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Islamist Jihad in the 21st Century - Radical Islam and Holy War
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Islamist Jihad in the 21st Century
Islamist Theoreticians
Islam: A Religion of Both Peace and War
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Radical Islam and Holy War
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Radical Islam and Holy War

A few months after moving his organization to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden published his first fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” in al-Quds al-Arabi, the Arabic language newspaper based in London.101 A fatwa is an Islamic religious opinion normally issued by an acknowledged scholar, and its importance depends upon the communally recognized status of that jurist. His work, known as the Ladenese Epistle, “is an endless list of charges…The most prominent grievance is bin Laden‘s hallmark: the ‘Zionist-Crusader Alliance,’ that amalgam of world infidelity, is waging a war against the people of Islam.”102 His declaration of war caught the attention of the entire Muslim world on two counts. First, bin Laden is not a recognized Quranic authority even if he might popularly speak for the masses. Secondly, as all Muslims know, ―the declaration of jihad creates a legal state of hostilities.103 His subsequent attacks on the U.S. “stem from a pervasive fear—in the minds of bin Laden and many other Muslims—that American culture is crushing theirs.”104 Bin Laden exploited the fact that there “is no ‘clear, decisive, and unequivocal’ religious authority [in Islam] able to declare that the killing of innocents by terrorist attacks is contrary to Islam….”105

Bin Laden did not act within a vacuum; there were historical predecessors teaching radical interpretations of jihad. Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328) was an early Islamic jurist who became a precursor for Islamist philosophers. Unlike most clerics, he added jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam.106 Historically, most clerics didn‘t consider jihad (holy war) as essential to personal piety. Ibn Taymiyya noted that both prayer and the practice of jihad were “God‘s two essential requirements for all conscientious, able-bodied Muslims. The goal of jihad is God‘s victory; anyone who opposes jihad is therefore an enemy of God.”107 He did not recognize a distinction between a greater and lesser jihad. “Along with his contemporaries, he considered the superior form of jihad to be combat against infidels. Spiritual jihad was important as preparation for the more physically demanding kind of jihad.”108 Ibn Taymiyya’s stress upon holy war is taken as an article of faith for contemporary Islamists, rejecting an emphasis upon the spiritual without war making. He taught that religion was not subordinate to the state, but rather there must be agreement between the ruler and clerics. Further, if a ruler was not personally pious and would not enforce Sharia he was to be considered apostate and Muslims were obligated to depose him. Obedience to such a ruler was against one‘s religion.109

Among modern Islamists, where there are few clergy, there is a rejection of orthodox religious opinion in favor their version of a return to an older, “purer” form of Islam. “Implicit in this is a disregard for generations of learning and religious authority, a repudiation that goes beyond the insistence of ibn Taymiyya on the individual struggle with the Quran and hadith.”110 Islamic scholars consider Islamist teaching ijtihad—the error of innovation. Bin Laden is a businessman who studied economics and business administration at a Saudi Arabian university. Yet he boldly rejected accepted scholarly judgment and issued an independent and ‘binding‘ religious opinion to the world Islamic community.

For Western minds it is difficult to understand that there is no separation of church and state in Islam. As currently practiced in Muslim society (except perhaps in Iran), official religion is subordinate to but inseparable from the state. (It must be noted that in Islamic nations, everything is conditioned by religion even if individual national leaders sometimes act out of seemingly non-religious motives). However, the Islamist world-view is quite opposite. Religion is primary over all things in the Salafist view; it directs the workings of government. Entirely within the context of Islamist thought, radical leaders like Ayman al-Zawahri “stress the requirement to achieve political power and control: the ‘victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world.‘”111 The Islamist goal is to establish the political unity of the Umma—a caliphate headed by a “Rightly Guided Caliph.”112 Initially, the Caliphate must be restored in the heart of the Islamic world—the Levant, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iraq. From that position of moral and political strength the new Islamist revolution would be spread throughout the world.

The traditional Islamist position rejects all modern Muslim governments as counterfeits of the Islamic ideal. This is not a novel teaching, but dates from the thirteenth century. Ibn Taymiyya refused to acknowledge any primacy of the state over Islam. In his view, there was an authentic unity between the sovereign and the clergy. This was a vision to recreate the lost reality of the Prophet Mohammed‘s time. “His were serious demands: a ruler who did not enforce sharia or exhibit scrupulous personal piety would be no better than an apostate, and under Islamic law, Muslims were obligated to rebel against such a leader.”113 Obedience to an apostate monarch, especially one who violated the principles of the faith, was to be considered equivalent to rejection of the Qur’an and committing apostasy.

The modern Umma is confronted with the choice of adapting to a globalized existence of nation-state interdependence that has been created by the West or seeking some Islamic alternative. Existing national leaders in Muslim nations are often dictatorial, insular and grossly out of touch with their populations. The majority of Muslims are caught in a cycle of hopelessness, poverty and lack of opportunity. Radical Islam has given voice to popular Muslim grievances and because of that gained great popularity. Islamists also offer a hope of a unified Umma in a region that remains divided by tribal, religious, and political divisions, in which continued instability is inevitable.114

Islamism is a twenty-first century phenomenon that has emerged as an evolving insurgency “having broad appeal among the global Muslim community.”115 The primary objective of Islamist groups is to overthrow the existing nation-state structure within the Islamic world and to reconstitute a unified and worldwide Umma of Islamic piety and power. However, the overthrow of Muslim governments proved too great a task for the present. “In national struggles, the jihadists were overmatched by the security apparatus of the state.”116 Thus the enemy at hand—the governments of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, etc.—proved to be too powerful, even if the source of that power could be conveniently blamed upon the United States. Islamist attention shifted to the “far enemy,” the Christian West, and especially the USA.

The question debated in Islamist circles centered upon a strategy for confronting the far enemy. How could the movement successfully achieve its primary goal by defeating the Christian West? Abu Bakr Naji theorized a strategic vision for attaining Islamist ideological goals. He noted that Muslim governments were propped up by either of the superpowers (the Soviet Union or the USA). If a superpower could be “provoked” into an invasion of the Middle East it would facilitate a propaganda victory for four reasons.

…the people will 1) be impressed that the jihadis are directly fighting a superpower, 2) be outraged over the invasion of a foreign power, 3) be disabused of the notion that the superpower is invincible the longer the war goes on, and, 4) be angry at the proxy governments allied with the invading superpower. Moreover, he argues, it will bleed the superpower‘s economy and military. This will lead to social unrest at home and the ultimate defeat of the superpower.117 406

Radical Islamic movements have conspired to implement variations on this strategy by patiently attacking American interests, including the following: Iran Embassy Hostages (1979); - Beirut, Lebanon, Embassy and Lebanon Marine Barracks (1983); - Lockerbie, Scotland, Pan-Am flight to New York (1988); - First New York World Trade Center attack (1993); - Dhahran , Saudi Arabia, Khobar Towers Military complex (1996); - Nairobi, Kenya, U.S. Embassy (1998); - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, U.S. Embassy (1998), and Aden, Yemen, the USS Cole (2000).118

Ineffective and tepid American responses encouraged the Islamists to regard the USA as a degenerate society unable to overcome their righteous cause. For this reason, the American responses to the September 2001 attacks on the New York World Trade Center and Pentagon were completely unanticipated by Islamists. However, though unforeseen, the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq brought the West into the Middle East where it could be confronted.

Such a shift in strategy from the near to the far enemy, a far more powerful opponent, meant a radical change in operational design. Terrorism is a weapon of the weak. If it were possible to confront and defeat the enemy directly, much time and effort could be saved. To directly confront America was simply out of the question. Dramatic terrorist attacks taking noncombatant lives would accomplish two objectives: gaining support from the - “Arab street,” - and striking fear into the U.S. population. Ayman al-Zawahri, writing in “Knights under the Prophet‘s Banner,” (2001) declared:

If the successful operations against Islam‘s enemies and the severe damage inflicted on them do not serve the ultimate goal of establishing the Muslim nation in the heart of the Islamic world they will be nothing more than disturbing acts, regardless of their magnitude, that could be absorbed and endured even if after some time and with some losses.119 408

Fanaticism usually leads to the justification of terrible and forbidden actions on the basis of the results obtained. Thus we find the modern advent of the Islamic suicide bomber—whether the bomb is strapped to the person, carried in a vehicle, or loaded on an airplane. Traditional Muslim scholars argue that suicide is not Islamic, that it is an unpardonable sin and not a true martyrdom. “Naming a martyr is the business of Allah, the scholar Amir Taheri reminds us, not of those ‘in pursuit of political goals’…Muslims who implicitly condone terror know they cannot smuggle a new concept into Islamic ethics.”120 On the other hand, Ayman al-Zawahiri noted that: “...the method of martyrdom operations [is] the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and the least costly to the mujahidin in terms of casualties.”121 Suicide bombers are inexpensive, and they leave no one behind to implicate accomplices while achieving a maximum of killing and terror.

“Taheri argues that ‘not a single reputable theologian anywhere’ endorses the new trick word that has been added to the Islamic lexicon by those who are trying to get around restrictions against suicide bombings.”122 Declaring such suicide bombers as “martyrs” is to knowingly contravene 1,600 years of Islamic teaching and to glorify forbidden actions. “Radical clerics do not educate suicide-bombers and would-be jihadists on these finer points of Islamic law and its complexity.”123 Further, such persons are made promises of paradise, common in popular Islamist cultural lore that “the martyr who kills for the faith and perishes in the process is given seventy-two black-eyed women to serve him. His reward will come ten minutes after his ‘martyrdom.’”124 Many Islamic experts, such as Georgetown University Professor Yvonne Haddad, dispute this notion as “nowhere to be found in Islamic writings.”125

Other excesses of religion have appeared in the recent past that are contrary to Quranic just war teaching. Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, the chief cleric of Iran, issued a fatwa that permitted children as young as nine years old to fight a jihad against Iraq during the decade of the 1980s. Iranian propaganda was aimed at school children encouraging passion for martyrdom. “Competing legal traditions on the age of adulthood grant it at puberty, which could occur at age 12 in boys and age 9 in girls.”126 Hezbollah and other radical Islamic movements encourage the making of martyrdom videos, manipulating the jihadist impulse in the Muslim community.127 The Taliban, among others, have taken and beheaded hostages contrary to the clear teachings of the Qur’an (Q. Sur. 5, al-Maida).

Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 18:55