In 1968 and Egyptian scholar, going under the pen name of Dr. Fadl, began writing some of the early treatises justifying Jihad. One of his students was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. But last May, as depicted in a fascinating long piece in the current New Yorker Magazine by Lawrence Wright ( The Looming Tower), Dr. Fadl, publicly broke with Zawahiri and published a long manuscript denouncing the Muslim on Muslim violence of Al Qaeda.
The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then 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. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.
Zawahiri, who had based most of his philosophy on Dr. Fadl’s earlier writings was forced to respond in a 200 page letter, attempting a point by point refutation of Fadl’s new thinking. When that failed to quell the outrage on Jihadist chat sites he took the extrordinary step of holding a virtual town hall meeting in an online forum.
A Saudi wondered how Muslims could justify supporting Al Qaeda, given its long history of indiscriminate murder. “Are there other ways and means in which the objectives of jihad can be achieved without killing people?” he asked. “Please do not use as a pretext what the Americans or others are doing. Muslims are supposed to be an example to the world in tolerance and lofty goals, not to become a gang whose only concern is revenge.” But Zawahiri was unable to rise to the questioner’s ethical challenge.
All of this philisophical discourse on the role of violence in Islam might seem irrelevant to a real world world where suicide bombers continue to wreak havoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. But yesterday, CIA Director Hayden said that Al Qaeda has suffered a major loss of credibility in the region.
“Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians.
I continue to believe that if we get out of the way and let the Afghans and Iraqis handle Al Qaeda, the supposed “Clash of Civilizations”, based on a false belief that Islam is inherently violent, will turn out to be a mirage.