How can young men in Britain be convinced to kill both themselves and innocent people without any warning to their families? Where is the message of hate coming from and why is it falling on fertile soil?
A key hate message is being directed very deliberately by Al-Qaedaists at members of the Muslim community worldwide in their phantom Al-Neda and other websites. These websites repeat three key themes constantly.
The first is that the West is implacably hostile to Islam and has attacked it for many centuries since the time of the Crusades.
The second is that because of this active hostility and due to the nature of the West, the only way to deal with this threat, the only action the West will understand, is violence. Dialogue is not possible.
Finally, in these circumstances, Jihad is the only option.
This is also the message that Osama Bin Laden and extremist mullahs are directing at the Islamic community worldwide. Videos, CDs and internet chat rooms all build on this message to convince sometimes alienated people that Jihad is necessary and, in fact, an individual obligation on them.
The core of this Jihad ideology, comes from a treatise titled “Shifa Sudur Al-Mu’minin” (“The Cure for Believers’ Hearts”) published by Ayman Al-Zawahiri in 1996. Al-Zawahiri, considered to be the second-in-command of the core Al-Qaeda group, published this treatise after the terrorist group he then led, Islamic Jihad, bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Following that attack, there was significant criticism of Islamic Jihad and the bombing by the media and public in Egypt.
The treatise was a justification for the attack and has become the justification for Al-Qaedaist attacks subsequently. In it, Al-Zawahiri says that all Arab and Islamic regimes, including the PLO, sold out by the fact that they accepted the authority of the U.N. and the idea that any Jew might remain in any part of Palestine. All these regimes were seen as clients of the Infidels, Christians and Jews, which, he says, is prohibited in Islamic law and therefore, placed them outside the fold of Islam and subject to whatever punishment is deemed appropriate. He dismissed the victims of the Islamabad bombings, who were described in the Egyptian media as innocent civilians, by saying that if they worked for the government they were legitimate targets.
He then translated that concept of personal liability to Western governments and Western civilians. As we in the West elect and pay for our governments, we are fully responsible for their actions and therefore, our status under Islamic law as innocent non-combatants becomes null and void and we become legitimate targets.
Al-Zawahiri then stated that Islam was under attack from the West and its local “clients”. In those exceptional circumstances, one should look to “the greater good”. Because the enemy was very strong and the Al-Qaedaists weak they were entitled to cause collateral damage, including the death of Muslim women and children, and were also entitled to use suicide actions (martyrdom) in their struggle.
This train of thought was a completely new departure for the militant Islamic movement and was not based on any accepted or traditional school of thought within Islam.
To take just one key example, the concept of Jihad has been fundamentally changed by the Al-Qaedaists for their own ends in the following ways.
Firstly, the West has got to be seen to be trying to destroy Islam before one can use Jihad against it. As there is no such onslaught, the Al-Qaedaists have to pretend there is before Jihad is possible.
The second change is to turn Jihad into an individual obligation – a constant theme of the Al-Qaedaists for obvious reasons – rather than a group obligation which it has been down through the centuries.
Thirdly, the focus is the “lesser Jihad” of militant activity rather than the “greater Jihad”, the struggle to overcome the self.
Finally, all Islamic teaching and tradition condemns suicide. The Al-Qaedaists have had to appropriate Christian thinking on martyrdom to defend against a non-existent overwhelming Western onslaught to convince their adherents that suicide is permitted.
These constant messages then reinforced a belief held by some Muslims that the current relative failure of Islam is due to Western activities over many centuries. Such activities by the West are said to include the Crusades, Western imperialism, the struggle in Palestine, Western support for Israel over many decades, U.N. approved actions in the first Gulf War, in Afghanistan and East Timor, and current actions in Iraq. In addition, some within Islam see globalisation as a conspiracy by the West to destroy their culture and loot their resources. Such beliefs create a significant feeling of discontent and of being under attack which the Al-Qaedaists are expert in tapping into, with the results we have seen.
This development with respect to second-generation immigrants within Europe has been predicted for some time. Their alienation from their parents, the country their parents came from, and the country in which they are now resident in Europe, leaves them easy targets for those who peddle the global Al-Qaedaist movement as their only real alternative. The fact that such beliefs and actions go against all mainstream Islamic thinking and traditions, only strengthens the attraction of these emphatic, hate-filled websites to some.
One piece of good news was from the most recent global attitudes survey, published by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, showing that support for suicide bombings that target civilians is declining amongst Muslim populations in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In the long run, that is how Al-Qaedaism will be defeated – from within Islam itself.