Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is ill, and authorities are jittery. The mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, whose red-and-white knit cap and white beard give him an eerily Santa-esque appearance, Sheikh Omar has told his al Qaeda followers: “My Brothers … If they [the Americans] kill me, which they will certainly do — hold my funeral and send my corpse to my family, but do not let my blood be shed in vain. Rather, extract the most violent revenge, and remember your brother who spoke the truth and died for the will of God. … The Mujahid Sheikh Omar Abdel al Rahman. In the name of God the kind and merciful.”
Adding to nervousness among Western officials during this season are indications that jihadists plan to strike around Christmastime. British Home Secretary John Reid said last Sunday that the possibility of an attack in the next few weeks was “very high indeed,” and British authorities were aware of as many as thirty planned jihad attacks. “The terrorists,” Reid noted, “only have to get through once, as they did on July 7, for us to see the terrible carnage that it causes.”
A French official concurred: “All of the warning lights are red. … The threat is at its highest level. All [security] services are on tenterhooks, and it’s not just us [in France]. Work is under way everywhere, but nothing concrete is emerging.”
The threat is not confined to Europe. Indonesian officials fear that Noordin Muhammad Top, one of the masterminds of the Bali bombing of 2002, may be planning Christmas attacks in Indonesia.
This is not the first year jihadists have chosen the Christmas season to ratchet up their threats — which, even if they never materialize, are useful in themselves to “to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies” of Allah (Koran 8:60). Jihadists would want to sow this terror during one of the holiest seasons of the Christian year not just to maximize the potential for terror, but to emphasize that theirs is, as they see it, a holy struggle. The suitability of Christmastime for a jihad attack is an outgrowth of the idea that, in the words of Islamic preacher Husayn Mahfooth Shu’ayb, one of “the most critical manifestations of loyalty towards the infidels” is “celebrating their religious festivals.” Some Islamic clerics have even exhorted Muslims not to extend Christmas greetings to Christians, for that would be seen as an endorsement of their holiday, which they consider has no legitimacy; however, other clerics have rejected this view.
Nevertheless, the idea that Christian belief and observance is illegitimate is deeply rooted within Islam. The Islamic prophet Muhammad composed for the Muslims a brief prayer, known as the Fatiha (Opening), which became the cornerstone of Muslim prayer and the first chapter of the Koran. It begs Allah: “Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.”
Even this, which has a status among Muslims analogous to the centrality of the Lord’s Prayer for Christians, has a polemical edge. Traditionally Muslim divines have identified those who have earned Allah’s anger with Jews and those who have gone astray with Christians. The Koranic commentator Ibn Kathir (1301-1372) explains that “these two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should be aware of so that he avoids them.” The Koran also says that as Christians called Christ the Son of God, they thereby incurred Allah’s curse (9:30).
If the Christians’ having gone astray is epitomized by their calling Christ Son of God, and Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, then what better time to strike terror into the hearts of infidels? Here again, jihadist behavior becomes clear with reference to Islamic beliefs and assumptions. It is good that authorities in Britain and elsewhere are closely monitoring holiday terror threats. It will be even better when they begin to realize the importance of being thoroughly versed in the Islamic theology which motivates and guides jihadists — for only by knowing the enemy thoroughly can he ultimately be defeated.