Category Archives: Jihadism

Trump showered with praise by jihadists while confidence of Trump voters remains steady

The Washington Post reports: Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that President Trump’s executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists. One posting hailed the U.S. president as “the best caller to Islam,” while others predicted that Trump would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

“[Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a ‘blessed ban,’” said one posting to a pro-Islamic State channel on Telegram, a social-media platform. The writer compared the executive order to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Islamic militant leaders at the time hailed as a “blessed invasion” that ignited anti-Western fervor across the Islamic world. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Candace Wheater, a 60-year-old retired school cafeteria worker from Spring Lake, Michigan, also referenced the attacks in Brussels and Paris.

“Look at what’s happening in Europe,” she said. “I don’t dare travel there, out of fear.”

Steve Hirsch, 63, from Manassas, Virginia, drove to Washington’s Dulles airport on Sunday to pick somebody up, rather than to protest as hundreds of others did.

He said he supported Trump’s order. “A country is not a country if it doesn’t have borders,” he added.

He lauded Trump’s actions as a calculated step toward the larger goal of tightening border security.

“He probably went as far as he thought he could,” Hirsch said. “You can’t ban everybody in the world, but I think it’s prudent considering the conditions in certain places in the world.”

Trent Lott, a former Senate Republican leader from Missouri who is now a lawyer in Washington, D.C., said the orders made sense to “working-class Americans in the real world.” [Continue reading…]


What leads engineers to become jihadists?


In a review of Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Extremism and Education, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, Ursula Lindsey writes: The second argument advanced by the authors to explain the “strange correlation” between studying engineering and joining a jihadist group is based on a comparative study of the political affinities of the members of radical left- and right-wing groups in the West. It shows that engineers are overrepresented among right-wing radicals generally (while humanities and social science students are more abundant among left-wing militants).

The authors suggest that Islamist and right-wing militants share a number of personality traits that have been shown to be associated with political conservatism. These include a propensity to feel disgust; a strong identification with an “in-group” and hostility toward those who don’t belong to it; and a discomfort with ambiguity and open-ended discussions (known in the literature as a “need for closure”). In Islamist circles, the authors write, “proneness to disgust is related to the strong reaction to perceived corruption of customs and a desire for social and sexual purity. In-group bias is related to a marked aversion for those who are different, be they immigrants, ethnic others, or infidels. The most multifaceted of these traits, need for closure (NFC), is related to a strong preference for hierarchy and social order and an aversion to change, which can reach the extreme of longing for a mythical past.”

Because of these underlying affinities, the authors speculate, some individuals may be “attracted to engineering as a discipline that provides concrete, unambiguous answers, and recoil from the open-ended project of natural science and the ambiguities of the humanities and social sciences.” Engineering students, “like followers of text-based religions, rely more strongly on answers that have already been given.” [Continue reading…]


Rethinking language: ‘Islamism’ as a dirty word

Jonathan Brown writes: Much depends on whether one thinks “Islamism” is a dirty word. This is true for policymakers in the West and leaders in the Muslim world alike. As with the moniker “The Muslim Brotherhood,” the word “Islamism” is thrown about loosely and clumsily because it is an amorphous and contested term that reflects the worldview (perhaps deepest fears?) of whoever is using it more than any fixed reality. Those who are suspicious of “Islamism” almost always imagine it, along with “The Muslim Brotherhood,” to be some durable transnational network, uniform in its most threatening characteristics wherever it appears.

Yet what was true before the Arab Spring, and what has emerged as even truer since its dismal failure, is that “Islamism” is local in both its shape and appeal. Analysis of Islamist movements continues, very sensibly, to be carried out on a country-by-country basis. This is because it is the ecosystem of the nation-state that continues to play the dominant role in shaping events. Elements of that system include the particular response of a government to Islamist opposition (Morocco’s accommodation of Islamist parties early on in the Arab Spring vs. Egypt’s return to Nasserist liquidation); the particular historical space for political involvement in a country (Kuwait’s relatively open political discourse versus Saudi Arabia’s closed discussions); the particular history of Islamist movements in that country (the Jordanian Brotherhood’s decades of subdued democratic activity versus Yemen’s Islah and its involvement in Yemen’s civil wars); or the impact of foreign policy considerations (for example, how the nationalist-cum-sectarian threat of Iran can trump Saudi Islamists’ objections).

Since the Arab Spring, Islamists, already nationally bound, have remained so. As Steven Brooke notes in his contribution to Brookings’s Rethinking Political Islam initiative: “A defining characteristic of Islamist groups has been their fundamental accommodation to the existence of current states.” He goes on to describe how “Islamist groups participated in political systems, adopted national discourses, and largely subjugated their activism to regime laws.” It is worth noting that this is essentially what distinguishes Jihadists from Islamists. Jihadists are those Muslim actors whose acts of violence proceed from their no longer considering themselves subject either to the regimes controlling the land in which they live or to the monopoly (and hence, accountability) of states on the use of violence.

A great irony since the Arab Spring has been that the truly transnational factors have not been “Islamism” but rather the clumsy and horribly damaging responses by numerous Arab regimes to its perceived threat. [Continue reading…]


The three manifestos that paved the way for ISIS

Fawaz A. Gerges writes: Islamic State’s Islamist utopia has taken hold of the imagination of small Sunni communities almost everywhere, including in Brussels, where suicide bombers killed 32 people last month.

Its worldview, Salafi jihadism, is perhaps the most powerful weapon in its deadly arsenal. A traveling and expanding ideology, Salafi jihadism, or religious totalitarianism, has evolved into an influential social movement with a repertoire of ideas, iconic leaders, far-flung supporters, networks of recruiters and theorist enablers who provide members with theological sustenance.

Regardless of what happens to Islamic State, Salafi jihadism is here to stay and will likely gain more converts in politically polarized Arab and Muslim societies. The challenge is to shine light on this growing ideology and make sense of it.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi and his inner circle rely particularly on three Salafi jihadist manifestoes to justify what they do. The most well-known is “The Management of Savagery.” Circulated in PDF format under the pseudonym Abu Bakr Najji in the early 2000s, the manifesto provides a strategic road map of how to create an Islamic caliphate.

The second book is “Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad” by Abu Abdullah Muhajjer, which calls on Salafi jihadists to do whatever it takes to establish a purely unified Islamic state.

The final book is “The Essentials of Making Ready” (for Jihad) by Sayyid Imam Sharif, aka Abdel-Qader Ibn Abdel-Aziz or Dr. Fadl. This massive work focuses on the theological and practical meanings of jihad in Islam, and it has become a central text in jihadist training. Fadl admitted that he wrote the book in the late 1980s as a manual for training camps of what subsequently became known as Al Qaeda. [Continue reading…]


The gap between jihadism and the prevailing linear narrative of radicalization

Kenan Malik writes: In Britain, the government’s flagship counterterrorism program, Prevent, includes surveillance of schoolchildren and college students. Official guidelines suggest that signs of radicalization include changing one’s “style of dress or personal appearance” or using “derogatory names or labels for another group.” Another sign, according to leaked teacher training materials, is an overt interest in Palestine or Syria. Among nearly 4,000 people identified last year as supposedly exhibiting signs of radicalization was a 4-year-old boy.

In France, mass closures of mosques and organizations suspected of enabling radicalization are underway.

Yet the evidence suggests that the concept is flawed and that such anti-jihadist measures are ineffective, even counterproductive. A secret British government memorandum leaked in 2010 dismissed the idea that there was “a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalization, to violence.” A 2010 American study sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security similarly noted that radicalization “cannot be understood as an invariable set of steps or ‘stages’ from sympathy to radicalism.”

Many studies show, perhaps counterintuitively, that people are not usually led to jihadist groups by religious faith. In 2008, a leaked briefing from Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, found that far from being religious zealots, many involved in terrorism were not particularly observant.

This view is confirmed by Marc Sageman, a former officer with the Central Intelligence Agency who is now a counterterrorism consultant. “At the time they joined, jihad terrorists were not very religious,” he observed. “They only became religious once they joined the jihad.”

The paradox is that the concept has become central to domestic counterterrorism policy even as government agencies discover it’s wrong. There is a gap between the reality of jihadism and a political desire for a simple narrative of radicalization.

In recent years, the official view of the process has become more nuanced. An F.B.I. website aimed at teenagers acknowledges that “no single reason explains why people become violent extremists.” Updated British strategy also accepts that “there is no single cause of radicalization.”

Yet the idea of a conveyor belt and telltale signatures of radicalization continue to be influential.

For many, though, the first steps toward terror are rarely taken for political or religious reasons. As the French sociologist Olivier Roy, the pre-eminent scholar of European jihadism, puts it, few terrorists “had a previous story of militancy,” either political or religious. Rather, they’re searching for something less definable: identity, meaning, respect. [Continue reading…]


How Denmark’s unexpected killer slipped through the net

Reuters reports: On Valentine’s Day, two weeks after his release from prison, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein walked up to a Copenhagen cafe hosting a debate on freedom of speech and sprayed it with bullets.

As a manhunt began, the 22-year-old went to ground. Nine hours later he launched a second assault, this time on a synagogue. Police eventually shot him dead, ending a rampage that left Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and security guard Dan Uzan dead, and six people wounded.

The attacks on Feb. 14 and 15 shocked Danes, who prize their country’s openness and sense of security. The country was further confounded when it emerged that prison officials had warned Denmark’s domestic intelligence agency that Hussein was at risk of being radicalized. If Denmark’s prison system – famed for its focus on rehabilitation and education over punishment – could not prevent a young man from turning into an Islamist killer, then perhaps it was not the model that many Danes believe it was. Parliament demanded an inquiry into the attacks and how both the prison system and the municipality had handled Hussein’s case.

In interviews with dozens of people, including a former cellmate and a source familiar with the as-yet unpublished official investigation, Reuters has learned new details about Hussein and his final months. His story seems to show how quickly people can be radicalized and how easily they can slip through the net, even a net as supportive and ostensibly secure as Denmark’s. [Continue reading…]


Are more Arabs becoming extremists or are extremists becoming more extreme?

Koert Debeuf writes: With the humiliating defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 War against Israel, most non-Islamist ideologies died. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arabism, socialism and secularism died on the battlefield, as well as the liberalism of his predecessors. The Arab world fell into an identity crisis, opening the way for the only remaining ideology: Islamism or conservative political Islam.

Saudi Arabia used this momentum and its newly gained petrodollars after the oil crisis in 1973 to spread Salafism or Islam without modernity. The Muslim Brotherhood too regained ground. It was founded in 1928, four years after Turkey’s Atatürk abolished the Caliphate. Its main goal was (and continues to be) reinstalling this Caliphate. This could only be achieved by getting rid of the Western-backed Arab dictators.

The Arab revolutions of 2011 were a golden opportunity for the Islamists. Knowing that the young revolutionaries were too unorganized and idealistic, Islamists took the power. The entire Arab World looked to Egypt, where for the first time, the Muslim Brotherhood had the leverage to execute their plan and organize an Islamist society. They miserably failed.

The psychological effect on the Arab World cannot be underestimated. With the exception of Ennahda in Tunisia that moderated its course, but still lost the elections, it turned many Islamists in other Arab Awakening countries more extreme. The failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt convinced them that democracy and Islamism are not the way forward. The Arab World fell into a new identity crisis.

The Islamic State offered one answer to this crisis by going further, reinstalling the Caliphate and abolishing this other European decision, the national borders of the Middle East. It is an appealing project to disillusioned Islamists and adventurers trying to escape from their own personal identity crisis. But after all, the numbers of foreign fighters and supporters are rather small.

Much more important is what is happening to the silent majority in the Arab World. And here the opposite trend slowly starts becoming clear. Fewer taxi drivers place a copy of the Koran visibly in their car. More women are taking off their veil. The young revolutionary generation is also attending prayers at the mosque less often. Most of them only denounce the political Islam preached at many mosques. Others go further and flirt with atheism. The Egyptian government doesn’t like this trend and in Alexandria even a special police taskforce has been created to arrest atheists. [Continue reading…]


What is the religion-terrorism connection?

John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed write: The religious language and symbolism that terrorists use tend to place religion at center stage. Many critics charge that global terrorism is attributable to Islam — a militant or violent religion — and terrorists who are particularly religious folks. For example, in a Washington Times commentary, author Sam Harris writes:

It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism”. We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy — and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.

Lawrence Auster of FrontPage magazine echoes this sentiment. He writes: “The problem is not ‘radical’ Islam but Islam itself, from which it follows that we must seek to weaken and contain Islam…”

What do the data say? Does personal piety correlate with radical views? The answer is no. Large majorities of those with radical views and moderate views (94% and 90%, respectively) say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. And no significant difference exists between radicals and moderates in mosque attendance.

Gallup probed respondents further and actually asked those who condone and condemn extremist acts why they said what they did. The responses fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, many of those who condemn terrorism cite humanitarian or religious justifications to support their response. For example, one woman says, “Killing one life is as sinful as killing the whole world,” paraphrasing verse 5:32 in the Quran.

On the other hand, not a single respondent in Indonesia who condones the attacks of 9/11 cites the Quran for justification. Instead, this group’s responses are markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent says, “The US government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing”. The real difference between those who condone terrorist acts and all others is about politics, not piety.

How then do we explain extremists’ religious rhetoric? As our data clearly demonstrate, religion is the dominant ideology in today’s Arab and Muslim world, just as secular Arab nationalism was in the days of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Palestinian Liberation Organization — from its inception, a staunchly secular group — used secular Palestinian nationalism in its rhetoric to justify acts of violence and to recruit. Just as Arab nationalism was used in the 1960s, today religion is used to justify extremism and terrorism.

Examining the link between religion and terrorism requires a larger and more complex context. Throughout history, close ties have existed among religion, politics, and societies. Leaders have used and hijacked religion to recruit members, to justify their actions, and to glorify fighting and dying in a sacred struggle. [Continue reading…]


The birth of an international jihadi social movement?

Clint Watts writes: The jihadi movement may have finally become what its original luminaries always wanted it to be – and in Paris of all places. The amorphous connections between the Charlie Hebdo attackers, the Kouachi brothers – who attributed their actions to “al Qaeda in Yemen” – and kosher market attacker Amedy Coulibali – who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a recently released online video – may reflect exactly what some early jihadi strategists intended: broad based jihad via a loose social movement. Terrorism researchers, obsessed with the writings of their academic adversary in jihad, Abu Musab al Suri, have for years suggested the social movement approach represented the ultimate vision of al Qaeda’s founding leadership.

This vision, however, does not seem to be shared by today’s al Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri, who for nearly a decade has sought to rein in the group’s disobedient affiliate in Iraq, which now also controls much of Syria in the guise of the Islamic State. Al Zawahiri also questioned the value of goofy self-recruits perpetrating attacks on behalf of al Qaeda without formal membership or direction from the group. Zawahiri’s resistance to freelance members may not be sufficient to quell the zeal witnessed by last week’s Charlie Hebdo attack. The manifestation of al Qaeda social movement theory may finally be realized by three forces: the growing development and global proliferation of social media, an unending call for jihad due to the intractable Syrian civil war, and the West’s failure to adapt to the wicked problem of non-state threats in a networked world.

Today’s jihadi threat, blended between al Qaeda and ISIS, networked by Facebook, and evolving based on conditions in hundreds of locations, produces attacks on three or more continents every day. On the surface this seems to indicate a stronger, unprecedented emerging jihadi threat to the West. Media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack and others suggest as much. We analysts and followers of jihadi activity, though, often give terrorists too much credit. Many, if not most, Western jihadis are deeply troubled souls, at times more confused about their intentions and motivations than we are – Omar Hammami, Zachary Chesser, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau are three of many such examples. Counterterrorism pundits, myself included, try to tease out order from chaos. But today’s counterterrorism landscape does not lend itself to such linearity. [Continue reading…]


The Arab world has no counterforce to the murderers in our midst

Hisham Melhem writes: There is something malignant in the brittle world the Arab peoples inhabit. A murderous, fanatical, atavistic Islamist ideology espoused by Salafi Jihadist killers is sweeping that world and shaking it to its foundations, and the reverberations are felt in faraway continents. On the day the globalized wrath of these assassins claimed the lives of the Charlie Hebdo twelve in Paris, it almost simultaneously claimed the lives of 38 Yemenis in their capital Sana’a, and an undetermined number of victims in Syria and Iraq. Like the Hydra beast of ancient Greece this malignancy has many heads: al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Sunni Salafists and Shiite fanatics, armies and parties of God and militias of the Mahdi. This monstrous ideology has been terrorizing Arab lands long before it visited New York on 9/11, and its butchers assassinated Arab journalists and intellectuals years before committing the Paris massacre of French journalists, cartoonists and police officers.

The devil’s rejects of this ideology engage in wanton ritualistic beheadings while intoxicated with shouts of Allahu Akbar, oblivious to the fact that most of their victims are Muslims. They are perpetuating mass killings and rapes, uprooting ancient communities, declaring war on the great pre-Islamic civilizations and religions of the Fertile Crescent, and managing to turn large swaths of Syria and Iraq into earthly provinces of hell.

The time of the assassins is upon us. And the true tragedy of the Arab and Muslim world today is that there is no organized, legitimate counterforce to oppose these murderers—neither one of governments nor of “moderate” Islam. Nor is there any refuge for those who want to escape the assassins. [Continue reading…]


Boko Haram now appears intent on governing

The Wall Street Journal reports: After seizing another village in Nigeria’s northeast last month, Boko Haram militants took a step in their transition from terror group to governing authority. They rounded up the men and ordered them to wear pants as the prophet Mohammed did, several inches above the ankle.

Otherwise, a Boko Haram commander told a crowd of men, they would be killed. “So we folded our trousers,” said Birgamus Kadams, a 26-year-old who was among the group of several hundred residents of Garkidi village the militant addressed.

Like 1.5 million other Nigerians, Mr. Kadams fled his home, in his case to the government-held town of Yola. But the world he left behind is changing.

After years of sowing chaos—bombing mosques, gunning up markets, kidnapping children, and leaving thousands dead, Boko Haram now appears intent on establishing order in towns it holds.

Fighters are imposing rigorous Islamic law in a bid to carve out a corner of a strategic, oil-rich country—just as its fellow jihadists in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are doing. [Continue reading…]


The context of the Eilat attacks and the threat to Gaza

Israelis who today for some reason feel safer because Gaza is getting bombed, might pause to consider this question: why would a member of the group that launched attacks outside Eilat yesterday — a group supposedly based in Gaza and sworn to the destruction of Israel — today blow himself up in an attack on Egyptian soldiers?

Many Israelis might avoid attempting to answer such a question and respond that it’s a jungle out there beyond Israel’s borders, as does commentator Yigal Walt, who writes:

The halcyon days of Oslo and dreams of a “New Middle East” and open borders between Israel and its neighbors are long gone; instead, we are facing a Mideast that is crueler and more dangerous than ever. As it did in the face of Palestinian murderousness in the past decade, Israel’s government must embark on a national project aimed at building large, effective fences around much of the country.

The notion of fences may be unsavory to many of us, but ignoring reality would not be a wise move. Should we fail to protect our villa by all means necessary, we shall find ourselves increasingly vulnerable to the Arab jungle around us.

As for those who have an interest in evidence, rather than taking comfort in deeply ingrained prejudice, the evidence suggests that the men who attacked Israelis yesterday and Egyptians today are in conflict with both states. More than likely, this has much less to do with Gaza or the Palestinian national cause than it has with the aspirations of radical groups based in the Sinai.

Those responsible for maintaining Israel’s security quickly claimed they knew exactly who was behind yesterday’s attacks in Eilat and duly dispatched the Israeli air force to rain down missiles on Gaza. No one explained why, if Israeli intelligence was so good, they had not prevented the attacks. Even so, the domestically perceived legitimacy of a security state depends less on its ability to thwart terrorism than its willingness to make a timely show of force. Indeed, the occasional tragedy has obvious political utility. The attacks in Eilat serve to remind Israelis that the state created as a safe haven for Jews can only remain safe so long as everyone remains afraid.

The problem with fear though, is that it inhibits curiosity — a population that lives in fear has a visceral need for security that overrides the cognitive need for understanding. Once hit, the reflex to hit back marginalizes the need to understand who, how and why.

In attempting to understand attacks that took place on the edge of the Sinai, the likelihood is that the explanation about who launched the attacks and why, would be found not elsewhere but in the Sinai itself.

The day before the attacks, CNN reported:

The Egyptian army and police are cracking down in an “anti-terror” operation in the Sinai area of Egypt, state-owned media reported on Tuesday, as reports emerge of Osama bin Laden’s doctor surfacing in the area.

Police said they found hand grenades, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition in the operation that targets Sinai “terror cells” suspected in attacks on a gas pipeline to Israel and a police station in the border town of el-Arish.

One person was killed and 12 were arrested on Monday, the first day of the operation, said Hazem al-Maadawi, a police officer involved in the offensive.

Citing an unnamed security official, state news agency EgyNews said authorities are targeting 15 more people who participated in attacks at an el-Arish police station — some of whom are members of the extremist Jaish el-Islam group, which is affiliated with al Qaeda.

The crackdown comes amid new developments on the whereabouts of a bin Laden associate.

Ramzi Mahmoud Al Mowafi, the doctor of the late al Qaeda leader, escaped from a Cairo prison during the Egyptian revolution earlier this year and has resurfaced in the country’s North Sinai area, an official said.

“Al Mowafi, also known among his fellow Jihadists as the ‘chemist,’ escaped from a maximum security prison in Cairo on January 30 while serving a life sentence,” Maj. Yaser Atia from Egyptian General Security told CNN Monday. According to prison records, Al Mowafi was sentenced to life for a “military case” — but more details were not immediately known.

Bin Laden’s longtime personal doctor and an explosives expert, Al Mowafi was born in Egypt in 1952. He left for Afghanistan to join al Qaeda, according to the data listed in his prison records.

“Al Mowafi was seen in Sinai by several Jihadist(s) according to witness testimonials,” Gen. Sameh Seif Al Yezen said. “I know he is very dangerous and that he had set up his own laboratory in Tora Bora with bin Laden. A full report will be published on this matter in the upcoming week.”

A general in Egypt’s intelligence service, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media, told CNN that “Al Mowafi surfaced in el-Arish and communicated with several ‘terrorists’ from the Egyptian Takfir wal-Hijra and the Palestinian Islamic Army.”

Takfir wal-Hijra is a militant Islamist group.

The general added, “Al Qaeda is present in Sinai, mainly in the area of Sakaska close to Rafah.”

Andrew McGregor provides more historical background on the region.

As the meeting point of Asia and Africa, the Sinai has always been important to Egypt’s security. Though the Sinai has been, with brief interruptions, a part of Egypt in one form or another since the time of the First Egyptian Dynasty (c. 3100 – 2890 B.C.E.), it has also been regarded as something apart from the Egypt of the Nile and Delta, a remote wasteland useful for mineral exploitation and strategic reasons but otherwise best left (outside of Egyptian security outposts) to the unruly Semitic and Bedouin tribes that have called the Sinai home since ancient times. The effect of these policies is that the Sinai Bedouin form only a tiny minority of Egypt’s total population, but retain an absolute majority in the Sinai.

In recent decades, however, Cairo has attempted to impose the deeply infiltrated security regime that existed in the rest of the country up until last January’s revolution. Many Bedouin involved in traditional smuggling activities found themselves in Egyptian prisons serving long sentences in often brutal conditions. The attempt to impose a security regime on the freedom-minded Bedouin led to a greater alienation of the tribesmen from the state, and the Egyptian uprising presented an opportunity to quickly roll back decades of attempts to impose state control on life in the Sinai. Most importantly, it opened the door for those influenced by the Salafist movements of neighboring Gaza to begin operations.

There are roughly 15 Bedouin tribes in the Sinai. In the politically sensitive northeast region (including al-Arish and the border area) the most important are the Sawarka and Rumaylat. There are also significant Palestinian populations in al-Arish and the border towns of Rafah and Zuwaid.

Local Bedouin took the opportunity of storming the Sinai’s prisons, freeing an unknown number of Bedouin smugglers and Palestinian militants. In nearly all cases they were unopposed by prison staff. One of the escapees was Ali Abu Faris, who was convicted for involvement in the Sharm al-Shaykh bombings that killed 88 people in 2005. Others freed included Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners convicted more recently of planning terrorist operations in Egypt (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12, 2009). Since emptying the prisons the tribesmen have warned the police to stay out of the main smuggling centers on penalty of death and the region has been effectively operating without any type of government.

But even if Israel faces a threat emanating from Egypt, Gaza presents a more convenient target of retaliation — even if this now opens a new risk of escalation.

Tony Karon writes:

There was a time when attacks such as those in southern Israel on Thursday might have been assumed to be the work of Hamas, out to torpedo the peace process. But there is no peace process to torpedo; it sank without trace some years ago without any help from Hamas. And Hamas is facing a potential crisis because its Syrian patron, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, may be on its way out of power, jeopardizing the status of the Hamas political leadership and headquarters in Damascus. The situation in Syria, and the new possibilities opened up by the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the growing influnence of Hamas’ Egyptian founding organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, give Hamas nothing to gain and much to lose by making life difficult for the military leadership in Cairo. Attacking Israel from Egyptian soil makes little sense for Hamas given its current political and diplomatic needs.

And a new crisis in Gaza hardly suits the agenda of President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority: They plan next month to seek U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines, and it hardly helps their case to have the fact that they have no control over events in Gaza — a substantial part of the state they are claiming — so graphically demonstrated.

But for a bit player like the PRC [Popular Resistance Committees] — if, indeed, it was responsible — or any other smaller groups challenging Hamas’ authority and pressing their own claims, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February and the weakening of his police state created a new opportunity to slip the shackles of Hamas’ cease-fire by leaving Gaza and launching an attack from Sinai. As our own Abigail Hauslohner has reported, Sinai has become a playground for Bedouin smugglers and various jihadists since Mubarak’s fall, with salafist groups (who share an ideology with al-Qaeda) believed to have been behind repeat attacks on the natural gas pipeline that runs through Sinai to Israel.

Thursday’s attacks came just days after 1,000 Egyptian troops launched an operation in northern Sinai against Islamist cells believed to be inspired by al-Qaeda, which had challenged Hamas in Gaza. Israel gave its approval for the operation — the 1979 Camp David Agreement requires Israeli approval for Egypt to deploy significant numbers of troops in Sinai — and so did Hamas.

The fall of Mubarak had created a vacuum in Sinai into which some of Hamas’ rivals have been able to move to provoke a confrontation that Hamas had been trying to avoid. But once the Israelis are bombing Gaza, Hamas may find it difficult or impolitic to restrain its own armed wing, or other groups from firing at Israel. So the danger of escalation becomes more acute. On the Israeli side, too. Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to hint that Israel may be planning a more sustained attack on Gaza, warning on Thursday that Israel sees the territory as “a source of terror, and we will take full-force action against them.”


The terrorism recruiting myth

After almost a decade of a US-led global war on terrorism, America’s approach to the issue has barely advanced from being a deadly game of Whack-a-Mole.

On CBS, Scott Pelley asked Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton: “I wonder if there’s anything about U.S. foreign policy that needs to change in your estimation to put more pressure on these terrorist groups where they live, like in Pakistan?”

“Well, we are doing that. And we’re increasing it. We’re expecting more from it. This is a global threat. We have probably the best police work in the world. But we are also the biggest target. And therefore, we just have to be better than everybody else,” Clinton replied.

Earlier in the interview she said: “We’ve made it very clear [to the Pakistani government] that, if, heaven forbid, that an attack like this [in Times Square], if we can trace back to Pakistan, were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”

The US will start bombing Pakistan? Special Forces will start conducting operations in North Waziristan? Clinton would not specify what form these severe consequences might take.

In response to the Times Square incident, Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism coordinator for the Bush administration writes:

The reason such attacks are hard to stop is rooted in the identity of the attackers. They often seem to be successful or well-educated members of society, uninvolved in any form of radicalism. But then, the drip-drip of terrorist propaganda — either on the Internet or circulated through friends — has its effect. They quietly make contact with radical groups overseas, perhaps even traveling abroad for training and indoctrination. They throw away the life they have made in the West and agree to stage an attack. Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square terrorist, fits that profile, as have others in the United States and Europe.

For U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities, these newly minted terrorists are the hardest to stop. They may not be part of any known cell; there is no reason for their phones or e-mail accounts to come under surveillance. When they buy rifles, handguns, tanks of propane gas or fertilizer, they are doing nothing out of the ordinary in American society.

If they succeed in inflicting harm on us with terrorist acts designed to rivet media and public attention, our political debate may once again be as wrongheaded as it will be predictable. Some elected officials will claim that their party would have done a much better job protecting the country. Critics of America’s Middle East policy — or our energy policy, or our foreign policy writ large — will also fault whatever administration is in power.

Likewise, in a 60 Minutes report that aired last night, the prism through which the issue is filtered is one in which individuals are turned into the tools of a deadly ideology. Vulnerable young men are in jeopardy of being recruited by merciless ideologues and terrorist planners.

But as Scott Atran points out, the idea that Shahzad and those like him have to be recruited, does not fit the evidence.

Shahzad was also apparently inspired by the online rhetoric of Anwar al-Awlaki, a former preacher at a Northern Virginia mosque who gained international notoriety for blessing the suicide mission of the failed Christmas airplane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallib, and for Facebook communications with Major Nadal Hasan, an American-born Muslim psychiatrist who killed thirteen fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in November 2009. Although many are ready to leap to the conclusion that Awlaki helped to “brainwash” and “indoctrinate” these jihadi wannabes, it is much more likely that they sought out the popular Internet preacher because they already self-radicalized to the point of wanting reassurance and further guidance. “The movement is from the bottom up,” notes forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman, “just like you saw Major Hasan send twenty-one e-mails to al-Awlaki, who sends him back two, you have people seeking these guys and asking them for advice.”

The CBS report, stuck on the track that recruitment is a central issue, homes in on the role of the internet. The would-be terrorist is someone whose deadly intent is sure to be triggered by something he sees online.

Phillip Mudd, who until a few months ago was the senior intelligence advisor to the FBI and its director says:

They’re seeing images, for example, of children and women in places like Palestine and Iraq, they’re seeing sermons of people who explain in simple, compelling, and some cases magnetic terms why it’s important that they join the jihad. They’re seeing images, and messages that confirm a path that they’re already thinking of taking.

CBS helpfully provides such an image, but predictably neglects to add any commentary.

What are we seeing? An Israeli soldier terrorizing a Palestinian mother and her two girls.

And there we have it: exactly the kind of image the foments terrorism.

Viewed through the American counter-terrorism lens, the problem lies with the propagation of the image and the violent reaction such an image can provoke. Why? Because any serious consideration of the foreign policy issues that the image signals is still off-limits.

But here’s what everyone in the Middle East sees: An Israeli Jew brandishing an American-made weapon, serving America’s closest ally in the Middle East, is threatening a Muslim family. This is the narrative that no amount of spin or cleverly fought battles in a war of ideas, can undo.

Yet here is the foreign policy dilemma for Washington: How can the United States adopt a posture in the Middle East that acknowledges the role America has played in fueling terrorism, without appearing to capitulate to terrorist demands?

The answer is to trust in the universally recognized truth: actions speak louder than words.

What Obama does in Pakistan matters more than what he said in Cairo.

In April 2003, the Bush administration made a step in the right direction when it withdrew American troops from Saudi Arabia. The moved turned out to be of little consequence since it was triggered by utterly false expectations about the war in Iraq. Yet there was an implicit recognition: the presence of American soldiers in close proximity to Islam’s holiest sites sends an ugly message to the Muslim world.

Seven years later, as the Obama administration puts increased pressure on the Pakistani government to launch a major offensive in North Waziristan — an operation that would yet again result in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians — and as the CIA continues to expand a drone war that has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, what kind of signal is this sending to those who might now contemplate following in the footsteps of Faisal Shahzad?


Did The American Conservative just get hacked by Zionists?

Did The American Conservative just get hacked by Zionists?

Philip Weiss drew my attention to an article that caught Andrew Sullivan‘s eye: Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine by Daniel Larison. It appears at Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative. But if you follow the link at this time (1.20 PM Eastern) you won’t find much — just a placeholder.

TAC got hacked. By who?

This is where it gets interesting. The Google cache page shows this — a statement by an ostensibly Turkish pro-Palestinian hacker/group. Here’s a screenshot:

If that looks familiar it’s probably because you read about the hacking of The Jewish Chronicle in Britain a week ago. The text and image appear to be the same:

There is one difference — the claim of authorship. The hackers of the Chronicle identified themselves as “PALESTINIAN MUJAHEEDS” whereas the TAC hackers used this name: “HaCKeD By CWD@rBe”.

So what can we infer? Some Turkish pro-Palestinians don’t know much about the American media? Perhaps.

The American Conservative is certainly a counter-intuitive target to pick. It’s one of the few American publications that acknowledges the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and it is by no stretch of the imagination an Israel-friendly publication.

So who might the Palestinian Mujaheeds be? A Google search indicates that the name had never shown up until the Jewish Chronicle attack.

The equation between Palestinians and Mujahadins is a strange one to make — unless that is you happen to be an anti-Jihadist of the type that figures in Daniel Larison’s article. He writes:

The Palestinian cause generates remarkable reactions in Western anti-jihadists. For most of them, it is an article of faith that Palestinians, or at least the organized factions that speak for them, are just about as bad and hostile to “the West” as Al Qaeda itself, and so there is no point in attempting to make any deal with them. As far as they are concerned, the correct response is to back Israeli policies to the hilt, and to throw up as many obstacles to anyone here at home who would attempt to use U.S. influence to change those policies. The Bush-era habit of lumping together every Islamic revolutionary, militant and terrorist group under some catch-all term of “Islamofascism” made it easier to lump all these causes together, which is oddly enough exactly what jihadists would like, and once they were lumped together they could be that much more easily demonized together.

Now is that the kind of statement that a pro-Palestinian Turk believes should be blocked from public viewing? It’s conceivable but rather improbable. Much more plausible is the idea that a pro-Israeli hacker finds the expression of such views particularly unpalatable.

It’s not always possible to judge who you are dealing with simply by seeing the colors on the flag that they choose to waive.

Meanwhile, as TAC deals with the damage done by “HaCKeD By CWD@rBe”, be sure to look at Daniel Larison’s piece which I’ve reposted here. It’s essential reading.


Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine

Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine

A lot of ink has been spilled since 9/11 trying to argue that bin Laden doesn’t really care about Palestine. But that’s always been silly — nobody knows what he “really” cares about, and it doesn’t especially matter since he talks about it a lot and presents it as a major part of his case against the United States. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics. Marc Lynch (via Andrew)

One of the reasons there has been a consistent effort to deny that Bin Laden has any “real” interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that such an interest, sincere or not, suggests jihadist groups are fueled by U.S. and allied policies, or at least that they successfully exploit U.S. and allied policies for propaganda purposes. Washington would then be faced with at least one of two unpalatable truths. Either our policies are correct and necessary, but strategically disastrous in their effects on Arab and Muslim public opinion and jihadist recruiting, or they are and incorrect and unnecessary while also being strategically disastrous. Washington would then have to decide if it wants to live with perpetual, low-level conflict occasionally exploding into major military campaigns every decade, or if it wants to make enough policy changes (and push our allies to make similar changes) to reduce that conflict to a bare minimum.

For most of the last decade, our preference in and out of government has been to deny that U.S. and allied policies had anything to do with jihadist attacks and their ability to recruit and win sympathizers. This acknowledgement would be to “blame the victim,” so that even if it were the correct analysis it was politically incorrect to say it out loud. Instead we have been treated to a whole host of explanations for why jihadist violence exists and why it tends to be directed at the U.S. and our allies. The lamest of these has been rather popular, namely the claim that “they hate us for our freedom,” or modernity or secularism or whatever it is that the person making the argument finds worthwhile about the West and sees lacking in Muslim countries. Then, of course, there is the trusty appeal to the enemy’s insanity. Unlike us, they are not really rational, and so their actions cannot be explained by referring to anything so mundane and normal as political grievances.

Finally, there is the religious essentialist argument that jihadism is what Islam requires at its core, and therefore there is no way to weaken it without some dramatic transformation of the entire religion. This last argument has won more sympathizers because the people trying to challenge it inevitably go to the opposite extreme and simply ignore or dismiss past Islamic conquests as having nothing to do with Islam. If the essentialist argument really held up, however, Algerians would still be attacking France, Central Asian Muslims would still be warring against the Russians, and Saudis would have been attacking American targets long before the 1990s. We do see cases where separatist movements involving Muslim populations’ breaking away from non-Muslim states become intertwined with and dependent on jihadist groups, because these are the groups providing assistance and because they lend an extra religious and ideological veneer to the conflict that wins the separatists more sympathy abroad. As a general rule, when the cause of the political grievances has disappeared, violent resistance also disappears.

Anti-jihadists like to invoke one or more of these arguments. I am reminded again of a quote from George Kennan in which he described the flaws of the popular anticommunism of his day. His words apply to popular anti-jihadism almost perfectly:

They distort and exaggerate the dimensions of the problem with which they profess to deal. They confuse internal and external aspects of the communist threat. They insist on portraying as contemporary things that had their actuality years ago [bold mine-DL]….And having thus incorrectly stated the problem, it is no wonder that these people consistently find the wrong answers.

Even when anti-jihadists are willing to acknowledge that Al Qaeda uses the grievances of Muslim populations in Iraq or Palestine for propaganda purposes, they will usually hold that changing policy or addressing those grievances to minimize the effectiveness of the propaganda is a form of capitulation. We are supposed to be engaged in “global counterinsurgency,” but we must take little or no account of the stated motivations of jihadists and the reasons why many millions more sympathize with their immediate goals while often deploring the means they use.

The Palestinian cause generates remarkable reactions in Western anti-jihadists. For most of them, it is an article of faith that Palestinians, or at least the organized factions that speak for them, are just about as bad and hostile to “the West” as Al Qaeda itself, and so there is no point in attempting to make any deal with them. As far as they are concerned, the correct response is to back Israeli policies to the hilt, and to throw up as many obstacles to anyone here at home who would attempt to use U.S. influence to change those policies. The Bush-era habit of lumping together every Islamic revolutionary, militant and terrorist group under some catch-all term of “Islamofascism” made it easier to lump all these causes together, which is oddly enough exactly what jihadists would like, and once they were lumped together they could be that much more easily demonized together.

On the whole, it seems that the more sympathetic to or at least understanding of Palestinian grievances a Western observer is, the less willing he is to endorse standard anti-jihadist arguments. Likewise, the more one agrees with anti-jihadist arguments, the more reflexively hostile to Palestinian grievances one tends to be. When most Western anti-jihadists hear that Bin Laden has tied the Christmas bomber attack to the cause of Palestine and specifically to the treatment of Gaza, or when they learn that the bomber who killed the seven CIA operatives claimed that the Gaza operation early last year had driven him to jihadism, the conclusion they draw is not that there was and is something wrong with U.S. and Israeli policies with respect to Palestinians. There is no sudden revelation that the inexcusable blockade of Gaza is politically unwise as well as morally wrong.

On the contrary, the support Bin Laden expresses for the Palestinian cause makes that cause seem to most Western anti-jihadists to be that much more indistinguishable from Al Qaeda’s goals and therefore that much more antithetical to Western interests. This might very well be another purpose in Bin Laden’s exploitation of Palestinian grievances: to harden Western audiences against Palestinian claims even more by linking his cause to Palestine, which will make Americans in particular less interested in supporting an administration that tries to exert pressure in support of a peace settlement. Bin Laden would like to appropriate the Palestinian cause, which Palestinians definitely do not want, and most Western anti-jihadists would like nothing more than to let him have it. So while Lynch is right that resolving this conflict would deprive jihadists of one of their great sources of effective propaganda, our own anti-jihadists will do their utmost to thwart all efforts to that end.


Cracks in the jihad

Cracks in the jihad

“Get ready for all Muslims to join the holy war against you,” the jihadi leader Abd el-Kader warned his Western enemies. The year was 1839, and nine years into France’s occupation of Algeria the resistance had grown self-confident. Only weeks earlier, Arab fighters had wiped out a convoy of 30 French soldiers en route from Boufarik to Oued-el-Alèg. Insurgent attacks on the slow-moving French columns were steadily increasing, and the army’s fortified blockhouses in the Atlas Mountains were under frequent assault.

Paris pinned its hopes on an energetic general who had already served a successful tour in Algeria, Thomas-Robert Bugeaud. In January 1840, shortly before leaving to take command in Algiers, he addressed the French Chamber of Deputies: “In Europe, gentlemen, we don’t just make war against armies; we make war against interests.” The key to victory in European wars, he explained, was to penetrate the enemy country’s interior. Seize the centers of population, commerce, and industry, “and soon the interests are forced to capitulate.” Not so at the foot of the Atlas, he conceded. Instead, he would focus the army’s effort on the tribal population.

Later that year, a well-known military thinker from Prussia traveled to Algeria to observe Bugeaud’s new approach. Major General Carl von Decker, who had taught under the famed Carl von Clausewitz at the War Academy in Berlin, was more forthright than his French counterpart. The fight against fanatical tribal warriors, he foresaw, “will throw all European theory of war into the trash heap.”

One hundred and seventy years later, jihad is again a major threat—and Decker’s dire analysis more relevant than ever. War, in Clausewitz’s eminent theory, was a clash of collective wills, “a continuation of politics by other means.” When states went to war, the adversary was a political entity with the ability to act as one body, able to end hostilities by declaring victory or admitting defeat. Even Abd el-Kader eventually capitulated. But jihad in the 21st century, especially during the past few years, has fundamentally changed its anatomy: Al Qaeda is no longer a collective political actor. It is no longer an adversary that can articulate a will, capitulate, and be defeated. But the jihad’s new weakness is also its new strength: Because of its transformation, Islamist militancy is politically impaired yet fitter to survive its present crisis. [continued…]

Yemen offers to strike a deal with al-Qaeda fighters

The President of Yemen said yesterday that he was willing to strike a deal with al-Qaeda if militants laid down their weapons, amid warnings that dozens of foreign fighters were streaming into the country.

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s offer to negotiate with members of the terror network came as officials said that several al-Qaeda operatives, including Saudis and Egyptians, were travelling from Afghanistan to join fighters in the lawless tribal lands in central and southern Yemen.

Among those said to be in hiding in the area is Anwar al-Awlaki, the influential Yemeni preacher. The US-born imam preached to two of the 9/11 bombers in California and had links to the US army psychiatrist charged with the Fort Hood shootings and the Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a Christmas Day flight to Detroit. [continued…]


Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again

Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again

As the summer arrives and London begins to swelter, I sit with most of the “out” ex-jihadis in a slew of Starbucks across the city. We sip iced lattes and discuss how, not long ago, they tried to destroy Western civilisation.

They have different backgrounds: one is a Yorkshire girl with Hindu parents, another is a Northern boy whose father was a Conservative ultra-Thatcherite. Yet they are startlingly similar: they have all retained the humourless intensity of their pasts. And when they describe their Islamist former selves, they are distant and cold, as if describing a rather unpleasant acquaintance they did not entirely understand.

They wreath their stories in clouds of pointless detail: they talk for hours about the intricacies of seventh-century Meccan society, or the fine distinctions in the hierarchy of HT, willing you to understand it. It’s a way of avoiding answering the hardest question – why? But from their scattered stories, I can trace something that seems genuinely new: an ex-jihadi way of looking at the world, that carries lessons about how to stop Western Muslims sinking into jihadism.

As children and teenagers, the ex-jihadis felt Britain was a valueless vacuum, where they were floating free of any identity.

Ed Husain, a former leader of HT, says: “On a basic level, we didn’t know who we were. People need a sense of feeling part of a group – but who was our group?” They were lost in liberalism, beached between two unreachable identities – their parents’, and their country’s. They knew nothing of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or the other places they were constantly told to “go home” to by racists.

Yet they felt equally shut out of British or democratic identity. From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of “Go back where you came from!” But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn’t want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as “the funny foreign child”, and told to “explain their customs” to the class. It patronised them into alienation.

“Nobody ever said – you’re equal to us, you’re one of us, and we’ll hold you to the same standards,” says Husain. “Nobody had the courage to stand up for liberal democracy without qualms. When people like us at [Newham] College were holding events against women and against gay people, where were our college principals and teachers, challenging us?”

Without an identity, they created their own. It was fierce and pure and violent, and it admitted no doubt.

To my surprise, the ex-jihadis said their rage about Western foreign policy – which was real, and burning – emerged only after their identity crises, and as a result of it. They identified with the story of oppressed Muslims abroad because it seemed to mirror the oppressive disorientation they felt in their own minds. Usman Raja, a bluff, buff boxer who begged to become a suicide bomber in the mid-1990s, tells me: “Your inner life is chaotic and you feel under threat the whole time. And then you’re told by Islamists that life for Muslims everywhere is chaotic and under threat. It becomes bigger than you. It’s about the world – and that’s an amazing relief. The answer isn’t inside your confused self. It’s out there in the world.”

But once they had made that leap to identify with the Umma – the global Muslim community – they got angrier the more abusive our foreign policy came. Every one of them said the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former HT organiser, tells me: “You’d see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?”

But the converse was – they stressed – also true. When they saw ordinary Westerners trying to uphold human rights, their jihadism began to stutter. Almost all of them said that they doubted their Islamism when they saw a million non-Muslims march in London to oppose the Iraq War: “How could we demonise people who obviously opposed aggression against Muslims?” asks Hadiya.

Britain’s foreign policy also helped tug them towards Islamism in another way. Once these teenagers decided to go looking for a harder, tougher Islamist identity, they found a well-oiled state machine waiting to feed it. Usman Raja says: “Saudi literature is everywhere in Britain, and it’s free. When I started exploring my Muslim identity, when I was looking for something more, all the books were Saudi. In the bookshops, in the libraries. All of them. Back when I was fighting, I could go and get a car, open the boot up, and get it filled up with free literature from the Saudis, saying exactly what I believed. Who can compete with that?”

He says the Saudi message is particularly comforting to disorientated young Muslims in the West. “It tells you – you’re in this state of sin. But the sin doesn’t belong to you, it’s not your fault – it’s Western society’s fault. It isn’t your fault that you’re sinning, because the girl had the miniskirt on. It wasn’t you. It’s not your fault that you’re drug dealing. The music, your peers, the people around you – it’s their fault.”

Just as their journeys into the jihad were strikingly similar, so were their journeys out. All of them said doubt began to seep in because they couldn’t shake certain basic realities from their minds. The first and plainest was that ordinary Westerners were not the evil, Muslim-hating cardboard kaffir presented by the Wahabis. Usman, for one, finally stopped wanting to be a suicide bomber because of the kindness of an old white man.

Usman’s mother had moved in next door to an elderly man called Tony, who was known in the neighbourhood as a spiteful, nasty grump. One day, Usman was teaching his little brother to box in the garden when he noticed the old man watching him from across the fence. “I used to box when I was in the Navy,” he said. He started to give them tips and before long, he was building a boxing ring in their shed.

Tony died not long before 9/11, and Usman was sent to help clear out his belongings. In Tony’s closet, he found a present wrapped and ready for his little brother’s birthday: a pair of boxing gloves. “And I thought – that is humanity right there. That’s an aspect of the divine that’s in every human being. How can I want to kill people like him? How can I call him kaffir?”

Many of the ex-Islamists discovered they couldn’t ignore the fact that whenever Islamists won a military victory, they didn’t build a paradise, but hell.

At the same time, they began to balk at the mechanistic nature of Wahabism. Usman says he had become a “papier-mâché Muslim”, defining his faith entirely by his actions, while being empty inside. “Wahabis are great at painting themselves [an Islamic] green on the outside, but when it comes to that internal aspect, it’s not there. You pray five times a day, but why? Because God’s told you to pray five times a day. You pay your charity – why? Because God’s told you to pay your charity. This God of yours is telling you a lot. And why does he tell you to do that? Because if you don’t do it, you’ll end up in a fire. It’s all based on being frightened. There’s nothing to nourish you.”

They had to go looking for other Islams – and often they found it in the more mystical school of the Sufis. “Wahabi Islam is totally sensory: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” Usman says. “It lays out a strict set of rules to be followed here on earth, every moment of the day. Sufi Islam teaches instead that the realm of Allah is wholly separate and spiritual and nothing to do with the shadow-play of mere mortals. It is accessible only through a sense of mystery and transcendence.” In this new Sufi Islam, Usman found something he had never known before: a sense of calm.

Ed Husain insists: “There are a lot of Muslims who agree with us. A lot. But they’re frightened. They see what’s happened to us – the hassle, the slander, the death threats – and they think: it’s not worth it. But you know what? When I first spoke out, I was alone. I had no idea that, a year on, there would be this number of people speaking out, and many more who are just offering resources and support. Once a truth is spoken, it takes on its own life.” [continued…]

Post-jihadism and the inevitability of democratization

Major ‘Abbud al-Zumur, the former military intelligence officer who served on the governing bodies of both the Jihad organization and al-Gama‘a al-Islammiyya (Islamic Group – IG) in Egypt, published a book entitled The Third Alternative: Between Authoritarianism and Surrender in August 2009. In the book, which analyzes the causes of violent radicalism and prescribes ways of ending political violence within Arab- and Muslim-majority states, al-Zumur strongly argues for the necessity of electoral participation as well as for alliances with the ideological “other.”

The book is the latest development in what can be called a second wave of modern Islamist de-radicalization. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood began the first wave by authoring Preachers not Judges in 1969, during an attempt to dismantle the Brotherhood’s armed wing and de-legitimize takfiri ideology (which can legitimize violence against nonbelievers, including Muslims who are deemed apostates). The IG began the second wave in July 1997, and in recent years has produced some 25 books to de-legitimate violence against the state. Those ideological revisions were followed by similar ones from various organizations including al-Jihad, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and several other Islamist leading figures in the Arab-majority countries. [continued…]