essentially amounted to Hadīth‐wars, using texts to fight each other to prove that “this is legitimate, no it is not, yes it is.” What the analysts had to concede is that it does not amount to much because, first of all, for anyone who is outside that Salafist system—all non‐Salafist Muslims, plus the Shi‘a, plus the Infidel—it does not count for anything. Inside, you will never win that war because there is such a mass of Hadīth available that you will never lack for supporting arguments for whatever insanity you wish to commit. And the reason you will never lose the argument is that there is no further recourse, no decider argument. This is because inside the textual universe you cannot argue on the basis of saying: “It is not reasonable, it is not ethical.” For to this they will simply reply: “But I do not care because I have 20 Hadīth that say I should do this. And that counts for a lot more than my personal conscience.” The solution of the jihadists, following the method of the Salafists, is to turn any ethical argument on its head by abdicating judgement on this basis to one founded upon textual authority. A member of the Hizb al‐Tahrir lays down the rules of engagement in this struggle:
If, while you live under the Infidel’s rules, you try to practice or teach your children or others the doctrine of ‘Loyalty and Renunciation’ you will be prosecuted for committing “hate crimes”. ‘Loyalty and Renunciation’ is what Islam is all about; no faith is complete without it. So if you go along with the Infidel and keep your mouth shut, you will end up committing the crime of not hating for sake of Allah. Which crime is easier to handle, a crime against Infidel people or a crime against Allah? 8
The Points of Weakness
Where, then, are the vulnerabilities? There are weaknesses in the ideology, and as long as we look for the weaknesses within the system, within the way they look on things, we just might succeed. These weaknesses may be grouped under the broad categories of authenticity, doctrine, ethical practice, and rational consistency. Note carefully the order in which I am saying this. The order of these is important. If you go straight to the rational consistency argument, they are neither interested nor challenged, since it just bounces off the wall of textualism. If you go into ethical practice, they will say it does not matter whether you or I think it is a sad thing to kill people, the text justifies it.9 Radical thinkers strenuously oppose what they see as the progressive ‘ethicization’ of Islam since it is distracting Muslims from the dynamic of a larger war against Western liberalism. So therefore go after ethical practice only after you have broken down the citadel of authenticity, and started to chisel at the doctrine. Finally, when the first three categories are engaged and worked through, the way is open for the challenge on the basis of rationality.
First, let us look at the issue of performance. If their claim to acting along the true path is true, up to a certain point there should be evidence that they are winning on this. Of course, a jihadi shaykh like al‐‘Uyyayrī will simply say they are winning every time they lose a battle.10 So there is a bit of chicanery there that they can use to get around that. But it is a pretty slippery argument to a public that is not already Salafized. It still counts that God does not seem to be on their side. If, on the other hand, his audience is already in the Salafist fold, al‐‘Uyyayrī makes perfect sense.
One can also look at areas such as the behavior of jihadis in the field. There have been numerous propaganda disasters. In Saudi Arabia in 2004 there were some appalling cases of civilians caught in the crossfire. Obviously, to the jihadis it is only Muslim civilians who count – if you are not a Muslim, it is not an ethical issue. The recent case (December 11 2009) of al‐Qaeda offering ‘condolences’ for victims caught in the crossfire is indicative both of the pressure on the group emanating from the
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embarrassment caused by these casualties and of the ethical peculiarity of their self‐exoneration. The defence put up by Adam Gadahn (aka ‘Azzam the American’) ran as follows:
“We express our condolences to the families of the Muslim men, women and children killed in these criminal acts and we ask Allah to have mercy on those killed and accept them as martyrs ... We also express the same in regard to the unintended Muslim victims of the Mujahideen’s operations against the Crusaders and their allies and puppets.”11
The ethical peculiarity, predictably, takes its support from precedent. Sayyid Qutb argued for the culpability of Muslims that associate themselves, even peripherally, with a jāhilī institution – thus laying the groundwork for collateral Muslim casualties. For Qutb, a jāhilī institution was not just an obvious wing of regime power, or even an organ of government, but apparently included all institutions that affect the social order, that is, all public organizations and facilities. Anything, that is, that possessed influence over jāhilī society, and allows society to run without reference to Islamic conditions as the radicals see them. The argument goes back to Ibn Taymiyya: that it is the responsibility of ‘true Muslims’ to prove themselves such. Anyone who is not making this effort is probably a false Muslim. So the radicals are given freedom to fight and kill these ‘nominal Muslims’ with the excuse that they should know better than to support the apostate regime. This gives the jihadists considerable latitude on what constitutes a legitimate target.12
Muslims caught in the crossfire, however, do present the Mujahideen with their severest public relations test. A particular example of this was in the November 2005 Amman hotel bombings. There followed a furious pamphlet war on the web and they were on the run for a while, as they tried to reinstate their authority. It was a difficult task. But it demonstrates they are investing in the war of ideas in a way that we are not.
One can always point to the military and organizational failures. But it does not cut much ice because you can place it against the grand scheme of things. Over hundreds of years there are going to be setbacks,13 but they are not really setbacks because all the Mujahideen are all going to Heaven. So it is a victory in each case. Even so, attaining power in God’s unfolding plan for humanity, and then losing it, strikes a bad image. To the non‐Salafist audience it counts, and it is therefore worth examining this phenome
There have been a number of very well focused analyses of failure by the jihadis themselves. So we do not even have to do a lot of work, amassing materials to find out what are the effects of failure or how do they respond to failure, because they have done it for us. One notable author in this field is Abu Baseer al‐Tartousi, a jihadi shaykh happily resident in London, who has written works such as Reasons for the Failure of Some Jihadist Movements in Transformation Operations (which is quite a detailed study); This Is a Type of Jihad We Do Not Want; other treatises of his include: Jihad Groups: Between Recognition of Errors and Reconsideration of Principles and When Jihad veers off course.14 This material provides nicely advanced research for us to work on. It provides unique insights into the ideological processes that are operating. And of course there is Abū Mus’ab Al‐Sūrī, the famous author of the 1600‐page tome entitled The Call for Global Islamic Resistance. He has made a specialty of this kind of analysis. His works include Observations on the Jihadi Experience in Syria, and What I Witnessed on the Jihad in Algeria.15 In particular al‐Suri reserves his wrath for the destructive effect wrought by Salafist hardliners on the unity of the jihadist ranks, above all in their intolerance of any non‐Salafist influence in the jihad, and their “narrowing of the margin between the jihadists and the takfirist trend,” which only served to bring upon them a storm of criticism.16 These are very fruitful works. The paper I wrote on the Syrian suppression of the jihad in Syria, is available on the West Point website17, and it gives a summary of where the argumentation on the jihad was going, what the points of sensitivity are and what went wrong. What this paper does is describe a failure of a jihadi attempt. The Mujahideen in Syria have not gone away, of course, but there was a time when the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was poised to gain considerable influence and cause a lot of trouble. The study goes into these ideas explored by al‐Suri, examining what went wrong, and also
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features the works by al‐Tartousi. This area of jihadist endeavor is good source material. Statistically – and this too is important for the war of ideas – most of the above works focus on the failure of the Mujahideen to get the scholars and preachers on board, or to communicate their ideological message to them. That, they thought, was their real failure. The military failure itself did not count so much.
The performance of Islamists in positions of power will never really work as a tactic for deconstruction because they will simply say they were never given free rein, they never got a good chance, the powers of the devil are undermining them everywhere, so what do you expect? So that is not a useful area to try. But the idea of ideological purity is important, as we saw with Hamas. Recently, they were out‐radicalized by a new splinter group forming in Gaza, Jund Ansār Allāh (‘The Army of God’s Auxiliaries’) who adopt the position that Hamas is going soft on Islam and are calling for “a new birth, the birth of the Islamic emirate.” Here is part of the dilemma. In the unlikely event that you were to succeed in de‐radicalizing a particular group, you would simply get another one stepping in saying that they have abandoned the cause. This is what happened in Egypt in the late 1970s with the Muslim Brotherhood. By then, under pressure from the regime, they had progressively dampened their violent activism to the point that they began to lose credibility, and that is exactly when al‐Zawahiri's group, al‐Gamā‘a al‐Islāmiyya, picked up the banner, restored the violence and recentralized al‐farīda al‐ghā’iba, the ‘missing obligation’ of jihad. If one group gives up the obligation of jihad, many of its supporters will simply migrate to another group.
There is evidence of another area of fallout from the behavior of jihadists, which has been highlighted by the Muslim Chaplin of Cambridge University, Abd al‐Hakim Murad. He pointed out that the Mujahideen are having the opposite effect of the one intended on a non‐Salafist community. He says:
“Extremism can drive people right out of Islam. In 1999 the Conference of French Catholic bishops announced that 300 Algerians were among the year’s Easter baptisms. Noting that ten years earlier Muslims never converted at all, they reported that the change was the result of the spread of extreme forms of Islam in Algeria. In Afghanistan, too, there are now Christians for the first time ever, and I have heard from one ex‐Taliban member that this is because of the extremism with which Islam is imposed on the people.” 18
So there is another possible angle. I do not think statistically it is amounting to much yet, but there is the possibility that the behavior of jihadis and Salafists and extremists in the field will accelerate a negative effect, provided the audience has not already passed into the Salafist orbit – a point I will come to in a minute.
I mentioned that the doctrinal issue is severely circumscribed due to the predominance of textualism, which favours the letter over the contextual interpretation. Since this is an issue which will take longer time than we have, we should just sum up the issue here. The Moroccan scholar Abdou Filali‐Ansary put the problem in a nutshell. He felt that it was clear that the fundamentalists and their supporters
are completely closed off to even the most elaborate theological refutation of their views, even when produced by distinguished religious authorities. The first reflex of the fundamentalists is to withdraw from the mainstream, to build around themselves a shell that is impervious to any logic other than their own.
The conclusion he draws is somewhat gloomy:
Why, then, do we follow the fundamentalists to the very heart of their madness? Allowing them to frame these problems in religious terms legitimizes the perspective that they are attempting to impose, particularly in their own societies.19
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 9
Nevertheless, it is worth looking at how it is that the Mujahideen feel able to raise the drawbridge like this, so that we can understand the nature of the battle. Their method is best illustrated by an interesting document circulating on the web: The Questions and Uncertainties Concerning the Mujahideen and their Operations.” It appeals to the reader:
“not to be led astray by the scholars of evil and the preachers of error, read the books of the mujāhidīn, and weigh the mujāhidīn’s actions in the scales of the Qur’ān and the Sunna before you turn away, and cause others to turn away, from the path of tawhīd and jihad.” 20
It is an Arabic e‐book. It is huge, and it is expanding all the time. It sets itself the task of providing an ideological defense for the entire gamut of their activity. Every conceivable topic seems to have been covered. Not only every single thing that they have done, but even what they might be likely to do. They are even projecting future possible objections. We ought to take a leaf out of their book in terms of the preparation of the War of Ideas. There exists a whole library of doctrinal defence. It is huge. The library consist of entire treatises defending the legitimacy of things such as kidnapping, taking of hostages and the treatment of prisoners,21 mutilation of dead bodies,22 the killing of non‐combatants, and the use of human shields.23 In other words, they have taken the trouble to write what are impressive academic‐standard treatises with apparatus criticus at the bottom, defending why those actions are permissible. How do they defend it? You find there Prophetic precedent, and textual justification, but almost absent is the ethical argument, whether this is a good or bad thing to do as such.
The most thorny issue for them is the issue of killing oneself. Is it martyrdom – istishhād, or is it intihār – suicide? Intihār is a word with very negative connotations and implications,24 as it is in Christianity. Istishhād, on the other hand, has a noble glow to it. The issue is important enough to affect tactical operations. Let us take the example of Algeria. The merger of the GSPC with al‐Qaeda in 2008 was not universally accepted by the rank and file of the Mujahideen, and this was entirely due to issues of doctrinal propriety, particularly over the issue of whether suicide bombings were Islamically legitimate. An Algerian writer at the time observed that:
a large number of the terrorist network leaders have decided to suspend their activities and wait for a guidance, or fatwas, from ulemas in the Salafist movement. This is why highly‐regarded Salafist imams have been pressed to provide religious legitimacy for such actions….Members have demanded that the leader…justify his suicide attack strategy with religious arguments. 25
Without this justification, Al‐Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) found itself greatly prejudiced by the silence or active criticism of the religious elite. By October 2008 the leader of AQIM, Abd al‐Malik Droukdel, found himself having to sack the ‘al‐Qaeda mufti’ in Algeria, Rashid Zerami (Abu al‐Hasan al‐Rashid), the head of AQIM’s religious committee in charge of armed combat, after he had voiced doubts as to the propriety of suicide bombings and kidnappings of Algerian businessmen and their relatives in order to obtain ransom payments. In September 2009 Droukdel felt sufficiently troubled by the issue to write to the jihadist ideologue Abu Muhammad al‐Maqdisi (who had declared his opposition to suicide attacks) to ask for ‘clarification.’26
On the phenomenon of the ex‐jihadi: I mentioned Tawfik Hamid, as an example. I do not think there is much potential for a public relations victory for us there because throughout history there have always been those who gave up and turned traitors to the cause. But where the ex‐jihadi can come into use for us is if they can re‐trace the process of their enlightenment. How did the lights go on for them? That is the important element for us, not the fact that there is someone who has repudiated jihad. One of these former radicals, a man called Mansour al‐Nogaidan, a Saudi, gave an interesting illustration of how this works and why this links him with Tawfik:
“When I was working as an imam in a Riyadh mosque I happened upon two books that had a profound influence on me. One, written by a Palestinian scholar, was about the struggle between
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 10
those who deal pragmatically with the Qur’ān, and those who take it and the Hadīth literally. The other was a book by a Moroccan philosopher about the formation of the Arab‐Muslim way of thinking.”27
This is what I was referring to earlier. He has focused on the contest of textualism with historicism. Why historicism? The official Muslim position is that the Qur’ān is not a ‘product’ of any context, be it geographical, historical or cultural. However, as I said earlier, right at the beginning of the creation of Islamic law there was a heavy Arab‐tribal mental matrix in which they were naturally inclined to formulate their thoughts. Even though the Prophet Muhammad is always credited as seeking to de‐tribalize the Arabs, effectively he failed, because these mental processes persisted. So al‐Nogaidan has pointed out from his own experience the crucial dynamic of these two issues: the Arab‐tribal mindset and the issue of dealing pragmatically with the Qur’ān, as elements that call textualism to account.
From the constant recourse to demonstrations of doctrinal propriety and the long intellectual tradition on which the radicals draw for their authentication, it is clear that, whether we like it or not, the counter‐ideology endeavor has to go in deeper than merely the world‐view of the jihadists. It has to focus on the wider Salafist community. If you can get people out of the Salafist echo‐chamber, then the chink of light appears, and the voice of Reason can be given space to work its magic. So the real borderline between extremism and non‐extremism is between the traditionally educated average Muslim who is still – just – a majority, and the Salafist. That is the real borderline in the War of Ideas. I will not call it the War on Terror because the Salafists themselves are not primarily interested or involved in violence. But the ghost of violence nonetheless hovers in the background; once the Muslim falls into the Salafist mindset, it is like a violin instead of a guitar. There are no frets to break the notes one by one. The unwitting believer can slip all the way down the scale and there is no way he can stop himself sliding, until he reaches the paper door.
To approach the citadel of textualism, I will just mention briefly that there is an advanced form of challenge taking shape. The Higher Criticism scholarship of Christianity and Judaism of the late 19th century was also applied to Islam and has slowly been gathering momentum ever since. It has added to the historically documented editorial revisions of the Qur’ānic text,28 the problem of extant manuscripts demonstrating variant readings, such as the Yemeni fragments29 and the Munich photographic archive.30 Importantly, for counter‐ideology, it has also been taken up by liberal Arab and Muslim scholars, whose linguistic facility and expertise in fiqh will present a more substantial problem for the Salafists and their traditional conception of textual authority.
Why will they present a problem? Muslims have always considered their scripture to be more than just ‘divinely inspired’ text. Rather, it is a perfect revelation, delivered by the Angel Gabriel as a direct communication from the divinity. As such, it is a very part of the divine essence itself, down to its smallest Arabic phoneme, to the very fabric and sound patterns of the nouns and verbs juxtaposed with each other. As the progressive Indonesian scholar Ulil Abshar‐Abdalla underlined:
“Islamic civilisation is a civilisation which has as its fundamental base the ‘word’ or ‘lafaz’, and not merely the text.”31
There are several implications resulting from this tendency. The first is that the respect for the Arabic text of the Qur’ānic revelation becomes not a matter of historical interest, but part of the very fabric of belief. There is no ‘variant’ of the divine text. There cannot be. This last communication from the divine to humanity, granted to the final Seal of all the Prophets Muhammad, is immunized from human corruption by the incorruptibility of the lafz. It is this feature of the lafz (‘expression’) – as opposed to ma‘nā (‘meaning’) – as a physical monument of the divine, that more than any ethical ingredient marks out the separation of this Islamic Scripture from its forerunners. The Salafist operational logic here is quite easy to grasp: the more textually they comprehend God’s word, in its
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 11
very perfect Arabic fabric, the closer they must get to His true will. Textual variance, on the other hand, would wreck this logic. In fact, their textual variance has become for Muslims a point of proof of the corrupted state of the non‐Islamic scriptures. For with all these variant readings how could the purity of God’s message be expected to survive all that human intervention?
The logic of the argument does not apply to Christian believers with respect to their scriptures. For Christians, there is no divine phonemic fabric to match the divine inspiration, and therefore the plethora of apparatus criticus at the bottom of the page holds no terrors for them. There is no Aramaic Gospel to present the ‘original words’ of Jesus. The first written evidence of the words of Jesus is in Greek translation. This means that Christianity has never had a problem with the variant readings and the issue of human transmission of the divine revelation. When I was studying Aramaic and Hebrew at Cambridge University, we used to glorify in all the apparatus at the bottom. We used to show off by knowing that the word or phrase had a possible variant reading, a word missing or added and that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament texts) said something else. That throws the interest and the emphasis of the Christian reader onto the question of what did God mean by this? Not what did God say? – physically in nouns, verbs, adjectives, and phonemes. And that accounts for a slightly different trajectory in Islamic thought. A progressive Muslim would say that it is the same in Islam. Muslim scholars always try to work out what God means and meant. But the anti‐historical, anti‐contextual Salafist community, which is growing in size, is far more focused, if not obsessed, with the sounds of this holy text.
The argument on textual infallibility has direct implications for the authority of the hyper‐textualists, the Salafists. Making the infallibility of the text a core point of belief will likely prove to have been a high‐risk strategy for them, as the evidence of divergent Qur’ān texts brings into play the issue, over the 20 years of its revelation, of the all‐too‐human transmission of this revelation, and therefore of the potential corruptibility of the text.
What is the focus of Christianity? It is the person of Christ. What is the focus of Islam? It is the text of the Qur’ān. That is the true equivalent, not the person of Muhammad. In late antique and medieval history, Christendom was rent with this all‐consuming problem, the ‘Christological controversy’: what is the nature of Christ? Is it homoiousia ‐ the belief that Jesus's divinity is similar to that of God the Father? Or homoousia ‐ the belief that Jesus's divinity is the same as that of God the Father? The iota subscript, that one letter, made a huge difference. Is Christ of a similar substance or the same substance as God? It is a very complex issue, and it split the Christian world at one point.
The equivalent split in the Islamic world was over the question: is the Qur’ān created or is it eternal? The problem with the Qur’ān is that if it is divine – and God is eternal – then the Qur’ān itself must be eternal, because that which is a part of God cannot be at the same time divine and yet not eternal. So therefore the Qur’ān is outside history; every single element of the Qur’ān is independently valid without reference to a context. There is no historical context to the Qur’ān. Every syllable, every half‐verse can be quoted and remains as true as a full verse. That is part of the fault line in the growth of Muslim law. You have the rationalist scholars asking what did the Qur’ān mean by that, and the others who say I do not care what you think the Qur’ān means, it says that. When you do this, if you go down the Salafist “it says that” route, you isolate context out of the discussion. Therefore everything that happened in 7th century Arabia, where the Qur’ān was revealed, must apply to 21st century Baltimore. When you get into that situation, you now have a huge headache, because the only way you can make that work is if you completely shut yourself off from your cultural environment, from your intellectual environment, and from your neighbor.
That self‐insulation is a fundamental requirement of the Salafists and it is called al‐walā’ wal‐barā’ — ‘Loyalty and Renunciation’. If you are a proper Salafist, you must make sure that you keep your contacts with non‐Salafists, and certainly with Christians, to a minimum. Do not say ‘hello’ to them,
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 12
do not say ‘Merry Christmas.’ Do not visit them if they are sick in hospital, avoid placing yourself under any obligation to them. All these things are offences against Islamic Law under their system. Above all, do not allow your children to fraternize, because they will be corrupted by this tainted evil faith, or lack of faith. You might think this is just for extremists. But no, this is standard Salafist doctrine. Abu Mus‘ab al‐Suri is constantly—even in his strategic works—harping on the necessity to make sure that they do not compromise on that issue for fear of:
“the turmoil that will ensue to their faith and [the fact that they will] absorb the habits of the polytheists’ and [develop] familiarity with them which will lead in time to [ties of] affection, which God forbids. And their children will grow up associating with their children and pick up their many corrupt and disgusting habits.”32
Keep, therefore, what Margaret Thatcher used to call ‘clear blue water’ between yourself and anybody else in a different mental universe who will contaminate you.
And that brings us to another area, the fear of contamination. This is where we can find another weak point. If you call into question the Salafists’ citadel you find some very interesting results, because they cannot engage in a rational argument. This is why rational deconstruction has to come towards the end of the counter‐ideological endeavor. Radical Salafists cannot engage in a rational argument, as any non‐Salafist Muslim debating them in the media will show, since they cannot understand the process of discussion, and the concept of a neutral debating arena, having abdicated moral and intellectual authority to the Text. They therefore do not understand the starting points and simply retire into the recitation of texts. As one progressive Arab thinker put it:
All they have is a recollection, and they are drowning in it. Each one of them has amassed textual knowledge, but textual knowledge and traditions do not constitute thought. They are nothing but a collection of data.33
Since they are not able to sustain an argument based on Reason, they take refuge in the authority that comes from their perception of Islamic authenticity. But there is considerable risk involved in this high‐stakes claim to authenticity, and you could argue that it has within it the seeds of its own destruction. For instance, a central part of the Salafist claim is that it is reproducing the template unchanged. But that flies in the face of itself, because if they argue everything must be unchanged the basic argument must be that the consensus (ijmā‘) of the Nation should also be considered unchangeable, on the textual grounds that
You have to follow the congregation for verily Allah will not make the largest group of Muhammad’s community agree on error. 34
So there is a flaw right there: the Nation comprises all Muslims, and they seem to have different views from you. So are they agreeing on a misguidance or not? If they are the majority view, then you are the ones who are outside, you are the ones who are in the wrong. The Salafists have trouble with this, since their weapons are turned on themselves, and have to resort to questioning the meanings of terms used (you can always tell when people are losing the argument when they resort to philology). There is also the question of the template of the pristine ‘Muslim state’. Did it really occur? – progressive Muslims will ask – or was it a temporary affair, its purpose merely to launch a system to create momentum for the Islamic faith to flourish and then, after the death of the Prophet, it vanished? That too is a very cogent argument, since it forces Salafists to confront the sizeable edifice of Muslim historiography. These are just a few of the current points of contention within Muslim scholarship that are worth familiarizing ourselves with.
A point of entry
But with all these issues you are probably thinking: this is all very technical and it is all a matter of Islamic Law; what does it have to do with us? Surely we cannot engage in this argument. Well, that is
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 13
largely, but not entirely true. You could argue that the al‐walā’ wal‐barā’ argument does involve us, but the real issue is that we need to find a way to start the ball rolling. It is of course true that the champions of the task are progressive Muslim scholars, but in comparison to the stream of jihadist propaganda, the counter‐flow is overwhelmed. Media discourse in the Middle East is still dominated by the Salafist viewpoint, and a disconcerting number of progressive scholars are having to operate outside the region for professional, and at times, personal survival.
The area that we can and do get critical mass on, I would argue, is in one specific arena and you will perhaps be a little surprised where it is, since it is a subject which has by now almost been banned from discussion – and therefore where we have to fight back. The argument is this: if the jihadist and Islamist political program is a divinely sanctioned endeavour, it should be fairly well Islamic from A to Z. After all, the true faith is Islam. Therefore, if there is anything about this endeavor that smacks of something else, it ought to spell trouble. We are quite used to hearing about totalitarian features in the works of Sayyid Qutb and Mawdudi, but if we think that through, if God is held to be the author of this new religious order, how is it that this ideology looks remarkably similar to some tawdry mid‐20th century Fascisms or to Marxism/Leninism, totalitarian collective ideologies? Surely the Creator of the Universe should be able to bring something new to the table? So if these Islamists are constructing an almost identical intellectual system, it does call into question their claim that this is a divinely ordained program.
I will quickly run through a list of parallels as to why this is worth looking at and revisiting, and why we have to rehabilitate this argument.
Under the Islamist system and under the fascist systems you have the same focus on authenticity. In either case one finds the emphasis on a crisis in the contemporary world, where the solution is sought in a culture of tradition stripped of the unsettling challenges of pluralism and diversity. In this emphasis, truth has been spelled out forever, and there can be no further advance. What is required is a purifying, cathartic national palingenesis, a rebirth on a pristine model. This is a constant feature of fascist ideology, whether it goes back to an Ur‐Deutschland, or, as with Mussolini and the Italians, to the ancient, triumphant Roman spirit. In each case you are going back to an earlier idea of an age of pristine values and virtues, the loss or subversion of which has spelled failure for their modern successors.
A fundamental characteristic of this mindset is a rejection of modernism coupled with a distrust of rationalism, or analytical criticism. Fascists deplored Reason, since it undermined Will. Proponents of Reason and pluralism, it follows, are subversive, and are constantly engaged in conspiratorial activity to undermine the unity and unanimity of the Nation. The discourse of the jihadists is peppered with obsessive references to the plot hatched by the forces of the surrounding jāhiliyya. The conspiracy theory requires the existence of a constant enemy; if for Nazi Germany the role was filled by the Jews, in the case of the jihadists it is the ewige Kāfir, the eternal infidel. The fear of contamination was the same, the true reborn member of community must strive to keep it pure of the infidel.
The corollary of the contamination fear – institutionalised among the Salafists in al‐walā’ wal‐barā’ – is eternal enmity against those who practice devilish machinations against you, and against this enmity life takes on the guise of a permanent struggle. Indeed, for the jihadists, faith is action, and faith without action is voided.35 The values aspired to are those of the hero, particularly the self‐sacrificing hero who embraces the cult of death. Part and parcel of this culture is the conspicuous machismo. It is fascinating to read the jihadis’ opinions on women and the role of women, even their abhorrence of them. One of the 9/11 bombers, Muhammad Atta, actually stipulated in his will that he didn’t want any woman “to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter.”
There are just as many parallels with Marxism‐Leninism, which brings in the idea of a universal struggle or cause.36 It also brings in interesting things such as subversion. That should raise a few hackles here—the idea that sympathisers are subverting the host community by using its own
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 14
features against it, such as totalitarians demanding their democratic rights. The Islamists who call for cultural exceptionalism are similarly using the components of democracy against itself. That is very Marxist‐Leninist. There is a similar focus on the methodology of empowerment – the vanguard of the elite, who alone can think for the unenlightened masses, save them from themselves and guide them – top down – once they have achieved dominion.37 Part of the palingenesis is a new language, a Newspeak, that seizes control of the conceptual framework of the masses and locks them in to the paradigm. From the Jihadists, we hear a new vocabulary permeating their discourse: jāhiliyya, Fir‘awn (‘Pharaoh’),38 Āl Salūl,39 Tāghūt40, Rūm (‘Byzantines’) and Crusaders, and the Orwellian language of ‘freedom as perfect slavery’; that is, “freedom from the slavery of man‐made structures and authorities, so man may live in perfect slavery to God.”
But perhaps what is most cogent is the commonality between all three systems as forms of totalitarianism, where the individual is subordinated to the collective, be it the collective of the race, the class or the faith. There is ample evidence of influence. Abu al‐A‘la Maududi (1903‐79), for instance, studied deeply the works of the totalitarians in Europe. In one of his books, he noted the commonality between totalitarianism and Islamism, when he wrote that the Sharī‘a‐ruled state:
“seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity…In such a state no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private. Considered from this aspect, the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states.”41
Maududi put his finger on something important—that in his system there is no difference between the personal and the private. Such things are very familiar to all of us who have studied totalitarianism in our own history. But it should be said that the similarities are compelling, so much so that the parallels can stand on their own merit. One does not have to seek out these direct influences to understand the strength of the parallel trajectory of thought.
The reason this is our entry point—the first entry point for deconstructing the ideology—is that when you engage in a comparison, you have to have a neutral ground. Up to now, Jihadists and Islamists have managed to avoid this neutral ground. One fundamental premise of al‐walā’ wal‐barā’ is that you do not engage in discussions with the infidel. But if we say “OK, do not discuss it with us, however, with our knowledge of totalitarian ideologies, we do think it looks rather similar. So tell us how it is different” – they then have to come outside their comfort zone. They have to leave that textually defended, ramparted citadel and say “no, it is different, because...” And once they come outside, we have the advantage, since now we are the authority. This is the only area in counter‐ideology against Islamism where we are able to cite authority and they must answer to it. This is because we are talking about ourselves and are saying: “I would like you tell me why that is different.” If they cannot tell us why that is different, it cannot continue to claim any divine sanction at all, because, as we said, the Creator of the Universe should be able to bring something new to the table.
Now, I think that argument is fairly easy to grasp. I am afraid to say, however, that it is not yet fully accepted. In a seminar that I recently attended, where I presented a paper with that argument, I was opposed because I was using radioactive terms in uncomfortable proximity, sometimes in the same paragraph: ‘Islam’ and ‘fascism’, or ‘Islam’ and ‘Marxism‐Leninism’ or even, dare I say it, ‘Islamo‐fascism.’ It should be plainly obvious that nobody is saying by this that Islam as a faith and as a civilization is fascistic. But what we have to do is rehabilitate the argument that Islam‐ism is a mental process which is shared by European totalitarians of the 20th century. We have to work out the argument as to why that is the case, for by doing so, the pedigree and the authenticity of Islamism are damaged severely. Unfortunately, because of the fallout from these radioactive terms, this argument has almost been censored out of existence, so that we cannot broach it without strong nerves.
What I am calling for now is the rehabilitation of this argument, defined very carefully, as it should be. For I believe that any attempt to understand the motivation of jihadists without addressing this
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 15
totalitarian dimension of their thought constitutes an unwarranted omission. If we continue to shun the study and the demonstration of the parallels, we will be left with few other points of entry into a counter‐ideological endeavor that has any real hope of success.
1 The argument that the foot soldiers are not reading texts, so therefore the ideology is not a significant motivating factor is a severely flawed argument. As Robert Reilly observes: “that is no more relevant than saying that the rank and file of the Nazi party had not read Alfred Rosenberg or Nietzsche. It did not matter if they had not. They were nonetheless under the control of a regime animated by the ideology based on the ideas of such thinkers.” Robert R. Reilly, ‘Thinking Like a Terrorist’ Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2009, p.32.
2 Tawfiq Hamid, speaking at the Secular Islam Summit held at St. Petersburg, Florida, March 4‐5 2007.
3 Anwar al‐Awlaki, 44 Ways of Supporting Jihad, No 42: ‘Learning Arabic.’ In his advice to the would be mujāhid , he goes on to say that “Arabic also happens to be the predominant language of the foreign mujahideen in every land of Jihad, so without it you might end up talking to yourself.”
4 Alfred Hackensberger, ‘Al‐Qaeda’s PR strategy on the internet: Free propaganda.’
5 The famous encapsulation of this argument was by al‐Ash‘arī, who argued that lying is evil only because God has declared it to be evil, “if He declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could gainsay Him.” Al‐AsharI: آتاب الإبانة عن أصول الديانة (‘Book
of Clarification on the Principles of Faith’).
6 Shaykh Sa‘īd Foudah, قطنملتدعيم ا , Dār al‐Rāzī, 47.
7 L. Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad, Cambridge 2008.
8 Abu Haithem Al‐Hijazee, Setting The Record Straight: Was Islam Really Spread By The Sword?, January 2007 (the author argues that it was).
9 Jihadists commonly make use for this purpose of a Qur’ānic verse that appears to command overriding the sentiment of pity: “And let not pity for the twain withhold you from obedience to Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment.” [Qur’ān, XXIV,2].
10 See Yusuf al‐‘Uyyayrī, ثوابت على درب الجهاد (‘Fixed points on the Road to Jihad’), and in particular, Point Five: ‘Victory does not only consist
in military triumph.’
11 The italics are mine. The context for this statement can be viewed at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/12/afghanistan.alqaeda/index.html
12 The concern about how to explain Muslim casualties is illustrated by one of the Algerian GSPC’s scholars, Abu Al Hassan Rachid, who in June 2007 issued a 23‐page statement arguing that suicide bombings are “licit and based on examples taking place at the time of Ibn Taymiyya. Using suicide bombers is indeed justified, as also the fact of picking sites full of civilians in order to strike the apostates.” Those civilians “who die in terror attacks against apostates will go to heaven” and therefore to avoid being killed, civilians are advised to avoid going to sites near public buildings.
13 Sayyid Qutb’s comments on the timescale are revealing: “The Muslim community today is neither capable of, nor required, to present before mankind great genius in material inventions, which will make the world bow its head to it, and re‐impose its world leadership in this respect. Europe's creative mind is far ahead in this domain, and at least for a few centuries to come we cannot expect to compete with Europe and attain supremacy over it in these fields.” Sayyid Qutb, قيرطمعالم في ال (‘Milestones on the Way’) Minbar al‐Tawhīd wal‐
Jihād: Section . ةمدقم
14 Abu Basir al‐Tartousi: رييغتلأسباب فشل بعض الحرآات الجهادية في عملية ا (‘Reasons for the failure of some jihadist movements in transformation
operations’) http://www.abubaseer.bizland.com/articles/read/a45.doc; عندما ينزل البلاء بالمجاهدين (‘When calamity befalls the Mujahideen’)
http://www.abubaseer.bizland.com/articles/read/a74.doc ; هؤلاء أخافهم على الجهاد والمجاهدين (‘These things I fear for the Jihad and the
Mujāhidīn’) http://www.abubaseer.bizland.com/articles/read/a77.doc ; الجماعات الجهادية بين الاعتراف بالخطأ والتراجع عن الثوابت (‘Jihadi groups,
between recognizing error and abandoning fundamental beliefs’) http://www.abubaseer.bizland.com/articles/read/a37.doc ; عندما تَنحرفُ
مسيرةُ الجهادِ عن المسَار (‘When Jihad veers off course’) http://www.abubaseer.bizland.com/articles/read/a%20107.doc .
15 Abu Mus’ab al‐Sūrī: ايملاحظات حول التجربة الجهادية في سور (‘Observations on the Jihadi Experiment in Syria’), Minbar al‐Tawhid wal‐Jihad,
http://tawhed.ws/r?i=5vyty2zp which is part of a larger work entitled: الثورة الإسلامية الجهادية في سوريا (‘The Islamic Jihadi Revolution in
Syria’) – for the text, search under http://tawhed.ws/a?a=hqkfgsb2 .
16 For a good treatment of al‐Suri’s position on the role of the Salafists see: Brynjar Lia, ‘Abu Mus`ab al‐Suri’s Critique of Hard Line Salafists in the Jihadist Current,’ CTC Sentinel, Vol 1. Issue 1, December 2007.
17S. S. Ulph, Jihadi After Action Report, Syria, The Combating Terrorism Center, United States Military Academy West Point, NY http://ctc.usma.edu/publications/pdf/CTC‐JAAR‐Syria.pdf .
18 Abd al‐Hakim Murad, Addendum to Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists.
19 Abdou FIlali‐Ansary, Jihad or Murder? Project Syndicate, 2005. http://www.project‐syndicate.org/commentary/filali_ansary2
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 16
20 مهتايلمعتساؤلات وشبهات حول المجاهدين و published by ‘A Group of Those Strongly Attached to the Mujahideen (al‐Qā‘idūn)’. Taqdīm. لا تغتروا
بتلبيس علماء السوء... ودعاة الضلالة... واقرأوا آتب المجاهدين... وزنوها بميزان الكتاب والسنة... وقبل أن تَنْفِرُوا وتُنَفِّرُوا الناس عن طريق التوحيد والجهاد
21 Abu Muhammad Yusuf bin Salih Al‐Uyyairi: هداية الحيارى في جواز قتل الاسارى (‘Guide for the Perplexed on the Permissibility of Killing
Prisoners’), Center for Islamic Studies and Research.
22 Umar Abdallah Hasan Al‐Shihabi: ىلتقلاب ليثمتلا (‘On Abusing Dead Bodies’), Minbar al‐Tawhid wal‐Jihad, May 2004.
23 Dr. Umar Ghani Sa’ud: نيدلالقول المبين في مفهوم التترس واحكامه في ا (‘A Clarifying Voice on the Concept of [Using Humans as] Shields and its
Religious Verdicts’), Al‐Ramadi.
24 The prohibition is Qur’ānic: “Do not kill yourselves. Indeed, God is to you ever Merciful” (Qur’ān IV:29). Shaykh al‐‘Uyyayrī has defended the tactic in his work: العمليات الفدائة، انتحار أم شهادة؟ (‘Sacrificial Operations, is it Suicide or Bearing Witness [Martyrdom]?’). It has
been translated by at‐Tibyan Publications as The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Self‐Sacrificial Operations, n.d.
25 Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 18/04/08.
26 Nazim Fethi, ‘Al‐Qaeda’s Droukdel seeks religions support for terrorism’, Magharebia 24th September 2009.
27 Mansour al‐Nogaidan, ‘Losing my Jihadism,’ The Washington Post, July 22, 2007. His high‐profile repudiation of the jihadi cause provoked enough concern as to call forth a character assassination by Shaykh ‘Abd al‐‘Azīz al‐Jarbū‘: منصور النقيدان، من بيت الطين وتحريم الكهرباء
إلى الأستاذية في أحدية راشد المبارك (‘Mansour al‐Nogaidan, From a Mud House and the Proscription of Electricity, to a Professorship in the Shoes
of Rāshid al‐Mubārak’), Minbar al‐Tawhīd wal‐Jihād, n.d.
28 The medieval bibliographer Ibn al‐Nadim lists several versions of the Qur’ān which were not recognized by the Caliphs. Under the Caliph ‘Uthman one version became the standard, after which all other versions were ordered burnt. Some of the Companions expressed their disapproval of his editing and variant readings continued to be circulated. Several ahādīth refer to the then current text of the Qur’ān as ‘incomplete,’ or bearing spurious verses, or cite verses which are not extant in the text in circulation today.
29 In 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of San‘ā, 7th and 8th century parchment pages bearing variant readings of the Qur’ān were discovered. These are some of the oldest Qur’ān texts in existence. Some of them are also palimpsests where the text is written over even earlier, washed‐off versions. In several cases the organization of the text is different, the suras are sometimes in a different order, and there are differences in the text itself. They indicate an evolving text rather than give support to the orthodox belief in a single Revelation to the Prophet. Aware of the potential for controversy, Yemeni authorities are reticent about the work being carried out on these texts by German scholars and have restricted further access to them.
30 The archive is the work of German Orientalist scholars Gotthelf Bergsträsser and Otto Pretzl, who searched out and photographed old copies of the Qur’ān in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe in the 1930s. The Berlin University Corpus Coranicum project, which aims to provide the ultimate apparatus criticus for the Qur’ān text, has incorporated these fragments into its research.
31 Ulil Abshar-Abdalla; Avoiding Bibliolatry, the Importance of Revitalizing the Understanding of Islam, February 2003 on islamlib.com.
32 Al‐Suri, The Call for Global Islamic Resistance, Section (12) ح كم السكن في ديار المشرآين p. من الفتنة في الدين , وتشرب عادات المشرآين , والإلفة . 1160
معهم التي تؤدي مع الوقت للود الذي حرمه الله معهم , واختلاط الذرية الناشئة بينهم بأطفالهم وتعلم عوائدهم الخبيثة الفاسدة الكثيرة
33 Muhammad Al‐Mahmoud: ‘The Real Living Culture Is Western Culture’, interview for al‐Arabiya TV, March 23, 2007.
34 Hadīth from Abu Mas‘ūd al‐Badrī: ةللاض ىلع ةموعليكم بالجماعة فإن الله لا يجمع هذه الأ considered to be ‘sound.’ Other Ahādīth in support of this
are: “My Community shall not agree upon misguidance. Therefore, you must stay with the congregation, and Allah's hand is over the
congregation”; “Whoever leaves the community or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of the Jāhiliyya.” The
commonest Qur’ānic authorities adduced in support of consensus are: Qur’ān III,103: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all of you, and do not
split into factions”; Qur’ān IV,59: “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those of authority among you.”
35 That action is superior to faith was a feature that appealed to Muhammad Farag, author of ةبئاغلالفريضة ا (‘The Missing Obligation’), who
saw jihad as a panacea for the Muslim world, and its abandonment as the principal reason for “the lowness, humiliation, division and
fragmentation in which the Muslims live today.” Jihadists highlight the following Qur’ānic verse to make their case: “Those of the believers
who remain passive, other than the disabled, are not equal to those who strive hard in God’s cause with their possessions and lives. God
has exalted those who strive hard with their possessions and their lives far above the ones who remain passive” [Qur’ān, IV, 95]. For Sayyid
Qutb the Qur’ān is not a ‘holy book’ like the Christian Bible, but rather a manual for action, approached “as a soldier on the battlefield
reads ‘Today’s Bulletin’” (See Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p.13, Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1990).
36 Jihadism combines the supremacist sentiment of the Nazi German slogan: Heute da hört [or gehört] uns Deutschland und morgen die ganze Welt, with the more ‘universalist’ Marxist‐Leninist call for world communism as a form of global emancipation. It is best illustrated by Sayyid Qutb’s call for the fulfilment of “a mission that, whether the distance be near or far, will accede to the leadership of humanity” (Sayyid Qutb, قيرطمعالم في ال (‘Milestones on the Way’) Minbar al‐Tawhīd wal‐Jihād, 5).
37 Sayyid Qutb was explicit on this role: “It is necessary that there should be a vanguard, which sets out with this determination and then keeps upon the path, passing through the vast ocean of Jāhiliyya striking its roots over the entire world.” Sayyid Qutb, قيرطل معالم في ا
(‘Milestones on the Way’), Minbar al‐Tawhīd wal‐Jihād, 5 , مقدمة .
38 Pharaoh, conceived as a competing deity to Allah in that he claimed sovereignty without reference to the Divine Law; see Qur’ān XXVIII,38. Note Shaykh Anwar al‐Awlaki’s use of the term in his work 44 Ways of Supporting Jihad, No. 39: (‘Exposing Pharaoh and his magicians’): “The current governments of the Muslim world are playing the role of Pharaoh with Musa and the court scholars are playing the role of the magicians of Pharaoh in deceiving the masses. The governments and their court scholars are the third side of the triangle of enemies of the ummah alongside the Crusaders and the Zionists.”
39 The Āl Salūl were the family that supervised the Ka‘ba in Mecca during pagan times.
Weak Points in the Ideology of Jihad 17
40 Originally a pre‐Islamic idol, but now adopted to represent whatever constitutes an obstruction to Truth, therefore ‘an oppressor.’
41 Sheikh Abul Ala Maududi, “Islamic Law and Constitution,” Chapter: The Political Theory of Islam, 9th edition, Lahore 1986, p146‐147). The use of this citation has aroused the ire of Islamist activists and media watchers, who see such internal parallelism of Islamism with totalitarianism as highly compromising. See, for instance, the objections by the Muslim Council of Britain (http://www.mcb.org.uk/media/responsetobbc.pdf) and the ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’ (http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=1497) to a BBC Panorama documentary aired in August 2005.