Can Islam’s leaders reach its radicals?
In the week after the London bombings (Full Coverage), two events shook up the world of extremist Islam. One of the events, as discussed in this article, occurred two days after the bombing when radical Islamist Abu Busayr al-Tartousi posted an Arabic letter on his Web site, roundly denouncing the attacks (Intel Report). His criticism was echoed by others in the right-wing Islamic community and was criticized by many. Discussions on Jihadist message boards following al-Tartousi?s statement contained a number of comments such as ?I cannot believe my eyes,? and, ?how could he do this?? What seemed most worrying to the online Jihadist community commenting on Tartousi?s statement was secondly, his stance, but firstly, the hint of a fracture in the totalitarian unity of the ideology of extremist Islam. After all, lacking the base of operations and accessible, active leadership that they had had in Afghanistan , the only thing al-Qaeda and its supporters have holding them together is ideological unity. This is one of the reasons that ideological conformity is so strongly enforced, and such people as Tartousi are isolated once they speak up. A second, similar event occurred when Abu Mohammed al-Maqdese, one-time mentor, spiritual guide, and co-founder of al-Tawhid with Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, criticized his one-time prot?g? for his terrorist tactics. In an interview with al-Jazeera, Maqdese stated that he had urged Zarqawi to stop killing civilians, to stop attacking Iraqi churches and Shia mosques, that suicide bombings should only be used in ?exceptional circumstances,? and to avoid the indiscriminate wielding of ?Takfir,? whereby terrorists deem a person or group of people infidels, revoking their status as Muslims and thus leaving them open to attack. Zarqawi uses this to justify his frequent murders of Iraqi civilians (article from al-Hayat: link). Zarqawi, as is reported in this article, responded by criticizing his former mentor harshly in an acerbic online statement. This followed an incident whereby two Arabic papers, al-Ghad and al-Arab al-Yowm, printed alleged comments from Maqdese that Zarqawi was waging a deviant form of Jihad. This has all been roundly reported in a number of news articles, such as the one attached to this analysis, as western terror watchers look hopefully for splits in the frightening ideological front of Islamic extremism. Indeed, there have been other signs: Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a right-wing Islamist who supports terrorism in Israel and Iraq , denounced the London attacks also. Recently, a group of religious authorities from Mecca in Wahhabi, radical Saudi Arabia , including the Grand Mufti, denounced terrorism and stated that the fight in Iraq is not a true Jihad because too many Muslims were being killed. There are, then, signs of political dissension in the Muslim right-wing from the vision proffered by its vanguard, al-Qaeda. As the article correctly surmises, while this may have no effect on current extremists who choose to ignore such voices, or even declare them infidels, it may help stem the movement. But, there is more to it than that. First, the impact of these voices of (relative) moderation will only be heard if the US and the west in general continue to allow these people to maintain standing and credibility in the Muslim right-wing. That is, most of the people who are calling for certain curbs and regulations on the use of violence are still what the west would consider ?radical,? and by holding any of them up as a sign of victory is the fastest way to drive them back into the arms of al-Qaeda and its associates. For instance, following the publications of the articles in al-Ghad and al-Arab al-Yowm, Maqdese