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Ali Soufan on strategy & tactics

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — short and sweet ]

Everyone here knows that we are in a conflict with Islamic extremism. Everyone here knows that strategic outweighs tactical success. And most everyone here knows that Ali Soufan is one of the key voices on that topic — lead FBI agent investigating the Cole bombing, author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, and outspoken interrogator-spokesman against the use of torture.

Hear him on strategy & tactics:

Is Islam in need of a Reformation?

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — perhaps it’s not Wittenberg but Westphalia we should be praying for ]

Reformation Qn


Ayaan Hirsi Ali clearly believes we need an Islamic Reformation, and she’s not alone. That much Mehdi Hasan concedes in a Guardian piece titled Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation:

In recent months, cliched calls for reform of Islam, a 1,400-year-old faith, have intensified. “We need a Muslim reformation,” announced Newsweek. “Islam needs reformation from within,” said the Huffington Post. Following January’s massacre in Paris, the Financial Times nodded to those in the west who believe the secular Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “could emerge as the Martin Luther of the Muslim world”.

Hasan’s piece was evidently written in answer to the Guardian’s take on Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – review, and is subtitled, Those who are calling for a ‘Muslim Martin Luther’ should be careful what they wish for. His reason?

Martin Luther..

Luther did not merely nail 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, denouncing clerical abuses within the Catholic church. He also demanded that German peasants revolting against their feudal overlords be “struck dead”, comparing them to “mad dogs”, and authored On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543, in which he referred to Jews as “the devil’s people” and called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues.


On the other hand..

William Polk proposes what seems a powerful analogy in his December 2013 piece, Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism:

I have described elsewhere the movements of “purification” inspired by such men as the Arabian Ahmad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the Algerian/Libyan Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi, the Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, the Iranian activist Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and the Egyptian theologian Muhammad Abduh. In a fundamental aspect, their teachings and movements resembled those set off in northern Europe by Luther and Calvin. These Christians and Muslims shared a belief in the absolute authority of the unalterable word of God as set out in the original texts. Their task was to go back to discover the “pure” message and lead their followers to implement it. However much they differed, both the Muslims and the Protestants were in this sense salafis.

To my mind, that’s a far more persuasive analysis.

Perhaps what we’re seeing today is an Islamic version of the European Wars of Religion, following a Salafist “Reformation”?

In which case it might be time to work and pray for an Islamic Peace of Westphalia.

We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..


If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.


The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.


Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.


Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.


Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.


Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

On LapidoMedia: Mullah Omar’s death strengthens al-Baghdadi’s claim to the caliphate

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Mullah Omar, the Prophet’s cloak in Kandahar, & the title “Amir al-Mu’minin” ]

shrine of the cloak
A man prays at the Shrine of the Cloak of the Prophet, Kandahar. Photo: Tomas Munita/AP


My latest for LapidoMedia begins:

ON THE FIRST anniversary of the death of US journalist James Wright Foley, the first US citizen to be killed by ISIS, it is timely to examine the credientials of the man who ordered it – the ‘caliph’ of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Baghdadi’s claim not just to the title of caliph but to that of Amir al-Mu’minin or Commander of the Faithful, underpins obedience of all Muslims to his will.

To understand this, we need also to understand the impact of the recently announced death of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.

The cloak of responsibility

For jihadists and those who aspire to be jihadists, Mullah Omar’s death put to an end one of the two claims to the title of Amir al-Mu’minin.

This title is one normally accorded to a caliph, but while Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid did not proclaim himself caliph or attempt to establish a global caliphate, he did indeed lay the foundations of one by creating the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996.

Read the whole thing..


Further recommendations:

  • Fabrizio Foschini & Bette Dam, Under the Cloak of History: The Kherqa-ye Sharif from Faizabad to Kandahar
  • JM Berger, Mullah Omar and the AQ-ISIS War
  • Aaron Y Zelin (podcast), The Death of Mullah Omar and its Implications with J.M. Berger
  • Barnett Rubin, What could Mullah Omar’s Death Mean for the Taliban Talks?
  • Barnett Rubin, Turmoil in the Taliban
  • Joanna Paraszczuk, Why Zawahri’s Pledge to Taliban could be a boon for IS 
  • Leah Farrall, Mullah Omar’s death and the Haqqani factor
  • For more on the cloak, see also:

  • Charles Cameron, The cloak, mantle and authority of the Prophet
  • Jabhat al-Nusra rebukes Islamic State for killing Alan Henning

    Friday, July 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — I hav to say, the senseless death of Alan Henning makes me very sad ]

    In the first issue of its magazine, al-Risalah, Jabhat al-Nusra attacks al-Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate.

    Jabhat al Nusra vs IS

    The item that caught my eye, though, was a section in the article Khilafa One Year On titled The Murder of Alan Henning. We read:

    Next, we have the murder of Alan Henning, a forty-seven year old British humanitarian aid worker in Syria, who was abducted by the ‘Islamic State’ and beheaded on camera. Although he was a disbeliever, we mention his case here because he was under the protection of the Muslims. Abu Salaam al-Britani, an aid worker who worked alongside Henning, pleaded to Baghdadi to have him released:

    “I appeal and request in general to all of the members of ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah and specifically to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu ‘Ali al-Anbari to release Alan Henning as he had been given an Amana (security) from two sets of believing parties. Henceforth in the light of the Shari’ah he is considered a Mu’ahid and it is impermissible to harm him…”

    A footnote at this point leads us to Al-Britani’s A personal account of Alan Henning and the covenant of security (Amana) afforded to him by Muslims, in which we read the full version of al-Britani’s appeal. Following a detailed account of this “wonderful man called Alan Henning”, he writes:

    From your brother in Islam Abu Salaam al-Britani,

    I appeal and request in general to all of the members of ad-Dawlah l-Islamiyyah and specifically to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu ‘Ali al-Anbari to release Alan Henning as he had been given an Amana (security) from two sets of believing parties henceforth in the light of the Shari’ah he is considered a Mu’ahid and it is impermissible to harm him.

    The first Amana was given by me and the rest of the brothers travelling in the aid convoy. We reassured and informed Alan he will be safe and not harmed as he is with a group of Muslims who are going deliver aid to the people of Syria.

    The second Amana was given by indigenous people of ad-Dana they had sent several men to escort us once we entered Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. They assured us all we will be under their protection and escorted us to the town of ad-Dana.

    I ask you by Allah to honour these covenants as our Lord said in the Qur’an

    “O you who believe, honour your covenant (‘uqud)”

    [Surat Al-M?’idah, Ayah 1]

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said:

    “If anyone kills a ‘Mu’ahid’ ‘i.e. a person guaranteed protection’ without a just cause, Allah will prevent him from even smelling the fragrance of Paradise”.

    [Sahih Sunan an-Nasai No .4422].

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said:

    “On the Day of Judgment, I will be protesting against anyone who oppresses a ‘mu’ahid’ ‘i.e. a person guaranteed protection’, belittles him, charges him to do things beyond his ability, or extorts anything from him.

    [Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud, No. 2626]

    Any Muslims is entitled to give protection on their behalf, and that this type of protection can be given to the non-Muslim by any individual from the Muslims whether a male or a female, a nobleman or a poor, a righteous or an evil-doer.

    Ash-Shaybani said in as-Siyar, vol.1, pg.175:

    “The security covenants that a free Muslim man, whether virtuous or immoral, gives are binding to all the other Muslims because of the Hadith, “Muslims are equal in respect of blood. They are like one hand over against all those who are outside the community. The lowest of them is entitled to give protection on their behalf.” The meaning of “protection” is the security covenant whether it is temporary or permanent.

    Zaynab, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), granted protection to her husband Abu al-‘As bin Rabi’ah, and the Prophet (saw) approved of her protection.

    It was reported that Umm Hani said:

    “I granted asylum to two non-Muslim relatives of mine, and then Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) came upon them to kill them. So I told him, you are not going to kill them unless you kill me first! Then, I locked my door on them and went to the Messenger of Allah (saw) and told him about what happened.

    He (saw) said: “Ali is not allowed to kill them. We grant asylum and protection to the ones you have granted asylum and protection.

    Considering the powerful significance of Ali bin Abu Talib — born in the Kaaba, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet, distinguished at the Battle of Badr and subsequent battles, victor in his duel with Amru ibn Abd Wudd, fighter with the sword Zulfiqar of whom it was said, “There is no brave youth except Ali and there is no sword which renders service except Zulfiqar”, named “Lion of God” by the Prophet, fourth of the Rashidun Caliphs and also first Imam of the Shiites — this last is indeed a powerful citation.

    I don’t intend to draw any conclusions here, just to say that this reminds me of OBL’s reproof of Faysal Shahzad in his letter to Atiyya, which I discussed in my post, Key bin Laden para raises translation and other questions.

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