Al-Qaeda, theology, globalization and Europe

Fredag, 5. September 2008     0 kommentti(a)

Ayman al-ZawahiriThe media, and in particularly the newspaper industry, is worldwide undergoing major changes due to the information revolution. Increasingly this means they are cutting back on foreign bureaus and having ever fewer expert correspondents. Hence the specialist journalists out there who have the same expert knowledge as academics and researchers, but can convey that knowledge to a wider public in a clear and simple manner are to be celebrated. The BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, is one such voice. In a recent documentary for the World Service, Gardner examines the increasing ideological debate that is calling into question the legitimacy of al-Qaeda’s Jihad.

One of the preeminent contemporary theorists of Jihad, the Egyptian surgeon Sayid Imam al-Sharif, but far better known by his nom de guerre “Dr. Fadl”, last year published from his prison cell an extensive critique of al-Qaeda’s theological arguments for its own existence. He also attacked both intellectually and personally his erstwhile comrade Ayman al-Zawahiri (pictured above) who is generally considered to be bin Laden’s right-hand man and leading intellectual force in what is left of al-Qaeda. Zawahiri responded from his hiding place, most probably in the Pakistani tribal regions, claiming that Dr. Fadl’s rejection of their Jihad was simply the agenda of the Egyptian state, either tortured or bribed out of their prisoner. But Dr. Fadl was by no means alone in his re-evaluation of the Jihad. As Gardner’s documentary shows there are other former Jihadists who live out of the reach of the Egyptian security services but who have come to the same conclusion. Gardner interviews in London the Libyan former jihadist Nu'man Bin Othman who discusses his renouncing of al-Qaeda’s path and his public criticism of the group’s continued violence.

Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker, and author of the excellent history of revolutionary Islamism – “the Looming Tower”, has written a superb and in-depth analysis of Dr. Fadl's treatise, but Wright’s focus is on the theological, ideological and intellectual debate that is taking place mainly within the Arabic-speaking Muslim world. Gardner’s approach is informed by his position of being in London, where the security threat of al-Qaeda is not only “out there” – overseas in the Middle East – but also “in here”, in the suburbs and small towns of the UK. Hence Gardner also talks to Hanif Qadir of the Active Change Foundation, a London based grass-roots anti-radicalisation group. Qadir is interesting, another former Jihadi, he is as English as me, unlike Gardner’s other interviewees from the London Islamist scene whose accents still betray their Middle Eastern origins. The radicalisation that Qadir now fights against has as much, if not more, to do with contemporary British society as it has to do with theological debate between Cairo prison cells and hideouts in the Hindu Kush. So as Qadir notes the kids he comes into contact with are more radicalised by news reports of NATO bombs accidently killing another wedding party in Afghanistan than they are by al-Qaeda ideology. Jihadism is simply there for them once they have made the connection between their socio-economic and identity issues within their own society and how they perceive their government through its foreign policy treats Muslims elsewhere in the world.

So whilst the theological attacks on al-Qaeda from its former allies may well have an impact on the organisation’s support across the Muslim world, it is unlikely to have a direct or rapid effect on extremism is Europe. Globalization does not just mean the spread of an idea from one part of the world to another, but rather it means the rapid adaptation of transnational ideas to various local specificities. Undermining the theological arguments for Jihadi terror is of course a good thing, but its effects will be limited because theology is only part of the cause of that terrorism in Europe.

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