Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hijazi and Salafi-Resistance relations

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for keeping us up to date on this very deep and confusing event.

I've been reading both your own and Abu A's translations of the OBL tape and now this and, trying to step back and take an overall view, it seems to me that OBL may have been criticising ISI AND the resistance factions the latter for engaging in worldly politics when they should be concentrating on the jihad and the former for abusing the concept itself by such actions as declaring takfir et al.

In many ways both courses of action would be anathema to a revolutionary such as OBL given that they would weaken the jihad itself and allow enemies to ride roughshod through their ranks.

Or am I just being simplistic here??

At any rate, I'm glad that you and Marc Lynch are continuing to pursue this, even though I'm sometimes finding that more information may not necessarily be leading toward a greater understanding.


1:05 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I think you're right that he was criticizing both. And I think some of the confusion arises because he and others felt the need to be very circumspect given, among other things, the fact there has been a shooting war going on between elements of the two sides. AJ naturally wanted to give a push to the ISI-criticism side; people like Hijazi the opposite.

I think where I may have been a little confusing myself is that I vacillated about which side he was most criticizing (reflecting, I should say in my defence, the confusion reigning in the milieu), then today I abandoned that question and focused instead on a different question, namely what does the whole debate mean for the prospects of a meeting of the jihadi-resistance minds.

At the end of the day, as we say, I think (1) OBL was criticizing both sides, as you say; (2)each side has its own opposing interpretation, which has made for an unusual degree of conflicting cross-currents; but (3)even on the basis of the ultra-salafi position of Hijazi, there is still a element of would-be rapprochement in the whole thing (reflected in his references to al-Dhari cooling the fight-the-ISI movement, and the "honest groups" terminology).

But that's just me.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something significant in this is that the ISI is - by its very nature - federalist/partitionist and along with the attempt to usurp the establishment and impose their own view of how the Iraqi people should live (let alone decide, on some very dodgy theology, who should die)they were never going to last very long among the Iraqis. How long would SIIC and Badr have lasted without the protection of the US military?

In this light I'm not so sure al-Dhari was attempting to cool the fighting so much as to send a message to the young and easily influenced foot soldiers of the ISI - and their detractors - that they would and should be welcomed back into the fold of "honest resistors".

If this were to happen ISI would be stripped of much of its manpower, resources and influence. The Islamic State project would then be dead in the water and the nationalist hand would be strengthened considerably, putting the PCIR in a position to form an unbeatable non-sectarian political bloc. I can see many factions - including OBL and the US - being very concerned by such a turn of events.

BTW, I see that with AQI now on the run the good General is declaring "the problem" to be the Iraqi Mafia.

What to say??

4:07 PM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

I agree with Steve that al-Dhari message was an invitation to ISI foot soldiers. The window might be closing tho, considering reports of IAI killing off 16 AQ fighters in Samarra. So much for rapprochement.

4:38 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I see what you're getting at. I hadn't thought of it that way: Dhari trying to lure the foot-soldiers back into the ranks of the national resistance, and OBL trying to head that off with an attempt to promote and advertise law and order in the salafi/ISI ranks.

If it seems the battle-lines are actually drawn in that way, then I can see where my tortured attempt to squeeze something positive out of the Hijazi text could come across as pretty confusing, to say the least... I've been assuming that conciliation is actually on the table, so to speak, and certainly other jihadi postings talk that way, but who really knows...

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like there's a humdinger of a power struggle going on where the non AlQI is trying to wrest back control of the insurgency agenda.

Nothing else explains why
non-Alqi insurgent attacks also dropped dramatically in Anbar when the ISI got chased out of there?

Non-Alqi appears to be letting the US/ISF do the job for it because it was not strong enough to do it on its own.

If and when Alqi is driven out of Iraq, there will be a whole new different scenario. However the non-Alqi insurgents will still have to come to terms with the (80%) Shiite majority in Arab Iraq and the Iraq constitution endorsed by 77% of the voters.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the kidnapping of the tribal chiefs opposed to AQ today?

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CR, that may be a stick and carrot approach. One of the fighters in "Meeting Resistance" made it clear to us that once the occupation was ended they'd "Go back and deal with those that call themselves the resistance but are blowing up schools". They could never afford to open a second front - or display disunity - but it seems the situation get so far out of hand recently that something had to be done.

To use a word from the US military, the "irreconcilables" can be shown the stick and those who have moved toward the extremes for whatever reason but are open to reason can have the carrot.

Badger, OBL and AQ have never been very popular in Iraq - just look at the polling - so it's possible that he's belatedly realized that his vision of the future has been put in jeopardy by the over-zealousness of his accolytes and he's now trying to calm the waters. That may now be too little, too late.

Anon, yes an interesting piece of news, that. And at a "fake" police checkpoint along the route of return from meeting the PM. I was reading something the other day by Ali Fadhil of IPS in which he quoted an "Anbar Awakening" police commander as saying their fight was essentially against the "sectarian government in Baghdad" and that's why they needed the help of the Americans. Sunni tribes taking over policing the province from the Baghdad government would force out an Interior Ministry influence, that's for sure. The plot thickens.


6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you're right about the next major hurdle being the one of reconciliation and some sort of power sharing sentiment between the nationalists within the Arab communities.

Much of the groundwork for this has already been done by the Sadrists (Moqtada's people and Fadila) and I think the recently declared statement of intent by the PCIR may be a signal of good faith in response. There is also the National Dialogue Front that seems to be retaining the credibility to bridge some of the remaining divides. They all have a lot in common including holding the country together as a single entity and, as Badger reported a few days back, Hakim's attempt to woo the tribes toward federalism - maybe in order to distance them from Moqtada -has had a cool welcome (some would say dismissal).

As for the constitution: the major bone of contention has been and remains the federalism and that is also the point of alliance between the nationalists.

There is hope. I hope.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As you say, federalism is a major,if not the main issue. But when push comes to shove would Moqtada accept a minority powersharing position in a Sunni/ Baath/secular/salafi/nationalist govt when the Shia, his constituency, are 80% of Arab Iraq and command 95% plus pluralities in 9 out of the 15 provinces of Arab Iraq and over 70% in Baghdad? Or do you feel the Sunni leadership is moving towards acceptance of this politico/demographic reality and would cut a deal accordingly? Otherwise it doesn't make politics 101 to me, occupation or no occupation?

btw - when is your film going to be available on DVD or released in Australia?

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think the Salafi part of that grouping will be significantly reduced in a post-occupation setup, the Ba'ath is finished and the Sunni must deal.

The Sunni or Shi'a identifier is really something that has entered the Iraqi internal political debate only since 2003 (not that there was much political debate before then, of course) and, as the world has seen the consequences of that, the Iraqis themselves have suffered those consequences. I would imagine that has been a sobering experience and that sobriety is reflected in all the polling I've seen. What people are clearly crying out for is security and stability provided by a strong central government - not necessarily a dictatorship.

Any examination of the pre-invasion political infrastructure - below the level of the "first family" - shows that all but a few hundred in the Sunni community would have had someone from the Shi'a faith above them in the establishment hierarchy so why would such power sharing no longer be a possibility. I believe it would and I believe that in a transitional technocracy it would be highly desirable by all parties. I think it's very important to understand that most Arab Iraqis of whatever persuasion think of themselves as Iraqi first and, sometimes, last. The resilience of this self identification is clear to see even though, given what has happened over the last 4 years, it seems to us little short of a miracle.

The main question I have is whether SIIC and the Badr organisation would remain in the country and attempt to retain power. As now, that would be a deciding factor in the level of bloodshed still to come.

We're hoping to have DVD's for sale in just a few weeks time and if you sign up for our newsletters you'll be among the first to know when they're available.

We just approached ABC to see if they were interested in licensing the film but they regard it as too intellectual for their audience. You must be very gratified that they're making those decisions for you. I certainly would be......


8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Steve’s comments:

This PCIR - which only represents the moderate wing of the Sunni Islamist AMSI camp, not the Iraqi National Resistance - seems to have the backing of some notorious collaborators (Al-Hashemi for one).

For its part, the National Dialogue Front led by Saleh Al-Mutlak is in league with the ex-Ba’athist renegades around usurper Mohammed Younis Al-Ahmed, who cut a side-deal with the US some time ago.

Meanwhile, wily old CIA agent Ayad Allawi - the darling of collaborators posing as honourable patriots - is waiting in the wings, ready to head a so-called ‘transitional technocracy’ (National Salvation Government as it used to be called) and thereby
shore up the faltering US project in Iraq.

Bush will gracefully accept defeat and the US bases will endure….

I'm sure that would make Steve very happy.

However, it won’t happen, because THANKFULLY, the Ba’ath is NOT finished and it will not give up the fight until the all those US bases have been closed down once and for all.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's outrageously gutless of the ABC. Try SBS (Special Broadcasting Service). Although I must say the "audience" here, pro or anti, tuned out on Iraq after last year's ghastly bloodletting and it rarely gets discussed.

3:27 PM  
Blogger annie said...

ABC is an organ of the gop. that became abundantly clear when the aired the fabricated story 'the path to 9/11' creating scenes from whole cloth w/out basis in reality.

9:37 AM  

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