Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's on Al-Libi's mind

Abu Yahya al-Libi, in a 90 minute video lecture released on the weekend, took up all of the tactical issues Bin Laden left out of his recent talks. Al-Libi appears to have become one of the movement's main ideologues, having also the cachet of having escaped two years ago from the Americans' Bagram air-base prison. He responds to questions posed by an invisible Al-Sahab interviewer, prefacing his answers by thanking the organization for its efforts in clarifying for everyone "the true metholodogy and a clear picture" of the jihadi movement, and he at once contrasts this methodology with "the methodologies of adaptation and compromise, whose adoption has become one of the characteristics of the age." (The English subtitles say "methodology" where they might as well have said "method", and the same with "ideology" where they could have said "thought" or "ideas", and in fact it almost seems that the linguistic thickening played back into some of the formulations in Arabic: for instance al-Libi refers to this methodology as "ilmii/manhajii/fikrii, making this "scientific/methodological/ideological" in the English subtitles). In any event, al-Libi says this development of a "complete method" is one of the recent accomplishments of the movement, alongside the military and PR accomplishments. He explains there are two sides to this:

Internally, the jihadi movement has been able to develop a consistent explanation of "legal foundations, analysis of state of affairs, outlook on events, explanation of issues" for members. One of the key elements in this is the rejection of established authority of the fatwa-issuing authorities, in favor of a habit of deciding issues independently based only on holy scripture and the sunna. Another, and related element of this, is the ability to contest and refute the "retractions" that have been issued by some members under pressure from the Saudi authorities.

Externally, Al-Libi seems to be a little less clear on the meaning of the "complete jihadi methodology". His main point seems to be that for the West, military defeat leads inevitably to ideological weakness, but I don't think he explains what use the jihadi methodology is supposed to make of that. It is possible that this is a point of contact with Bin Laden's bizarre call for Americans to embrace Islam.

You can read the whole lecture in the form of English subtitles, although it takes a while. What he seemed to me to be most urgently concerned with was one particular aspect of this "ideas and methodologies" discussion: namely the inroads and potential further inroads that can be made by those advocating the "adaptation and compromise" approach. Implicitly referring to the recent Saudi program of "re-education" and "war of ideas", Al-Libi says these people are trying to "lend a foundation to ideas and methodologies which anyone with the least bit of understanding realizes couldn't be further from having a connection to legal evidence and scientific foundation." In other words, they can be refuted on scriptural-legal grounds. And secondly, he says the Saudi clerics involved in this are part of a system that jails and tortures people and at the same time exposes them to arguments from authority. Al-Libi says none of this can be accepted until the proponents of these "newly-proposed ideas and methodologies" express these ideas "in complete freedom and of their own accord." I don't know in particular what "newly-proposed ideas and methodologies" he is talking about, but clearly they are one form of the "adaptation and compromise" approach.

So "shaking the convictions on which the mujahideen build their march" is one part of the current challenge. The other main challenge comes from attempts to "isolate the mujahideen from the ummah" as an "alien body". This naturally involves fatwas, and it involves the above-mentioned retractions, but it also involves blowing up mistakes that have been made as if they were a necessary and integral part of jihad. His specific complaints refer to charges the jihadis targeted civilians in a couple of highly-publicized bombings. He doesn't mention Iraq in particular, in this connection, but it seems clear he is referring to similar charges against the Islamic State of Iraq.

Another challenge comes from those dedicated to
strengthening and backing some of the methodologies adopted by Islamic movements far removed from jihad, especially those with a democratic approach and those groups that melt and bend the source texts and iron them out so that they agree with the civilization and methodologies of the West, and portraying these groups as moderate, balanced...pushing them into ideological confrontation with the jihadist groups. (this is at minute 44 of the video)

Meanwhile in Iraq, it will be remembered that the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq issued an open message to all of the resistance groups urging on them the necessity of coming together in a common political program, before the Americans withdraw, lest their differences harden and turn into internecine fighting. One part of that message (cited in this earlier post) that wasn't widely noted was this: AMSI, addressing the groups, said some of you are for the great Caliphate, some for an Islamic government but limited to Iraq, and others are for establishment of modern institutions with only a rule against un-Islamic laws. In other words, AMSI was addressing this not only to the homegrown resistance groups, but was including the caliphate-oriented jihadis as well.

Assuming there isn't a great deal of lead-time required for the Al-Libi releases (compared with the Bin Laden releases, for instance), it seems quite possible that one of the targets of Al-Libi's lecture against these new-fangled "democratic" ideas, that he says distort the source texts and threaten the jihadi movement by "isolating the mujahideen from the ummah" is this movement for unity in the Iraqi resistance. The bad, if not surprising, news is that Al-Libi, and by extension the movement for which, or to which, the Al-Sahab Media Productions organization speaks, are dead-set against any such unity. The good news is that judging from Al-Libi's performance, they are quite worried about being put on the defensive in this.

The implications for US policy are obvious, but what's the use of talking about that?


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