Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raymond Ibrahim: Al-Qaeda's 'Contradictory' Statements?

Raymond Ibrahim
(Image from

Raymond Ibrahim, whom I've previously cited for his report on the Coptic priest Father Zakaria, is better known for his published book, The Al Qaeda Reader, but has also recently published an article for The Middle East Review of International Affairs, "An Analysis of Al-Qaeda's Worldview: Reciprocal Treatment or Religious Obligation?" (asp, pdf, in Volume 12, No. 3, September 2008), in which he compares the vastly different justifications made by Al-Qaeda to Westerners and to Muslims, respectively, for the 9/11 attacks.

Ibrahim calls the statements made to Westerners "propaganda" and the statements made to Muslims "theology," and he characterizes these as contradictory. I'm not sure that, strictly speaking, these two categories are contradictory, for both can express Al-Qaeda's motives, but we'd have to look closely at Ibrahim's article to judge for ourselves concerning contradictions in specific statements. Let's therefore look:
Al-Qa'ida has maintained that its hostilities to the West have absolutely nothing to do with the latter's freedoms. Speaking to the Americans, bin Ladin asserted, "From the start, I tell you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life; free men do not underestimate their security -- contrary to [President George W.] Bush's claim that we hate freedom. If so, let him explain to us why we have not attacked Sweden, for instance." [The Al Qa'ida Reader, 214].

Speaking to the Europeans, bin Ladin tries to define terrorism: "[W]e inform you that your description of us as 'terrorists' and our actions as 'terrorism' necessarily means that you and your actions must be defined likewise. Our actions are merely reactions to yours . . . ." (The Al Qa'ida Reader, 234)

Finally, bin Ladin makes it quite clear that terrorism is used only in reciprocity since al-Qa'ida has no other choice: "Shall a man be blamed for protecting his own? Self-defense and punishing the wicked in kind -- are these shameful [acts of] 'terrorism'? And even if it is, we have no other option." (The Al Qa'ida Reader, 216)

Taken together, all these messages assert that the terror al-Qa'ida inflicts upon the West has nothing to do with Western freedoms and everything to do with reciprocal treatment. Moreover, by stating "we have no other option" than to engage in acts of terrorism, bin Ladin clearly implies that terrorism is being relied upon as a last resort out of desperation. Thus al-Qa'ida maintains that there is no correlation between Western freedoms and Islamic terrorism -- that the latter is never used simply to suppress the former.

This is not the case when addressing the Saudis. After they wrote to the Americans saying that Islam does not allow coercion in matters of religion, bin Ladin . . . revealed his true beliefs and ultimate goals. The Saudi intellectuals had declared, "It is not permitted to coerce anyone regarding his religion. Allah Most High said: 'There is no compulsion in religion' [Koran 2:256]. Thus Islam itself does not comport with coercion." (The Al Qa'ida Reader, 40) After explaining that this verse has to do with matters of the heart and not Islam's destiny to rule the whole world, bin Ladin quotes the Hadith:
Whenever the Messenger of Allah appointed someone as leader of an army or detachment, he would especially exhort him to fear Allah and be good to the Muslims with him. Then he would say: "Attack in the name of Allah and in the path of Allah do battle with whoever rejects Allah. Attack! . . . If you happen upon your idolatrous enemies, call them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, accept it and stay yourself from them. [1] Call them to Islam: If they respond [i.e., convert], accept this and cease fighting them . . . . [2] If they refuse to accept Islam, demand of them the jizya: If they respond, accept it and cease fighting them. [3] But if they refuse, seek the aid of Allah and fight them." Thus our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue -- one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice -- and it is: Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually? Yes. There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, through physical though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword -- for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. [The Al Qa'ida Reader, 41-42]
On the evidence of these passages, Ibrahim would appear to be correct in claiming that Bin Ladin is expressing contradictory statements about Al-Qaeda's terrorism, justifying it to Westerners on the basis of "retaliation" and to Muslims on the basis of "jihad." I would bet, however, that Bin Ladin could reconcile the two justifications by arguing that since since infidels are in a state of rebellion against Allah, then every jihad is retaliation on Allah's behalf.

So -- to answer Bin Ladin's rhetorical question -- why hasn't Al-Qaeda attacked Sweden? Apparently, the time for that particular 'retaliation' hasn't yet arrived. But it will . . . unless the Swedes convert or pay the jizya. Either way, Bin Ladin would acknowledge, they will someday have to submit to Islam.

Incidentally, on some of my blog entries concerning Al-Qaeda's role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I've had occasional comments posted by individuals who claim that 9/11 was planned and carried out by the US government. To say that I am skeptical about such a claim would be a vast understatement. Some readers might wonder why I don't take such claims seriously, and I suppose that I could devote a blog entry to my reasons for skepticism . . . except that I suspect that I would be wasting my time. Fortunately, a website exists that poses questions to those who claim that the US government planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks, so anyone who wants to know the sort of blog entry that I would post if I had to post one can go read the article at

Sorry about today's late post, by the way, but I was too run-down from my on-going, day-long grading to get up early this morning.

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At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is enlightening, though chilling, to read how extreme actions, including slauthter in the name of religion, can be justified in the minds of the perpetrators.
Christianity also has its dark past, with crusades and inquisitions. This is spite of New Testament writings that never promoted such actions.
We need to be on our guard in these dangerous times.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I suspect that Muslim theologians still have a lot of work ahead of them toward reinterpreting the aggressive passages in the Qur'an and Hadith to read more peacefully.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:13 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

After reading bits of the Koran, I gave up with the tired sense of having read way too many times that the infidel must die or submit to Islam.

Rabid fundamentalism that picks and chooses the hateful bits from a person's relevant holy texts doesn't foster peace and love--or the basic message of any religion, does it?

At 3:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

WW, when I first read the Qur'an many years ago, I was expecting a basic message of a fundamentally loving God who offers individuals a choice of salvation or damnation.

I suppose that I found the offer of a choice, but I didn't find much love in the text at all, and the message didn't seem to offer much security of salvation either . . . except for warrior-martyrs.

The surahs usually invoked Allah as "all-merciful," but my impression was that this was less a description of his actual nature than it was flattery of his willful nature in the hope of swaying him to be merciful.

The hadith, of course, offer a more complex picture, but that first impression, based on the Qur'an, still seems generally correct to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My knowledge and understanding of Islam is far less than yours, Jeffery, but like you, I see no real contradiction in statements made to the West and to Muslims. Bin Laden is simply tailoring the message to make it relevant and comprehensible to the audience as any skillful communicator does. I think that Al-Qaeda, like any Islamist group, does view Western freedoms and democratic institutions as incompatible with Islam. By necessity, however, Al-Qaeda strategically targets the nations it considers as hostile to Islam or Muslim-majority countries.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I'm glad that I'm not alone in this view.

I would agree, however, that Al-Qaeda is being deceptive in not stating clearly to the West (and to non-Muslims generally) that even if its demands were met, the jihad would continue until all the world has submitted to Islam.

Fortunately, we have access to their statements to other Muslims, so we know what they really mean.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the maybe a lot of you have finally understood Islam. A muslim job is to serve Allah in totality. Islam does call the world to come under its grace. Muslims are to fight wrong everywhere. Until Al-qaeda it has been along time since muslims had away to continue placing muslims all over the world, even Israel. The powers that has risen against Muslims must be stopped at all cost. Muslim

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Muslim, I'm sorry to hear that you (seemingly) agree with the aims of Al-Qaeda, but I appreciate your honesty . . . even if you are anonymous.

Jeffery Hodges

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