The conversation below on the history of al Qaeda and roots of extremism took place a few days ago.
Q: How are we to explain the bloody violence currently engulfing every corner of our world, from London , to Lebanon , to Sharm al Sheikh, and of course Iraq ?
A: Let us leave Lebanon aside for the time being and tell the story of Iraq another time. The truth remains that Islamic extremism, otherwise loosely referred to as al Qaeda and is affiliates, is squarely to blame for all the death and destruction we are currently witnessing.
Q: Is it possible that a small number of fundamentalist young men are able to plan and execute a complicated military operation such as the one in Sharm al Sheikh, the Egyptian city of peace?
A: Of course they can! Don’t you remember how a number of our writers and analysts were suspicious of the evil potential of al Qaeda after the attacks on September, 11 2001 ? Don’t you recall the conspiracy theories that sprung up from every quarter on aviation and engineering? How can you forget when Arab research centers welcomed with open arms the French conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan? Of course, everyone fell silent when the leader of al Qaeda came out and proudly admitted, “My sons attacked Manhattan under my orders.”
Q: But what if bin Laden was not involved in the violence but wanted to take the credit?
A: My dear, what about to the bombing of the same World Trade Center in February 1993 when six people were killed and hundreds injured and which was masterminded by Sheikh Ramzi Yousef, a relative of Khaled Shiekh Mohammed, who planned the attacks in September 2001? These two incidents are part of a long list of violent operations: the explosions in the Ulyah neighborhood in Riyadh in 1995 that was carried out by Saudi fundamentalists, students of the Jordania preacher Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi, the simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salam and Nairobi that killed over 200, mostly civilians, the bombing of the Jewish synagogues in Djerba, Tunisia in April 2002 where 21 people were killed, and the horrific explosion in Bali, Indonesia where 200 innocent men and women lost their lives and 300 were injured.
What about the dozens of attacks by al Qaeda and its sympathizers inside Saudi Arabia, by the likes of Abdel Aziz al Muqrin and Saleh al Aufi, most of which were highly sophisticated, such as the assault on the US Consulate in Jeddah, or the attacks on the offices of oil companies in Khobar and Yanbu in 2004? Do we even need to mention the blood spilled in Iraq on a daily basis? Have we forgotten the bombings in Casablanca , Jakarta and the four explosions in Istabul?
Q: Could there be someone else responsible for all this carnage, other than al Qaeda?
A: Who do you have in mind?
Q: Perhaps hidden forces hell bent on destroying our world, instigating conflict between countries and peoples, and inflaming relations between the West and the Muslim World?
A: Your reply poses more questions that it answers. Let us, however, follow your line of argument and accuse the customary enemy: the Zionists. What evidence do you have to prove your claim? Believing in a Zionist conspiracy bestows great powers on this hidden mysterious force. How are we to resist this legendary force that is beyond our capabilities as Arabs and Muslims?
Q: What about the US and European security and intelligence services? They are known to have executed similar operations in the past?
A: You must excuse me for my lack of imagination. I prefer to examine the evidence in front of me to draw conclusions. I rely on concrete proof when I hold extremist Muslims responsible for the violence and terror around us, least of all the clear admission of its instigators. Jihad (holy struggle) and violence are the latest products of fundamentalist ideologies and the lack of civil alternatives.
I left my friend and recalled the bloody history of Islamic extremism which, many forget, predates the US military presence in Iraq , the liberation of Kuwait , the creation of Israel , or the conflict in Afghanistan . Let us consider the last 100 years of our Islamic history and draw a blind eye on the violent behavior of the Khawarij ( were members of an Islamic sect in late 7th and early 8th century AD, concentrated in today”s southern Iraq who believed in a form of radical fundamentalism, preaching uncompromising observance of the teachings of Qur”an in defiance of corrupt authorities.)
In more recent times, the Muslim Brotherhood, the spiritual fathers of contemporary fundamentalist Islam, has called for the return of the Islamic Caliphate wrongly believing, for a number of complicated reasons it would bestow legitimacy on politics. To achieve their goal, Brothers killed, attacked, and planted explosives after they founded a military wing. Members took part in a number of terrorist activities under the slogan of the founder, Hassan al Bana, “Death in the name of Allah is our dearest wish.”
During the 1960s, in Egypt , Sayyid Qutb revived the military wing of the movement in his attempt to achieve the concept of Hakimiyyah or divine governance whereby jihad is necessary to impose the rule of God on earth. Islamic Jihad followed in his footsteps, assassinating President Anwar al Sadat, in Octber 1981. Hani al Sibai, in his book on the organization, wrote about Ayman al Zawahiri pursued jihad and military struggle against the infidel regime after President Jamal Abdel Nasser had Qutb executed. All this occurred before US forces invaded Iraq and liberated Kuwait and prior to the civil war in Afghanistan or the peace process with Israel .
This uninterrupted extremism is not exclusive to Egypt . It has also manifested itself in Algeria , immediately after the colonizing French forces withdrew, with an Islamic government as its goal. Abbas Madani, the leader of the Islamic Salvation Front, in a conversation with an internet site, spoke of the hollow victory against colonialism as the Islamic trend was swept aside by nationalist forces. Radical Islamists such as Mustafa Bouyali, his student Ali bin el Haj, and Omar Arbaoui. The former lead the military revolution against the state and declared jihad against Algeria in 1982.
Islamists also rose against their rulers in Syria , Saudi Arabia , and in Yemen in 1948, through their ally Sayyid Abdullah al Wazir.
Islamic extremism will remain in our midst, sometimes behind the scenes, other times at the center of events. The fundamentalist movement is convinced us non-believers lead worthless lives, stuck in the dark ages, lacking divine inspiration. Our problem is due to a lack of a genuine Islamic system of government.
This is the true crisis which for too long we have failed to address, in our thought, our education system, and political reality. Our societies ought to create individuals liberated from the failings of the past and focused on the future. There are some who jump on the bandwagon and support extremism because of its popularity, others are duped into supporting fundamentalisms, and some are even genuinely convinced extremism is the answer to our region’s ailments.
Yet, the truth remains: The problem will remain unless we realize the bloody dream of an Islamic Caliphate is a fantasy. The road to recovery is fraught with dangers and setbacks but it is a road we need to embark on if we are to cure ourselves from this pervasive age-old illness that is extremism.