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Terrorism: A Product of the Iraq War? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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What caught my attention recently was the leaked National Intelligence Estimate attributed to American Intelligence. In a nutshell, it said that American intervention in Iraq has caused fundamentalist terrorism to double and has not curtailed this phenomenon. It stated that there is a ‘cancerous spread’ of radical terrorist thought, which surpasses what is managed by Bin Laden himself.

This report, published by The New York Times last Saturday, stated that some of the estimated results confirm the outcome that had been predicated by the National Intelligence Council last January, 2003, which is: any war in Iraq will increase and strengthen political Islam worldwide.

Clearly, this report focuses on only one dimension of the war in Iraq, namely, fighting terrorism, but as we have been informed by the news, there are numerous other compelling dimensions, such as: the new Middle East, the roadmap for peace, and obliterating of the ‘apostate’ groups – according to American terminology. Regardless, the intention is not to come up with a comprehensive evaluation of American interference in Iraq, both internally and externally, rather the emphasis lies on the relationship between the strengths and weaknesses of radical terrorism, and the extent of it, in light of the Iraq War.

What is unquestionable is that the Iraqi arena, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship regime and after neighboring Syria and Iran realized the intrinsic danger that is heading towards them, add to that the notion of the ‘holy war’ that the group has adopted of late, Iraq became appealing ground. With the intensification of militant fundamentalist zeal and its willingness to fight and since the fall of the Taliban regime, the Iraqi stage has been attracting all kinds of fundamentalists that multiply and hinder the path of solution.

The question is: is the presence of ‘infidel’ American powers the sole reason for Al Qaeda’s existence? In my opinion, the answer is complex and comprises of various aspects. Al Qaeda and all other militant-inclined fundamentalist currents took ‘advantage’ of the ‘classical example’ of the presence of a forthright ‘Crusader attack’ on Muslim land. Iraq has been ravaged to the bone, and who in the Muslim audience can dispute this? Even Shaaban Abdul Rahim had something to say about America’s ‘monstrosity’!

Thus, the situation is perfect to invest in as the first attraction is that Al Qaeda’s enemy in Iraq is the Great Satan itself.

The second attraction comes from the expression the ‘Land of the Greats’, the land of Al Rasheed, Al Mamoun, Al Mutasim, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal and Abu Hanifa … Will it become a possession of American agents or ‘disbelievers’ or even secular Sunnis? This is where the circle of attraction tightens, however still remains wide since many fall for the Al Qaeda propaganda and these are those who have been drugged by glorious history that requires its example to be followed.

The third attraction is the emphasis on Iraq’s contiguity with the countries of the Levant, that is, its affiliation to pillaged Palestine, Jerusalem, and Al Aqsa Mosque, this time just a stone’s throw away. We complete the mission in Iraq then descend onto Palestine, stealthily regaining the example of Noureddine Zenki and his student Salahaddin (Zenki whom Al Zarqawi greatly admired and revered).

Yet all of these attracting elements of the Iraqi model that make this ‘land of the greats’ an enticing stage for zealous youngsters from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Egypt, from all over the Muslim world, and even from the non-Muslim world in the case of Muslim expatriates do not constitute the catalyst for radical currents. The factor of utmost importance, the cause of all causes for any fundamentalist current, even the Shia amongst them, is the realization of fundamentalism by applying it to government, politics and the management of everyday life in general – that is the intention that is neither concealed nor kept secret.

Whenever debate arises between Islamists on fighting for the cause, and the need to focus on other missions such as preaching, education and the purifying and rearing of a new generation of believers, in such cases of discord, the heart of the matter is never reached. We are reminded of the long and extensive debate embarked upon by one of the most prominent Saudi revivalists in the early 1990s. Attacked as a result by “Jihadists” in Jeddah and Mecca, Dr. Safar al Hawali delivered the final response to the Emir and godfather of the Afghan cause, the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam who took it upon himself to shoulder this cause. With his compelling oratory manner, I have heard him speak on a number of occasions in Riyadh. I listened closely to his astonishing speech about the generosity of the Afghans and so forth.

The key point of friction between Al Hawali and Azzam was when the latter published his book entitled ‘The Defense of Muslims Lands: the First Obligation after Iman,’ a self-explanatory title. However, Al Hawali rejected this concept deeming it a fervent exaggeration, claiming that the most important duty for leaders is to spread [Islamic] monotheism and its concepts. He said, “The matter is not about defending lands or nations but rather spreading the notion of monotheism.”

Those aware of the reactionary, revivalist and missionary scene in Saudi know that Al Hawali’s criticism of the youth’s flock to Afghanistan was for fear of ‘emptying’ the missionary paradigm through which the Islamic currents operated in Saudi. It is known that this reactionary scene was split between various currents of which the weakest and least prevalent was the Jihadist stream. As one insider who remembers this era well tells me, “there was a well-known consensus that was never announced, and that was that the missionary groups’ sessions were well-known for their distancing from political issues and disputes. As for the youth who have no interest in gaining knowledge and spreading the doctrine, they are the ones that join the Jihadist ranks, whereas the normal intelligent youth are split between aspiring scholars and missionaries; or in other words: between theory and practice.”

Al Hawali’s stance was met with criticism; the most important of which, in my opinion, came from the prominent theoretical symbol of radical militant groups, Abdel Qadir Abdulaziz, whose real name is Sayyed Imam Abdul Aziz. He is an Egyptian fundamentalist who specialized in theoretical scholarly observation for Jihadist groups, who became renowned after the publishing of his famous book, ‘Al Omda Fi Adaad al Ida’. He responded to al Hawali saying, “It is our duty, as Muslims, to control the land … and that cannot be achieved unless we banish the nations and rulers of infidels and raise Islamic rulers to establish their states on earth.” Here we see how he asserts his aim as he defends the legitimacy of defending the land, which is: to control the land by banishing disbelievers and their states. By ‘disbelievers’, he means those who follow the laws of positivism or modern state laws, as he writes in his last journal. He also delivered a speech on unity and Jihad, following the Jordanian fundamentalist Abu Mohamed Al Maqdesi on October 11th, 2001, a day before he was jailed by the political security forces in Yemen, his last station before he was handed over to Egypt on February 28th, 2004.

In his last speech, Abdel Qadir said: The laws of positivism are a new religion and whosoever legitimizes or acts upon them is a disbeliever”, in addition to, “Democracy is a new religion, whosoever legitimizes or applies it is a disbeliever.” This is the final aim of a fundamentalist state that rejects the concepts of nation and citizenship. It is also what the theorists of Al Qaeda in Iraq have said, such as the organization’s mufti and media representative Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and the Jordanian Abu Anas al Shami (who was killed during an American raid in Baghdad in September 2004) who renounced the term ‘patriotic’ resistance, in a written report dated June 2004, because it brings together two contradictory notions: Islam and nationalism.

The general idea therefore is that the American intelligence report is correct in saying that the Iraqi war has increased terrorism and helped it to gain momentum, however readers should not be quick to say, ‘I told you so’ and that terrorism is a reaction and nothing more to this American occupation.

Beware because this is not reality, and although that might superficially be the case; the true disease is what lies in the depths and not what scratches the surface. Can we start to look a little deeper?

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.

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