A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.
The brains behind the Al Qaeda movement, Ayman al Zawahiri did not intend the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks to pass without adding his final touches to the Al Qaeda picture.
Earlier this month, Al Zawahiri featured in yet another videotape, which was successfully produced, and bragged impressive technological facilities by the Sahab Foundation, Al Qaeda’s ministry of information. The tape addressed the west, the whole of the west and naturally, the leadership of the west, namely the United States of America.
However, despite the enormity of the speech and the obscurity of its target audience, the west, the speech did not lack humility as it introduced us to the new face of “Abu Azzam the American”. A convert to Islam, Abu Azzam, from California was nicknamed Abu Suhayb. Previously, he appeared in a video recording that was broadcast in November 2004, threatening the United States with more bloodshed. At the time, there was much speculation surrounding the young American member of Al Qaeda until his identity was revealed as an American citizen by the name of Adam Gadahn.
Al Zawahiri introduced Gadahn or Azzam to the public with his face uncovered but of course with the necessary accessories such as the turban and the Afghan attire. The young American repeated his threats, however what made me stop and think about this tape and the new duet was not the infrequency of “Doctor” al Zawahiri’s appearances as the man obviously loves to produce videos as the last tape, which commented on the Lebanese crisis, had barely left our screens before this new one was transmitted but what concerned me about this double-appearance was the revealing of disguises. The removal of Adam Gadahn’s mask for the first time symbolically indicates a removal of the bigger and more significant disguise, which is the true essence of the discourse of Al Qaeda and what lies behind the political fundamentalist speeches.
What has been the most significant revelation in the recent tape that celebrates the fifth anniversary of 9/11?
In Arab media, intellectuals and researchers have strived to sugarcoat Al Qaeda, as some have argued that the terrorist organization is an inevitable reaction to the American occupation of Iraq (the movement was launched in 1998 as we all know!) Other civil groups and democratic movements such as the Egyptian ‘Kefaya’ movement and the Saudi ‘Reformist movement,’ continuously and enthusiastically assert that the reason behind the emergence of Al Qaeda is the lack of democracy, the spread of political despotism and the absence of freedom of expression and rights.
The issue of political reform and reform in general is a genuine and pressing issue. It is a great challenge that the Arab world faces. However the case here is different as we do not want to dwarf the topic of religious fundamentalism, which is the root of terrorism and drag it by its horns to the “backyard” of political reform to add to the balance of reform, which is a critical issue in itself.
There are two groups; those who associate the existence of Al Qaeda, and more accurately the atmosphere in which it likes to flourish, to American policy and the Palestinian cause and those associate the presence of Al Qaeda and similar movements to the lack of internal political reform. The two groups do not read into Al Qaeda and the affiliated active or sleeper cells. They have not read into Al Qaeda internally. They spare themselves the pains of trying to understand the reasons for the movement raising its weapons and why young men choose to blow their lives away, leaving everything behind including distinguished jobs such as the young engineer who in May 2004, led an operation in the oil city of Yanbu, west Saudi Arabia. Do these people carry out such operations in order to establish democracy or because of the Palestinian issue that was not born only yesterday!
Let us address the discourse and aspirations of Al Qaeda combatants and its associated movements, which are not that difficult to understand.
For example, we find al Zawahiri saying in Arabic and very clearly in his most recent tape that he wants the west to acknowledge the truth and enter Islam and that’s all!
This indicates that al Zawahiri wants to restore the old historical model completely and launch Islamic conquests and “Jihad” once again. To better convince the west, al Zawahiri has sent the message through one of their own people, namely Abu Azzam the American (Adam Gadhan, who else!). Al Zawahiri said, “As our Brother, Azzam the American, talks to you he talks to you as one who is concerned about the fate which awaits his people and as a perceptive person who wishes to lead his people out of the darkness into the light.” Abu Azzam then appears speaking in English and citing Arabic verses of the Quran. Abu Azzam said: To America and the rest of the Christian world, we say either repent your misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or keep your poison to yourself and suffer the consequences in this world and the next.”
So this is it: a clear religious war, the external purpose of which is the submission of the strayed west as well as the rest of the world to the light of truth. Its internal goal however is the organisation’s undermining of the Arab and Islamic worlds and by this I do not mean the ruling regimes but rather something deeper and closer to the revolutionary fundamentalist discourse that is the demolishing of social and economic systems and all features of modern life (that are already faltering) in order to establish the lost Islamic Caliphate according to the model of al Zawahiri and his accomplices. This is what al Zawahiri actually stated in a letter addressed to his deceased colleague, Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq. The letter was revealed at the beginning of October 2005 and was published by American authorities untitled, but dated June 2005.
In the letter, al Zawahiri had spoken about Iraq as one step and as a starting point rather than the final objective. He said that there are “incremental” goals as well as overall objectives. The former would involve driving the American forces out of Iraq and a final objective would be the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Levant, Egypt and Iraq. This is al Zawahiri’s political “doctrine” in which he still firmly believes.
Regrettably, within these climates and ideologies, the world has become dominated by worry and the story of dialogue between civilisations proposed by gentle personalities such as Khatami arouses pity. Nowadays, Khatami is giving lectures in the United States under the authorization of Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state following a number of protests by conservatives and Jews as Khatami is a symbol of the Iranian regime. Khatami however, did not fail to highlight that the reason for the existence of terrorists in today’s world is American policy while the spokesman for the Ministry of foreign affairs, Sean McCormack suggestive of Khatami, said “he will be able to express his views clearly and this may be the cause of a lot of criticism of the United States but at the same time, it is a privilege that people in his country do not enjoy.”
Meanwhile, al Zawahiri did not forget to remind those who have forgotten or who have chosen to forget or even those who do not like this kind of “barefaced” information that he wants to demolish everything and kill non-believers not only to expel them from Muslim lands but to force the west to come out of the darkness and into the light. “To America and the West, give up now and all will be well. Whoever wants to put words into the mouth of Islamic fundamentalism, then that is their problem, however this is its mouthpiece and this is its real dream.”
What is left to say is that we want to clarify the “core” of the rigid military fundamentalist discourse and not talk about political and economic issues. This core is represented by the reshaping of the entire world from a fundamentalist perspective to give more importance to the doctrinal concepts of Kharaj (taxes), the spoils of war, “jihad” or elementary fighting or “requested jihad,” and the distorted practices of these concepts have been defended by a number of major religious scholars on the pretext of maintaining Islamic identity, however at the same time, they claim to fight Al Qaeda from the juristic angle!
It is clear that we live in a state of impulsive (and un-ideological) anger concerning the faltering of Arab political reform or American political reform, however the case here is different. Such feelings could indeed ease the activities of Al Qaeda and similar organizations however they are not the cause of the emergence of this terrorist network. The difference is quite obvious.
In such climates that are rife with fundamentalism and exclusion, building bridges between humankind proves a difficult task where warlords are in charge of discourse. For example, in Britain, we recently heard from a group of racists who adopted a similar style to Al Qaeda and threatened to kill British Muslims unless they left the “beautiful” island of Britain as they called it. The group adopted the same Zarqawi methods as Al Qaeda, wore masks and threatened to slaughter people.
The matter is more important than trying to exploit Al Qaeda and using it to oppose an Arab regime or to laugh at the infuriation of the United States unless the model of the al Zawahiri state is the buried model deep in those who claim to be the notables of the Arabs and if that was the case, then there is no need for this longwinded warning and this article should end here.