Guest Post: Speak the Languages, Know the Modes of Thought

Whatever the merits of the particular case of Luqman Abdullah — and I note that some respected analysts have their questions about that — it will be found to hold true in general that jihadist thought moves along Qur’anic pathways as surely as jihadist behavior parallels the behavior of Mohammed. A keen awareness of both will thus allow us to understand where the touching of familiar chords is most apt to stir the hearts of fellow believers, and hence strengthen the bonds of community and dedication between them.

When bin Laden retreated to the caves of Tora Bora, he was following in his Prophet’s footsteps, as Lawrence Wright masterfully showed in *The Looming Tower*. His spoken words often follow Qur’anic precedent in much the same way.Bin Laden’s address to the US just before the 2004 elections was a case in point for me. I read three translations (CNN, MEMRI, Al-Jazeera), none of which included the Qur’anic citation that headed the whole thing, and figured out what it must be from the repeated echoes in the text, notably “and just as you lay waste to our Nation, so shall we lay waste to yours”.

That put me very strongly in mind of Qur’an 2.194:

“For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.”

Okay, I could figure out that bin Laden had this passage in mind as I read the transcripts of his address — but it wasn’t until I saw ABC’s transcript that I could confirm that Bin laden did indeed reference that verse directly.

Which powerfully reinforces the idea that bin Laden views his jihad against the US in terms of measured reciprocity — a notion which should give us pause every time we take an action which we would not choose to have taken against us…

And how good are we at this kind of “reading in parallel” — both abroadand at home?

To return to the Detroit affair, as UCLA’s Jean Rosenfeld pointed out, the NYT report on the event contained the phrase “a faction of a group called the Ummah, meaning the Brotherhood” — a completely misleading

translation which might suggest ties with the Egyptian “Muslim Brotherhood” — when the plain meaning of “Ummah” is the transnational community of Muslims. The New York Times is our newspaper of record.

The Times, in turn, was likely paraphrasing the FBI’s own press release, which speaks of “part of a group which calls themselves Ummah (‘the brotherhood’)”. It’s notable, though, that there is no mention of the

“brotherhood” in the entire 45 pages of the actual FBI complaint, written by those more closely involved with the investigation.

What the complaint itself does say is that the name “Ummah” was used as a cover for the movement’s real name, the “Dar-ul-Islam Movement“.

Okay, that’s a beginning…

And still our transcriptions of jihadist messages all too often omit religious content. Indeed, when the Joint Forces Command asked Jim Lacey to edit abu Musab al-Suri’s massive Call to Global Islamic Resistance for publication in English translation, he (rightly) produced a condensed version, but (wrongly, IMO) “also removed most of the repetitive theological justifications undergirding” al-Suri’s project.

[ Zen  ed.  Note: copy released to general public as A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto by Jim Lacey]

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