In his latest audio released by as-sahab (media arm of al Qaeda), the organization’s Zaeem (supreme chief) elaborates on the difference between the pure Jihadists and those Islamists who lost their way and determination to continue the fight in the path of the founding fathers, which he calls the "Salaf of Islam." This complex speech (by Jihadist standards) can be only understood — and thus explained to decision-makers and the public if the listener-analyst is able to grasp the multi-layered world of Jihadism.
But this task has been made unnecessarily difficult for most citizens and certainly impossible to those who in the US bureaucracy are supposed to do the job. By disseminating the so-called "Lexicon", the Bush administration, bureaucrats are prohibited from using the words Jihad, Jihadism, Caliphate, Salafism, Islamism and the like when writing about and analyzing matters related to terrorism. This ridiculous proposition is now put to test when al Qaeda leaders — and other Jihadist high profile figures broadcast their statements.
Just imagine the poor analysts at the various counter-terrorism centers who chose to apply the new directives to the bin Laden letter. How can these CT bureaucrats process Bin Laden’s words which they can’t use or touch "when dealing with Terrorism"? One can imagine them staring at these "forbidden words" attempting to replace them with "Lexiconic" terms. So how will they handle such texts? Some are suggesting that the end product of these "Lexiconic" analysis will not only be absurd, but will further confuse the consumers of the intelligence assessment, from the defense and national security sectors up to the highest congressional leaders and of course, the President.
We are not constrained by the “Lexicon”. Let’s dismiss it for the tragicomedy it is. So in real terms, how shall we analyze the latest Bin Laden audio?
The number one of al Qaeda addressed what he perceives as the Umma that is — in Arabic — the global community of Muslims. Bin Laden’s audio message was specifically aimed at those in the Umma whofollow his ideology of Salafi Jihadism, that is the return to the ways of the founders of the Caliphate. Bin Laden wishes the entire Umma to follow the struggle of those Jihadists who haven’t diverted from the historical line of the successive Khilafa from the first four Wise Caliphs, the Rashidun, to the Umeyads, Abbassids and the Ottoman.
This attitude has been consistent with all Bin Laden’s speeches since 1996. He hasn’t shaken his belief in the final reconstitution of the Islamic Empire since he rose to the leadership of al Qaeda, and even years before. So the bottom line of this speech is to lecture Muslims on who is in line with Jihad and who isn’t. He dissects the various post Ottoman struggles, including the rise of the "Zionist entity", the Arab modern states and elevates the "best Jihadists" to the zenith and curses the apostate Muslim regimes. In between, he mildly criticizes those Islamists who believe in the final caliphate but who have, in his mind "sold out" to the rulers and the infidels.
The opening of his statement cannot avoid the vision of a US President and other leaders attending the 60th birthday of Israel. Jihadism, as an ideology, cannot accept the principle that a Jewish entity can be established in Palestine, on any part of the Holy Land. Their ideology cannot accept the existence of any Kafir state (infidel country) within the confines of the Caliphate. Thus, to al Qaeda’s Jihadists, it is not about land but about Kufr ("infidelism"). In his world view, so-called humanitarian values are empty; international law – whenever it conflicts with their ideology — is rejected.
Bin Laden’s historical reading is that Nassara (Christians) and Yahuud (Jews) have taken a "Muslim" land for more than eighty years. And the story is who among Muslims fought back as an "Islamic" force and who among them wavered, or collaborated with the salibyeen (Crusaders). Bin Laden, as I argued in my two post 9/11 books, Future Jihad and the War of Ideas, is the product of an ideology that sees direct link between the past and the present, between the old state-Jihad and his contemporary Jihadism. He certainly doesn’t mean Yoga when he uses the J-word.
Hence, in his new audiotape he regurgitates the classical Salafi tale of the Ottoman collapse. After the fall of the Turkish Sultanate the world turns bleak. The New Crusaders shows up; they appoint "agents;" Arab Muslim monarchs -including Sheriff Hussein and even Abdel Aziz Bin Saud- is irresponsible. In addition, "British agents" control Arab Armies; the "Jews" control Palestine; infidel wolves devour Muslim sheep, and on and on. Bin Laden then mentions that finally Islamist groups are formed in the region and they were supposed to begin the struggle for the Caliphate, or al Jihaad fi sabeel Allah. He means the Muslim Brotherhood and the classical Wahabis. "They sought Jihad but weren’t successful." Many left that Jihad later and befriended the Muslim "rulers" themselves friends of the infidels. For 90 years they went from failure to failure, from Indonesia to Mauritania, he said.
"Aah, if salah al Deen (Saladin) was here," laments Usama. "How different he was from today’s Arab rulers. First he was committed to the real (religious) teaching." He quotes from the scriptures: "Qatil Fi Sabeel Allah laa tukallif illa nafsaka, wa harrid al Mu’mineen, Qatil al Kuffar." (Fight for Allah, mandate yourself and incite the believers, fight the Infidels).
Bin Laden compared: "Look at these Arab rulers how they deviated from Salah al Deen. See how the U.S ordered changes in the educational curriculum and Peace with Israel." Second, Saladin consulted with the Ulemas (clerics). But Arab rulers jail them, pay some to become their masters voices and they become Ulama’ al Su’ (Evil Clerics). Hence, one can see that all what al Qaeda has to do to de-legitimize the state-clerics is to accuse them of deviation from the real principles of Salafi Islam. To rely solely on better funded clerics who chant "another" Jihad will hardly work. Bin Laden’s message is by far more "authentic" in Islamist circles.
Lexicons can’t defeat his devastating message.
Thirdly, Usama borrows from history and scores another point. "Saladin fought the Muslims who sided with the Crusaders." Thus he grants legitimacy to his Jihadists against the "Muslim apostates" allies of the infidel U.S. "They call us Kharijites and Takfiris," but we are the real Jihadists. One can see here the problem of attempting to play with linguistic-religious fire. Indeed, who can determine who more Jihadist than another is? Certainly the rich and Western leaning Jihad bearers cannot withstand the ferocious Jihadists of nowadays. They can’t stand a chance.
I have a piece of advice to the self proclaimed architects of the "Lexicon Eureka": Don’t play Jihad with the Jihadists: they will overwhelm your experiments.
Bin laden moves to discredit the other less successful Jihadists: Those Islamists who wait for approval from Riyadh for Jihad aren’t going to make it. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is too tactical: they will not succeed, says bin Laden, because they occasionally deviate from the ideology.
Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah is on a defensive Jihad. Why doesn’t he attack? He has accepted the infidel UNIFIL. Ironically, Bin Laden quotes the previous secretary general of Hizballah, Subhi al Tufaili criticizing the current leader of the Iranian backed organization. Pushing the envelope to the deepest end of pure Jihadism, Usama says "stating that Islam is the solution is not enough," hinting at the classical Islamists (who work to penetrate the West and reestablish the Caliphate). He wants them to follow the strict Manhaaj, the methodology of the best Jihadists, i.e., his.
His methodology is pure. "No rules from the UN or the so-called international legitimacy but only the book of Allah and its Sunna," as he defines it. His view of the Palestinian question is simple: fight the apostate Muslim Governments who are obstructing the real Jihadists from striking at the heart of the Jewish state, then eradicate the latter. He informs his followers, the pure Mujahideen, that the Muslim rulers are not good enough to wage Jihad. They haven’t fully applied Sharia, and dared introducing few positive laws. That would be Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
In his eyes, the classical Islamists aren’t better. These regimes and movements that see eye to eye on the long run, i.e. the Caliphate and the Islamization-process, are in Usama’s eyes long term Jihadists: Not daring enough. These types of shy Jihad and long term one aren’t what Bin laden believes were the prescriptions of the Sahaba, the early companions of the Prophet. Immersing himself in 7th century Salaf, meaning the examples of the founding fathers of the Caliphate, he dismisses today’s regimes and movements who are adopting too much tactics, and being — one would say comparatively — too politically correct.
Ironically, a Jihadist who is too PC in the eyes of Bin laden is the one who do not explicitly declare that he is on a Jihad campaign for the reestablishment of Caliphate. Amazingly, in its essence, the message of Bin Laden to the other side — that is to the infidels — is that there are two Jihadisms moving forward. His own pure Jihad, open, honorable and direct (as he portrays it) and the Jihad of the Wahabbis, Muslim Brotherhood and even the deviationist one of the Khomeinist-inspired Hizballah. What Bin laden reveals — indirectly — is that his competitors are perfidious, power hungry and deceptive. Coming from the commander of al Qaeda, this is very revealing. He wants to be perceived as the real Jihadist and the others to be looked at as the false ones.
How apropos as some in the West, and lately in the United States are trying to assert, that the Wahabbis and the Muslim Brotherhoods are the real, albeit inoffensive, “Jihadis” while Bin Laden is a common criminal, nothing more nothing less.
What is to be learned from this audio tape, other than the repetitive calls to the combat Jihadists to fight wherever they can, is that we are facing off with two types of threats. One is the smallest in size, openly aggressive, and fully engaged in direct action against his enemies. The other is the largest movement, which emanates from the same ideology and aim at the same far goal, but follow a more deceptive path, at the pinnacle of which is its assertion that Jihadism should not be seen as a threat, obviously, until it is too late.
This is a lesson Americans must absorb as fast as they can. For they aren’t up against just one enemy which face they can see, but they are now being menaced by a stealthier enemy, one that is penetrating their homeland and paralyzing their resistance.