[ by Charles Cameron — first Twitter as combat zone, then black banners again, Somalia, Mahdism, Babism, AQ, Iraq, Libya, Egypt ]
Just for the record.
You probably already knew ISAF has been tweeting back at the Islamic Emirate, and you can follow both at @ABalkhi and @ISAFmedia…
Well, @HSMPress just joined the fray — that’s al-Shabaab:
Notice the flag?
It’s that black banner again.
There has been some controversy over whether or not there was an element of support for AQ in Libya, and at the recent Tahrir Square demonstrations, and black banners have featured heavily in the discussions.
Let’s get our black banners straight. First, Libya.
This was the black flag allegedly flown in Libya after the ouster of Col. Gadhafi. It was published as illustrated here by the Daily Telegraph, under the headline “Libya: Al Qaeda flag flown above Benghazi courthouse” and with the commentary ” The black flag of Al Qaeda has been spotted flying over a public building in Libya, raising concerns that the country could lurch towards Muslim extremism.”
Note the resemblance to the logo al-Shabaab is using.
Juan Cole pooh-poohed the idea that this was an AQ flag, calling it a “silly urban legend going around” and quoting a Libyan scholar-friend on the point:
I looked up the mentioned flag, it appears to be a black flag with the shahada [Muslim profession of faith] in it. A black flag goes back all the way to the prophet, and the addition of the shahada makes it a Jihadist flag. There have been Jihadists in Libya from day one, and they fought against Qaddafi. But is Al-Qaeda, as in the global network taking over? No.
Cole’s friend’s comments are worth reading in full: they provide context on the various factions and their relative strengths, and Cole sums it all up in terms of the specific issue of AQ and Benghazi thus:
What this informed observer is saying is that a miniscule group of jihadists put up that flag, in the chaos of the post-revolutionary period, but that they are highly unrepresentative of politics in Benghazi.
Fair enough. But that wasn’t just a black flag with the Shahada, was it?
When Cole’s friend rites “A black flag goes back all the way to the prophet, and the addition of the shahada makes it a Jihadist flag,” Cole comments “Moreover, the black flag as a symbol is not a monopoly of al-Qaeda. Revolutionaries raised a black flag in the medieval Abbasid Revolution of 750 AD.”
Indeed. They may also have produced the ahadith about the army with black banners from Khorasan, which give such flags a distinctively Mahdist application – ahadith which Ali Soufan tells us have been used extensively in AQ recruitment.
So there are black banners and black banners. There was “Khalifa Abdullah’s great black banner, black-lettered with text from the Koran and the Mahdi’s sayings” mentioned in Burleigh‘s account of the Battle of Omdurman – and a little earlier, the Bab had instructed his followers to “gather under the black standard which was being raised in Khurasan” according to Munirih Khanum‘s Memoirs and Letters.
Aaron Zelin has a post at The Wasat which allows for a quick comparison between various black flags and banners. Here’s the flag that Aaron identifies as that of the Islamic State of Iraq:
That’s an AQ-related flag, and it distinctly features what is believed to be the seal of Muhammad:
So I wouldn’t be so sure that “No, that wasn’t an al-Qaeda Flag over Benghazi” Dr. Cole.
What about Egypt?
In another piece — this one entitled “Did the Muslim Brotherhood Threaten to Kill “All Jews”?” — Dr. Cole wrote:
The Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties in Egypt (including the Salafis and the Gama’a al-Islamiya) held a rally at al-Husayn Square in Cairo last Friday to which a few thousand people came. The big rally was at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and was dominated by secular forces.
Cole is entirely right in rebutting a YNet correspondent’s claim that “a Koran quote vowing that ‘one day we shall kill all the Jews’ was uttered” at the al-Husayn site:
Beck, who clearly does not know what he is talking about, said that the crowd repeatedly quoted a verse in the Qur’an that spoke of killing all Jews. There is no such verse in the Islamic holy book. The Jewish revelation from God to Abraham and Moses is retold in the Qur’an, which has positive stories of the Children of Israel. The castigation of the Children of Israel in the Qur’an is of the same sort you see in the Hebrew Bible, and often put in the mouth of Moses or another Jewish prophet.
Indeed, a commenter on the YNet article from Quebec went further:
Eldad Beck wrote: “Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that ‘one day we shall kill all the Jews’ was uttered at the site”.
There is NO such verse in the Qur’an. In fact, the Qur’an says this:
“Those who believe in the Qur’an, those who follow the Torah and the Sabians and Christians–anyone who believes in G-d and the Last Day and who does righteous deeds need not be in fear and will not grieve.” (5:69)
There were indeed hotheads in the crowd who yelled that they would “fight the Jews (i.e., Israelis)”. If Mr. Beck spoke Arabic fluently, he would not have mistaken the shouted word “mutaqalah” (to fight, combat, overcome) with the word “qatala” (to kill). In addition, he would know that in Palestinian colloquial Arabic “al-yahud” (the Jews) usuallhy has the limited meaning of “the Israelis”.
Sadly the errors (or willful misrepresentations) of Beck have been repeated in dozens if not hundreds of paper and electronic media.
If he made an innocent error, he should apologize and set the record straight.
If not, let him stand before the Mercy Seat of Ha-Shem and explain why he violated the commandment given to Moses: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
The thing is — getting back to our black banners with Shahada and distinctive seal of Muhammad — there were in fact demonstrations in Tahrir Square just a week earlier, at which those pesky black flags were in evidence:
Tawfiq Al-Afni (On stage): ”Sheikh Osama bin Laden is a man who waged Jihad for the sake of Allah, and we pray that Allah will unite us with him and the martyrs in Paradise. My brothers, in Islam, we say with great pride that we adhere to the Jihad for the sake of Allah…”
Crowd: “Allah Akbar.”
Tawfiq Al-Afni: “We are not waging Jihad for worldly benefits or for positions. By Allah, we have only come to pledge our allegiance to Islam. We wage Jihad for the sake of Allah and the Koran. […]
“We respond to Your call. Please turn our skulls into a ladder for your glory.”
Crowd: “We respond to Your call. Please turn our skulls into a ladder for your glory.”
Black banner, Shahada, seal of Muhammad, Tahrir Square.
So it’s important that we should know these things (oh, and much more besides):
- The black banners are in Tahrir and Somalia, as they have been in Mahdist movements stretching back to the Abbasids.
- Black banners featuring the seal of Muhammad appear to have a connection with AQ, often indicative of sympathetic support, if not active participation.
- That such voices exist in Egypt should not make us think that they represent a majority, nor indeed that they are the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather that they are among the voices raised in a tumultous situation.
- There are many secular voices raised in Tahrir, and also Islamist voices with a willingness to take the path of politics and compromise.
- We should remember that there are voices in Tahrir of both terror and reconciliation. We should not forget the voices of those Muslims who protected Coptic churches, nor of the Copts who protected Muslims while they bowed their heads in prayer…
- And no-one, no-one left or right should forget that the Egyptian army, too, has a voice, and a megaphone, and much more besides.