Sunday, 28 October 2007


Why the AQ brass is up in arms about AlJazeera

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Al-Fajr Media Center has posted on the internet a more-detailed
explanation of the complaint the AlQaeda media establishment is
pressing against the satellite news channel AlJazeera
for its broadcast, this past Monday, of only excerpts of the Bin
Laden statement. (And Al-Fajr posts the statement not only in Arabic
but also in an English-language rendition, suggesting that for some
reason even the AQ brass have become sensitive the state of opinions
in the anglosphere).

The Al-Fajr statement naturally complains about the fact that the
AlJazeera excerpting left out any mention of Bin Laden's warning
against allowing jihadis to participate in the electoral or
parliamentary process, his warning against the "hypocrites" who join
the factions in order to sow fitna, and against listening to the
bought-and-paid-for Saudi clerics, and so on. But their main point
is a more general one, namely the idea that AlJazeera deliberately
misrepresented who it was that Bin Laden's advice and criticism was
directed to. The statement says:

While the speech was intended as advice to the people of Iraq
generally, and to sincere (or creditable) people of jihad in
particular, in that it advised them to settle their disputes via the
precise application of law (shariah) and he invited all to submit to
the judgment of God almighty, and warned them not to submit to
jurisdiction of the clerics of the [Arabian] peninsula...

In other words, Bin Laden, according to the AQ brass, was addressing
himself to everyone--the whole ummah or that part of it living in
Iraq--and more in particular to everyone in Iraq who has genuinely
taken up the obligation of jihad. The "advice" respecting settlement
of disputes and so on is intended as advice to that whole universe
of Muslims and then to the subgroup that has taken up jihad, and not
to some particular defined group or faction called "AlQaeda". That
is their point. And it means that the whole speech on
avoiding "taassub" (which means clinging together in a narrow group;
and more particularly "fanatical adherence" to a narrow group) was
intended in that way. If you want to talk on the level
of "factions", then you could say AQ is just as much a bundle
of "factions" as any of the other group and "mistakes were made" and
so on and so forth, and of course that is true, but the whole point
is to get beyond this thinking in terms of factions. Mistakes were
made everywhere. That's what the culture of the "men of knowlege and
virtue" is supposed to be able to address. So the Al-Fajr complaint
is this: Bin Laden was addressing the ummah in Iraq and telling them
to abandon factionalism and think in terms of the whole, submitting
to a system for the resolution of disputes by those who are
qualified to do so. And what AlJazeera did, according to this
complaint, was to turn that around and make it appear that this was
addressed to only one particular "faction", namely AlQaeda, and the
Al-Fajr statement goes on:

The editors at the [AlJazeera] channel turned this matter on its
head and make it appear that the words of Sheikh Osama were directed
[only] to his brothers and sons in the AlQaeda organization, as if
he was inculpating them, and in effect absolving them of jihad and
of their commitment to it.

Which is not, of course, what AlJazeera was doing, or what Atwan, or
what any of Iraqi resistance-supporters think they were doing. This
is where it gets interesting.

In fact, if you look carefully at the statement of Bin Laden, and
then at the AlJazeera excerpts and then at the Al-Fajr complaint,
you will see something that, speaking just for myself, completely
escaped me up to now. It is that in fact Bin Laden was making an
important concession on behalf of his group, and it wasn't really
just about "mistakes". It was that AlQaeda is not the exclusive
vehicle of legitimate jihad. AlFajr's point about his addressing the
whole of Iraq and more particularly the "genuine people of jihad",
with recourse to authorities "of understanding and virtue" for
dispute-settlement means that he was addressing the whole range of
resistance groups, and by implication a whole range of mistakes, on
all sides, without distinction. That's what he was getting at. On
the ideological level that is.

In reality, some in Iraq see the mistakes overwhelmingly on the side
of ISI brutality and arrogance; others see the mistakes more on the
side of caving in to the American-sponsored political process. But
it would be wrong to focus exclusively on this as a matter of taking
sides, because the bigger importance of the Bin Laden message is
that it has started people thinking about the need to get past that
particular form of "factionalism" and start focusing instead on
common aims. Or not that it started people thinking along those
lines, but that it takes up the idea that Harith al-Dhari expressed
in more partial terms in a widely-quoted AlJazeera interview
recently, to the effect that AQ operatives are overwhelmingly Iraqis
and "they are of us and we are of them."

All of which has caused me to reflect: When reading and thinking
about material that is strange to you, you really have to be careful
not to be too dogmatic or absolute about what you take from it. If
you wanted a really ugly phrase for what I am getting at here, it
would be "English language absolutism". Speaking just for myself,
when I looked at the whole Bin Laden tape I thought it would be
quite a stretch to interpret it as having to do with cross-group
unity (I thought it sounded a bit more like domestic AQ
housekeeping). Of course that was completely wrong, because I wasn't
paying attention to the underlying assumption about the unity of the
ummah and of jihad. That's what happens when you take someone else's
ideology and dismiss it as mere words, because what then happens is
that unbeknowns to yourself you substitute your own ideology.
Sometimes it makes a difference. One example of that would be the
assumption in 2003 that the American tanks were going to be
garlanded with rose-petals or at least that organized or un-
organized resistance wasn't something that needed to be worried
about. And here we have a smaller example, but of the same
phenomenon. If you throw out and disregard the ideology of the unity
of the ummah and of jihad, and you thus interpret current resistance-
group jockeying as mere oneupmanship such as you might see in
Washington, say, then you will surely be caught flat-footed when and
if there is in fact a meeting of the jihadi-resistance minds. It
might not happen, but then again it seemed to many in the
anglosphere that organized resistance to the American invasion might
not happen either.

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