Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? . . . That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11. - Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, 2008
Lawrence Wright, who wrote The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, the Pultizer Prize winning book documenting the rise of al-Qaeda, has written a lengthy article in the New Yorker on the intellectual battle between al-Qaeda and its former leaders.
In particular he documents the intellectual revisions promoted by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, a descendant of Mohammed. In the early 1990s, Imam, who also went by the nom de guerre, Dr Fadl, penned a mammoth tome The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge. Drawing on a "reservoir of opinions and precedents" in Islamic jurisprudence, this "intransigent and bloodthirsty document" laid the theological foundations for the type of asymmetric war that would be waged by Salafist jihadists, particularly al-Qaeda, over the course of the next decade. An earlier work produced in 1988, The Essential Guide for Preparation, formalised the rules of waging jihadi and "quickly became one of the most important texts in the jihadis’ training".
However, over the last year, Dr. Fadl has revised his earlier work in Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World and instigated a acrimonious battle of ideas with his old friend and al-Qaeda figurehead, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and other prominent Islamist thinkers.
Rather than summarise Wright's survey of this battle, I would prefer to refer you to an excellent post by Wretchard at The Belmont Club discussing this widening rift. Instead I would like to focus on the implications that Dr. Fadl's revisions would have on the battlespace. I have previously described the battle space that I see the West fighting in the coming decades. In summary, I see the West fighting on a number of fronts: the kinetic, the legal, the financial, the energy, intellectual and espionage fronts. Based on Lawrence Wright's essay, I see Dr. Fadl's revisions affecting the kinetic sphere, provided his ideas gain an ascendency.
Dr. Fadl's understanding of Islamic jurisprudence is said to be "encyclopaedic" which earned him a loyal following in Pakistan in the mid 1980s where the mujahideen were piling in to fight the Soviets. Therefore, his revisions to the jihadi doctrine of warfare that he himself formulated, should be taken seriously. As Wright notes:
Fadl...establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances.
Some of the revisions presented in Rationlizing Jihad include the requirement that a jihadist must:
- have a place of refuge;
- be endowed with a financial base that will support his jihad without resorting to theft, murder, kidnapping or extortion;
- provide for their families;
- clearly define the enemy to avoid the slaughter of innocents;
- have permission from parents and creditors;
- have the blessing of a qualified sheikh or imam;
- not resort to treachery even against the enemy; and
- cannot kill Christians and Jews unless they are "actively attacking Muslims"
Were these principles taken up, jihadis would lose their most effective tactic of being able to wage an asymmetrical kinetic war. Hiding behind civilians would be forbidden; operational secrecy would be undermined by needing to notify parents, creditors and qualified imams; applying for visas to facilitate attacks against the host nation would be haram; indiscriminate killing outlawed. In short, jihadis would need to adhere to many of the same principles that parliamentary nation-states subject themselves to.
There is however, one nagging feeling I have with Dr. Fadl's revisions. Based on his re-reading of Islamic jurisprudence, he deems many tactics of jihad illegal under Shar'ia. However, he does not provide an alternative. Given that he does not renounce all jihadi activity and his revisions are borne more out of seeing the kinetic power of the U.S. decimate the ranks of jihadi fighters, one is left wondering what advice he would give a potential jihadi in Cairo, Lisbon or Mosul. Wright does not address this in his article. But we may have a clue in the strategy employed by other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. These groups, like al-Qaeda, have as their goal, the re-establishment of a global caliphate. The means by which they strive to reach this end are mostly non-kinetic. Patrick Poole, writing for FrontPageMag notes this in his commentary on the discovery in 2006 of The Project, a document that purportedly served as a blueprint of the Muslim Brotherhood's plans to "establish an Islamic government on earth", writing that:
What makes The Project so different from the standard “Death of America! Death to Israel!” and “Establish the global caliphate!” Islamist rhetoric is that it represents a flexible, multi-phased, long-term approach to the “cultural invasion” of the West. Calling for the utilization of various tactics, ranging from immigration, infiltration, surveillance, propaganda, protest, deception, political legitimacy and terrorism, The Project has served for more than two decades as the Muslim Brotherhood “master plan”.
Whilst it is encouraging to read that jihadist theorists like Dr. Fadl are beginning to revise their thinking, the West should not reflexively swoon at their apparent recantation. As Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, notes:
It’s easier to move from terrorism to extremism or from extremism to rigidity. We have not come across the person who can be moved all the way from terrorism to a normal life.
Dr. Fadl's revisions may, more than anything else, shift the battle to another one of the Five Faces of Darkness I alluded to in my earlier post. Were this to be the case, the post-modern West would find it even more difficult to prosecute its defence against an enemy that hides behind and abuses words such as multiculturalism, racism and tolerance.