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Optimism on Pakistan 28, April 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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Here are two posts from respected commentators on Pakistan’s crisis. They decline to jump on the ‘we’re all going to die’ bandwagon and put Pakistan’s recent issues into context.

The end of Al Qaeda – heard it before? 11, June 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Terrorism.
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There have been many points at which various people have claimed that Al Qaeda and other such groups are on the wane. More often than not – indeed, just about every time so far – such predictions have been woefully early, plainly hopeful, poorly researched or just plain wrong. George Bush’s cringing ‘Mission Accomplished’ effort aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln is a moment that will surely live infamy. Nevertheless, experts, pundits, politicians, journalists and policeman are still tempting fate and prognosticating that Al Qaeda is something of a spent force, soon to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

One such article emerged this past week in The New Republic, authored by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank. Bergen especially is an acknowledged expert on Al Qaeda generally and Osama Bin Laden specifically. Despite his tactlessly and almost cringe-worthily titled book “The Osama Bin Laden I Know” Bergen is a knowledgeable expert who does not resort to hyperbole as quickly as many or even most Bin Laden experts, but instead relies on evidence and knowledge.

The crux of their argument is persuasive. In an extensive 5000 word article, they list several key former Al Qaeda supporters who have apparently seen the light and now campaign against Al Qaeda’s poisonous message. They extrapolate that the reasons for their changes are already persuading others to follow suit. However, it is the fact that such ‘experts’ and former Al Qaeda justifiers and supporters actually believe these reasons that it the key. Their conversions will, so goes the argument, convince many others to change.

Here is a brief summary of the protagonists:

– Sheikh Salman Al Ouda was one of the fathers of Saudi Arabia’s Sahwa (Awakening) movement in the early 1980s who riled against the presence of US troops in the Kingdom and indeed the House of Saud itself. He was thus an early inspiration for Bin Laden. Furthermore, he has repeatedly advocated attacks on US troops both in the Kingdom (in the past, obviously) and in Iraq today, castigating the US as occupiers and thus legitimate targets. Additionally, Al Ouda spent a considerable amount of time in jail in Saudi for his views and this would, therefore, enhance his credibility in certain circles.

– Sayyid Imam Al Sharif or Dr Fadh as he is better known was one of the ideological “Godfathers” of Al Qaeda as Bergen and Cruickshank put it. He laid down one of the central trysts that Al Qaeda and similar groups have used to designate swathes of people as legitimate targets: the notion of takfir and kuffar. Furthermore, Dr Fadh is well known for the time that he spent on the front lines of Jihad in Afghanistan in the 1990’s.

– Noman Benotman is the former head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group whose avowed aim was to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The article reports several meetings between Benotman and Bin Laden, indicating a close relationship. However, he – like Dr Fadh and Al Ouda – have since performed a 180 degree turn and are now avowedly anti-Al Qaeda.

The three protagonists here have changed their opinions largely because of the escalating nature of Al Qaeda’s violence. Bombings such as in London and on the wedding in Amman, Jordan killing purely Muslims are crucial turning points for them. The three former Al Qaeda sympathisers/ideologues/soldiers say much the same thing: that these barbarous acts are forbidden in Sharia law and thus illegal.

Whilst this change of heart is to be encouraged, it must be questioned. I do not mean to suggest that they are lying to dupe ‘us’ into a false sense of security (we do not live in a Bond film, after all). Yet when those who fervently, passionately and concertedly preached, justified and carried out what many consider to be disgraceful acts of terrorism in the past suddenly ‘see the light’, I personally do not see why this is automatically a one-way street: what is stopping them from having another conversion back to the dark side?

In short, Bergen and Cruickshank’s article is, of its type, well reasoned, well argued and – who knows – perhaps prophetic, too. Yet the very nature of these peoples’ world and the values that they hold dear must not be forgotten. That is to say that they still have – theoretically – no problem with killing plenty of people, only now, they have shifted the goal posts and are much more selective, which is obviously a good thing. Yet nevertheless they still place scripture – now differently interpreted – above human life. This is something that I am deeply uncomfortable with and am thus not rejoicing just yet.