Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Blame it on the “Sheikh” - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

Is it possible to express complete and “cognitive” detachment from another ideology through advice and friendly reproach?

Or could you express your differences and distinguish yourself “intellectually” via a discourse based on decisive concepts and not by using friendly reproach and or through wishful thinking?

These questions came to mind as I read some advice given by Salafist Kuwaiti MP Walid al Tabtabai who addressed a letter to “Sheikh” Osama Bin Laden via the Kuwaiti ‘Al-Watan’ newspaper (28 September 2007), which was full of advice, admonition and reminders for “Sheikh” Osama. It is no secret that the Salafist MP had expressed his appreciation for Osama’s Jihadist experiences and his former services to the Islamic nation in Afghanistan: “And for the time, money and effort spent for the sake of God Almighty, we ask God not to let that effort go to waste”, said the MP who is famous for his triumphant parliamentary wars against music concerts, free mixing between genders in education and the Sufism of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs.

This letter/advice is the perfect example for the issue that we addressed in the introduction of this article.

The MP’s problem with Osama Bin Laden is that he had not consulted scholars or preachers in his actions and that “Al Qaeda’s actions have harmed Islamic endeavors and Islamic Daawa all over the world.”

More advice of this “kind” stated that Al Qaeda’s “absolute” war against the Iraqi police force led to the dominance of the Shia in the security forces, (the term he used was “one sectarian color”) and that threats by the leader of Al Qaeda towards the Americans will encourage Bush to prolong his stay in Iraq, according to the political analysis of the MP who represents the academic Salafist Movement in Kuwait.

As a reader, one concludes that the dispute with the leader of Al Qaeda, even if it is sometimes expressed in an aggressive tone, is a conflict over the evaluation of interests and not a conflict over principles or values and moral ethics. Rather, it is about the movement’s considerations and mere interests. If Al Qaeda had not damaged the “Islamic project” that these movements, trends and financial associations represent, no such letter or the like would have been published.

When speaking about the active Salafist MP, Walid al Tabtabai, it is good to remember, for example, that this MP was one of the most eager to defend his friend “Sheikh” Hamid al Ali. Al Ali had written an article on the day that Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed, the title of which praised the “martyred” Zarqawi. Al Ali had been accused of issuing a fatwa with the members of the Kuwaiti “Asood Aljazeera” [Peninsula Lions] in mind, an organization that follows the example of Al Qaeda. Members of this group had carried out terrorist operations in 2005. Its leader, Amer Khalif, was a dedicated follower of al Ali. Hamid al Ali was released from prison and at that time, al Tabtabai celebrated this and praised the Kuwaiti judiciary that acquitted the former Secretary General of the Kuwaiti Salafist Movement, Hamed al Ali.

Regardless of the legal bases for acquittal, which is a matter for lawyers and judges, al Ali is not innocent when it comes to extremist ideas. A quick view of his website demonstrates his ideology regarding solutions and methods that Muslims must follow; however we shall not further tackle this issue here; we should elaborate on explaining this so-called dispute and superficial moderation that some talk about and that some believe.

The idea, away from al Tabtabai and his words of advice, is that a lie is being spread amongst the people that there is a fundamental difference between some of the faces that we see and other faces that hide in the caves of Tora Bora. True, there is a clash of interests between Al Qaeda and those who take part in political or public activity in some Arab and Islamic states. This clash of interest is a result of the “embarrassment” caused by Al Qaeda to those other elements. Therefore, it is a conflict of reaping rather than sowing! Conflict appeared to the public only when it was clear that the results were harmful to the rest of Islamic society and all forms of “Islamic action” and was not a clash from the very beginning.

Such advice for the “brother” or “Sheikh” Osama Bin Laden is advice that matured over time and had waited until Al Qaeda’s activities caused destruction all over the world.

This is exactly the core of the controversy and where the differences lie. The problem with Al Qaeda is not that it had harmed “Islamic endeavors” or delayed Daawa efforts or disrupted Jihad in Iraq or Palestine etc as famous Islamist political figures have stated for a few years now. Rather, the problem has to do entirely with Al Qaeda and the structure of its intellectual discourse. Conflict lies in the “imaginary image” of Al Qaeda and its utopia that those who offer their advice also dream about but disagree with the methods to achieve this utopia. Therefore, we always see that despite all the advice given and the blame that is hurled towards it, the solid base of Al Qaeda is not affected as such advice addresses the surface of the problem but does not break it down.

The difference lies at the starting point; this way the difference would be less costly as it saves a lot of effort instead of committing to pledges and concessions over arguing about the Puritanism of Al Qaeda and its Jihadists and their “embarrassing” and constant criticism that alienates Muslims from Islam. The real confrontation with Al Qaeda will be through dismantling the discourse of religious intolerance and “illusions about political Islam,” (which is the title of an important book by Abdel Wahab Al Muadab) and not by stroking the monster’s back.

It is true to say that Al Qaeda and terrorism in the name of religion are despised and that both have been resolutely challenged by a coalition of Arab governments that was formed to combat it despite the suspicion of American intentions. Even Libya had participated in this confrontation because it felt the serious threat at least towards the throne of power. We will not talk about official concern for the fact that a fanatical religious culture has impeded modernization as this (modernization and development), in most cases, is not a concern for official Arab politics.

We are not talking about this type of direct war, this is indisputable, and it had become a presumption especially that the majority of Muslims reject terrorist acts that are practiced in the name of religion. At the end of the day, ordinary people dislike murder and destruction and we do not need polls or studies to confirm that. Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper published a story, 17 July 2005 that looked at a study conducted by a specialized bureau affiliated to the PEW [Research Center] in Washington. The study conducted in 16 countries of different parts of the world showed that the number of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden sympathizers had declined.

If we asked a different question to the Arab and Muslim publics it would not be about the actions of Al Qaeda since the majority is against it but rather it would be whether they believe that the Islamic state exists now and whether they believe that the valid “religious” model exists and if not do they wish that it did?

Things look bad when we start talking about dismantling the structure of religious intolerance. This structure is based upon a combination of official Arab paranoia of any self-criticism, history, heritage and the prevailing mentality since such criticism confuses things, disturbs the tranquility and misuses the absence of consciousness of those who themselves fiercely fight change even though this public is harmed by the damage of intolerance and inactivity! It is a perplexing situation and makes one realize that the issue is greater than any temporary words of advice or oratory anesthetic that is injected here or there but the impact of which disappears quickly.

Change begins amongst circles that are far wider than the circle of “Al Qaeda”, which is small.

Change begins amongst the members of Al Qaeda.

Change begins from the bases upon which Al Qaeda was established. These are wide-ranging and prominent for those who want to see them and to pay the price for that. Vision, ultimately, is a responsibility.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

More Posts