Posts to Check Out

1)  History of Jihadi Forums
I’ve always been skeptical about the significance of Jihadi internet forums,  perhaps due to my experience using the Net in the Middle East.   Like spending ten minutes waiting for my AOL account to load at one of those Internet Cafes in Cairo that brags about their “High-Speed Internet”  and then having to spend another ten minutes arguing that “No, I haven’t been here for half an hour when its 8:30 and I clearly entered at 8:20.”  Things like that.  It can’t be any easier for Jihadis right?  However,  I have to admit I haven’t spent alot of time researching the issue in depth, so that’s why I recomend  History_of_the_Jihadi_Forums by Thomas Hegghammer at Jihadica who takes a look at some new research on the topic. 

For readers looking for good blogs,  take note:  I’ve always considered Jihadica MUST-READ even if I disagreed with the previous_owner over the significance of Dr Fadl’s Revisions.   Its MUST-READ because everyone who posts there are doing all of their research in the local language (Arabic) and that in my mind is essential when it comes to anything related to Islam. 

2) A Child Prodigy? 
My friend  Adrian Martin has just published his first_book.  It’s a chapter in a book called Threats_in_the_Age of Obama which looks at how rational people become involved in terrorism and gang violence.   Check out the book and for those who can’t get enough of the author’s wisdom, here’s a  couple of dope posts he has written at MediaShack such as  CT in the South_Sahara and another which looks at whether deterrence can work with Al-Qaeda.  Big ups to my main man Adrian.

3) Shakeup  in Egyptian Media?
The Arabist has a good post on a coming shake-up in Egyptian media.  Mr Egypt told me this story a few weeks ago and had promised a post…..dude what happened to that?  I don’t want to say anything else because I’m not sure how much I am allowed to say.  I’ll say this:  it wouldn’t surprise me if some big names in Egypt switch writing homes in the near future.

New Poll on Muslim Views on Al-Qaeda

World Public Opinion has just put out an in-depth survey  of Muslim opinions  (Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey).   Basically, they reflect what  American policy makers, especially Public Diplomacy, should recognize: that Al-Qaeda’s cause (Perceived  by Arabs as resisting US hegemony in the Muslim world) is seen by huge percentages of Muslims as legitimate defensive jihad, as long as its aimed at US military forces in Arab countries. 

Here’s the most relevant questions that people need to focus on.  From page 15:  

“Q43-S79. Thinking about the following kinds of attacks on Americans, please tell me if you approve of them, disapprove of them, or have mixed feelings about them?

Attacks on US military troops in Afghanistan
Egypt 2008:  75% Strongly approve, 8 % somewhat approve, and less than 10% disapprove in any form.

On US military troops based in the Persian Gulf States:
Egypt 2008:  70% strongly approve.  A total of 12% have mixed feelings or any form of disaproval. 

On US military troops based in Iraq:
Egypt 2008:  75% strongly approve.  Only 10% with mixed feelings or any form of disaproval.

On US Civilians in the US:
Egypt 2008: 8% approve in any form.  78% strongly disaprove. 

The pattern is pretty clear and I would bet that the 10% who disaprove of attacks on US troops generally are Coptic Christians. 

The results very closely reflect the contents of the following conversation.   Go to  32:29 and see the transcript here. Its from a May 2008 episode of Al-Jazeera’s  The Opposite Direction.  Here’s a very  basic translation:  Wanting to gauge his position on violence,  an Egyptian Coptic activist asks a Saudi Salafi whether Bin Laden is a terrorist or a [a legitimate] ‘fighter’ or ‘struggler’.  After several minutes of wavering, the Saudi finally says “when Bin Laden kills civilians he’s a terrorist but when he raises his hand against the US forces in Afghanistan he’s a fighter.”  

مجدي خليل(متابعا): يعني يضرب مين؟ خلي بالك، يضرب الشعب المسلم اللي زيه، مش حيضرب أميركا ما بيضربوش أميركا خلاص اتمنع، أنا قلت في برنامج تلفزيوني بعد حرب حزب الله وإسرائيل قلت دي آخر حاجة لن يطلق حزب الله طلقة واحدة إلا في إطار حرب إيرانية أميركية ويكونوا بقى حيوجهوا كل الشغب إلى الداخل خلاص، وحصل، قلتها دي أثناء الحرب، قلت انتهى، وحدث ذلك. هم دلوقت امتنعت فكرة تصدير الإرهاب للخارج بقيت محدودة جدا لأن الدول الغربية عملت سياج وقالت ما فيش تصدير للإرهابيين وحذرت الدول العربية. كانوا بيصدروا الإرهاب على الخارج، النظام العسكري يضغط ويصدّر، ينفس في أميركا وإسرائيل ويقول لهم تروحوا. دلوقت خلاص انتهى الموضوع. دلوقت، أنا ببساطة شديدة علشان بس نوضح أخي العزيز أنا أسألك بعض الأسئلة أنت شفت برنامج الأخوان المسلمين الأخير اللي بيقولوا لك إنهم لو طلعوا قالوا لهم طلعوا طلعوا.. اسألك ثلاث أسئلة بسيطة جدا وترد لي عليها وتشوفها من وجهة نظري أرجو أنك ترد، هل بن لادن والظواهري الزرقاوي وخالد الإسلامبولي ومحمد عطا والناس دي كلها إرهابيين ولا مناضلين؟ السؤال الثاني، أرجوك تجاوب على السؤال ده، هل الكذب جائز إذا كان في خدمة الدين؟ السؤال الثالث وتجاوب على الثلاث أسئلة دول، هل سيد قطب وابن تيمية وأبو العلى المودودي دعاة إرهاب أم دعاة حق وإصلاح؟ جاوب لي على الثلاث أسئلة دول بس بسرعة وندخل في النقاش بعدها.

فيصل القاسم

: طيب تفضل يا دكتور.

محسن العواجي: بسم الله، هل ابن لادن والظواهري إرهابيين؟ أسيادك حينما ربوا بلادهم..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): عيب، عيب، أرفض هذا الكلام أنا ممكن أهينك.

محسن العواجي:  لا مو عيب، اسمع، ابن لادن هذا الذي أولا جنده الأميركان لقتال الروس حينما كانوا الروس الكفرة الفجرة والذي دعمه هي أميركا وحلفاؤها حينما كان الجهاد واجبا هناك ولما أجت أميركا صار الجهاد من الحرام من السبع الموبقات وبالتالي فإذاً ابن لادن الأول المجاهد حسب فتوى وزير الخارجية جورج فوتس السابق مجاهد أنا أنقل حتى يقولها باللغة العربي مجاهدين إذا ابن لادن الأول حسب الفتوى الأميركية مجاهد، ابن لادن الأخير حسب الفتوى الأميركية إرهابي، أنا أقول عن ابن لادن والظواهري وفيصل القاسم ومحسن العواجي وأي إنسان إذا كان يدافع عن بيته الذي جاءه المحتل ودخله وقتل نفسا وهدم بيتا وأحرق أرضا وزرعا فهو مجاهد صنديد رجل مفخرة للإنسانية قاطبة..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): والخمسة عشرة سعوديا؟..

محسن العواجي(متابعا): أما إذا أي واحد ممن ذكرت اعتدى على نفس معصومة وعلى معاهد نبينا صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول من قتل معاهدا يعني..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): أنا مش معاهد أنا مواطن..

محسن العواجي(مقاطعا): لحظة أنا أتكلم.. من قتل معاهدا لم يذق رائحة الجنة. على كل حال أي اعتداء على نفس معصومة فهو إرهابي..

فيصل القاسم(مقاطعا)

: السؤال الثاني..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): ما جاوبش على السؤال، هو حاليا إرهابي ولا مناضل؟ الظواهري إرهابي ولا مناضل؟ السعوديون اللي دمروا الأبراج راحوا فين؟

محسن العواجي: لحظة إذا وجه رصاصته ابن لادن وهو هناك مع طالبان وغيرها للمحتل الموجود إذا وجهها إلي وإليك وإلى أميركي أيضا صحفي أو وجهها إلى أميركان الشعب الأميركي هناك فهو إرهابي..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): يعني هو إرهابي ومناضل في نفس الوقت؟

محسن العواجي: افهمها زي ما أنت عايز، هذه واحدة، صحيح أنت الآن لك سيئات ولك حسنات كل إنسان له سيئات وحسنات

Where have I heard this before?

Stephen Walt at ForeignPolicy.Com makes_a_point on Afghanistan I’ve been constantly repeating:

In fact, we have only one vital national interest in Afghanistan: to prevent Afghan territory from being used as a safe haven for groups plotting attacks on American soil or on Americans abroad, as al Qaeda did prior to September 11. It might be nice to achieve some other goals too (such as economic development, better conditions for women, greater politicalparticipation, etc.), but these goals are neither vital to U.S. nationalsecurity nor central to the future of freedom in the United States or elsewhere. Deep down, we don’t (or shouldn’t) care very much who governs in Afghanistan, provided they don’t let anti-American bad guysuse their territory to attack us. As I recall, President Bush was even willing to let the Taliban stay in power in 2001 if they had been willing to hand us Osama and his henchmen. 

In fact, I would argue that a Taliban dictatorship is in US interests.  I can hear a collective “Rob, stop doing drugs” from the readership but hear me out.  There’s two reasons:

1) Having some form of centralized rule is critical to the sole US interest of preventing Afghanistan from turning into an Al-Qaeda launching pad
2) The Taliban is the Afghani group most capable of achieving some semblance of centralized rule

“But wait,”  some might say in response, “they are terrorists.”  Actually, they aren’t: The Taliban has  never employed terrorism against the US, or, for that matter,  targeted it in any way. 

 Sayyid Imam’s latest “revisions”  (read more about him here) were mostly 100 pages of worthless rambling but in his desire to embarrass Al- Qaeda, he did reveal some interesting CT titbits.    According to Imam, Bin Laden deceived Mullah Omar regarding 9/11, violating a pledge he made not to overrule Omar’s authority when it came to plotting attacks against the US (which Omar opposed).  When some members of AQ heard that Bin Laden was plotting a big attack inside US territory (9/11) they got mad and reminded him of the pledge.    Bin Laden then pulled a Jihadi Bill Clinton and said “no, no, we pledged allegiance to Mullar Omar inside Afghanistan.  We can do whatever we want outside Afghanistan.”   From Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper, 11/21/08:

بدأ الإعداد لتفجيرات ١١/٩/٢٠٠١م قبل سنتين من وقوعها، ولما اكتملت التجهيزات أعلن ابن لادن فى ٦/٢٠٠١ أن هناك عملية كبرى ستقع ضد أمريكا بدون تحديد لمكانها أو تفاصيلها. فاعترض عليه بعض أتباعه خاصة من لجنته الشرعية بأن أميرهم الملا محمد عُمر نهاهم عن الصدام مع أمريكا وأنه لا طاقة له ولا لدولته بذلك، فاخترع ابن لادن هذه البدعة «محلية الإمارة» للرد على منتقديه من أتباعه، وقال لهم إن محمد عُمر أميرهم داخل أفغانستان ولا دخل له بما يفعلونه خارجها. والرد على ذلك من وجوه:

إن الأمر الشرعى بطاعة الأمير لم يقيد ذلك بمكان «داخل أو خارج» كقول الله تعالى: {… أطيعوا الله وأطيعوا الرسول وأولى الأمر منكم…} «النساء: ٥٩»، وكقول النبى [: «من أطاعنى فقد أطاع الله، ومن عصانى فقد عصى الله، ومن يطع الأمير فقد أطاعنى، ومن يعص الأمير فقد عصانى» متفق عليه.

وكذلك نصوص الوعيد لمن عصى أميره غير مقيدة بمكان، كقول النبى [: «من خلع يدًا من طاعة لقى الله يوم القيامة ولا حُجة له» رواه مسلم.

Imam is hardly an objective observer of Al-Qaeda but this account is consistent with what I read in the Arabic press and the people I’ve talked to. 

So what’s the moral of the story?  The Taliban did not know about 9/11 beforehand and would have opposed it if they knew.  They have never committed acts of terrorism against the US and almost certainly never will — these are a bunch of  unsophisticated, illiterate  hicks from the countryside and from a CT perspective, these guys wouldn’t ever get past Kabul airport.    All of this supports my argument that the Taliban is not a natural enemy of the US; whether they are in power is not important to the US, provided they don’t give Al-Qaeda free reign to plot attacks against the US, which they really haven’t done before.

“The Death Industry” on the Revisions

Al-Arabiya (The Saudi counterweight to Al-Jazeera) has a special program called “The Death Industry” which is part of the Saudi counter-propaganda campaign against Al-Qaeda.  The show’s basic purpose is to slander Al-Qaeda style Jihadists.  This week’s episode (see the transcript  here)covered a variety of topics related to Ayman Zawahiri such as 1) why is he releasing so many tapes 2) why did he call Barrack Obama a “house slave” and lastly 3) the implications of Sayyid Imam’s latest Revisions. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Sayyid Imam, he is a former leader of the Egyptian Jihad Group and is currently  publishing a series of anti-Al Qaeda Revisions in a leading Egyptian newspaper.   Read  Jihadica’s translations of the book here.   For a long analysis of the book’s potential implications  on Jihadist groups check out this recent piece from The NATIONAL.

 The show hosted two well known commentators, Egypt’s Montasar Al- Zayat and Jordan’s Mohamed Abu Rumman.   Some background on Zayat: A former militant in the Islamic Group, he spent the 80s in jail,  wrote a book about his former relationship with Zawahiri,  and served as a mediator between the (Egyptian) state and Militant groups in the late 1990s as they made their transition away from violence.  Today he is the lawyer for the Islamic Group and he is a major advocate of the Revisions process.   This is his “life mission” as he says here (below) he has spent 20 years of his life trying to work towards providing the atmosphere where militants could reevaluate their approach and move towards the peaceful Islamic call:

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..

 Zayat, like most ex-Egyptian militants involved in the Revisions process is disgusted by the contents of Sayyid Imam’s new book.  Asked “what are the essential points?”

ريما صالحة: أعود معكم مشاهدينا لنتابع طبعاً ما تبقى من هذا النقاش في حلقة الليلة من صناعة الموت، أستاذ منتصر الزيات ما النقاط المستخلصة أنت تراها من رد الدكتور فضل على الظواهري

منتصر الزيات: صدقوني أنا لم أقرأ ما كتبه الدكتور فضل، أنا ربما طالعته الحلقة الأولى ولم أتم الحلقة الثانية ومن وقتها لم أقرأ ما يكتبه الأخ العزيز الدكتور سيد إمام..

He replies, in disgust :  “I didnt even get past the beginning of the second segment”  (there are so far 12).   Not only that but Zayat wants nothing to do with this latest round- He is thouroughly disgusted and refused to even comment on them: 

 أن تتحول المراجعات إلى اتهامات متبادلة وإلى اتهامات بالعمالة وإلى هذا الذي نراه ونقرأه ونسمعه أنا لست طرفاً في هذه المراجعات، ولا أعرف عنها شيئاً ولا أحب أن أكون فيها ولا أحب أن أتحدث عنها لأنها ببساطة شديدة تجهض فكرة المراجعات.

I’m not a translator but Zayat says above something like:  “I am not a part of these Revisions, I have no idea where this came from.  I don’t want any part of them and don’t even want to comment on them because to put it simply they are tainting/undermining the whole idea of the Revisions.” 

In the eyes of former militants such as Zayat, the value of the Revisions process is that instead of having potential militants turn to the previous works that have been used to justify violence, there will now also be available, serious well-thought out Islamic reevaluations by ex-militants of the former violent approach that people can turn to.  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.  I should add that Abu Rumman essentially agreed with Zayat’s analysis, though not having a personal connection to the process, he wasn’t nearly as dramatic.

UPDATE: I should also add an important point:  Two weeks after Sayyid Imam’s latest book started, there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.  Last year, when his first Revisions came out, all of the big name Egyptian commentators sounded off.  This time around, literally nothing, which probably tells us something about how serious these Revisions should be taken.

More on Sayyid Imam…….

A loyal reader sent in this long piece from  The_NATIONAL which  takes a long look at the new book and concludes that its not going to have any signifigant effect on Al-Qaeda.  Read the article to find out why. 

Another reader sent in a tip that the latest epdisode of Al-Arabiya’s “The Death Industry” featured Imam’s new book and comes to the same conclusions or goes even further.  Interviewed were Egypt’s Montaser Al-Zayat and  Jordan’s Mohamed Abu Rumman and both agreed that the book was not going to have any effects on Al-Qaeda.  In fact, Sayyid Imam’s jail-house slander of Zawahiri may make the Al-Qaeda #2 look like the victim of some kind of government-sponsored character assassination in the eyes of jihadists around the region and actually improve his image.  

 I haven’t seen the Al-Arabiya program and the transcript is not yet posted on the site but apparently there is a rerun on Tuesday.

Was it possible in 2001? UPDATED

UPDATE: Asharq Al Awsat just posted a translation. 

Amr Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star and current leader of the Pakistani Justice Party has a long interview in today’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  Khan harshly criticizes US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and blames former President Musharef for the country’s current impasse (though he once supported him).  There’s lots of good stuff in the interview which those who know Arabic should read.   One point discussed was whether the Taliban is capable of being split from Al-Qaeda: 

As part of a larger critique of US policy in Afghanistan/ Pakistan, Khan says the following:

If AQ was  actually responsible for 9/11, then it is the only force that has the ability to attack Western capitals (voicing typical skepticism seen in Arab press that AQ actually had tactical ability to carry out 9/11) .  But why then, the attack on the Taliban?  Why didn’t they take their time to distinguish between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which was possible?”……..attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 only turned the population against the US…. united the Pashtuns against the US…

The Interviewer then pushed Khan on his point about the plausibility of dividing AQ from the Taliban (in 01)

Q:  Allow me to return to your point about dividing Al-Qaeda from the Taliban.  In theory, its easy to say this but in practice was this really possible? How would you have done it?

A:  First, , all the parties opposed to the Taliban gathered in Peshawar before the war and tried to convince the Americans to not attack the Taliban, saying that the movement was weak internally and its energy was dispensing.  They requested more time to try and change the regime peacefully.

Second, the Shura Council (the Taliban Parliament) had sent messages to the movement requesting Bin Laden leave the country before the war

Three,  what the Taliban said was that they were prepared to turn over Bin Laden or turn him over to a Muslim country, they never rejected this, in fact there were negotiations.  The Americans say that they didn’t have any other options but this is not true. They had several in front of them. 

There was no discussion of current efforts to divide AQ and the Taliban.

Is the Taliban About to Turn Zawahiri Over to the US?

Dia Rashwan, the noted Egyptian Al-Qaeda analyst, said at a recent conference in Cairo that the Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban.   The potential deal:  The Taliban turns over Ayman Zawahiri in exchange for Taliban participation in the political process and an end to the war with the government.   The negotiations are being carried out under Saudi oversight and the US wants them to end before Bush leaves giving him a victory in the war against terrorism.  

Source here is  Al-Dostor (10/24, p4) which  apparently does not get the concept of putting today’s news on the net the day it comes out.  IslamOnline also has good coverage of the conference and notes that Rashwan could see the Taliban sacrificing Zawahiri but not Bin Laden because that relationship is deeper: 

 ويقول رشوان: باعتقادي أن طالبان من الممكن أن تضحي بالظواهري لكنها لن تضحي ببن لادن لعلاقته الوثيقة بطالبان

As for the source- remember this is not AHMED CAFE CHAIR. Dia Rashwan is one of the most respected Arab commentators on Al-Qaeda and is often cited by Western researchers. 

Commentary
If the US were able to pull this off, it would be a tremendous coup and should take the deal in a second. 

As I’ve said all along, the Taliban is not_a_natural_and_permanent enemy of the US.  They are an unsophisticated group of local Afghan Islamists who care first and foremost about local Afghan rule.  Afghanistan is only a threat to the US when it is ungoverned, allowing Arab fanatics (Al-Qaeda) to use it as a base to plan operations against the US.  Mullah Omar was willing to discuss turning over Bin Laden in the late 1990s.  Only after 9/11 did the Taliban become_an_enemy of the US.   A Taliban that turns on Al-Qaeda is not an enemy of the US, and if they are the only force that is capable of effectively governing Afghanistan than so be it. 

Secondly, to the extent that AQ is a  central organization (which is doubtful)  Zawahiri and not Bin Laden is the guy that makes things happen. So if he were turned over it would be a serious blow to the organization’s operational capacity, not to mention a major PR victory for the US.

Guess Who’s Back? Adrian on Algeria

Adrian has another post today as part of the MediaShack 9/11 series.   Its a follow up to last week’s superb superb look at CT in the South Sahara.  Given his numerous guest posts, frequent commenting and passing along of articles, I think its time to give him full membership at AMS, so I sent him an official neo-green Arabic Media Shack t-shirt.  It really looks good.  He’ll get so many numbers wearing this baby around town, and I know he will because he has a habit of wearing t-shirt to literally every bar he goes to (even if that means getting kicked out)!!! Anyway, the floor goes to Adrian (I lost his password, thats why the post is under my name). 

ADRIAN TAKES THE FLOOR

 The Economist this week has  a decent article on North African terror networks.  Some comments:

AQIM says it has also carried out attacks in Mauritania. It claims responsibility for the killing of four French tourists, which forced the cancellation of this year’s Paris-Dakar car rally;”;”

There is no actual iron-clad confirmation that that was AQIM and not some random robbery/homicide, although a recent blog post has done more to convince me that it was in fact terrorism-related.  The Moor Next Door has just posted some extremely interesting observations based on the notes on interrogations of some AQIM members he received from his “well placed Mauritanian friend’ (sketchy/awesome!) where the local AQIM/Mauritania “emir” states they killed the tourists to steal their passports.  This might explain why there was no triumphant declaration of responsibility.  This should be taken with a grain of salt, as it IS the Mauritanians interrogating him, so while before I thought it was 50/50 as to whether its AQIM related, now it’s probably 80/20.  People interested in AQIM should watch The Moor Next Door’s blog, as he says he’ll be posting more notes from the interrogations.

and an attack on Israel’s embassy in the capital, Nouakchott.”

At 2am some dudes shot up a nightclub next door to the embassy that was full of alcohol and prostitutes.  Not exactly Carlos the Jackal at work.

Tunisia is yet another apparent target of AQIM. The group has boasted that it kidnapped two Austrian tourists there earlier this year.”

The kidnapping occured across the border in Algeria because the tourists got lost.  It looks more like a crime of opportunity designed to get some quick cash than any serious terrorist Nicholas Berg-like event.  There hasn’t been much news about the hostages in the last couple months but I haven’t heard that they were killed – they were still alive on Sept 9.

North African groups tied to al-Qaeda have yet to carry out attacks in Europe.”

In fact some of the GIA-era cells from the 1990s have been turned by French intelligence and as far as we know AQIM has no assets in Europe even with all the Algerians in France.  (Sorry no source available.)

The Moor Next Door reports that the Algerian wing (i.e. the main wing) has been sending the Mauritanians some money to do terrorism, and so the Mauritanian wing is dependent on the Algerians for cash.  But how much money do you need to do nothing?  While there was a recent big event with 12 Mauritanian soldiers beheaded, it looks like Algerians were responsible for that (similar to the raid they launched in Mauritania just before Operation Flintlock 2005).  Compared to the Algeria’s two major guerrilla operations in Mauritania in 3 years, the Mauritanians themselves have been able to murder some tourists and shoot up a disco.

The last sentence of the article I think is the right idea: “But governments in the Maghreb are certainly trying to stir Western anxieties in order to get more American and European cash and support.”  Aid money may be hard to come by when you are a corrupt dictatorship with a rule-of-law problem, but it becomes much easier when you suddenly (through no fault of your own!) find yourself fighting terrorists.

Qaradawi and Zawahiri United Against the Shia

Jordanian journalist Mohamed Abu Rumman has a very interesting op-ed analyzing the latest Al-Qaeda tape in the September 21st edition of Al-Ghad newspaper.  Abu Ramen always has good analysis so I have translated the key points.

Key Analysis Points (The Bolded words are added by me)

  NEW EMPHASIS ON IRAN AND ITS ALLIES: The tape’s heavy focus on Iran and its allies (Hezbollah) represents a new pattern in Al-Qaeda rhetoric.  In the years following 9/11, AQ took great care to avoid conflict with Iran, for many reasons, but the most prominent being a sense that there were common interests that could be built upon, such as confrontation with the US and Israel.  In addition, Iran formed a critical crossing point for AQ leaders fleeing the Afghan war to different locations, although Iran did extradite several AQ figures back to their home countries and key figures, such as Sayf al-Adel and Bin Laden’s son are still imprisoned there.

Then as the Iraq war started, there was a dispute between  the pragmatic rhetoric of the AQ central leadership (especially Zawahiri)  and AQ in Iraq (especially Zarqawi and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi).  Initially, AQC wanted to avoid confrontation with Iran,  whereas the AQ in Iraq were fighting an open war with Iran.  But now the AQC position vis a vis Iran has changed dramatically and this is most evident in Zawahiri’s response to close to 90 questions posed to him a few months ago.  

THE HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM:  And now Zawahiri is focused on Iran, but the basis of his criticism is political and not religious or sectarian.  His big issue with Iran is their inconsistent positions towards  Arab and Islamic causes.  On one hand, Iran basically legitimizes the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, even calling Resistance there Harem (religously illegitimate)  or terrorism.  At the same time it turns around and supports the Resistance in Palestine and Lebanon.  Zawahiri points to Iran’s political opportunism as one reason that it can’t be considered a reliable partner against the US.  But there is another reason that explains AQ’s strategic change and this is the rise of Hezbollah since 2006, whose performance against Israel has given it widespread popularity in the media and on the Arab street- something very worrying to AQ.   AQ sees the rise of sectarian tensions in the region as something the Salafi Jihadist movement can exploit to tap recruits.  But this is all complicated by Hezbollah’s widespread popularity.

 WHO’S WHO ON THE TAPE: Abu Ramen’s  second point is related to the appearance of several leaders of AQC, especially AZ who truly is the AQ “main man.”
But the big surprise is the presence of two big name characters: Atih Allah who has gained popularity amongst the followers of AQ and plays a big role on the internet, especially as relates to the Iraqi file.  The second person is Abu Yaha Al-Libie, who is most prominently in charge of issuing fatwas.  As for the appearance of Abu Yazid al-Masri, Amir of AQ in Afghanistan, the big value here is to dispel rumors that he died.   Noticeably absent is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer, Abu Amr Al-Baghdadi (leader of AQ in Iraq), and Mohamed Khalil Al-Hakemiya  which most prominently reflects AQ’s retreat in Iraq as compared to previous years and their inability to undertake operations in Egypt, despite their announced presence there, which confirms the significance/strength of the Revisions process which reached its climax with the announcement of Dr. Fadl’s anti-violence initiative.

OPEN SEASON IN AFGHANISTAN:  On the other hand, the presence of the three key personalities of AQC on the tape, which comes after another tape which announced AQ’s responsibility for the explosion of the Danish embassy in Pakistan, reflects their free conditions in Afg/Pak, as a result of the alliance with the Taliban and the local Islamic groups.  If only temporarily, for a number of reasons….

The prominent political message of the tape is that the key AQ leaders are confirming that they will stick to the fight and that they are still alive, despite the passage of 7 years of these Wars of the Cross (Crusades), this being the name AQ uses in the hope of gaining sympathy on the Arab street….Perhaps AQ has failed since 9/11 in executing the same kind of spectacular attacks and has switched to attacking soft-targets, but there is consensus amongst people who study AQ that it has become more dangerous as a “political message”  accepted by groups here or there, and whose ideology might be incentive for certain Arab and Muslim youth, considering the failures/ Fowda that is ripping through most of these societies. ….AQ plays a directional role through setting the general path, whereas their followers on the ground have the responsibility of carrying out the battle.

Commentary 

1) Is there any doubt that Ayman Zawahiri is the top guy in AQ?  Literally, everything I read in the Arabic press suggests that he and not Bin Laden is the primary mover and shaker. 

2)  Solidity of the Egyptians revisions process:  Ramen sees the lack of any Egyptians as a sign that they are holding.  Bringing these Egyptians on the tape would probably be an embarrassment for Zawahiri as it would highlight how badly the militant groups lost in Egypt.   What’s truly remarkable is how in the homeland of radical Islam, Egypt, the  radical Islamist groups that existed between the 1970s and 1990s have essentially disappeared.   

3)  Conservative Sunnis are faced with a serious dilemma with the widespread popularity of Hezbollah.  Both Zawahiri and Yusuf Qaradawi have a HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM.    Attracting surprisingly little attention in the  Western press, last week Yusuf Al-Qaradawi went on a long anti-Shia rant in an interview  with Al-Masr Al-Youm, saying they were clearly trying to invade Sunni society with their ideas.  Asked by his Egyptian interview “which is the greater danger- Shias or Wahabis?”  Qaradawi said Wahabis don’t respect the opinions of anyone but themselves, then railed against the Shia:

   “unfortunately there are Shia in Egypt.  They tried for dozens of years unsuccessfully to recruit one Shia, from the time of Salah Ad Deen until recently….”

للأسف وجدت مؤخراً مصريين شيعة، فقد حاول الشيعة قبل ذلك عشرات السنوات أن يكسبوا مصرياً واحداً ولم ينجحوا، من عهد صلاح الدين الأيوبي حتي ٢٠ عاماً مضت ما كان يوجد شيعي واحد في مصر،

But notice his explanation for why this might be occurring: 

:  ( فنحن العلماء لم نحصن السنة ضد الغزو المذهبي الشيعي لأننا دائماً نعمل القول «ابعد عن الفتنة لنوحد المسلمين»)  He says “we the Ulema didn’t immunize (or left our society vulnerable to the penetration) because we always said avoid fitna in order to keep the Muslims united.” 

   Basically what  he is saying here by this last quote:  “we the noble Sunni clerics took the higher road and said to the rank and file, “lets stay united to avoid fitna.”  As a result our people let their gaurds down, and the sneaky Shias took advantage to recruit/ spread their ideas.”  

 Deep down inside Qaradawi has to view the post-2006 war Hezbollah love-fest in the Arabic_press and street ( see here and here)  as especially aggravating.   It would not be an exaggeration that Hassan Nasrallah has Brad Pitt status amongst many Middle Eastern women.  One thing I’ve noticed in Egypt recently is a trend amongst young veiled, lower or middle class women, audaciously wearing the colors of Hezbollah.   For average people on the street, Hezbollah’s victory is something to take pride on- they deserve mad respect for their stand against Israel.  However, for Qaradawi such displays of unity merely give those “sneaky Shias” another back-door into Sunni society to spread their ideas.  Of course, he could not say that explicity- how uncool would that make him look. 

Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda also have a Hezbollah problem.  It largely stems from the fact that Hezbollah gets all the glory.  While they get feted and treated like rock-stars for confronting Israel, Al-Qaeda is standing in the background, unable logistically to strike at Israel.

Abdel Bari Atwan’s 9/11 Report

……. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London based Al-Quds Al-Qarabi,  wrote a long analytical piece analyzing the success or failure of the US war on terror.  Atwan’s views are very worth listening to for several reasons. 
1) As editor of Al-Quds he has major connections to people who are very close to the events, both from the sides that are favorable to the US and those that are opposed.  What I am saying is that he has acccess to the views/analysis of people from the Taliban/  that no Americans are going to get or even try to get.  So his analysis needs to be paid special attention.
2) He has major connections with the Islamist movements and has interviewed Bin Laden.  He also  wrote a very good book on Al-Qaeda.  
3) His paper is considered independent and is more intellectually consistent than bigger papers such as Al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat. 

4) Also,  a couple weeks ago I had a  post  asking the question Why is the Taliban the enemy?  Some disagreed with my argument that the Taliban is not a natural enemy of the US so it could be manipulated into turning against Al-Qaeda.   Atwan’s  analysis supports my point.  For all of these reasons, I have translated the article.  I am not a translator, but the following can be considered a reliable (in the sense of capturing all the ideas)  chronological translation of the article:

Bootleg Translation of Atwan’s Article

Two years ago, Bush, and his ally Blair announced they they had discovered an Al-Qaeda plot to blow up a number of American airplanes using liquid bombs.  The British government led by Tony Blair, ally of Bush in the war against terror, arrested about 30 Britains from Muslim backgrounds, and took measures to stop liquids from going on planes, causing unprecedented confusion, as this came at the peak of summer travel season in Europe. 

At that same time, we at Al-Quds doubted or were speptical of this alleged conspiracy,  which should be seen in the framework of  US and European Islamophobia ,  and is used to justify Blair and Bush’s bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We also said that these two men, who are known for their religious fervor and hostility to Islam employed a politics of fear, with this airplane conspiracy being only the most prominent example.  Just yesterday an independent trial court rejected this conspiracy and acquited the accused in a trial that lasted for two years, costing the tax payers upwards of 50 million British pounds.

The trial revealed that these accused had never bought a ticket even gotten near a British airport… But journalistic reports confirmed that President Bush and his VP wanted some kind of victor to use in order to help Republican candidates in the 2006 Congressional Elections, and they found in this alleged/claimed conspiracy a priceless opportunity. 

Fabricating evidence is not something unusual for Bush or Blair.  Weren’t they the ones who fabricated evidence of a relationship between Saddam and Al-Qaeda? Or of Iraq’s relationship to uranium in Niger in order to justify their aggression against it?  Isn’t Tony Blair, now the Middle East peace envoy, the one who went before Parliament in dramatic form with the dossier that said they had reliable information that Saddam Hussein had WMD that he was capable of using against British and US forces in less than 45 minutes?

Noone denies the presence of Islamist extremist organizations which use terrorism and violence as a measure to fight against the West, reacting to its wars in Iraq and as revenge for its victims, like what happened in the London attacks three years ago. But perhaps we can also say that the threat from these groups is exaggerated by Security forces and popular newspapers to justify security measures and strong laws against Muslim communities in the West, portraying them as the source of all evil.

Thursday is the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which were the beginning of the war against terrorism and the occupation of Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the death of 1.5 million Muslims and Arabs, as well as the death of 4k American soldiers, and the loss of as much as 5 trillion dollars.  Perhaps the best way to measure its succes or failure is to look at what President Bush himself were the original goals:  the arrest or capture of the two leaders Mullah Omar and Bin Laden and the complete destruction of their two organizations, and to make the world safer and more peaceful.

The war on terror toppled the regimes of the Taliban and after the Saddam and the occupation of the two countries.  But it did not succeed in capturing either leader and did not make the world safer, but actually made it worse. Furthermore, the two movements have returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan and now have  control over most of the first and half of the second, and run training camps for new volunteers who numbers in the thousands.

The Al-Qaeda organization might have been exposed to a major setback in Iraq because of the Awakening Forces ( paid off by the Americans) and because of their takfir politics and emphasis on setting up an Islamic state, but perhaps this setback is just temporary, because the vast majority of its members of Iraqi, we have to consider how Tanzim Al-Qaeda was able to return  to Afghanistan five years after the destruction of its base at Tora Bora.   The theory of those who participated in the Awakening was at its roots, based on distinction between the Far Enemy (the US) and the Near Enemy (Iran) and the necessity of focusing on fighting the near enemy , considering it the greater danger, even if that means allying with the Far Enemy.  But this theory began to crumble after the Malaki government forced the US to stop funding the Awakening forces, and brought them under its influence and control.   This means that the 100k who fought with Al-Qaeda, then turned against them, now finds themselves as Pariahs and outcasts after they were used to establish the Occupation, but then were thrown in the trash like a used napkin

President Bush wants to use the Iraq Awakening model in Aghanisan, but despite its partial and temporary success there, it is difficult to see it succeed in Afg. not because the time is late but because the Taliban has imposed its control over Afghanistan and the American defeat has become certain.   US forces commit massacres and heavy handed actions on a daily basis, knowing that their program has failed and the the Taliban-Al-Qaeda victory is inevitable.  They resort to heavy handed aerial attacks but the leadership forgets that airborne bombardment can not settle the issue on the ground.  On the other hand, increasing the number of land forces (now at 37k) will only give the Taliban more targets to attack

America’s problem is bigger than Afghanistan, which is an unwinnable war.  The bigger problem is in Pakistianwhich is becoming quickly a failed state, which will inevitably fall in the hands of radical Islamistgroups or a military dictatorship with little popularity.  Notice how  71% of Pakistanis are opposed to cooperation with the US war on terror and 51% oppose the war against the Taliban according to a poll done last July by Gallup.   The Taliban in Pakistan constitute a greater threat than the Taliban in Afghanistan because it posses 80k fighters ready to due in suicide operations against Western forces.  American attacks against Pakistani tribal regions will only increase the popularity of extremist groups in Pakistan as these attacks are considered a violation of Pakistani national dignity and increase extremism.   And these suicide operations were unknown in Pak and Afg before 9/11 but now they are something normal thanks to the presence of AQ experts who first learned the trade in Iraq.

The first leader the new President Zardari met was  Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, which he did to confirm to Washington that he will stay a close ally in the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  But this man, who has spent 11 of the last 20 years in in jail on corruption charges is not going to stay in power long, and US support for him will only increase the power of the Taliban and AQ. It  certainly  will not weaken it.   The US administration might find cooperation from the high level officers in the Pakistani army, but the big problem is that the vast majority of lower level officers and soldiers have sheltered hostility, and this is what explains Al-Qaeda and Taliban penetration in the Presidential Security and the three attempted assassination attempts against Musharaf.

Perhaps the failure of the war on terror will be seen in upcoming months for several reasons:  One has to do with the reemergence of Russia and a new Cold War after the Georgia fighting and Moscow’s desire to return to Afghanistan to get revenge against the Americans for kicking them out previously, and Al-Qaeda’s success in making a return to Afghanistan, and rejuvenated Mujaheed from around the world, and maybe see a return of them going to Europe and maybe even America, as Afghanistan is surrounded by countries who are hostile with America which is not the case with Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has returned to Aghanistan in light of its alliance with the Taliban, “after the the West became a mutal enemy of both movements. But the Taliban was not an enemy of America and the West before the events of 9/11.  There was a wing, and it was the dominant wing requesting that Al-Qaedabe kicked out of Afghanistan. Now all the wings are united behind Al-Qaeda  against Washington and the West.”  Here is the exact quote: 

 وعادت الى افغانستان بيئتها وحاضنتها الطبيعية، وفي ظل تحالف اقوى مع طالبان، بعد ان اصبح الغرب عدوا مشتركا للطرفين، فطالبان لم تكن تعادي امريكا والغرب قبل احداث الحادي عشر من ايلول (سبتمبر)، وكان هناك جناح وهو الغالب فيها يطالب بطرد القاعدة من البلاد، الآن توحدت الأجنحة خلف ‘القاعدة’ وضد واشنطن والغرب

The upcoming days for America are going ot be tough, it had a golden opportunity to win over Muslim hearts and minds who sympathized with them following 9/11. It could have used this to try and settle the Isr-Pal conflict and support democracy and human rights but unfortunately it did the opposite of this completely.  By doing what it did, it just provided more havens for terrorism.

Commentary
There are a number of points worth commenting on.  But for now I will simply return to my original argument- there is no reason that Taliban should be considered a natural enemy of the US.  They were not.  Lumping them together, when they could have sided with the US in kicking the  Al-Qaeda movement which was a threat to their local rule, was a major mistake.   The US had a golden opp that was blown, but I still see no reason why it couldn’t work.  Yes, it would entail admitting that seven years of effort was a complete waste, but it would probaly be more practical than staying and fighting the Taliban.