Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Takfir Terrorists- Not 'Islamic'

I finally got around to reading The Looming Tower this weekend, probably the best book about the ideology which fuels Al Qaeda and affiliated radical movements.  It's a fabulous tour that covers the fifty-year history since Sayyid Qutb began articulating a call for Sharia law in Egypt, through Ayman al-Zawahiri's generation of Egyptian fundamentalists, and the globalization of the call to jihad.

Of course, the final ideology which emerges through Bin Laden and is indoctrinated into recruits of Al Qaeda and affiliates is not sharia law per se, but the Salafist interpretation of Sharia, which disregards 700 years of adaptation and interpretation by Islamic scholars in a process similar to the Jewish Talmudic disputes.  The closest analogy in the American system is judges who argue that only "originalist" arguments are proper.  The Salafist tradition is no more violent than the American Conservative legal tradition.  However, this is the jumping-off point for Al Qaeda's justification of violence.

 Where Al Qaeda distinguishes itself from a mainstream Salafist point of view is that it chooses to ignore the Kuranic injunction against murder of innocents.  In cases in which the victims are non-believers, they receive some cover from radical Saudi clerics who view all non-Muslims as oppressors via the global capitalist system.  While certainly a stretch, this exemption is still not enough for Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.

In the 1998 twin Embassy bombings killed many more Muslims than they did Infidels, which put Al Qaeda leadership in a tough spot- they had to explain to their followers why they were going on missions to kill the very people they were hoping to liberate and bring to world dominance in reestablishing the Caliphate.  In the end, they argued that the Muslims that were killed were not true Muslims because they were not praying in a mosque when the blasts occured.  The act of murder by Qaeda hands determined that the Muslims were apostates.  The process of condemning a Muslim as an apostate is known as takfir, and those who claim this right to decide for themselves, takfiris.

Without allowing themselves to kill Muslims wantonly alongside infidels, Al Qaeda and its recruits would not be able to mount its assaults on the modern world.  The September 11th attacks killed dozens of Muslims, and many Qaeda targets are more moderate Muslims (e.g. Ahmad Shah Massoud and members of the House of Saud).

Words Matter

Terms like "Islamic extremism" and "Islamic radical" are to some degree adequate to describing the nature of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and affiliated terrorist ideologies.  However, the use of 'Islamic' in the name has the predictable consequence of causing Islamaphobia and enabling bigots.  Instead, we should strive to use a more specific term.  We wish to condemn morally bankrupt terrorists from those Islamists that view Sharia as a moderate alternative to despotism.  What separates Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from the more moderate modern incarnation of the Muslim Brotherhood?

The logic of takfir and its adherents are precisely what allows for murder to masquerade as holy war.  We are at war with Takfiris.  It's time to call them what they are.

Unless we want to see more hate crimes like the Murfreesboro arson we should pick our words carefully.

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