Skip to comments.Al-Qaeda Takes Fight For 'Hearts And Minds' To The Web
Posted on 08/08/2002 7:05:51 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
The internet has become a significant weapon for Al-Qaeda as it seeks to influence radical Muslim opinion and justify its campaign of terror against the West. Paul Eedle reports.While Al-Qaeda has found support in the Muslim world with its vitriolic condemnation of US policies on issues such as Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan, the organisation's strategy of all-out war against the West has met with a surprising amount of opposition from Muslim radicals.
Important Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in particular, have been criticising Al-Qaeda, arguing that Muslims should avoid alienating potential supporters in the West and that ultimately Islam can live in peace with the West.
Al-Qaeda has fought back vigorously on the internet, publishing a stream of statements and arguments on the website, alneda.com, and although these articles demonstrate that Al-Qaeda is determined to exploit the so-called 'clash of civilisations' between Islam and the West, two recent episodes have highlighted the depth and nature of criticism aimed at Al-Qaeda within Muslim circles.
The Haznawi videotape
An important argument erupted over a videotape of the testament of one of the 11 September hijackers, Ahmed al-Haznawi, broadcast by Al-Jazeera television on 18 April. Since the USA campaign began in Afghanistan in October 2001, Al-Qaeda has frequently used Al-Jazeera to address Muslims it wants to woo, and Westerners it wants to frighten.
The Haznawi videotape was transmitted during the battle of Jenin, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the highest priority for Muslims. In the discussion that followed, Muntasser al-Zayyat, a well-known Egyptian activist, criticised the tape on the grounds that it gave ammunition to the enemies of Islam at a critical time. Zayyat said: "We know that our brothers who carried out this action [11 September] were, in their view, supporting the Palestinian cause. But we are also interested in communicating well with others. By 'others' I mean those whom we want to side with us in this struggle." Zayyat went further. He said resistance to the USA was a religious duty, but added: "I do not go so far down this path as to target civilians indiscriminately in the way that happened."
Al-Qaeda responded by releasing three articles on alneda.com in April, defending its release of the video as well as the entire conduct of its war against the USA and the West. Two of the articles were published in the name of Qaedat al-Jihad, (the Base of Jihad), and one in the name of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Research.
There were two main themes in the articles. The first was that the West, particularly the USA and Israel, has been implacably hostile to Islam throughout its history. Therefore, the West needs no excuse, such as a tape claiming responsibility for 11 September, to justify its war on Islam. More than that, there is no point attempting to influence 'Crusader-Zionist public opinion' in the West, which fully supports its governments.
Al-Qaeda concludes that the only way to deal with the West is with violence. The final article in the series said: "We affirm to the masses of the nation that the way of jihad is the only way at this time to support the religion of God everywhere. As for negotiations - shame; and requests for international help - they are the way of the defeated searching for crumbs. The nation must pay attention to this and not knock at their door but rise up to carry out the obligation of jihad which is their duty in Palestine and elsewhere. The West understands only the logic of force."
The second theme was that the attacks on 11 September were fully justified in Islamic law and Muslims who criticise them are 'hypocrites' - the Koran's term for internal opponents of the Prophet Mohammed in the earliest days of Islam. One article, which set out to demonstrate "the legality of the operations in Washington and New York", laid out seven grounds in Islamic law on which it is permissible to kill 'sacrosanct infidels' - essentially civilians - and six grounds on which it is permissible to kill Muslims.
How we can co-exist
The second wave of criticism erupted in March and was still raging three months later. In February, an open letter from 60 US intellectuals was published justifying President George W Bush's 'war on terrorism' on the grounds that it was a just war in defence of US values which are universal human values. Signatories included Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History, and Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilisations.
In March, Saudi scholar Sheikh Salman al-Oadah published a response, signed by 150 Saudi academics and professionals, called 'How we can co-exist'. While it was clear in its condemnation of US policies, the letter caused a storm in Muslim circles by offering a dialogue with the West and conceding that the West and Islam did, indeed, share certain universal values. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah was one of the two main religious leaders of the opposition movement in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, the other being signatory Safar al-Hawali.
Al-Qaeda reacted furiously. In April, alneda.com carried 'Please prostrate yourselves in private', a 14-page commentary attacking 'How we can co-exist' almost line by line.
This article was based on two main arguments. Firstly, Islam shares no fundamental values with the West. "These expressions of yours are based on the principle of equality in the documents of the United Nations, which do not discriminate between people on the basis of religion, ethnicity or gender. But Islam is superior; nothing is superior to it; even a Muslim who is a slave is better than a million infidel gentlemen." Secondly, Muslims are committed to spread Islam by the sword. "A person has only three options - become a Muslim, live under the rule of Islam, or be killed. The signatories should have made that clear to the West."
While these are extreme views, they are taken seriously in the world of Muslim political debate. Al-Qaeda is building on a theology of jihad against the West that has been elaborated in great depth by many different writers over the decade since the Gulf War in 1991. This literature has taken over from the previous generation of Muslim radical thinking in the 1970s and 1980s that concentrated on how to establish purist Islamic governments inside the Muslim world, as in Iran.
For example, Sheikh Naser al-Fahed, a Saudi scholar with a substantial following, published a long denunciation of 'How we can co-exist' on his website, and alneda.com published three more critiques, signed by seven scholars, in its 'fatwas' section.
As a result of the Al-Qaeda standpoint, it now takes great courage to speak out against this 'jihadi' view. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah told JIR that four or five people who signed 'How we can co-exist' have subsequently withdrawn their support.
Al-Qaeda's use of the internet and videotapes demonstrate that 'perception management' is central to the conduct of its war with the West. In fact, it is possible to view all of Al-Qaeda's operations - including acts of violence - as one vast perception management operation. Everything Al-Qaeda does is taped to use later. They claim to have recorded testaments of all 19 of the 11 September hijackers and have videotaped many of their fighters in Afghanistan in order to have martyr obituary material if they are killed. An important motive for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan may well have been to produce the horrific video of one of his kidnappers mutilating his body, which was posted on the internet in May.
The absolutist arguments used by Al-Qaeda in its exchanges with radical Muslim critics suggest that the aim of this perception management is to convince both Muslims and Westerners that they are involved in a fight to the death, a violent 'clash of civilisations'. When Samuel Huntington published his famous article a decade ago, many people thought the theory far-fetched. Al-Qaeda wants to make the 'clash' a reality, repeatedly arguing that its conflict with the West is a black and white struggle of good against evil in which it is purely following the will of God.
A Muslim activist with well-placed sources in the radical movements told JIR that the aim of 11 September was to provoke a massive Western response which would in turn prove Al-Qaeda's argument that the West is at war with Islam and force Westerners and Muslims to take sides. This would guarantee that even if Al-Qaeda leaders were killed, the war would continue. In this view, the USA has played its role right on cue and its support for Israeli action in the West Bank has been a bonus, cementing anti-US hostility in the Middle East.
The activist said the next stage of the conflict would be aimed at undermining public support for the US government and its support of moderate or secular-minded Muslim countries. At that point, Al-Qaeda sympathisers could start to overthrow governments in the Arabian peninsula, Central Asia or Southeast Asia without Western powers intervening to drive them from power as the USA has done with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Muslim attitudes to the West
Neither Al-Qaeda statements nor the outpourings of radical Saudi religious scholars can really be used to gauge what is going on in the minds of millions of ordinary Muslims. It is certainly true that Al-Qaeda is not engaging intellectually with Muslim radicals in Lebanon, among the Palestinians or in Iran. Its influence is confined to the radical Muslims of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and this may prove to be an interesting weakness. The Iranians, Hizbullah in Lebanon and even Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have a record of tempering the use of violence with pragmatic politics in order to achieve concrete goals such as the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
However, all the evidence currently on the internet points in one direction: in Western terms, public debate in the Muslim world is now very radical. It is axiomatic in this debate that the West, above all the USA, is hostile to Muslims. The only argument is between those who, like Al-Qaeda, want total war, and those who want to confront the West using other means. At the moment, those who want total war are shouting loudest.
Since the internet arrived in the mid-1990s, political debate in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, has escaped from newspapers, where governments could control it - and where Western media could monitor it - to the comparative freedom of cyberspace. While Muslim debate surfaces on satellite TV channels such as Al-Jazeera, it is subject to filters and controls. The real arguments take place on websites, bulletin boards, e-mail lists and in chatrooms.
Al-Qaeda attaches great importance to waging psychological warfare, and has used the internet as its medium. Alneda.com is clearly produced by a substantial team of people, rather than a lone activist. The site is a professionally produced database-driven site with an imaginative webmaster. The site has been shut down three times, each time when CNN researched a story about it and contacted the Internet Service Provider (ISPs) for comment. The original site, www.alneda.com, was hosted in Malaysia and shut down on 13 May; it reappeared around 2 June at http://220.127.116.11/ hosted in Texas and was shut down on 13 June; it reappeared on 21 June at www.drasat.com hosted in Michigan and was shut down on 25 June. In each case, it seems that the ISPs knew nothing about the content and shut the site down as soon as they were told what it was.
The website publishes summaries of international news coverage of Al-Qaeda and its own reporting of fighting in Afghanistan. The site also publishes articles, fatwas (decisions on the application of Muslim law), and even whole books from a wide range of different authors.
Al-Qaeda is taking a significant risk releasing material on alneda.com. It is a public website and there is a strong chance that anyone reading it or uploading to it can be identified and tracked down. Before the war in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda did not take that risk. Using a single, authoritative website is a new tactic, which Al-Qaeda must believe is worthwhile. Paul Eedle
Paul Eedle is a freelance journalist reporting on the Middle East and militant Islam.
They will never see this one coming.
The Prophet Mohammed is a liar, thief, murderer and a pedophile. Those who close their eyes to this truth and worship the Moon God of Islam will surely reap the harvest they have sown.
15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord , who do their work in darkness and think, "Who sees us? Who will know?"
And they are hosting these websites here in the USA?
JIHAD IN AMERICA:
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even a Muslim who is a slave is better than a million infidel gentlemen.According to the Koran, this makes the author a sinner. Only God can pass judgement on a human being for their beliefs.
Al Q ain't got nobody that way anymore
I also hope the NSA-CIA-FBI are running these websites to collect names and addresses for analysis and future action.
Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.>/u>replace the underlined with:
O Prophet! urge the believers to war; if there are twenty patient ones of you they shall overcome two hundred, and if there are a hundred of you they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they are a people who do not understand.Context: going back a few verses one notices that the subject is resisting persecution and enslavement. Koranic e.g. in the same Sura: the Exodus of the Jews.
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.replace the underlined with:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.replace the underlined with:
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