Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Franchise Al-Qaeda

A report in the Daily Maverick, an online publication, by journalist De Wet Potgeiter “Al Qaeda: Alive and well in South Africa” (13 May) has caused stir and injury in the Muslim community.

Al-Qaeda is a loaded word, and when used implicitly to manufacture consent for a terrorist threat – as has been the case in Potgeiter’s article – it serves to conjure up the post 9/11 Islamic bogey that so unfairly associates a whole section of South African society with terror.

This is something that the Media Review Network, a Gauteng-based media watchdog, believes is Islamophobia – the creation of an irrational, racist fear of Islam.

Indeed, many South African Muslims have asked what exactly Potgeiter was trying to prove. That most of his information was old, re-cycled and already public knowledge, suggests that Google could have done his work in a day – and not in a year, as he claims.

At the core of his report are two things: firstly, the South African intelligence services’ apparent laxity in following up on unspecified local Islamic terror threats before the 2010 World Cup and, secondly, the existence of “Al-Qaeda training camps” near Vlakplaas and in the Karoo.

Potgeiter mentions Gauteng businessmen, Junaid and Farhad Dockrat, as funders and facilitators of the “Al-Qaeda” training facilities, which according to his intelligence sources, were providing military training and sniper skills.

He mentions allegations by the CIA in 2001 that the Dockrats had been channelling funds (R400, 000) to Al-Qaeda via the Karachi-based Al-Akhtar Trust, a trust that was listed by the US treasury as a terrorist organisation in 2003. 

The Al-Akhtar Trust, reportedly an offshoot of the Al-Rashid Trust that was listed in 2001, is believed by the US and European intelligence community to have had links with a person involved in the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street reporter, Daniel Pearl.

A supporter of the Taliban (with rumoured covert Pakistani secret service support) the Al-Akhtar Trust  is also believed to have had links to the Kashmiri jihadi movement, Jeish-e-Muhammed (JeM), and – according to Stanford University – of having provided medical treatment for injured Al-Qaeda cadres in 2001.

Potgeiter writes that the Dockrats were the subjects of intensive surveillance by the police’s specialised unit, Crimes against the State (CATS) and the State Security Agency (SSA), in an operation named Operation Kanu.

In his report, Potgeiter equates Operation Kanu with Operation Waco, an apparently similar undertaking directed against the Boeremag, 22 of whose members who were arrested and brought to trial in 2003.

Potgeiter suggests that the prosecution of the Boeremag and cessation of the investigation into the Dockrats was irregular. It is implied that the government had acted in an unfair manner by going after White Afrikaners, and not wealthy Indian Muslims.

I can remember a very highly placed intelligence source saying before the World Cup that the terror situation was under control – there was no Al-Qaeda threat to South Africa – and that the Dockrats, who were definitely on the security radar, had been watched for a long time.

When I interviewed Potgeiter on a radio show he admitted to using the word “Al-Qaeda” generically to describe Islamic extremism. He did not provide proof of concrete links to Al-Qaeda, but promised more details in a follow up story.

However, what Potgeiter has failed to mention is that numerous intelligence think-tanks, and even intelligence agencies world-wide, agree that the old core of Al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda “prime” – has been moribund and ineffective for years. 

At best, during its heyday, the core of Al-Qaeda was never more than several hundred men. The likelihood, then, of the colourless but shadowy Dr Ayman al-Zahawiri orchestrating an international network from his hideout is extremely unlikely.

It is not admitted often that even in Afghanistan during the Taliban era Al-Qaeda was regarded as exclusively “Arab”, a separate group, and was sometimes even a disliked guest.  

The idea – punted by neo-cons and jihadi alarmists – that Al-Qaeda is an international organisation with underground cells in over 100 countries is a wishful cast into the lake of terror speculation. Al-Qaeda – or what’s left of “prime” – has little capacity.

As The Independent’s Robert Fisk has observed: the presence of Al-Qaeda was conspicuously absent during the recent Arab uprisings.

But what grip Al-Qaeda has had, in spite of its hugely spectacular failure, has been to capture the imagination. If you’re a jihadi group fighting a forgotten local struggle somewhere in the desert just say you’re Al-Qaeda and the press will come running.

In other words, Al-Qaeda has become an ideological franchise that has slipped into the power vacuums and civil chaos of conflict zones in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Inspired by extremist Saudi Arabian Wahhabism, groups such as Al-Shabab in Somalia, Ansar al-Dine in Mali, AQIM in Iraq, Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and AQAP in the Arabian Peninsula have all focused on regional issues.

The point is that Usama bin Laden may have inspired them, but their actual links to each other, or a central body called Al-Qaeda, are tenuous – if not doubtful.

What is significant is that if put together, all these groupings would not even constitute 0.5% of the world’s total Muslim population of 2.2 billion. And yet – as the al-Qaeda franchise – they capture almost 90% of world’s media coverage on Islam.

In the same breath can there be much difference to when people hear about Islam and think Al-Qaeda, to hearing about burgers, and thinking McDonalds?  It doesn’t mean to say that everybody eats McDonalds, and it doesn’t mean to say that all Muslims are Al-Qaeda.


Welcome to Planet Jihad

© Shafiq Morton
“Those who claim that the greater jihad is the jihad of the self are apologists,” said one of the many fear-wagon websites pronouncing a pox on the house of Islam after the Boston Marathon bombings.

This sound Prophetic tradition, which records the Prophet (SAW) saying after a battle that the Muslims were proceeding from the lesser jihad to the greater one, is always a log in the road for the Islamophobes convinced of our bloodthirstiness.

So it’s a case of if the stereotype doesn’t fit, then just fit the stereotype. I’m sure that uber-Muslim-haters such as Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Fox’s Bob Beckel would have been happy.

But obsession, says a sage, has only one eye. Ignorance is its light and confusion its friend.  Those fixated on slandering Islam – like the blessed Prophet’s uncle, Abu Lahab, and the Gellers of our world – will carry their prejudices with them to their graves.

However, bigots and scoundrels are not really my concern here. These people will always be throwing trash on us from the sidelines, and once we realise it, we should just move on. That, at least, was my response to the question of arguing that the primary jihad is of the nafs (our undesirable traits).

But it did get me thinking.  For a small group of extremists in our midst, a military jihad against what they regard as an unbelieving non-Muslim world is the sixth pillar of Islam. In other words, this group – ironically like the Islamophobes – would also have regarded me as an ‘apologist’.  

This innovation of jihad being the sixth pillar of Islam was the view of the Egyptian polemicist, Sayyid Qutb, who was hung by Nasser in 1966. Qutb saw the west entirely at odds with Islam, and his writing influenced a whole post-colonial generation.

I believe it was his analysis that inspired elements in the Egyptian ikhwan such as Ayman al-Zahawiri, Usama Bin Laden’s mentor. This, in turn, has led to one toxic extreme feeding off the other toxic extreme – a vocal minority in the US and Europe mischievously portraying the fringes of Islam as its centre.

In so doing, tremendous damage has been done to the original Prophetic concept of jihad, and the fact that according to Shari’ah – and international law – Muslim communities do have the right to defend themselves.

It’s ground requiring strict Shari’ conditions (which I shall not traverse due to space constraints). But suffice it to say that the brand ‘extremism’ has been used to marginalise legitimate strivings against injustice.

One thing that I must mention, though, is the famous Mardin fatwa of the 12th century scholar, Ibn Taimiyyah. It sets out that Muslim minorities are fully obliged to obey just non-Muslim governments.

Scholars also urge that in these societies Muslims should contribute positively to civic life. This was mooted at the recent Paris colloquium hosted by the World for All Foundation and the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

Jihad – seen in the context of a globalised, multi-creedal world – is a complex issue. Planet jihad cannot be expressed in absolute terms. This is why the Palestinians, who are predominantly Muslim, have so wisely called their struggle an ‘intifadah’, or a ‘shaking-off’.

Interestingly, what I’ve found in the Muslim street since the 1990’s have not been aspirations of jihad and messianic Caliphates (as the Geller’s would have us believe) but rather a deep anxiety about poverty, and frustration at the plundering of state assets by unaccountable elites – hence the Arab uprisings.  

People’s primary concerns in the Muslim world have been socio-economic, these being followed closely by a deep-seated suspicion of Zionist agendas, multi-national corporations and the machinations of the major powers.

In hundreds – if not thousands – of interviews I’ve conducted from Cairo to Karachi, the word jihad has hardly cropped up. In fact, if the truth be told, I’ve heard the word jihad mentioned more by non-Muslim commentators! The average Muslim is just not fixated by jihad.

And even where people have been in ‘jihadi situations’, there has never been a mention of internationalising their cause  – another false flag flown by the super-bloggers and neo-con grizzlies, who see the crescent as a scythe threatening to mow down civilisation.  

Not once has a spokesman from Hamas or Islamic Jihad ever told me – or any other journalist – that they wanted to export the Palestinian intifadah. Not once has a representative from any other credible movement suggested they wanted to deal with any conflict other than their own.

In fact, I believe the internationalisation of jihad can be laid at the feet of US President Ronald Reagan, whose CIA officers in the 1970’s trained Salafi-Wahhabi militants from Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Lauded as being reminiscent of America’s ‘founding fathers’ by Reagan, they were set loose with their skewed beliefs and Sam missiles. These are the fighters who became the famous data-base (or Al-Qaeda). These are the people who became the face of jihad.

They are also the genies that the west (and Saudi Arabia) let out of the bottle in 1989. These men – representing less than 1% of the world’s 2 billion Muslims – have internationalised a project that they call jihad, and with easy access to petro-dollars and impressionable young minds, have blighted us all.

Usama Bin Laden, the bête noire of 9/11, was a creature of the Cold War too. The US had wished for a Saudi prince to join the international force in Afghanistan to give it some credibility. When, predictably, not one prince had desired to abandon his indolent life, Usama Bin Laden – a son of one of Saudi’s wealthiest families –had become the next best bet.

Bin Laden’s mistake was to issue a press statement declaring war on the US in 1996. But if conspiracies are to be believed, he had his iconic uses alive – until President Barak Obama shut him down in 2011.  Robert Fisk – who’d met Bin Laden – commented that his jihad to convert the world had been a failure, and that he’d been outstripped by history. 



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jabhat an-Nusra - the darkness in Syria

There is a great darkness over Syria. As one of the territories of Bilad ash-Sham, a land blessed by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the Holy Qur’an, one sometimes wonders whether we’re not facing an Armageddon.

Right now the realities are stark: the numbers of casualties have become meaningless in the face of human disaster. Syria is tearing itself apart in a vicious civil war, a war that started off as a peaceful uprising against a despotic regime two years ago.

And not only that, the long shadow of the conflict is beginning to extend everywhere. Shi’ah-Sunni sectarianism (which is now bedeviling Iraq and Lebanon) has even reared its ugly head locally, and reporting on Syria has become a loaded question with the messenger in the crosshairs.

Since April I’ve been badgered almost on a daily basis to condemn the Free Syrian Army, especially the Salafi-Wahhabi Jabhat an-Nusra – but not President al-Asad. One person, Adil, has even suggested that together with the Muslim Judicial Council (and the Gift of the Givers), I’m guilty of a conspiracy of silence.

Far from it – there’s been no silence. I’ve written copiously on Syria and have conducted a wide range of on-air interviews. My job is not to release daily communiqués, but to expose the issues without becoming bogged down in the mire of agendas that curse Syria.

I have written, for example, that FSA commanders have expressed concern about the extremism of An-Nusra, but what also has to be conceded (as I’ve been told by studio guests) is that An-Nusra – a militarily capable entity does enjoy a measure of support amongst Syrians too.   

Or as GlobalPost journalist in Syria, Tracey Shelton, observes: with Jabhat an-Nusra one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. In other words, the maxim that ‘your enemy is my enemy’ applies very much to the Syrian crisis.

Those who see me as one-eyed don’t seem to realise that the FSA is very often a disparate collective of Syrian civilians trying to protect themselves against a belligerent dictator. The point is that the FSA is not a standing army with any measure of military equipment, let alone combat training or a single, coherent voice.

Gift of the Givers CEO, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, told me this was why President Asad has attacked civilian installations such as hospitals and, yes, bread queues. In Syria there are few, if any, genuine military targets. There are no FSA tanks, there is no FSA artillery and there are no FSA fighter jets taking to the air.

So it begs the question: who, then, has done the killing of 70,000 plus Syrians, mainly civilians? Who has destroyed Syria’s cities and towns?

The Quilliam Foundation, a UK-based foundation, has estimated that Jabhat an-Nusra has the support of about only 5,000 fighters.

“You know  sh.. about the Middle East,” Shaista informed me on Facebook when I tried (obviously unsuccessfully) to explain the complexities of the Syrian cold war between the US, the EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, China and Russia.

But back to Jabhat an-Nusra, declared a terrorist organisation by the US in December 2012, and said to have links to Al-Qaeda groups in Iraq.  

“If the US wants to make peace in the world, then we are with them. We are on the side of peace and justice and whoever brings it,” are the words of an An-Nusra commander to Tracey Shelton last year.

However, what the commander fails to mention is that An-Nusra has been responsible, like Asad, for attacks on civilians. As an organisation claiming to be fighting for a Shari’ah-centric Caliphate, Jabhat an-Nusra is a blatant contradiction in terms.  

The killing of civilians via suicide bombings, the slitting of the throats of POW’s (and if the New York Times is to be believed, the use of nerve gas) directly contradicts Shari’ah, or Sacred Law.  In Sacred Law the means can never justify the end – never.  

This is something that the late Shaikh Ramadan al-Buti, the renowned international scholar and author of over 60 books, preached in his Damascus mosque. A politically cautious man, he had also evoked the mainstream Sunni ruling that if the overthrow of a dictatorial regime led to worse suffering, the wise choice would be to seek the lesser of the two evils.

In a conflict now renowned for its unbridled violence, Shaikh Buti was murdered whilst teaching his evening class. Shaikh Muhammad Yaqoubi, another Syrian scholar, had disagreed with Shaikh Buti, but had done so with absolute decorum – and not a bomb blast.

And whilst there has been a mysterious silence on who actually killed Shaikh Buti, there was an open admission recently from Jabhat an-Nusra when the 7th century tomb of a Prophetic companion, Hajr ibn ‘Adi al-Kindi, was desecrated in Damascus.

According to the New York Times, Ibn ‘Adi’s body was exhumed and buried ‘somewhere else’ (to prevent Muslims from worshipping the grave), a Salafi-Wahhabi chestnut that has seen historical tombs vandalised by Saudi-indoctrinated ignoramuses with AK47’s in almost every conflict zone in the Muslim world.

This, together with rumours of covert US ‘lethal arms’ support for Jabhat an-Nusra, is yet another disconcerting development in an already disturbing conflict. Jabhat an-Nusra may not rape the enemy, it may not utilise 45 different methods of torture like Asad, but the damage it will cause to the Syrian struggle in an Islamophobic world will be immeasurable.

Once again, the centre of Islam will be judged by its extremist edges – stereotypical 'jihadis' will become our representative faces in the market-place.

We have to remind ourselves that the Salafi-Wahhabi concept of a Caliphate, a so-called Shari’ah-centric nation sans madh-haib (legal schools of thought) and freedom of speech – but resplendent with public stoning, soccer stadium hangings, the marginalisation of women and limb amputations – will be nothing more than an Islamo-fascist state.

Indeed, it is my prediction that Jabhat an-Nusra, today’s ‘heroes’ in Syria, will become tomorrow’s problem.