Abu Basir’s Scrapbook –Alqaeda advises Arab Spring
Monitoring Analysis Report on Alqaeda advise to the Arab Spring
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In previous posts on alQaeda scholars advising the Arab Spring (SYRIA, LIBYA, EGYPT, YEMEN), researchers frequently come across the Syrian-British Abu Basir al-Tartusi. His advice to the people of the Arab world trying to overthrow their dictators has often been at odds with that of his fellow radical ideologues, as we have seen, since Abu Basir frequently encourages fighters to be lenient with others or even scolds them for using violent methods too recklessly. As we saw in previous post on (Yemen-See End Notes)4, other scholars have criticised Abu Basir for this. Similarly, when Abu Basir published a fatwa 5 on his website 7 in February in which he expressed support for the (non-Islamist) Free Syrian Army fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and not for the much more overtly Islamic Jabhat Nusrat al-Sham, he was criticised for this by Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti on the Shari’a Forum of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad 8. In a fatwa 9 of his own, al-Shinqiti states that Abu Basir’s endorsement of the Free Syrian Army, with its “democratic method” and his simultaneous criticism of a group that strives for “the implementation of the Islamic shari’a” shows that Abu Basir “has a major methodological shortcoming”. (For more on this issue: http://ifpo.hypotheses.org/3540)
Despite Abu Basir’s tendency to state things differently from his colleagues, nobody seems to question his commitment to the cause of the Arab Spring, particularly in his native Syria. He has written numerous articles and fatwas about the revolts in the Arab world and has even gone to Syria himself to support the people there, as others have pointed out (seehttp://jihadology.net/2012/05/13/new-video-message-from-shaykh-abu-basir-al-%E1%B9%ADar%E1%B9%ADusi-heading-to-jihad-in-bilad-ash-sham-syria/).
Moreover, Abu Basir’s nephew is said to “have achieved martyrdom” 10 in Syria earlier this month and al-Tartusi himself has long been involved with the Facebook page “The Islamic Opposition to the Syrian Regime”11, which shows some photographs of him, including one in which he is holding a gun, suggesting that he’s actually out there fighting the regime. Perhaps Abu Basir’s most extensive sign of his commitment to the Arab Spring is his almost 500-pages long scrapbook on everything related to the revolutions in the Middle East. Entitled “The Scrapbook of the Revolution and the Revolutionaries: Words Written for the Arab Revolutions and Particularly the Syrian Revolution” 12, it contains Abu Basir’s daily musings on what goes on in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and, as the title suggests, particularly Syria. Although many journalists may do similar things, Abu Basir the only radical Islamic ideologue, who does so. Even in posts focused on countries other than Syria, Abu Basir often finds a way to make a connection with the country of his birth. In his criticism of the former Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, for example, he apologizes to his readers for the support the Syrian regime gave to its Libyan counterpart (contribution no. 6). He does state, however, that “al-Asad is more criminal than the criminal al-Qadhafi” since the latter “only started using weapons against his people after a week of demonstrations”, while the Syrian president did so “from day one” (contribution no. 53). Abu Basir’s scrapbook abounds in conspiracy theories. In one contribution (no. 46), he claims that the reason the United States does not invade Syria to overthrow the regime there is that the country – unlike Libya – lacks oil on the one hand and, on the other, because Syria “has played the role of watchdog” for Israel for more than forty years. He also states that Syria is a “servant” of “its master”, the US and the international community (contribution no. 304). Readers may wonder if such thoughts aren’t rather odd considering, among several other things, Syria’s long-time support for Hizbullah’s attacks on the Israel. They might be, if Hizbullah wasn’t part of another conspiracy, namely the “coalition between the Syrian sectarian regime, Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon” (contribution 35). He accuses the latter of contributing to the killing of Syrian demonstrators (contribution 231) and sees them as part of a Shiite plot, which has supposedly succeeded “through the Syrian secret service and the media” to brand all demonstrators as “Salafis”, which many see as a synonym for “terrorists” (contribution 226). According to Abu Basir’s logic, which he leaves largely unexpressed, such conspirators must apparently work hand in glove with those other countries allegedly pulling all the strings (i.e., the US and Israel). Some of the contributions that appear in Abu Basir’s scrapbook are also available as individual articles. Still, there is a clear contrast between this book and his other writings on the Arab Spring. Whereas the latter are relatively careful and considered, the collection of short contributions to his scrapbook are often rather crude and shallow. This does not just apply to his accusations of conspiratorial plots and his cheap shots at Shiites – which, to be honest, can also be found in his longer writings – but also in his downright celebration of the death of al-Qadhafi: “God is great… God is great and praise be to God… Today the tyrant al-Qadhafi has been killed… The father of ignorance of this age has been killed… Musaylima [an early-Islamic false prophet] of this age has been killed” (contribution 688). Perhaps such tendencies can be expected in a scrapbook, in which deep thoughts usually have no place. Abu Basir is also less likely to be criticised for saying such things, since some of these “arguments” go down particularly well with his fellow radicals. Still, Abu Basir might do the Arab Spring more good if he stuck to his genuine efforts – no matter how unpalatable these may still be to most – to help the revolutionaries find solutions to their problems rather than egging them on with hollow rhetoric that doesn’t do anybody any good, source at alQaeda who refused to reveal his name, commented.
End Notes: \PART A
1-Alqaeda Advises Arab Spring-Syria (19 November 2011), http://www.jihadica.com/al-qaida-advises-the-arab-spring-syria/
With the Arab Spring going strong in several countries, al-Qaida (in a broad sense, so including ideologues and scholars supportive of the organisation) still finds it necessary to comment on what is happening. In a series of posts, I will deal with the advice al-Qaida is giving the people of several countries, starting with Syria.
One of the men “advising” the Syrians currently revolting against the regime of President al-Asad is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaida. In an epistle 1, meant solely to greet, encourage and heap praise on the people he is addressing, al-Zawahiri spends one of the first paragraphs of his letter saying “salamun ‘alaykum” to his audience no fewer than eight times. He addresses them as “the mujahidun who command good and forbid evil”. This seems to be an attempt to claim that al-Qaida-like people are the ones trying to overthrow the Syrian regime, which is a good thing from his point of view because it allows him to create the idea that his organisation is alive and kicking and busy overthrowing “infidel” rulers, as it should be. From the Syrian people’s point of view, however, it is doubtful whether this is going to do them any good. As radical scholar Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti pointed out in a fatwa that I wrote about in a previous post 2, it may actually be more advisable for Syrian jihadis to lay low, not giving the regime any extra excuse to crack down on them with the argument that the demonstrators are, in fact, terrorists. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t seem to realise this, urging his audience to tell President al-Asad that he is “a partner in the war on Islam in the name of terrorism and a protector of the borders of Israel”. Even more explicitly – in a phrase that sounds better in Arabic than it does in English – he tells them to say to al-Asad: “We have broken the shackles of fear and smashed the prison of weakness. The free [men] of Syria and its mujahidun have decided that they will live as honourable people and die as martyrs (ya’ishu a’izza’ wa-yamutu shuhada’).” Al-Zawahiri also keeps going on about the supposedly strong American ties to the Syrian regime. He states that “America, which has co-operated with Bashar al-Asad throughout his reign, now claims that it is on your side”. He advises the Syrian protestors to say to the U.S. and President Obama that “we are the sons of the conquerors, the offspring of the mujahidun and the heirs of the murabitun (fighters operating from garrison cities).” The battle fought against the Syrian regime, al-Zawahiri claims, will obviously continue until “we raise the banners of victorious jihad” over Jerusalem. How exactly this is to be achieved in the face of a brutal regime that is not afraid to kill thousands of its own people is not entirely clear.
A more rational and level-headed approach is taken in another document 3, this one by Abu Basir al-Tartusi, a scholar living in London who is in no way part of the core leadership of al-Qaida but is one of the major thinkers reponsible for the organisation’s ideology. The originally-Syrian Abu Basir is churning out writings on Syria faster than you can say “the people want to topple the regime”, which may force me to dedicate another post to this country. In any case, Abu Basir wouldn’t be a true Salafi if he didn’t start by criticising the sect of the al-Asad family, the ‘Alawites, which Salafis (and, to a lesser extent, Sunnis in general) view as deviant or even infidel. He claims that they – among other things – are batinis (i.e. people who believe the Qur’an has an inner, esoteric meaning apart from its outer, exoteric meaning), idol worshippers and people who claim that caliph ‘Ali b. Abi Talib is God. These ‘Alawites, Abu Basir claims, do not care about their homeland, or about its citizens. They have never amounted to anything and have never given any thought to what the people need. Abu Basir claims that the Syrian sectarian system is largely to blame for this, probably because the large number of sects and the differences between them encourage their members to act only on behalf of their own group, at the expense of loyalty to the country and the people as a whole. As a result, this regime has only brought awful things such as destruction, division and poverty. Surprisingly, however, given Abu Basir’s views of ‘Alawites in general, his approach is nuanced enough to distinguish between ‘Alawites who are part of the governing circle of President al-Asad and the majority of ‘Alawites, who suffer from poverty just like other Syrians. His wrath is therefore directed towards the regime and he thus advises the Syrian people to unite and express only one demand: the fall of the regime. Raising any other demand, Abu Basir claims, would be quite unwise, presumably because he realises that Syrians are not united enough to form a coalition on the basis of any demand other than the fall of the regime.
In two other writings (http://www.jihadica.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Al-Tartusi-Jumlat-al-Tawsiyyat-wa-l-Iqtirahat-Akhass-bi-ha-l-Thawra.pdf, http://www.jihadica.com/al-qaida-advises-the-arab-spring-syria/Al-Tartusi%20-%20Al-Isti’mar%20al-Qarmati%20al-Batini%20li-Suriya%20wa-Shar’iyyat%20al-Difa’%20’an%20al-Nafs),
Abu Basir continues about the situation in Syria and stresses the need for peaceful resistance but also the legitimacy of self-defence. The regime, he says, has killed or wounded tens of thousands of people and the latter should therefore learn how to protect themselves by setting up security committees that can defend the protestors. These committees, he states, should not participate in demonstrations or in any peaceful activities, so as not to give the regime an extra reason to crack down on protestors. Abu Basir also wants “the noble free officers” (i.e. the ones that abandoned the regime’s army) to increase in number, expand their military activities and co-ordinate them with the aforementioned security committees.
Apart from advising the Syrian people on using non-peaceful methods, he tries to convince them that violence is justified. While he keeps stressing that peaceful resistance is good and commendable, he fails to see its use after so much bloodshed and scolds Syrians for refusing even to take violent means into consideration after it has become clear that sit-ins and other peaceful means have proved useless. He encourages the people to obtain arms and even quotes a verse from the Qur’an about military preparedness to underline the legitimacy of the use of violence. After having compared the Syrian regime with the French colonialism of the past, he wonders what the difference between the two of them really is and calls on the remnants of the army to fear God and take their responsibility towards Syria and its people by defending them and their honour “against the imperialism of the sectarian regime of al-Asad”.
If and how this advice is accepted by Syrians in general and jihadist in particular is unclear. What is clear from Abu Basir’s writings, however, is that he obviously cares about Syria. The tone of his work here is not one of fighting against “infidel” rulers who fail to apply the shari’a but much more one of concern for his native land, which he even refers to as “the beloved Syria”. Whether this is also the case with other commentators “advising” demonstrators in other countries is something I intend to explore in future posts.
2- Al-QAEDA ADVISES ARABSPRING- LYBIA (9 Jan, 2012), http://www.jihadica.com/al-qaida-advises-the-arab-spring-libya/
Unlike the Arab uprising in Syria, which was the subject of my previous post 1, the one in Libya seems to have reached its end. The regime has been overthrown and Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and some of his sons are dead. Although it is by no means certain that Libya is on its way to becoming a fully-fledged liberal democracy, the Libyan people have achieved things that most Syrians can still only dream of. In this post, I will look at how some scholars and ideologues associated with al-Qaida responded to the situation in Libya.
One member of al-Qaida Central who responds to the situation in Libya is, perhaps unsurprisingly since he is a Libyan himself, Abu Yahya al-Libi. His comments 3, stress that the United States is “the idol (taghut) of the age” (i.e., the country that other countries “serve”) and “the source of terrorism”. He asks rhetorically: “Isn’t America the one who supported the regime of ‘Husni Barak’, the pharaoh of Egypt, but why is it that today it is singing the praises of the Egyptian people’s freedom?! Aren’t America and the governments of the West the ones who supported and [still] support the despotic regime of ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih [in Yemen]? Aren’t America and France the ones who totally supported the tyrannical regime of Zayn al-’Abidin [in Tunisia] that refused its people the least of their rights?! But why is it that afterwards they praise the people for obtaining their freedom?!” Powerful stuff indeed. It is not entirely clear, however, how this is related to Libya, with which the United States has long been on very bad terms and for whose regime it therefore cannot really be blamed. The reason for al-Libi’s criticism of the US seems to be that the country has contributed to liberating Libya through NATO, for which many Libyans are supposedly quite grateful, and he may fear that this will lead to a positive image of the West among many Libyans. NATO’s influence in Libya is also the subject of an “open letter to the Muslims in Libya” 3, by Abu l-Hasan Rashid al-Bulaydi. The author emphasises that it is important to understand that “the Crusader NATO” is not out to help the Muslims but to “fight their religion”. “The Crusader West”, al-Bulaydi says, wants to serve its own interests and NATO aims to “contain your revolution”, give it “a secular identity and a Western spirit” and aim for “loyalty to the enemies of Islam and enmity and war against the jihadi trend”. He therefore advises Libyans to act with wisdom and “not to fear the power of the Crusader West, because God is more powerful”.
Somewhat in line with the above, several scholars argue that the fighting in Libya may have stopped after the fall of the regime but that it should continue until the country is an Islamic state. The Jordanian radical scholar Abu Humam Bakr b. ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Athari, in a short piece entitled “Oh people of success, have you already put down your weapons?” 4, states that Libyans should “fight for the sake of legislating the heavenly shari’a. That is the goal and for its sake does the upholder of the unity of God (muwahhid) fight till the end.” He cites a tradition about the life of the Prophet Muhammad in which the latter is said to have put down his weapons but was encouraged by the angel Jibril to fight on, which Muhammad subsequently did. This should serve as an example for Libyans today, whom Abu Humam advises not to listen to or try to satisfy NATO since “Jews and Christians will not be satisfied with you until you follow their religion” (Q. 2: 120). Libya is ideally placed for a continuation of such a fight, argues Abu Sa’d al-’Amili in a treatise on the revolution in Libya,5 because the country has certain advantages for mujahidun. First of all, he says, Libyans are conservative people; secondly, it has a “noble jihadi history”; and, thirdly, the country is geographically close to Algeria, where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) has its base. Since Libya is part of the Islamic Maghrib and AQIM also has some Libyan leaders, Abu Sa’d writes, the revolution offers some excellent chances to link up with like-minded radicals in the rest of the region. The application of the shari’a should be the result of the jihad that Muslims in Libya have to wage. This is really necessary because the temporary leaders currently ruling Libya cannot be relied upon. “We cannot imagine”, Abu Sa’d states, “that these liberators [i.e. the revolutionaries who overthrew the regime] will give their loyalty to a gang of unknown secularists who follow the Crusader West to continue the occupation and exploitation of the country in the name of democracy.” NATO, the author writes, did not “participate in striking the military bases of al-Qadhafi to defend the honour of the Libyan people and to save thousands of likely victims from the brutality of al-Qadhafi and his soldiers”. The West, he says, was involved to serve its own economic and security interests and actually “has a great fear of the Islamic tendency of the revolutionaries”. This, he says, is why there is a transitional council of secularists.
An entirely different approach to the situation is taken by the Syrian-British Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who also had much to say about Syria, 6. This time, however, we will look at what he wrote on the revolution in Libya. Although he obviously agrees that Libya should become an Islamic state with the shari’a as its only source of legislation, he stresses that the country should work on internal reconciliation. He states that all Libyans are Muslims who love God and the Prophet Muhammad and that jihadis should take care not to create a distance between themselves and the people by saying “these are with us and these are against us, these are with Islam and these are against Islam”. Also, he emphasises that the Libyan people have lived under a tyrannical and infidel leader for over forty years, which means that jihadis are likely to encounter tensions in society. Abu Basir advises jihadi to deal with these with friendliness and wisdom. Interestingly, Abu Basir not only advises jihadis to take a friendly approach towards the Libyan people as a whole, but also towards the remnants of the regime. He mentions that most of those working for al-Qadhafi’s regime were probably ignorant, poor and forced to cooperate and that they should be dealt with in a spirit of justice and leniency. It is wrong, Abu Basir states, to treat your opponents with the mindset and law of a tyrant. In fact, and quite opposite to men such as Abu Humam al-Athari, Abu Basir advises that people should stop fighting once the regime has fallen and solve conflicts with words and through dialogue. The country is now entering the phase of rebuilding, which is more difficult than fighting. Jihadis therefore need all the wisdom they have to set up an Islamic state in Libya.
3-ALQAEDA ADVISES THE ARAB SPRING: EGYPT (22 APRIL, 2012), http://www.jihadica.com/al-qaida-advises-the-arab-spring-egypt/
When one thinks of Egypt and jihadis, the first person that comes to mind is probably Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Qaida’s leader has issued many a “letter of hope and good tidings to our people in Egypt” since the beginning of the Arab Spring and although that title may sound as if these epistles contain Christmas greetings to the country’s Coptic community, they offer nothing of the sort. In part three, 1 of his series of letters to the Egyptian people, al-Zawahiri spends most of his time warning his countrymen about the supposedly evil intentions of the United States and their Arab henchmen (“the Arab Zionist rulers of injustice and betrayal”). The US, al-Zawahiri claims, conspires with the rulers of the Arab world to “wage war on Islam and its sharia”, expressed in banning the headscarf, spreading evil and besieging the people of Gaza. All of this happens, of course, under the guise of the “war on terrorism”, al-Zawahiri explains. Such talk about strong ties between the US and Arab regimes sounds quite familiar,2 but al-Zawahiri needs it to make his point, which is that current events in Egypt are not going to give Egyptians what they really want: “These international powers and particularly the US”, al-Zawahiri writes, want to “change the old faces for new faces to deceive the people with some reforms and freedoms”. Such token gestures will give people the idea that things are changing but this will actually only serve “the interests of the world powers of arrogance and injustice”. Egypt, al-Zawahiri maintains, “will remain the basis of the Crusader attack and a founding partner in the American war on Islam”. Al-Zawahiri thus offers nothing but the same old arguments. One could argue that his scepticism is somewhat understandable. Having grown up under the repressive regime of Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir (Nasser), whose revolution was als0 hailed as a liberation of Egypt at the time, having seen several Egyptian dictators come and go and having suffered from brutal torture in prisons in his own country, one could forgive him from not immediately jumping up and down with glee at seeing the first signs of a revolt. Al-Zawahiri has seen it all before and has been disappointed too many times to believe it all.
There may be some truth to the above. Reading the fourth part of his series of letters to the Egyptian people, however, should convince anyone that al-Zawahiri is not so much a sceptic, but rather someone with his own agenda aimed at claiming credit for overthrowing Mubarak. In this letter, he repeats the same stuff mentioned above and then claims that “your mujahidun brothers are with you fighting the same enemy and confronting America and its Western allies that have made [Egyptian President] Husni Mubarak rule over you”. America, he says, is now trying to reverse its previous policy of supporting dictators and currently wants to co-operate with the people. This policy change, he claims, “only came as a direct result of the blessed raids in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania”. So apparently the Arab Spring came about as a direct result of 9/11 and the US is now on the people’s side. Yet doesn’t that last bit clash with his earlier statement that the US only cares about token reforms and “changing the old faces for new faces” while retaining its own interests? Yes it does, and al-Zawahiri is therefore quick to point out that this revised US policy is something that “is not enough and does not satisfy any noble and free Muslim”. In a seemingly reassuring way, he adds that “your mujahidun brothers […] will continue to strike America and its partners and hurt them until they leave – with God’s permission – the lands of the Muslims and have had enough of supporting the tyrants in these countries”. Al-Zawahiri pushes his own agenda a bit further by claiming that the problem with Egypt lies in the secularism of its state: “This was not the choice of the Egyptian people”, he states. “On the contrary, the Egyptian people have demanded and have repeated their demand numerous times to have the Islamic sharia as the source of laws and legislation so that Islam is the ruling system in Egypt.” This call for being ruled by Islamic law, al-Zawahiri claims, “is still and has been the demand of the overwhelming majority of the people of Egypt since the 1940s”.
Al-Zawahiri’s reasoning is obviously meant to show that the US, by waging a “war on Islam” is going against the will of Egyptians but that he and al-Qaida are actually on the people’s side. In this sense, al-Zawahiri appears to be the real supporter of democracy. He quickly dispels this idea, however, since he explicitly rejects the “democracy that America wants for us, a special democracy for the Third World in general and the Islamic world in particular”. Such American-sponsored democracy, al-Zawahiri states, could be seen in Algeria, when that country cancelled elections in the early 1990s after they had been won by Islamists, or in Gaza, when the world refused to deal with Hamas after it had won elections there. Al-Zawahiri does not just object to democracy because he associates it with injustice, however. He also claims it is an idol that is worshipped by its followers since they blindly follow what the majority wants, irrespective of what religion says. The majority thus becomes the object of worship instead of religion. As an alternative, the current Egyptian regime should leave and the country should be ruled by a pious, Islamic regime instead. The people will have the right to choose their leaders, al-Zawahiri claims, but obviously within the bounds of the sharia. The misery of the people should be ended, the West should be confronted and the oppression should be lifted “in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and every corner of the world of Islam”. Jihad should therefore be continued until this goal has been achieved.
Unlike al-Zawahiri, who basically extends his old ideas to the new situation created by the Arab Spring, the Syrian-British jihadi scholar Abu Basir al-Tartusi actually comes up with something new. As we saw in my previous two posts in this series (1 and 2) 3, Abu Basir is much more nuanced and practical than the likes of al-Zawahiri in what he has to say about the Arab Spring and his advice to Egyptians is no exception. In a response 4, to questions about political participation by radical Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt, Abu Basir states that Muslim youngsters should ensure that any participation in Egyptian politics should be in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunna as understood by the first three generations of Muslims (al-salaf al-salih). Establishing a political party is allowed, he says, but only if it does not fall into the trap of acting on behalf of party interests instead of those of the Muslim community as a whole. Such remarks may seem nothing special, but considering the widespread opposition to political participation among jihadis, such answers are quite remarkable. Also worthy of note is Abu Basir’s advice to Egyptians to use peaceful methods, unlike al-Zawahiri who – as we have seen – actually calls for continued jihad. Abu Basir claims that the current circumstances in Egypt (and Tunisia) are dominated by freedom and tolerance and this calls for peaceful means, not violence. “As long as the conflict with others can be fought by words, communiqués and dialogue […] we don’t have to resort to violence”. Abu Basir gives three reasons for this: firstly, he says, there is no need for violence; secondly, Muslims are the strongest in using words “because they posses the strongest arguments”; and thirdly, he claims, a kind approach is more likely to be accepted by others and yield results.
Abu Basir is by no means satisfied with the situation as it is in Egypt right now, but he states that at least everyone can agree that it is better than under the tyrants. Muslims should therefore make use of the possibilities that have opened up for them, as long as it accords with Islamic law. Interestingly, Abu Basir explicitly allows political acts of an executive or bureaucratic type and also believes that things that serve the people and society as a whole are permitted. He draws the line, however, at participating in legislation, since coming up with your own laws instead of leaving this to God is, in effect, polytheism by violating God’s absolute unity in the legislative sphere. This latter bit is familiar ground for jihadis, but Abu Basir’s explicit endorsement of participation in other branches of politics than the legislative branch is quite astonishing. Without changing his earlier views, he reconsiders his beliefs in light of new circumstances and condemns only those things that he believes really need to be condemned, thereby going quite far in accommodating those Muslims who want to participate in politics after the Arab Spring. Abu Basir ends his epistle by saying: “Know that Islam has come for the protection of man and saving him. Its goal is man.” Although this remark should be read in the context of the rest of his epistle, whose contents do not differ all that much from what al-Zawahiri believes, the phrasing itself is quite different and almost makes Abu Basir sound like a humanist alternative to al-Qaida’s leader. Not bad for a jihadi!
4-AL-QAEDA ADVISES THE ARAB SPRING-YEMEN (5TH JUNE, 2012), http://www.jihadica.com/al-qaida-advises-the-arab-spring-yemen/
Several jihadi scholars are engaged in some ideological infighting again and it’s not pretty. Several jihadi ideologues have participated in quite heated debates about jihad, violence and suicide bombings with the people who are supposedly their brothers in arms. The best-known among these are the accusations between Sayyid Imam and Ayman al-Zawahiri , see: http://www.jihadica.com/the-denudation-of-the-exoneration-part-1/
for the first installment of Will’s series of posts on this subject, for example) and the conflict between Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and the supporters of his former pupil Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (see http://www.jihadica.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/CTCSentinel-Vol2Iss6.pdf, for instance). This time, it’s the Syrian-British shaykh Abu Basir al-Tartusi who starts this discussion by criticising the Yemeni militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, which is responsible for several major attacks in Yemen in the past months and is said to have strong ties to al-Qaida. This discussion does not just tell us something about differences of opinion on one radical organisation, but also sheds light on highly diverging views on what the Arab Spring should be all about.
As usual, Abu Basir starts his criticism of Ansar al-Shari’a,1 by pointing out that his critique is simply brotherly advice. That’s about as far as his politeness goes, however, since he immediately starts accusing the group of using suicide bombings without taking the limits and conditions of such operations into account. He also asks: “What is your problem with the Yemeni soldier? You are dealing with him as if he is an American soldier!” Abu Basir states that Yemeni soldiers are against the regime too yet they apparently still constitute legitimate targets for Ansar al-Shari’a. “Is this the shari’a that you proclaim and on whose behalf you’re working?”, he asks rhetorically. Abu Basir suggests that Ansar al-Shari’a change its strategy now that Yemeni President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih has left. He accuses the group of continuing their fight “as if the tyrant ‘Ali Salih hasn’t left […], as if the revolution never happened and no changed whatsoever occurred in Yemen!” This unchanged policy has resulted in alienating the protesters and demonstrators in Yemen and “a policy of aggression” that has left many innocent people dead. This only appears to strengthen the claim made by Salih that al-Qaida would fill the void he left. This leads Abu Basir to conclude that Ansar al-Shari’a is not serving the purpose of the revolution but is, in fact, doing exactly what “the tyrant” wants. Despite fighting for more than ten years, the group has not succeeded in implementing the shari’a at all, Abu Basir states. “Or do you think that the shari’a is only about raising slogans?”, he asks sarcastically. “What strategy is this that you are following?”, he adds, while pointing out that they should go and seek the advice of Yemeni scholars on what to do.
End and means
Abu Basir’s criticism was published on his website in March of this year and in that same month, Abu Hummam Bakr b. ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Athari wrote a still rather friendly refutation,2 of his critique. He states that he excuses Abu Basir for his latest remarks because “what we have learned from him […] is more than […] what we criticise him for.” Nevertheless, al-Athari goes on to accuse Abu Basir of ignoring – not being ignorant of – two things: the goal that change must bring about and the means to bring about change. The former is to bring people from darkness to light and this is not going to happen, al-Athari states, through democratic reforms called for by the demonstrators; rather, it will be achieved by applying the shari’a, which is exactly what Ansar al-Shari’a wants. The means that will lead to this end has been provided by God himself, al-Athari states: jihad. Al-Athari further wonders why Abu Basir would like the revolution to stop because President Salih has left. “[Ansar al-Shari’a] fought [Salih] because he ruled through something different than the shari’a.” His successor ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur has only added to that, al-Athari states. “How can it be allowed to fight the former but not the latter?! Or [how can] the democracy of Mansur be Islamic but the democracy of Salih unbelief?!” They both ruled through “un-Islamic” laws and allowed their armies to fight on behalf of the Americans, which also shows you why Ansar al-Shari’a has “a problem” with Yemeni soldiers.
Also in March, Abu l-Zubayr ‘Adil al-’Ubab, a writer or ideologue who appears affiliated with Ansar al-Shari’a itself, wrote another refutation of Abu Basir’s letter. He specifically targets Abu Basir for his criticism of the supposedly reckless use of suicide bombings by Ansar al-Shari’a. He claims that, contrary to what Abu Basir says, the organisation does try to take the conditions and limits of suicide bombings into account and has only been involved in nine of them, which he describes in such a way that makes it seems like a very high number. We only use suicide bombings, he says, “if we have no alternative, if the alternative is very difficult or if it involves more losses”. Al-’Ubab says things about Yemeni soldiers and the army that are similar to what al-Athari pointed out about them, but delves more deeply into the question of the scholars Abu Basir advises Ansar al-Shari’a to consult. He distinguishes three categories of scholars in Yemen. The first category consists of Sunnis, with whom they consult regularly and from whom they seek advice, except for those Sunni scholars who support the regime or want to go into politics. Then there the scholars of the Muslim Brothers, whom he dismisses as “politicians” and, finally, “the scholars of religious innovations like Sufism, Shiism (al-rafida), Zaydism and those who adhere to them”. Since it is obvious that the members of Ansar al-Shari’a will not ask the latter for advice, al-’Ubab wonders what Abu Basir is talking about.
If the previous two refutations of Abu Basir were still rather friendly, this does not apply to Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti’s refutation: “The Disgusting Deviations of the Critic of Ansar al-Shari’a: A Refutation of Shaykh Abu Basir”, which was published some two weeks ago. Al-Shinqiti is a formidable foe for Abu Basir since the former is one of the most active jihadi ideologues at the moment and seems to be almost the sole provider of fatwas on the Shari’a Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. In fact, with other leading scholars such as Abu Qatada al-Filastini, Nasir b. Hamd al-Fahd and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi locked up, Abu Basir and al-Shinqiti may well be the most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now. Whatever the case may be, al-Shinqiti does not mince words. He accuses Abu Basir of not basing his views on real arguments and of simply wanting to slander the mujahidun. On top of this, he adds that Ansar al-Shari’a does consult with scholars in Yemen and that these are “more famous and knowledgeable” than Abu Basir. If the latter is so serious about his “advice” to Ansar al-Shari’a, al-Shinqiti says, does he not believe that the Yemeni government is an apostate government that should be fought? “Do you want to abandon the method of jihad and do democracy like the rest of the revolutionaries?”, al-Shinqiti asks. He gets even more direct with regard to Abu Basir’s question about why Ansar al-Shari’a targets Yemeni soldiers. “I don’t understand”, al-Shinqiti says. “Is it possible that you are really ignorant of the answer to this question?” Al-Shinqiti deals with the same points mentioned above, but does so much more vehemently and elaborately, dismissing Abu Basir’s accusations as “fabrications”. It is clear that Abu Basir’s criticism of Ansar al-Shari’a is quite unacceptable to several of his radical colleagues. His advice to lay down arms and take a more peaceful approach is not an exception, however, as we have seen in my previous posts in this series. Abu Basir consistently takes a more irenic approach towards certain remnants of the regimes that have been toppled and people who do not follow the right type of Islam and often condemns extreme violence. That major radical scholars such as Abu Basir and especially al-Shinqiti are more and more on a collision course is not just clear from the above but also from the fact that the latter ends his critique of Abu Basir by saying: “God willing, we will continue this conversation with shaykh Abu Basir in a forthcoming article entitled “The Enlightenment of the Truth of Shaykh Abu Basir’s Method”. We have not seen the last of this.
End Notes: Summary
End Notes: (Al-Qaida advises the Arab Spring: Syria)\PART A
End Notes: (Al-QAEDA ADVISES ARABSPRING- LYBIA)\PART B
End Notes: (Al-Qaida Advises the Arab Spring- Egypt), PART C
END NOTES: (Al-Qaida Advises the Arab Spring-Yemen), PART D
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