In the audio recording by Sheikh Ibrahim al Rubaish, a wanted Saudi member of Al Qaeda thought to be in Yemen, in which he commented on the failed assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed Bin Naif, al Rubaish spoke highly of the operation, and explained the motives behind it and attacked the Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs and the head of the war on terrorism, Prince Mohammed Bin Naif.
What was most significant and new about his speech was his reference to those who condemned the attack such as Saudi preachers and religious figures and journalists, accusing them of lying and corrupting “jihad”. He concluded his speech by saying that those who managed to reach Prince Mohammed, the head of the war on terrorism, are capable of reaching whoever criticizes “Al Qaeda” so they should take heed. The speech was an explicit threat to frighten whoever dares criticize the organisation.
There is no need to further comment on the image of journalists and authors who are devils in the eyes of most fundamentalists and are often considered agents of the West or of their own ruling regimes rather than people with their own opinions or supporters of freedom. They are considered tools against virtue and against the people of the truth – i.e. the fundamentalist currents of course.
There is nothing new here then and there is nothing strange about Al Qaeda’s attacks on the media. But what is surprising is al Rubaish’s reference to scholars, sheikhs, and preachers. If violent religious groups have reached a stage whereby they are eliminating religious figures who oppose them then this means we are entering a dangerous stage of self-destruction, as they are seeking to unilaterally represent and monopolize the voice of religion. Whilst people of other trends and different intellectual fields do not compete with Al Qaeda or any other fundamentalist movements for the religious seat because they believe that religion is for God, not for the people, all that remains is to remove those who sit on the religious seats and distort the discourse and the one voice.
This does not mean that all of those condemning terrorist ideology in Saudi Arabia are convincing. It is true that some of their voices are loud but it is one thing to be loud and another to be convincing. In fact, the more noise there is, the more it reveals confusion and a methodical defect. We are yet to see a real critical approach towards the “structure” of terrorist discourse rather than towards its external appearance. We have only seen attacks against whoever attempts to contravene the media’s discourse.
Talking about the major methodical defect in criticizing the discourse of religious terrorism, we should note that the condemnation of religious violence expressed by sheikhs has harmed the terrorist propaganda and this would explain [fundamentalist] anger towards such comments.
Here we recall a basic idea that distinguishes the conduct of violent religious groups; namely, the internal eliminations being carried out before or even perhaps at the same time as focusing on the external. In this context, external means external to the fundamentalist field. What usually happens is that violent religious groups carry out overwhelming operations against a regime, or assassinate public figures, and then intellectuals rush to condemn the group, and sheikhs disapprove of the groups’ religious pretexts and clear religion of their claims and respond to them using jurist arguments.
This is what happened with Syrian Sheikh Mohamed Saeed Ramadhan al Bouti in his book on Jihad and with Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi and Saudi sheikhs who wrote about the jurisprudence of obeying rulers and warned against sedition and consolidating the principle of the [religious] group, particularly during the increase of Islamist groups following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the activity of Saudi currents to mobilize society in support of fundamentalist revolutionary discourse. Leaders in the religious field such as the late Abdulaziz Bin Baaz or the late renowned jurist Mohamed Bin Othaimeen exerted great effort in this regard. There is also the biography of the first Al Qaeda chief Yousef al Ayiri that told of how he used to cry and would be hurt when “scholars” did not respond [positively] to his ideas on how to establish a new jihadist movement. However, this crying, which actually meant reproach and bitterness towards those sheikhs who, according to Al Qaeda members, had “let him down”, turned into hostility and violence throughout the stages that followed al Ayiri’s death. Now, in Ibrahim al Rubaish’s recording, the bitterness and hostility has reached the degree of murder threats.
Let us go further back and recall how Juhayman al Otaibi, the leader of the [Saudi] insurgents back in 1979, used to condemn and mock Saudi scholars in his messages. Later on in the 1990s, the modern Jihadist Salafist theorist, the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi emerged and did not hesitate to tarnish religious scholars, Saudi clerics in particular. This is in addition to the messages of the Saudi Al Qaeda theorists in ‘Sawt al Jihad’ magazine.
This is happening in Saudi Arabia but also in other countries. There was the killing of Sheikh Muhammad al Dhahabi at the hands of Shukri Mustafa’s group in Egypt, and in some cases figures of the movement themselves were eliminated if they tried to correct themselves, decrease the excessive violence of the religious group, or revise their own conduct. This was the case with Sheikh Muhammed Said and his companion Abdul Razzaq Rajjam in 1994 in Algeria, both of whom were assassinated by the Islamist movement [FIS] because of their affiliations to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).
The people who pose the biggest threat to fundamentalist discourse are those who share the same language and vocabulary – meaning those who compete with them for the same seat and should be frightened and removed instantly. This is not a characteristic of the “violent” religious groups but one of all fundamentalist groups and currents from one end of the spectrum to the other, even those that outwardly seem to be against violence. Perhaps one of best examples in this regard is the relationship between Sheikh Hassan al Banna and Imam Yahya Hamid ed-Din [the Imam of Yemen]. Imam Yahya represented the Islamic ruling regime based on the Zaidi formula – one of the strictest systems historically speaking in dealing with issues of justice. Nevertheless, Sheikh al Banna was not satisfied with this approach because [he believed] that the Muslim Brotherhood alone represented real Islam, so he wanted the revolution [to take place in Yemen]. Some say that al Banna himself was behind the assassination of Imam Yahya. When the 1948 movement revolutionaries sensed that “Imam Yahya was about to reveal their identities and take action against them, they decided to assassinate him. The time had come; a car belonging to al Fudhail al Wartalani Company that was established in Yemen at the time, with five armed militants inside, blocked Imam Yahya’s convoy in the suburbs of Sanaa and opened fire on the Imam who received five deadly gunshots. His Prime Minister Abdullah al Amri, the Imam’s servant and his two sons were also killed when they attempted to confront the rebels on their way to the palace. Three of the Imam’s sons: al Qasem, Ali and Islami were detained on 17 February, 1948. Al Banna in Cairo was immediately informed, and the al Ikhwan [MB-affiliated] newspaper published news of the assassination.” Al Wartalani was the personal envoy of Hassan al Banna who masterminded Yemen’s revolution.
The new Imam Abdullah Bin al Wazir, who was in power for a short period, told the Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper that he was eager to see the General Guide Hassan al Banna and wanted to see him with his own eyes. Al Banna was prepared to travel to Yemen, but the Egyptian government instructed Egypt Air to prevent him from travelling (see Dr. Hamada Husni’s report for Egyptian al-Youm al-Sabaa newspaper, 28 Oct 2008).
When we talk about the risk of those competing for the same religious seat, we are referring to the conduct of a ruler and repeated behaviour of revolutionary fundamentalist groups seeking to monopolize the scene and the voice of religion. This also happened to Sunni and Shia fundamentalists as we know from the story of Khomeini with Ayatollah Shariatmadari, and later on with Ayatollah Montazeri, both of whom were removed [from their positions].
Al Qaeda’s comments from Yemen and threats against Saudi scholars who criticize the movement are continuation of this approach known to “all” revolutionary fundamentalists. The Saudi author Abdullah Bin Bejad has expressed this wonderfully calling it “risk by proximity.”
Some may then ask why religious scholars are not prevented from criticizing violent religious groups to support and protect themselves. This seems reasonable on the surface but further inspection would reveal that practically, these revolutionary religious groups do not care whether or not their opponent sheikhs counter “foreign” criticism, as their battle with them is different and requires a unique approach.
In “principle” concealing criticism against a party or an individual based on the pretext of sanctity of the job can be considered destruction of the mind’s critical job. Finally, when taken in its full context, criticising from the beginning the “structure” of a fundamentalist discourse that rules over everybody is better and more beneficial than being preoccupied with subdivisions.
Our behaviour is interestingly and amazingly similar [to that of the past] and we feel like we are watching a play being repeated, only without a sense of joy and intellectual or emotional benefit.