Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Al-Qaeda is Losing the War of Minds

Contrary to popular belief, the US may not be losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, so says Peter Wehner in a Financial Times guest piece from which comes today's post title. He writes,

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr Fadl”) published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a “catastrophe for all Muslims”.

Mr Sharif’s words are significant because he was once a mentor to Mr Zawahiri. Mr Sharif, who wrote the book in a Cairo prison, is “a living legend within the global jihadist movement”, according to Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert.

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-‘Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. It states: “I urge my brothers the ulama [the top class of Muslim clergy] to clarify the truth to the public . . . to warn [youth] of the consequences of being drawn to arbitrary opinions and [religious] zeal that is not based on religious knowledge.” The target of the fatwa is obvious: Mr bin Laden.

A month earlier Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq ... cannot make Muslims happy.”

Mr. Wehner goes on to describe what he calls the "Anbar Awakening":

Just 18 months ago Anbar province was the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq; today it is known as the birthplace of an Iraqi and Islamic grass-roots uprising against al-Qaeda as an organisation and bin Ladenism as an ideology. It is an extraordinary transformation: Iraqis en masse siding with America, the “infidel” and a western “occupying power”, to defeat Islamic militants.

Finally, Mr. Wehner turns to the numbers:

Not surprisingly, al-Qaeda’s stock is falling in much of the Arab and Islamic world. A recent survey found that in January less than a quarter of Pakistanis approved of Mr bin Laden, compared with 46 per cent last August, while backing for al-Qaeda fell from 33 per cent to 18 per cent.

According to a July 2007 report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere [are] rejecting Islamic extremism”. The percentage of Muslims saying suicide bombing is justified in the defense of Islam has declined in seven of the eight Arab countries where trend data are available. In Lebanon, for example, 34 per cent of Muslims say such suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified; in 2002, 74 per cent expressed this view. We are also seeing large drops in support for Mr bin Laden. These have occurred
since the Iraq war began.
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