Akram Hijazi, described as a writer and university professor, someone Marc Lynch tells
us is a frequent and apparently influential contributor to the jihadi forums, has a recent post entitled "Slow down there! This speech [of Osama bin Laden] wasn't a confessional, it was a call to arms".
Marc gives us a head start by locating this in the context of one of Hijazi's themes, namely the important difference between the fundamentally religious "salafi jihadi" approach and that of the non-salafi resistance groups, the idea being that any "mistakes" referred to in the Bin Laden speech are mistakes in the application of Islamic religious law, not "mistakes" in the sense of political errors. Hijazi sees the need to really harp on the point at the present time, because otherwise there are those who will interpret the Bin Laden speech as a specific criticism of the Islamic State of Iraq in political terms, maybe even suggesting it should be dissolved. A grave misreading, says Hijazi.
And with this as a legup thanks to the Abu Aardvark blog, let's see where this takes us in the question of jihadi-resistance relations. Because even after admitting the radical difference between salafi jihadi groups that refer only to religious law and their allies who recognize in some sense positive law as well, the fact remains that the Bin Laden speech raised for the first time (from the AQ side) the idea of points of contact, and Hijazi seems to recognize that, albeit in a very roundabout and tendentious way.
I think it's worth getting into the tall reeds here, because of the importance of the underlying question about the relationship between the salafi jihadis and the non-salafi Iraqi resistance.
We know that Bin Laden spoke about the necessary unity of the "honest groups" and about the damage that "taassub" or absolute and narrow devotion to a particular group and its leadership. Hijazi asks: "...whether the unity Bin Laden calls for among the jihadi groups is the unity of creed, or whether on the other hand is it a general political unity?" He says if you read the speech from the standpoint of positive law and existing political arrangements, then the reading is likely to be that a focus on the idea that AlQaeda for the first time admitted mistakes in Iraq, and then
"[T]he initial gist of our conclusion will be that AlQaeda is intent on dissolving he Islamic State of Iraq, on the basis it is the biggest mistake leading to "the crisis it is undergoing, which centers essentially on the loss of a popular supporting environment for it, and the alienation of a good part of the masses from it after it tried to impose its views on the other groups and set up the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and requiring everyone to pledge allegiance to its leader." But does this reading, and that result, actually correspond to the essence of what Bin Laden was saying, and to the essence of the mistakes he was talking about?
(The part I italicized is something that Hijazi encloses in quotation marks. I don't know who he is quoting, but clearly it is meant to be representative of what he considers to be the unacceptable conclusion from a non-religious mis-reading of the speech).
Hijazi's answer is obviously no. That isn't the right reading. But my point here is that he says it isn't the right reading because it leads to an unacceptable conclusion, as a form of reduction ad absurdum. The right reading, and the one that doesn't lead to the danger of thinking about dissolving the ISI or anything like that, is the careful reading that puts the whole speech in its religious context, where mistakes are universal and human, to be corrected by the application of religious law by persons who are qualified to do so. In support of this Hijazi quotes the religious texts that are the source of ideas like human fallibility, and he shows how glorifying the orders of your own group as if they were infallible is one type of error, and participating in democratic forms of government is another. So from that point of view too, the Bin Laden speech clearly wasn't intended as a political criticism, veiled or otherwise, of the ISI.
Of course, Hijazi's choice between "unity of creed" and "general political unity" is quite limiting. And in a way the arguments are spurious in other ways: No political unity is possible outside of unity of creed, but the person saying that defines "creed" as he sees fit. Or to put it another way, the aim of jihad is the actual implementation of transnational Islamic justice, and therefore this particular Islamic State (Omar al-Baghdadi's)
is not to be specifically criticized in a political sense. He hides the political reality of the ISI behind an argument that the whole idea isn't political but religious.
Fine. Now, having limbered up by practicing how to differentiate between two different readings of the Bin Laden text, let's return to the question of the relationship between the salafi jihadis and what Bin Laden referred to as the "honest groups", because the latter expression is clearly intended to refer to a group broader in scope than the former, raising in many minds the question of jihadi/resistance unification. Here's how Hijazi treats the question. In his concluding section he lists points to be taken from the Bin Laden speech, and the first four have to do broadly with the question of admitting error among jihadis, dealing with error, and not confusing that with declaring war on jihad itself. The fifth and sixth points are as follows:
Fifth: There was a new term in the speech, namely "the honest groups (jama'at al-sadiqa)", and it appears to have been a definitive and clear reply to those who promote the expression "the honorable resistance and the resistance that isn't honorable". Because in shariah there are distinctions between the believers and those who lie, and between the honest and those who lie, between believers and non-believers, between believers and muslims, between unity and poly[theism], but there isn't [any equivalent specific differentiation] between honorable and non-honorable. This is a good example of the need to interpret salafi jihadi discourse based on religion and not based on political reality.
Sixth: People refer to statements by Sheikh Harith al-Dhari a few days ago where he said that 90% of AlQaeda in Iraq are Iraqis, and consequently they are of us and we are of them, and it isn't permitted to fight against them on the basis of mistakes they make. [Hijazi refers to an essay of his own dating from August, apparently taking up the same point, about the local-Iraqi nature of AQ in Iraq, and he continues], but nobody took up that point, and meanwhile the storm raged and it hasn't calmed down yet...[but in any event] the statement [of Al-Dhari] was the first from an Iraqi, and it means that the idea of fighting AlQaeda as an extraneous group has disappeared not to return. And does this have the meaning of a lead-in to the expression about "honest groups" capable of achieving a "year of the group", and the elimination of the war-cries like those about "honorable resistance" and "non-honorable resistance"? Or [the talk about] the "mistakes of AlQaeda" or about the "awakening councils", particularly after hitting a number of their leaders?
Obviously a one-way street, you will say. People of good will like Al-Dhari help to discourage the idea of fighting against AQ and the ISI, but what do they get in return, beyond an implied designation from Bin Laden as part of the universe of "honest groups"? The answer could be: First, given the "scholastic" nature of the whole discussion, the distinction is an important one from the point of view of mutual respect. And second, as I tried to indicate, Hijazi seems focused in this little essay on fending off an anti-ISI interpretation of the Bin Laden speech, so it is highly polemical, and for that reason not conducive to being generous to the other side.