Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bernard Haykel on Suicide Bombings

Bernard Haykel, professor of Islamic Studies at New York University, has written an informative article for the International Herald Tribune:

Among jihadis, a rift over suicide attacks

Haykel has expertise on modern Islam's Salafi movement, having co-edited with David Morgan a book, Revival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani (Cambridge University Press, 2003), that includes analysis upon the links between al-Shawkani's reform of Islam in Yemen and the modern Salafi movement. Currently, Haykel is working on a study of Saudi Arabia's Salafi movement, otherwise known as the Wahhabi stream of Islam.

I'm here providing Wikipedia links on the Salafi and the Wahhabi movements, but stay wary of some details in these two articles, which sometimes receive editing that suggests influence by partisans of the two movements and therefore express tendentious opinions.

Problems with Wikipedia aside, let us turn to Haykel's IHT article, which gives evidence that jihadis are turning against "suicide attacks":

[G]rowing splits among jihadis are beginning to undermine the theological and legal justifications for suicide bombing. And as that emerging schism takes its toll on the jihadi movement, it could present an opportunity for the West to combat jihadism itself.

The simple fact is that many jihadis believe the war in Iraq is not going well. Too many Muslims are being killed. Images of that slaughter, conveyed by satellite television and the Internet throughout the Muslim world, are corroding global support for the jihadi cause.

There are strong indications from jihadi Web sites and online journals, confirmed by conversations I have had while doing research among Salafis, or scriptural literalists, that the suicide attacks are turning many Muslims against the jihadis altogether.

This sounds like a good development, but the jihadi critics of suicide attacks are not proposing peaceful debate:

To be sure, the alternatives these critics recommend are no less violent. Rather, many of the movement's dissidents suggest that jihadis diminish their efforts in Iraq and revert to spectacular attacks in the West, like those that took place on Sept. 11. These, such thinkers maintain, are singularly popular among Muslims and the only effective means of doing long-term damage to the West.

In other words, stop sucide attacks on Muslims and return to suicide attacks on infidels. The change, therefore, signifies a change in tactics but no alteration in the longterm strategy of using terror against infidels or any revision of views toward peaceful co-existence. Nevertheless, argues Haykel, these "internal debates about suicide tactics are a sign of weakness -- and of the fraying of the consensus Al Qaeda so carefully built over the last decade." Consequently, he advises "Western governments . . . [to] encourage the debate among jihadis because, if the promise of absolute salvation through suicide attacks is thrown into question by some within the jihadi movement, potential recruits may come to doubt the wisdom of engaging in such tactics."

I would like for Haykel's hopes to prove true, but to do so will require undermining the "prevailing jihadi theoretical [belief] that neither the innocent victims nor the bombers are doomed to suffer in hell." Yet, how could they relinquish this belief if doing so would effectively damn all previous suicide attackers to the fires of hell? More to the point, why would they reject the ideological justification for 'martrydom operations' since it sanctions suicide bombings against infidels even if suicide attacks against Muslims in Iraq are suspended?

And even if the jihadis should surprise us and denounce all suicide attacks, even those against infidels, we ought best not confuse such a change with a renouncing of hostilities, for jihadis would likely not consider infidels innocent and would remain at war by other means.


At 9:32 AM, Blogger John Sobieski said...

Jihadists denounce suicide bombing of infidels? Never. It would violate the Qur'an. The infidels either convert, subjugate themselves as dhimwits and pay the jizya, or die. Islam is like that. Everything binds and twists and ties Islam into a knot.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose that interpreting the Qur'an and Hadith is a bit like interpreting a nation's constitution -- some interpretive schools would find extreme jihad justifying suicide terrorism, while others would not.

That said, I think that Islam has a problem accepting "the Other," as current ethical discourse likes to phrase it. So even without using suicide bombings, radical Islamists would still continue to engage in jihad warfare, in my opinion.


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