Al Qaeda in its own words

Islam and democracy are incompatible because democracy makes the people sovereign, an offence against the sovereignty of Allah; because democracy claims the right to legislate, taking what is Allah’s; and because democracy allows infidels to have authority over Muslims.

Islam and equality of rights are incompatible, because freedom of religion permits apostasy, abolishes jihad, fails to enforce the legal inferiority of non-Muslims as dhimmis on whom the jizya is to be levied and abolishes man’s dominion over woman.

Liberal democracy is thus un-Islamic, indeed blasphemous.  So Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian theorist who is second-in-command of al Qaeda assures the world in Sharia and Democracy, a treatise extensively excerpted in The Al Qaeda Reader edited by Raymond Ibrahim, an American of Coptic background.  The Al-Qaeda Reader provides a selection of texts from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s chief ideologist. 

Islam and democracy are incompatible because democracy makes the people sovereign, an offence against the sovereignty of Allah; because democracy claims the right to legislate, taking what is Allah’s; and because democracy allows infidels to have authority over Muslims.

Islam and equality of rights are incompatible, because freedom of religion permits apostasy, abolishes jihad, fails to enforce the legal inferiority of non-Muslims as dhimmis on whom the jizya is to be levied and abolishes man’s dominion over woman.

Liberal democracy is thus un-Islamic, indeed blasphemous.  So Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian theorist who is second-in-command of al Qaeda assures the world in Sharia and Democracy, a treatise extensively excerpted in The Al Qaeda Reader edited by Raymond Ibrahim, an American of Coptic background.  The Al-Qaeda Reader provides a selection of texts from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s chief ideologist.

In a document entitled Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West, al Qaeda states that: 

Muslims are obligated to raid the lands of the infidels, occupy them, and exchange their systems of governance for an Islamic system, barring any practice that contradicts the sharia from being publicly voiced among the people, as was the case at the dawn of Islam (p.51). 

An impeccably Islamic sentiment, given that is precisely what Muhammad, and his Companions, did.  As al-Qaeda points out:

it is, in fact, part of our religion to impose our particular beliefs upon others.  Whoever doubts this, let him turn to the deeds of the Companions when they raided the lands of the Christians and Omar imposed upon them the conditions of dhimmi[tude] (p.51). 

So,

the West’s notion that Islam is the religion of jihad and enmity towards the religions of the infidel and the infidels themselves is an accurate and true depiction (p.52). 

We need to take the words of al-Qaeda (and the jihadis generally) seriously—particularly when they are justifying themselves to potential supporters and recruits—for that is when they reveal what they are about.  One of the things which crippled responses to Hitler in the 1930s is that people read him according to their own theories, not according to what he said he wanted to do, even though it was all in Mein Kampf for everyone to read.

Robert Fisk, in his normal purblind arrogance, informs us that: There is no connection between Islam and "terror".  This is news to al-Qaeda, whose writings make it very clear indeed that what they do they do for very Islamic reasons.  The longer texts are full of citations of the Qur’an (particularly, of course, the Medinan verses) and to hadith providing further and better particulars.  What the Prophet said the Allah said, and what the Prophet, as the source of Revelation, said and did is clearly the ultimate authority.  So terror attacks become raids to deliberately invoke the Prophet’s own raids.  If one is propounding an ideology of warrior action and conquest, there is plenty in the words and actions of the Prophet to give you sustenance.

Fisk goes on to say But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and "terror".  To al-Qaeda, Spain (or, rather al-Andalus) represents “occupation of Muslim lands”.  Fisk is in such denial, he is reduced to saying that Osama is lying about his motivations when expressing an Islamic justification for the Bali bombing which is entirely in line with al-Qaeda’s rhetoric to fellow Muslims.  The “West has been bad to them” is a pathetically inadequate explanation for the extent of Islam-motivated violence which extends way beyond attacking “Western” targets.  (As it is for the lack of similar violence from others “the West” has been bad to.)

Fisk, and those who argue like him, are the analogues of those in the 1930s who argued that the Versailles Treaty was unfair to Germany (true) and that Germans have legitimate grievances (true) and so the proper thing to do was to accede to Herr Hitler’s expression of German grievances (road to disaster).  It was the road to disaster because Hitler really believed in the program he outlined in Mein Kampf.  Giving in to his “legitimate” demands did not take the “sting” out of his ideology, it confirmed it as the path forward.

And Hamas, Hezbollah and the jihadis are the contemporary analogues of fascism—modernising revolts against modernity (seen as alien, anti-religious and Western), preaching an atavistic (and anti-traditionalist) form of Islam, promoting a cult of death and violence, engaged in brutality and murder; the rhetoric of violence backed up by deeds of violence: in Hezbollah’s case with a uniformed paramilitary, straight-armed salute and all.  (Osama bin Laden even has the war veteran mystique working for him that both Mussolini and Hitler did.)

In the face of threatening modern “corruption”, one gets atavism—rejection of recent tradition in favour of “original purity”.  The Protestant Reformation—with its notion that Scripture creates or founds the Church rather than the Catholic notion that the Church produces Scripture—was one such case, as Pentecostalism is in our time.  The rise in esoteric/occult views, particularly in the C19th, was another such atavism, as is the neo-pagan movement that descends from it.  Both Italian Fascism and (especially) German Nazism were atavistic—invoking either pre-Christian Rome (in both cases) or pre-Christian German (“Aryan”) purity (in the case of the Nazis).

In contemporary Islam, the modernist impulse (the attempt to “update”) Islam wars with the reformist impulse (the attempt to “return” to original purity).  This is an old pattern in Islam which has particular urgency in the contemporary world due to the omnipresence of modernity, Islam’s confronting weakness and the existence of the “free wealth” of oil money giving the reformist impulse extra impetus (as it weakens the pressure to adjust to modernity, as distinct from defying it in various ways).

And there is a long tradition within Islam that, except as pragmatic convenience, peaceful co-existence is unIslamic.  As in Ayatollah Khomeini’s view that: Islam is a religion of blood for the infidels but a religion of guidance for other people: though, given he was a Shi’a “corpse worshipper”, al-Qaeda would not quote him approvingly.

For the jihadis, secularism is anti-Islamic, democracy is anti-Islamic, equal rights is anti-Islamic.  As long as we can understand the nature of the grievances, it is perfectly clear that the West is hateful for what it is, and particularly for being successful. While all the jihadi rhetoric about Middle East regimes being “infidel” because they are not true Muslims applies even more so to those who are not Islamic in the first place.  Given the omnipresence modern communications give the products of Western culture, there is a sense in which the West cannot be escaped from.  Osama bin Laden is the “mad mullah” of the global village, with rather fewer good points than the original.

What comes across strongly is how very much the example of the C7th in particular, and Islamic history in general, matters to al-Qaeda.  The jihadis fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—with “Allah’s will” this led, they believe, to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  So Allah will give them victory over the US.  This model is straight out of the C7th, when Muhammad’s Companions—in the world’s greatest burst of religious conquest—overran the Persian Empire and half the territory (with two-thirds of the population and revenue) of the Eastern Roman Empire.  (Which we call, quite anachronistically, the “Byzantine” Empire.)

The one point where it is clear that al-Zawahiri is stretching is trying to justify suicide bombing on Islamic grounds.  Islam regards suicide as a sin and—while it is perfectly clear from the words of the Prophet that the archetypal Muslim martyr is one who slays and is slain—there is nothing in the Qur’an or in hadith which justifies deliberately killing oneself to kill infidel (as distinct from accepting one is likely to die).  Al-Zawahiri is reduced to making a very weak inference from a parable hadith about a young boy who is a martyr to Islam by telling the evil king how to kill him after Allah had saved the boy more than once and claiming there from that it is the intention in the suicide which makes all the difference.

The argument for the permissibility of killing civilians is stronger (the Prophet bombarded an infidel city with catapults) but al-Zawahiri does have to make an distinction between defensive jihad (where more is permissible) and offensive jihad.   But, given the September 11 operations (which al-Qaeda take full credit for) were “defensive”, it is not a distinction worth much.

Reading document after document, one is struck by the consistent tone: full of hate but also a pervasive bravado that seems to be shouting to hide a deeper insecurity.  Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are clearly deeply offended by the success of the West and relative weakness of Islam, an Islam that should be the triumphant vanguard of Allah’s sovereignty.

Reading an interview with al-Zawahiri is like reading an interview with a particularly sophomoric Western leftist with Islamic rhetoric tacked-on – the failure to put things in anything but a propagandistic context, the West (particularly the US) and West-friendly regimes are to blame for everything, nothing the speaker is associated with has any connection to anything bad, if everyone would just agree with the speaker things would be fine (and they only fail to so agree because they are wicked and malicious).

Raymond Ibrahim, who works for the Library of Congress and did a Masters in Middle Eastern history on early Eastern Roman-Muslim interaction, has done an excellent job in putting together the collection, handling the translation, providing short introductions to each major document putting it in context.  (Though he does not always explain why particular documents are not dated.)  I was particularly struck by a footnote that provides an excellent short summary of the closing of itjihad:

since the beginning of the tenth century, after all four school [of Islamic jurisprudence] had reached a level of development where almost everything had been codified, the doors of itjihad were said to have closed.

A very useful text – by letting al-Qaeda speak for itself, loud and clear – for understanding a mindset that is both religious and murderous.

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