Response to Sayyid Imam post at Jihadica

Will at Jihadica disagreed with some of the stuff I wrote in previous posts.  My view is that Sayyid Imam’s new book will have no impact on Jihadist groups throughout the region so CT people should not spent much time focusing on them.    Will seems more optimistic and says lets wait and see. 

 1)   Jihad is a serious business…..

Rob at Media Shack has posted a summary of a discussion on al-`Arabiyya’s “Death Industry.”  Of interest to him (and me) is Montasir Zayat’s assessment of Sayyid Imam’s latest book (Zayat only read the first one and a half chapters).  Here’s Rob’s take:

In Zayat’s view, what’s being printed now in Al-Masri Al-Youm is a disgrace and jeopardizes the reputation of the entire Revisions process.   No Jihadists or even Muslims anywhere will treat them seriously.

Rob agrees with this sentiment.   But that’s not exactly what Zayat says.  Zayat does say the book is a disgrace, but he’s also pessimistic that anything can move Jihadis, no matter how refined.  Here he is in the same interview responding to the host’s question of which man, Imam or Zawahiri, has more popularity:

Dr. Sayyid Imam has an abundance of Sharia knowledge and he certainly had these beliefs before he was imprisoned.  He used to say the same things before he was imprisoned and I believe him.  However, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has charisma and popularity, and he is readily accepted among the youth also.  Many of the youths’ hearts and heads are attached to him.  It is difficult for the words of Sayyid Imam to affect them.

Exactly.  There is nothing Sayyid Imam can say to sway hardcore fans of Zawahiri.  It doesn’t matter how mean or nice he is.

Jihad is a serious, serious business which explains why Sayyid Imam will have no influence.     Jihadists see themselves as answering the most sacred duty of the religion, so for someone to be influential in this enviroment  their behavior or message has to be seen by other Jihadists as being consistent with the religous prestige of Jihad.  Think holiest possible level of holiness: Yom Kippur or  Good Friday holy.  However,  Sayyid Imam’s new book is primarily  an insult-filled personal cat-fight with Zawahiri which will turn off Jihadists.  Furthermore,  the religious methodology is weak and is not going to convince anyone who would take the time to read it.   So its telling when Montasar Al-Zayat says he didn’t even bother to read past the second segment (of 13).   The fundamentally non-serious nature of the book contradicts everything Jihadists values stand for (according to themselves) so they probably aren’t going to read it. 

Secondly, it is incorrect to say that  Zayat, a former Jihadist himself,  is   “pessimistic that anything can move Jihadis, no matter how refined.”   This is not true. He has dedicated his entire life to guiding Egyptian Jihadist groups through the Revisions process over the last ten years and noone in the Arab world is a bigger advocate of the idea that militants can change their approach if given the chance or proper environment.   As he says below:

منتصر الزيات: أنا أريد أن أقول قضية المراجعات هي قضية عمري هي قضية شبابي، هي قضية تقريباً عشرين سنة وأنا كنت أعمل في هذه المساحة من أجل صنع مناخ يسمح بالتقييم وبأن تتصدر الدعوة الإسلامية السلمية وتعود إلى منابرها، من أجل اعتماد استراتيجية جديدة تتلاءم مع طبيعة المرحلة، طالني في هذا ما طالني وقد أديت دوري وأنا مرتاح الضمير، هذه دفعت فيها أنا دفعت فيها شبابي، دفعت فيها سمعتي، دفعت فيها من كرامتي، دفعت فيها اتهامات لاحقتني، وكنت أؤدي عن طيب خاطر لكن..

So if Al-Zayat didn’t even bother to read past part 2 of13 then this tells us something.   

2) Target Audience?

There is nothing Sayyid Imam can say to sway hardcore fans of Zawahiri.  It doesn’t matter how mean or nice he is.  Thus, as I argued yesterday, we shouldn’t be assessing the impact of Imam’s book on Jihadis but rather on neutral pious, educated Arabs, particularly high school and college-age youth, whom Imam considers his primary audience.

I disagree.  Imam’s target audience is people who are already involved in militant activity.   This is the people he is trying to convince.   His arguements entails explaining why using hardcore terrorism to change the system is not worth it and offering some kind of rationale for someone who is involved in that kind of activity to get out of it.  Percentage wise, not more than .00000001 of all Muslims are involved in that kind of activity so the “Neutral pious, educated Arabs” aren’t paying the slightest attention to Imam and have no idea who he is.  

3) Is Sayyid Imam’s new book actually  being covered:

But how do we measure this impact?  Rob says that it is by looking at the discussion of Sayyid Imam’s new book in the mainstream press.  By this measure, he says, it’s a failure because “there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.”  I don’t concede the latter assertion–the book was printed in full in Islam Online, al-Masry al-Youm, and al-Sharq al-Awsat and commented on in at least thirteen print news venues.  It is also all over the forums and the Arabic blogosphere.  Still, I agree that it is getting less coverage than Imam’s last book.  Rob says that’s because the tone of the book is bitter and personal.  A simpler explanation is that the subject–Imam turning on Zawahiri–is old news.

There is no evidence to suggest any significant interest in the  Arab world towards Sayyid Imam’s new book.   In 2007 when Sayyid Imam’s original Revisions were published there was  coverage in the Arabic media- though almost solely in Egypt and many big name Egyptian commentators did write op-eds.  Readers can see by looking at Khalil Anani’s blog – go to the lower_left_side.   This time around there was NOTHING.  It was totally ignored.  What is the message we can take?  That Arabs don’t think this is important.   

And these 13 comments were all in the context of people saying how it was a disgrace or embarrassing.  Neither IslamOnline nor Al-Masri Al-Youm, which both “ran” the Revisions, even bothered to have one of their writers wrote a piece analyzing it.   The sense amongst Arab commentators on this issue is that SayyidImam is not an important  or influential character in radical Islamist movements. 

4) So then how to measure quantitatively?   Will suggests looking at: 

  • Mainstream Muslim discussion forums
  • News discussion forums (al-Jazeera, etc)
  • Personal blogs

If we accept that this is a way of measuring the significance of Sayyid Imam’s new book, where are the specific examples?   There are none that I am aware of.  Where is this issue being discussed in any place of note?

4 Responses

  1. To asses the impact of Sayyid Imam’s revision I believe we should start with a critical question: How could Imam’s new vision or revision be a base for a new Islamic vision? Meaning, how does these revisions alter the perception of those thinking about violent Jihad? Answering those questions depends firstly on understanding two points: 1-how did this vision of Jihad that Al Qaeda and other forms of organization present makes sense for some people, or the reasons behind it. 2- What does it take to change these ideas?

    Let’s be clear on something, theres no one specific and sole reason behind the violent approach that dominates the perception of Al Qaeda, the reason behind turning to violence is a set of factors, political, economic and social problems that accumulated by time turning to be a building or a basic structure of the state, the thing that made these problems difficult to be addressed especially as in that period we had totalitarian regimes, the levels of education weren’t high enough to develop a critical thinking able to address these problems and pose different alternatives to deal with it, and in the same time there is a religious discourse that calls for fixing the self, to get yourself and the society to become upright. The aggravation of these problems was a consequence to the developments that took place on the international level, which weakened the role of these states, increased their interdependence and in some moments subjection, thus their internal problems took regional and international dimensions and other players came to be directly involved in it. To unravel this dilemma groups like Al Qaeda considered that the problem wasn’t inherent in the society, rather it was always exported, being embedded from the other, and that “other” could be anyone, it was the state, individuals, could be MNCs, but the point is they rendered the biggest reason behind the aggravated problematic situations their societies face was always the other, and its critical to mention here that they believe that the issue of reform starts with confrontation, the point here is; the problems became so big so ingrained in the social, economic and political structures that what’s needed is emancipating the society from them the relationships the begot these situations and orders from the first place. It was always notable that they exploit the weaknesses in the other, the enemy, and magnifies the contradictions so to prove the impossibility of convergence or rapprochement with that “Other” and to push these points of contradiction and weaknesses to max limit to prove the inevitability of antagonism between the two. The problem in this context, is that this vision has a social acceptability for two reasons; the oppressive nature of the state and the absence of the religious discourse that could compete, analyze and refute these ideas, its well known that in the Arab world religious institutions are to a great extent part of the state’s bureaucracy and so the lack credibility among the people.

    So, when we talk about changing these ideas, we cannot talk about an individual level by any mean. This doesn’t mean that I’m belittling the importance of these revisions, rather to understand that its not enough to abandon the use of violence, because the reasons that gave birth to it still exist, and still functioning on many levels. Although Imam was an important figure for these groups, but was he the only one? If anyone tried to survey average Egyptians for instance about these revision, I believe that the majority would think that he did it under pressure, or because he was tortured or something, this signifies that the people unintentionally knows that the reasons for the use of violence still exists, and its more likely that u change your beliefs because of the torment you face rather than being a real change, wasn’t that the case for IG (Islamic group) or the Jihad or takfeer and hegra (excommunication and hegra) in Egypt? They abandoned the use of violence after the government has crushed their movement not prior to that.

    What did Imam present nowadays actually involves personal insults and accusations that noone can verify whether they are true or not (here’s a piece that addressed the issue with sorrow

    The more important point is that both Zawahiri and Imam agree on the use of violence in facing the ruler, the difference was that Imam put the juridical rules for that use, and that was point the caused the deviation, and this point a friend of mine repeats a lot; that Imam thinks that the use of violence against a strong state is wrong, which implies that theres a situation when using violence would be acceptable and obligatory too.

  2. […] one of those who didn’t think Dr. Fadl mattered very much either – still a matter of much debate amongst smart experts, I know). Most dedicated salafi-jihadists probably see Derbala as a […]

  3. […] sources, I’ve always considered Jihadica MUST-READ even if at times I have disagreed with the previous_owner over the signifigance of Dr Fadl’s Revisions.  The reason is that all the posters have very […]

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