The Origins of al Qaeda's Ideology: Implications
for U.S. Strategy
"The fight against the enemy nearest
to you has precedence over the fight against the enemy farther
away. . . . In all Muslim countries
the enemy has the reins of power. The enemy is the present rulers."
--Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, tried and hanged in connection
with the 1981 assassination of Anwar al-Sadat1
"Victory for the Islamic movements .
. . cannot be attained unless these movements possess an Islamic
base in the heart of the Arab region." --Ayman al-Zawahiri,
Bin Laden deputy, 20012
"We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia. . . . The real issue is
not whether, but how to destabilize. We have to ensure the fulfillment
of the democratic revolution." --Michael Ledeen, American
Enterprise Institute, 20023
The leader of Sadat's assassins, Bin Laden's
chief ideologue, and a leading American neoconservative supporter
of Israel all call for a revolutionary transformation of the Middle
East. However, the United States, the existing Arab regimes, and
the traditional Sunni clerical establishments all share an interest
in avoiding instability and revolution. This shared interest makes
the establishments in the Sunni world America's natural partners
in the struggle against al Qaeda and similar movements. If American
strategists fail to understand and exploit the divide between the
establishments and the revolutionaries within Sunni Islam, the United
States will play into the radicals' hands, and turn fence-sitting
Sunnis into enemies.
Outsiders of the Sunni World
Sunni Islam is a very big tent, and there always
have been insiders and outsiders within Sunnism playing out their
rivalries with clashing philosophies.4
Throughout the past century, the most important of these clashes
have occurred between Sunni reformers and the traditional Sunni
clerical establishment. The ideology espoused today by al Qaeda
and similar groups can be traced directly from the 19th-century
founders of modernist reform in Sunnism. Al Qaeda's leading thinkers
are steeped in these reformers' long struggle against the establishment.
The teaching of the reformers has been heterodox and revolutionary
from the beginning; that is, the reformers and their intellectual
descendants in al Qaeda are the outsiders of today's Sunni world.
For the most part this struggle has been waged
in Egypt, Sunni Islam's center of gravity. On one side of the debate,
there is Cairo's Al-Azhar, a seminary and university that has been
the center of Sunni orthodoxy for a thousand years. On the other
side, al Qaeda's ideology has its origins in late-19th-century efforts
in Egypt to reform and modernize faith and society. As the 20th
century progressed, the Sunni establishment centered on Al-Azhar
came to view the modernist reform movement as more and more heterodox.
It became known as Salafism, for the supposedly uncorrupted early
Muslim predecessors (salaf, plural aslaf) of today's Islam. The
more revolutionary tendencies in this Salafist reform movement constitute
the core of today's challenge to the Sunni establishment, and are
the chief font of al Qaeda's ideology.
A Century of Reformation
In contemporary Western discussions of the
Muslim world, it is common to hear calls for a "reformation
in Islam" as an antidote to al Qaeda.5
These calls often betray a misunderstanding of both Sunni Islam
and of the early modern debate between Catholics and Protestants.
In fact, a Sunni "reformation" has been under way for
more than a century, and it works against Western security interests.
The Catholic-Protestant struggle in Europe weakened traditional
religious authorities' control over the definition of doctrine,
emphasized scripture over tradition, idealized an allegedly uncorrupted
primitive religious community, and simplified theology and rites.
The Salafist movement in the Sunni Muslim world has been pursuing
these same reforms for a century.
More important, the contemporary pundits' calls
for "a reformation in Islam" carry with them an implication
that the traditional Sunni clerical elite is the ideological basis
for al Qaeda, and that weakening the traditional clerical establishment's
hold on the minds of pious Sunnis would promote stability. In fact,
the opposite is clearly the case in most of the Sunni world. The
mutual condemnations that the establishment and Salafist camps have
exchanged over the past century, not to mention the blood shed by
both sides, make this clear.
Even in Saudi Arabia, which is exceptional
because the religious establishment there is itself Salafist, there
is a split between a pro-establishment Salafist camp and the revolutionary
Salafists. The Saudi regime and its establishment Salafist allies
have asserted themselves against revolutionary Salafist tendencies
repeatedly since the 1920s, and are belatedly doing so again now.
The revolutionary Salafists are outsiders.
Their movement, from its origins a century ago until today, has
been at odds with the Sunni establishment. By tracing the movement's
ideological development over the past century, it becomes clear
why al Qaeda's leaders have chosen their present strategy: the experience
of their movement drives them to view their opponents within Sunni
Islam-"the near enemy"-as a more important target than
non-Muslims-"the far enemy."
Theology and Politics: Ibn Taymiyya
The medieval Sunni scholar Taqi ad-Din Ahmed
ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) is an important reference for today's revolutionary
Salafists. Ibn Taymiyya needed an argument that would rally Muslims
behind the Mamluke rulers of Egypt in their struggle against the
advancing Mongols from 1294 to 1303. Some objected that there could
be no jihad against the Mongols because they and their king had
recently converted to Islam. Ibn Taymiyya reasoned that because
the Mongol ruler permitted some aspects of Mongol tribal law to
persist alongside the Islamic sharia code, the Mongols were apostates
to Islam and therefore legitimate targets of jihad. Today's revolutionary
Salafists cite Ibn Taymiyya as an authority for their argument that
contemporary Muslim rulers are apostates if they fail to impose
sharia exclusively, and that jihad should be waged against them.
Although Ibn Taymiyya's medieval theology is
important to the contemporary Salafists, Salafism had its true origins
in modern times, in the reform movement at Sunni Islam's Egyptian
core in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This reform movement
arose out of the reaction of Muslims in the Ottoman Empire to the
growing dominance of the West in international politics, in science,
and in culture. Napoleon's occupation of Egypt, the French colonization
of North Africa, and Britain's domination of Muslims in India and
later Egypt all dealt profound shocks to a Muslim world that had,
until the 18th century, confidently regarded itself as superior
to the West.
Muslim Rationalist: Al-Afghani
Jamal ad-Din Al-Afghani (1839-1897) launched
this modernizing reform movement in Islam, one strain of which developed
later into the revolutionary Salafism the United States confronts
today. Chiefly through his preaching and pupils in Cairo, Al-Afghani
spread the idea that Muslim defeats at the hands of the West were
due to the corruption of Islam. Al-Afghani admired Western rationalism,
and saw it as the source of the West's material strength. Rather
than advocating secularization, however, Al-Afghani taught that
rationalism was the core of an uncorrupted "true" Islam,
the Islam supposedly practiced during the golden age of Muhammad
and his first few successors. Al-Afghani believed that if this spiritual
revival of Muslim society were accomplished, the Muslim world would
soon develop the intellectual equipment it needed to redress the
West's technological and military advantages.6
Al-Afghani's teachings flew in the face of
conventional wisdom in both the Muslim world and the West. Most
Ottoman reformers who contemplated the disparities between Western
and Eastern power concluded that the Ottoman Empire needed to adopt
the science of the West, and set aside much of the thought of the
East, a tendency that culminated in Attaturk's radical secularism.
Al-Afghani, on the other hand, diagnosed the
Muslim world's problem as theological at root, and prescribed as
an antidote religious revival. Al-Afghani also taught that political
struggle, even revolt, was sometimes justified.
Al-Afghani's attempts to identify Western rationalism
with primitive Islam, as well as his teaching on rebellion, brought
condemnation from the Sunni clerical establishment. He failed to
win a popular following for his ideas, and he was deported from
Egypt by the pro-British regime of the Khedive Tawfiq.7
But Al-Afghani's students had a lasting impact on the next generation
of Muslim thinkers.
Sunni Reformers: 'Abduh and Ridha
Al-Afghani's leading student was Muhammed 'Abduh
(1849-1905.) He rose to become Grand Mufti of Egypt, making him
the only prominent Salafist to have made a career among the clerical
elite. 'Abduh was a modernist: like Al-Afghani, he contended that
Islam, properly understood, was compatible with the rationalism
of modern Europe. This proper understanding could be found in the
supposedly pure religion practiced during the first few generations
of Islam. 'Abduh coined the term "salafiah" to describe
his teachings. Importantly, 'Abduh also taught that private judgment
(ijtihad) was a valid means by which contemporary believers could
understand "true" Islam in a modern light.8
'Abduh's followers took his ideas in two divergent
directions after his death. Some used his teachings to advocate
secularization in the Muslim world. They had much impact over the
next 50 years, blunting Muslim resistance to Arab socialism and
nationalism, but the logic of their views led many of them into
outright secularism, taking them out of the debate among Sunni believers.9
The other current of 'Abduh's followers used
many of his reforming ideas to move down the path that led to today's
al Qaeda. 'Abduh's pupil and biographer, Mohammed Rashid Ridha (1865-1935)
emphasized his master's teachings on the idea of a pure Islam of
the aslaf, and on the idea that individuals and societies that adhere
to "true" Islam will prosper in this world.
This was an especially attractive promise to
Muslims living under European occupations. Ridha's circle viewed
the early Muslims' conquests as God's reward for their pious obedience.
If only Islam could be cleansed of its medieval encroachments and
(in Ridha's version) the errors of both modern Westernizing philosophers
and of Shias, then political success would follow. Ridha believed
the establishment clergy incapable of leading the reform movement
Al-Banna and the Muslim Brothers
The Egyptian Hassan Al-Banna (1906-1949) studied
with Ridha's circle as a young man, and in 1928 he launched in Egypt
the Muslim Brotherhood, the first modern Islamic political movement.
Al-Banna sought to unite and mobilize Muslims against the cultural
and political domination of the West. However, the Brotherhood eventually
reached an understanding with the regime of King Faruq, which saw
the Brothers as a useful counter to nationalist movements. As a
result, revolutionaries among the Salafists began to feel less and
less comfortable with the Brotherhood.
Just as these differences within the Brotherhood
were coming to the surface, Gamal Abdel Nasser and other military
officers overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. The new socialist
and nationalist military regime suppressed the Brotherhood in 1954,
claiming it had plotted to assassinate Nasser.
Reform Movements beyond Sunnism's Core
Meanwhile, other Sunni Muslim reform movements
beyond Sunnism's Egyptian core were maturing independently of the
Salafists. Wahabism, a puritanical Sunni sect, first arose in the
1700s, but remained confined to the sparsely populated deserts of
the Arabian Peninsula. In 1816, Sunnism's orthodox core, in the
form of an Egyptian army acting in the name of the Ottoman Sultan,
reached out to Arabia to destroy the first Wahabi state. Ridha,
early in his career, condemned the Wahabis as heretical, as did
all mainstream Sunnis. But Ridha gradually came to sympathize with
the Arabian dissenters.11 Wahabi influence
throughout the Sunni world grew as oil wealth fed Saudi power in
the 1960s and 1970s.
Like Wahabism, the Deobandi and Barelvi movements
of South Asia developed independently of the reformers at Sunnism's
Egyptian core. The Deobandis and Barelvis attempted to address the
problems of South Asian Sunni Muslims who went from being the ruling
minority of the Mughal Empire to living after 1857 under direct
British rule as a minority among South Asia's Hindus. Their solution
was to call on believers to exclude non-Muslim influences from their
lives, build purely Muslim institutions, and strive to live a wholly
Islamic life, as understood by the movements' scholars. It was not
until the 1960s that these South Asian currents influenced the revolutionary
Salafists, through the writings of Pakistani cleric Abul Ala Mawdudi
(1903-1979)12 and their impact on another
Egyptian outsider, Sayyid Qutb.
Qutb (1906-1966), the next bearer of the revolutionary
Salafist flame, was an educator and member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qutb warned against the Westernizing influences that continued to
permeate the Muslim world during the 1940s and 1950s. He had no
formal theological training, but, hearkening back to 'Abduh and
Ridha, believed it the duty of the ordinary believer to seek out
the supposedly pure Islam of the aslaf.13
Expanding on Ibn Taymiyya's teaching on jihad against apostate rulers,
Qutb argued for struggle against the secular regimes of the Muslim
world, even if this meant killing Muslims. Qutb was also influenced
by Mawdudi's call on individual Muslims to exclude non-Muslim influences
from their lives and institutions. Qutb's endorsement of Mawdudi
began a convergence between the revolutionary Salafists and the
South Asian movements.14 The Nasser
regime hanged Qutb in 1966.15
Nasser's secular agenda, his socialism, and
his spectacular defeat in the 1967 war generated opposition to his
regime and disillusionment with secularism in general. Some of this
opposition flowed into the ranks of the underground Islamic political
movements. The Muslim Brotherhood had by this time split with the
revolutionary Salafist movements over the Salafists' calls for overturning
Muslim states and societies. The Brotherhood became the most significant
Islamic political opposition to Nasserism. However, the revolutionary
Salafists, who viewed Qutb as a visionary martyr, gained adherents
as well. Thousands from both movements languished in Egyptian prisons.
After Nasser's death in 1970, his successor,
Anwar al-Sadat, attempted to co-opt both traditional Islam and political
Islam as counters to the political left. The Sadat regime at first
tolerated the growth of a Salafist campus movement calling itself
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), but the Jamaa began to
turn on Sadat when he backed away from his earlier promise to impose
sharia law. Around the same time, a more radical faction splintered
from the Jamaa, calling itself simply Jihad. Sadat suppressed both
groups in the late 1970s.
During the 1970s, one of those who spread Qutb's
message and updated his strategy was Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj,
an electrician and self-taught theologian for the underground Jihad
in Egypt. Tried as a leader of the conspiracy that assassinated
Sadat in 1981, Faraj used the proceedings to present his manifesto,
The Neglected Duty. Along with theological arguments justifying
violence, The Neglected Duty echoes Qutb on the need for a strategy
that attacks the "near enemy"-apostate Muslim regimes-before
the "far enemy" -meaning Israel, the United States, and
other Western powers interfering in the Muslim world.16
Faraj also accused the Muslim Brothers and the establishment Egyptian
clergy of collaborating with the secular Egyptian regime. The Neglected
Duty was widely read throughout Egypt and the Muslim world.
Mustafa, Zawahiri, and Bin Laden
After Sadat's assassination and the ensuing
crackdown on both the Muslim Brothers and the revolutionary Salafists
in Egypt, some Salafists gravitated to a sect headed by an engineer
named Shukri Mustafa. Mustafa's group, building on Qutb's writings,
preached the "denunciation as unbelievers" (takfir) of
almost all of society, and separation from it. The traditional religious
establishment of Al-Azhar denounced these "takfiris" as
heretics. Mustafa was hanged in 1977 for the kidnapping and murder
of a senior Al-Azhar cleric.17
The guerilla war against the Soviet occupation
of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 was the incubator for the contemporary
stage in the development of revolutionary Salafist doctrine and
strategy. Many Arab volunteers in Afghanistan coalesced around revolutionary
Salafists who remained outsiders to the Sunni clerical establishment,
even as some of the Arab regimes, and the United States, funded
them. Many Arabs in Afghanistan came under the influence of the
Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, a prolific writer whom many
found persuasive, but who, like all the revolutionary Salafists,
was condemned by the Al-Azhar clerical establishment.
Zawahiri claims to have known Faraj personally;
the doctor eventually became a leader of one of the Egyptian Jihad
groups.18 Zawahiri met Osama bin Laden
in Peshawar, Pakistan, during the guerilla campaign against the
Soviets. The two collaborated closely, Zawahiri contributing his
skills as an ideologist, Bin Laden his organizational talents and
financial resources. The two publicly announced the merger of their
groups in 1998, completing al Qaeda's development into the group
that challenges the United States today.
Al Qaeda Strategy Today
Zawahiri remains Bin Laden's deputy as leader
of al Qaeda, and the Egyptian doctor's writings provide the best
insight into the terrorist organization's current strategic thinking.
In his 2001 book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, Zawahiri identifies
and prioritizes the goals of what he calls the "the revolutionary
fundamentalist movement": first, achievement of ideological
coherence and organization, then struggle against the existing regimes
of the Muslim world, followed by the establishment of a "genuinely"
Muslim state "at the heart of Arab world."19
Zawahiri views the current stage of the jihad as one of worldwide,
revolutionary struggle, to be waged by means of violence, political
action, and propaganda against the secular Muslim regimes and secularized
Muslim elites.20 Zawahiri argues that
because the terrain in the key Arab countries is not suitable for
guerilla war, Islamists need to conduct political action among the
masses, combined with an urban terrorist campaign against the secular
regimes, supplemented with attacks on "the external enemy"-i.e.,
the United States and Israel-as a means of propaganda that will
strengthen the jihad's popular support.
Zawahiri wants his Salafist readers to keep
in mind that the Arab establishments are the real targets, even
if "confining the battle to the domestic enemy . . . will not
be feasible in this stage of the battle."21
Highly visible attacks against external enemies, and the inevitable
retaliation, Zawahiri explains, will rally ordinary Muslims to the
radicals' cause, strengthening the main struggle, the one against
the current regimes of the Muslim world. As Zawahiri writes in Knights:
The jihad movement must . . . make room for
the Muslim nation to participate with it in the jihad for the sake
of empowerment. The Muslim nation will not participate with [the
jihad movement] unless the slogans of the mujahidin are understood
by the masses. . . . The one slogan that has been well understood
by the nation and to which it has been responding for the past 50
years is the call for jihad against Israel. In addition to this
slogan, the [Muslim] nation in [the 1990s] is geared against the
US presence. [The Muslim nation] has responded favorably to the
call for the jihad against the Americans. . . . [T]he jihad movement
moved to the center of the leadership of the [Muslim] nation when
it adopted the slogan of liberating the nation from its external
enemies. . . . [Striking at the United States would force the Americans
to] personally wage the battle against the Muslims, which means
that the battle will turn into a clear-cut jihad against infidels.22
This passage shows that the revolutionary Salafists
do not expect to actually defeat America or its allies (whatever
al Qaeda propaganda may claim). Instead, spectacular terrorist attacks
are a means toward the end of changing the character of the conflict,
changing it from a campaign waged by a small faction of extremists
against the regimes of Muslim world, into "a clear-cut jihad
against infidels," which would, the Salafists hope, attract
wide support among the Muslim masses.23
Zawahiri views the current phase of the jihad
as a revolutionary war, and the ideological component of the struggle
is thus very important. Like Mao24
and the North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap,25
Zawahiri considers political and propaganda action to be just as
important at some stages as military efforts are. "The jihad
must dedicate one of its wings to work with the masses, preach,
provide services. . . . [T]he people will not love us unless they
feel that we love them, care about them, and are ready to defend
them."26 This last point-convincing
the people that the revolutionary Salafists are "ready to defend
them"-again illustrates how Zawahiri sees high-profile terrorist
strikes against the external enemy as a means of making propaganda
for the Muslim masses. He calls on his followers, at this stage
of the struggle, to "launch a battle for orienting the [Muslim]
nation" by striking at the United States and Israel.27
Thus, al Qaeda's immediate goal is not to destroy Israel or even
drive the United States out of the Middle East; rather, it is to
"orient the nation."
Overcoming Class Conflicts
For all the importance that Zawahiri attaches
to political action and organization among the masses, the revolutionary
Salafists have aroused, at least up until the US invasion of Iraq,
little popular response to their efforts.
In his 2002 book Jihad: The Trail of Political
Islam, Gilles Kepel argues convincingly that contemporary political
Islamist movements can succeed only when they are able to mobilize,
and maintain an alliance between, the masses and the pious middle
classes. Natural tensions between the two constituencies are inherently
difficult to control and are repeatedly the downfall of contemporary
political Islamist movements, most notably in Algeria. Kepel points
out that the Ayatollah Khomeini was the only really successful leader
of a movement that harnessed both lower- and middle-class energies
long enough to achieve power. This may have had much to do with
factors unique to Shia Islam (such as the believer's obligation
to choose and support financially a spiritual mentor) that are not
available to would-be Sunni revolutionaries.
Kepel goes on to argue that the closest thing
so far to a Khomeini-style success in the Sunni Arab world was the
rise and fall of the Algerian Front Islamique du Salut (FIS). The
FIS convinced the pious middle classes that it was nonviolent and
did not threaten stability, while showing a sufficiently revolutionary
face to Algeria's masses of alienated young men to mobilize them.
The result was a series of FIS electoral successes
that would have resulted in a democratically elected FIS regime
had the Algerian military not intervened in 1992. When the FIS was
unable to control the rage of its underclass supporters over the
coup, and violence erupted, the pious middle classes largely deserted
the movement, leading to its collapse.28
Similarly, Egypt's revolutionary Salafists
have been discredited by their violence, especially the Luxor massacre
of 1997, when the Jamaa slaughtered 60 foreign tourists. This and
other outrages sickened many Egyptians who might otherwise have
given the Islamists a hearing. This revulsion, as much as the regime's
ruthless crackdown, so weakened the Jamaa that by 1999 its imprisoned
leaders had publicly declared a unilateral cease-fire.29
Saudi Arabia is exceptional, as mentioned earlier,
because Salafism there is a doctrine of the insiders, the clerical
establishment. However, even in Saudi Arabia, the centuries-old
partnership between the Al-Saud dynasty and the Wahabi clerical
establishment gives the establishment Salafist clerics an important
interest in suppressing the revolutionary strain of Salafism. Quintan
Wiktorowicz and John Kaltner describe this split between violent
and nonviolent Salafists, noting the prominence in the latter group
of leaders with Ph.D.'s from Saudi universities.30
Both the establishment Wahabi clerics and the
Al-Saud have sometimes failed in their efforts to keep the revolutionary
Salafists out of Saudi Arabia's establishment clergy, and until
2001 actually connived in establishing them outside the kingdom.
Since 11 September 2001 and the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, the
Saudi regime has worked, with mixed success, to suppress its revolutionary
Strategic Implications for the United States
Almost all of the thinkers who shaped al Qaeda's
ideology were outsiders. Al-Afghani, Ridha, Al-Banna, Qutb, Faraj,
and Zawahiri all battled the clerical and government establishments
of their time. Only 'Abduh penetrated the clerical establishment
(and he probably would condemn the violent factions of today's Salafists).
Like their intellectual forbears, al Qaeda and today's other Salafist
revolutionaries remain outsiders, locked in a century-long philosophical
struggle with the traditional Sunni clerical elite, and engaged
in political struggle with Arab regimes. The revolutionary Salafists
fight because they want power, and because they hate the secularism
and corruption they associate with the current Sunni Muslim regimes.
(The regimes' undemocratic nature has not been an important motive
for the Salafists over the years.)
The revolutionaries have failed so far to mobilize
and unite the masses and pious middle classes of most Arab countries.
They no longer enjoy the overt support of any government on the
planet, having lost their state in Afghanistan, been defeated in
Algeria, and fallen out of favor with their erstwhile allies in
Sudan's military regime.
The Salafists' current strategy, as Zawahiri
described, is to provoke, on an international scale, a cycle of
violence and repression that will mobilize the Sunni masses. The
American invasion of Afghanistan failed to bring about this mobilization.
However, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, combined with US support
of Israel's policies in the occupied territories, may at last be
triggering the radicalization of the masses and middle classes of
the Arab world that al Qaeda has hoped for.
Sunni Islam's most active reformers over the
past century have been its outsiders, the Salafists. It is the insiders
of Sunni Islam who are America's natural allies. Western advocates
of "reformation" understandably want to see the existing
secular, Westernized classes in Muslim countries gain the upper
hand. But these politically weak classes are small elites viewed
with suspicion by both the masses and the regimes. Any American
effort to strengthen these elites must be a project for several
decades, to be carried out quietly and with the greatest caution.
The United States would gain little if more among the Muslim masses
came to regard Muslim liberals as agents of the global hegemon,
bent on depriving Islam of its capacity to resist a Western culture
that most view as morally depraved.
The United States should instead exploit its
ties to the existing regimes of the Sunni world in order to combat
jointly the revolutionary Salafists. The US struggle against al
Qaeda and similar groups will be chiefly a matter of intelligence
and police work, with perhaps a role for special forces working
with local partners in ungoverned areas. Only the existing Muslim
regimes, in coordination with American investigators and spies,
can defeat the cells of al Qaeda and similar groups moving among
the Sunni world's masses. The United States needs to support and
to engage with these undemocratic regimes even more closely if US
security services are to be granted the liaison relationships with
local authorities that are essential to the real war against terrorism.
Washington should set aside, for now, its ambitions for democratic
revolution in the region, at least until the Salafist revolution
Similarly, the United States must avoid positioning
itself as the foe of the traditional Sunni clerical establishments,
or provoking some of them into sympathy with their erstwhile foes,
the revolutionary Salafists. If mainstream Sunnis come to view the
United States as bent on a campaign to weaken or remake traditional
Muslim culture, then more and more mainstream Sunni believers will
conclude that the revolutionary Salafists they once reviled were
right all along. At that point the world really would see the clash
of civilizations sought by both al Qaeda and some US pundits.
1. Muhammad Abd Al-Salam Faraj,
The Neglected Duty, sections 68-70, trans. in Johannes J. G. Jansen,
The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat's Assassins and Islamic Resurgence
in the Middle East (New York: Macmillan, 1986), p. 192. The title
of Faraj's book is also sometimes translated as "The Forgotten
2. Ayman al-Zawahiri,
Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, serialized in Al-Sharq al Awsat
(London) 2-10 December 2001, trans. Foreign Broadcast Information
Service, document FBIS-NES-2001-1202, maintained on-line by the
Federation of American Scientists, http://fas.org/irp/world/para/aymanh_bk.html.
3. Michael Ledeen, The
War against the Terror Masters (New York: St. Martin's, 2002, 2003),
pp. 172, 216.
4. The Sunni-Shia split
had its origins in the seventh century. Shiism is at least as diverse
as Sunnism, but is beyond the scope of this essay because al Qaeda
is a militantly Sunni movement with no appeal in the Shia world.
5. For example, Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said "We need an Islamic
reformation, and I think there is real hope for one." Quoted
in David Ignatius, "The Read on Wolfowitz," The Washington
Post, 17 January 2003, p. A23.
6. Albert Hourani, Arabic
Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 115-17.
7. Ibid., p. 109.
8. M. A. Zaki Badawi,
The Reformers of Egypt (London: Croom Helm,1978), pp. 35-95.
9. Hourani, p. 170.
Secularizing disciples of 'Abduh included Lutfi Al-Sayyid (1872-1968),
Qasim Amin (1865-1908), and the brothers Mustafa (d. 1947) and Ali
(1888-1963) Abdul Raziq.
10. Hourani, p. 228.
For a mainstream Sunni criticism of Ridha, see Answer to an Enemy
of Islam (Istanbul: Waqf Ikhlas Publications, 1993).
11. Perhaps this was
because Ridha realized that he himself was moving outside the Sunni
mainstream, or perhaps he was impressed by the political success
of the Wahabis' patron, Ibn Saud, who reestablished the Saudi state
in 1902 and conquered Mecca and Medina in 1924-25.
12. Gilles Kepel,
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ.
Press, 2002), 23.
13. In the Shade of
the Quran is Qutb's exegesis on the Quran, written while in prison.
14. One Salafist admirer
of Qutb, the Palestinian-born, Egyptian-educated Abdullah Azzam
(1941-1989), obtained a professorship at a Saudi university in the
1970s, where his students included Osama bin Laden. Azzam played
an important role in the convergence of Egypt-based revolutionary
Salafism and Saudi revolutionary Wahabism.
15. Robert Siegel,
"Sayyid Qutb's America," National Public Radio, 6 May
Like many of the revolutionary Salafists to follow him, Qutb appears
to have been radicalized partly by a direct encounter with the West.
Sent to study at the University of Northern Colorado in the 1940s
by the government of King Faruq, Qutb wrote later of the sexual
decadence and secularized religion of the United States.
16. Faraj (in Jansen),
17. Kepel, p. 85.
The establishment compared the Takfiris to the Kharijites of the
seventh century, who are universally reviled by mainstream Sunnis
for failing to respect the consensus of believers and for denouncing
fellow Muslims as unbelievers.
18. Zawahiri, p. 74.
19. Ibid., p. 80.
20. Ibid., pp. 72-73.
21. Ibid., p. 71
22. Ibid., pp.75,
23. It is a strategy
analogous to the failed attempts of European leftist terrorists
in the 1970s to set off a revolution with terrorist attacks aimed
at provoking indiscriminate government crackdowns.
24. Ilana Kass and
Bard O'Neill, The Deadly Embrace (Lanham, Md., and London: University
Press of America, 1996), p. 13.
25. Vo Nguyen Giap,
People's War, People's Army (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962).
26. Zawahiri, p. 75.
27. Ibid., p. 76.
28. Kepel, pp. 254-75.
29. Ibid., p. 297.
30. Quintan Wiktorowicz
and John Kaltner, "Killing in the Name of Islam: Al-Qaeda's
Justification for September 11," Middle East Policy,10 (Summer
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