Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Is the Al Qaeda decade over? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A decade is drawing to a close later this month; a decade that began with the infamous September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. This was a decade of fire, a decade of fear and anxiety, explosions and “clash of civilizations.”

This decade saw a Taliban emirate in Afghanistan being overthrown, and the Saddam Hussein regime being pulled down, with the Iraqi leader fleeing and then being found unshaven cowering in a hole in the ground. He was then brought to trial and executed on Eid al-Adha.

We have seen hundreds being pursued for their alleged allegiance to Al Qaeda, with dozens of others being killed. We have seen terrorists blowing themselves up in the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina, Khobar, Al Jawf, Al-Qassim, and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia; whilst the streets of Casablanca in Morocco were also not spared. We have seen the blood flowing through our streets and the fire of terrorism pass across the Yemeni mountains and valleys. We have seen the Euphrates and Tigris rivers red with blood, hotels in Amman blown up, as well as trains in London and Madrid – and even tourists on holiday in Bali – were targeted.

Reviews and analysis were made and put forward, and Islamists pelted one another with competing views and blame as to why we are reaping this bitter harvest, with Muslim youth being transformed into a generation of killers travelling everywhere and targeting everything.

Finally Osama Bin Laden, the icon of Al Qaeda – or Islamist violence in general – was killed after over a decade of being pursued, with his life expiring in a palatial village close to the Pakistani capital.

The details are too numerous to recount, and much has been said about the causes of this terrible phenomenon of religious violence that has been seen throughout this decade. We have heard cultural, political, and social reasons; we have even seen this blamed on the failure of the modern nation-state. This is not to mention clear delusion and misinformation, as well as ignorant gossip.

As for the rise of these youth who practice religious violence, there are amongst us those who blame this on evil international conspiracies being carried out by the US and Zionism under the pretext of justifying their invasion of the Islamic world.

Whilst some of us said: no, the ruling regimes are solely responsible for the rise of this phenomenon of religious terrorism, due to their corruption, attachment to power, monopolization of the political arena, and stifling of media freedoms and “civil” society.

Whilst others said: no, the reason for the rise of this model of violence and terrorism is that we, as a “culture”, are infected with an incurable disease with regards to the concept of tolerance and reconciliation and the idea of equal citizenship for all, as well as due to the fact that we continue to carry within us the seed of the Islamic “caliphate” state, and have yet to digest the idea of the modern nation-state. This perhaps explains the initial expressions of joy in our region regarding the deeds carried out by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in America and elsewhere, with many in our region initially viewing this as being a promising sign with regards to the return of “faith” to our Arab youth. Here I recall the famous quote made by well-known online [Islamist] figure Louis Attiya Allah who saluted the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and would begin his articles “in the name of the God of the 19” in a reference to the youth who carried out this horrible terrorist attack.

However some of us have a completely opposing view to this…

The delight [in our region regarding this attack] has subsided; although I do not say that it has completely disappeared, being replaced by ideas. The first seeds of change during this decade were not sown in 2011, but rather long before, with the scene and language changing, various issues and agendas becoming inter-connected and inter-related, and the Middle East looking at the situation with fresh eyes.

This is the year of the so-called “Arab Spring”, and so Al Qaeda can go to hell!

Today we are the children of the “Arab Spring”, we are the supporters of democracy, freedom, equality, and the rights of modern Arab citizens. Do you not see how the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Syrians revolted for freedom and the modern civil state? Where are Osama Bin Laden, [Ayman] al-Zawahiri, [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, [Yusuf] al-Ayiri, [Abdel Aziz] al-Muqrin and others?

This is what many Arab writers cheered, even some western writers, including those that said that the Arabs and the Muslims, or at least some of them, have now left the column of sympathizing with calls for religious violence.

Even senior figures within the intelligence and security community in the West now appear “realistic” in their talk about Al Qaeda and other groups of religious violence. Just a few days ago Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former Director General [DG] of Britain’s MI5 revealed that Britain and the US are studying ways of opening dialogue with the Al Qaeda organization with the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement at the end of the line. The BBC quoted Baroness Manningham-Buller, who was DG of MI5 from October 2002 till April 2007, as saying that the 9/11 attacks were “a crime and not an act of war” adding that military and security responses to terrorism can only go so far and that eventually “you have to reach a political settlement.”

This brings us to Abdul Hakim Belhadj AKA Sheikh Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, one of the symbols of the jihadist movement in the world of Arab fundamentalism, entering Tripoli as a victorious conqueror, and leader the Libyan rebels who are calling for freedom against the regime of Green Book author, Muammar Gaddafi. I am inclined to believe him when he says that he does not share the ideology of the Al Qaeda organization, and that we was only brought together with al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden and their followers in Afghanistan by circumstance, and that he never believed in their strategic plans or their Islamic jurisprudential views. In any case, Belhadj was detained by intelligence agents on more than one occasion; he was interrogated and tortured by CIA officers in Thailand, before being surrendered to the Gaddafi regime where he was imprisoned in the infamous Abu Salim jail. However Belhadj’s dialogue and communication with prominent Libyan Islamist intellectual Sheikh Ali al-Salabi [also being held in Abu Salim jail] led to him confirming that he follows a different ideology than that of Al Qaeda, which he put forward in his book “Corrective Studies”, which received praise from famous Islamic symbols and figures like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. This book also led Gaddafi – via his son Saif al-Islam – to seek to open a new page with Belhadj [and his Libyan Islamic Fighting Group]. All of the above characterizes Belhadj’s experience, and he is today one of the most prominent Libyan rebel military leader. This led to Belhadj, during an interview with France 24, even thanking Paris for its “historic position” with regards to the military intervention in Libya, with the participation of NATO and some other Arab states.

Man responds and reacts to the changes that take place around him; no man is an island, unconnected to the surrounding world, and unaffected by change. So what if such changes are akin to an earthquake, like the “Arab Spring?”

Yes, Belhadj has the right to change [in reaction to the Arab Spring]. Whilst those who were previously communists, or liberals, also have the right to change their political inclinations, Sunnis have the right to become Shiites, not to mention others [in the Arab world] changing in an equally radical or dramatic manner.

The story [of the Arab Spring] is not told through individual examples, or even dozens or hundreds who have the courage to come out and demand change and transformation, for such arguments would be null and void; rather this change has been all-encompassing.

However extremely dangerous questions remain to be answered:

Is it true that the Arab revolutions – or the so-called “Arab Spring” – have cooled the fire of religious extremism, which is the mother of religious terrorism?

Have we truly become lovers of freedom, democracy, and equal citizenship, regardless of religious, ethnic, or regional identity?

Will we now advocate the civil or religious state?

Have we truly cured ourselves of our love of fundamentalism, following the fall of the Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali regimes?

Here I am not talking about Al Qaeda operations or regimes of religious violence in their classic sense, for such fundamentalism will continue after – and perhaps even because of – the “Arab Spring”. This has been confirmed by the scenes that we are seeing today in Zanjibar and Abyan in Yemen, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across the Sahara in North Africa. Rather, I am talking about the “intensification” of political and culture fundamentalism, and this includes the impeding of issues such as the empowerment of women, support for the arts, personal freedoms, and the freedom of academic research with regards to history, sectarianism, and Islamic jurisprudence, in addition to other features of free and modern society.

Will we see any development in these areas following the “Arab Spring”, will we remain as we were [under the autocratic Arab regimes] or fall even further behind the rest of the world?

Yes, the collapse of certain political regimes and the fall of corrupt rulers and dictators – and those surrounding them – has been astounding, but what would be greater is for the Arab and Muslim intellect to develop and overcome its defects. This is a task that is beyond the sermonizers in the Arab streets and squares, no matter how high they raise their voices! Or perhaps I am just being overly-pessimistic!