Monday, May 9, 2011

Al Qaeda, Islamism and the months to come

By Donald Sensing

As coincidental companion pieces to my "Perspective" column in Sunday's Knoxville News-Sentinel, here are some read-worthy essays. (Don't you love it when a plan comes together? My deadline to Knoxville was Tuesday even and these articles all cam out before the end of the week.)

1. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Will Muslim Brotherhood succeed where Osama bin Laden failed? Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda may soon follow him to the grave. But the doctrine of jihad – exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood – lives on."

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved and learned the hard way that the use of violence will be met with superior violence by state actors. The clever thing to do, it now turns out, was to be patient and invest in a bottom-up movement rather than a commando structure that risked being wiped out by stronger forces. Besides, the gradualist approach is far more likely to win the prize of state power. All that Khomeini did before he came to power in Iran was to preach the merits of a society based on Islamic law. He did not engage in terrorism. Yet he and his followers took over Iran – a feat far greater than bin Laden ever achieved. In Iran the violence came later.
2. Reuel Marc Gerecht: "Whither Jihad? Islamic militancy preceded Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, it will probably outlast him, too."
The excesses of al Qaeda and allied Islamic groups in spilling blood in Muslim lands since 9/11—especially in Iraq—have created considerable unease and sometimes even fire-and-brimstone disgust among Muslims. The Great Arab Revolt is altering how Arabs see themselves. It’s still much too early to know where this awakening is going—whether it will lead to democracy or back to dictatorship—but it’s not too early to see how the turbulence that started in Tunisia has discombobulated the holy-warrior set. Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri fell silent when these popular pro-democracy eruptions started. Both Iran’s ruling elite and al Qaeda finally described the Arab Revolt, surreally, as an Islamic movement that mirrored their most cherished principles.
3. "Egypt’s Other Extremists - While the Muslim Brotherhood gets all the ink, the Salafists go on a rampage." Salafism is Islamism of Saudi Arabian ancestry, while the Muslim Brotherhood is an Egyptian product. A joke in the Middle East is that a Muslim Brother is a Salafist who has learned how to read and write. In Egypt recently,
Some Salafists joined the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, and others have said they will enter politics—in many cases by supporting the Brotherhood. Often the two groups have been opposed to one another, with the Salafists accusing the Brotherhood of compromise, but in the March 19 constitutional referendum, Salafi clerics urged their followers to support the Brotherhood in campaigning for a “yes” vote.

Perhaps thinking that these more extreme Islamist currents make it appear relatively moderate, the Brother-hood condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. Already before that, it had become more outspoken about its own desire for an Islamic state.

On April 14, at a forum in Cairo, the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide, Mahmoud Ezzat, said his group wanted to establish an Islamic state when they achieved sufficient support through their Freedom and Justice party. At the same forum, another Brotherhood leader, Saad al-Husseiny, stated that they aimed to apply Islamic law and establish Islamic rule. On April 22, a senior spokesman, Sobhi Saleh, said the Brotherhood wished to apply “Islamic legislation.”
4. Muslim author Irshad Manji: "Islam Needs Reformists, Not 'Moderates' - Bin Laden's followers represent a real interpretation of Islam. Why don't more Muslims challenge it?" Manji's point is the "moderate" Muslims are the problem, not the solution.
in announcing bin Laden's demise, the president fudged a vital fact. Echoing George W. Bush, he insisted that al Qaeda's icon "was not a Muslim leader."

But this is untrue. Bin Laden and his followers represent a real interpretation of Islam that begs to be challenged relentlessly and visibly. Why does this happen so rarely?

"Moderate" Muslims are part of the problem. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught many white Americans, in times of moral crisis, moderation cements the status quo. Today, what Islam needs is not more "moderates" but more self-conscious "reformists." It is reformists who will bring to my faith the debate, dissent and reinterpretation that have carried Judaism and Christianity into the modern world. ...

It is time for those who love liberal democracy to join hands with Islam's reformists. Here is a clue to who's who: Moderate Muslims denounce violence committed in the name of Islam but insist that religion has nothing to do with it; reformist Muslims, by contrast, not only deplore Islamist violence but admit that our religion is used to incite it.

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