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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Awlaki's Path

Anwar Awlaki is talking again, in an audio message attributed to SITE but being pushed on Al Qaeda-linked forums by the American jihad-supporters at Revolution Muslim. In fact, RM has branded the short snippet currently available with its own logo.

Whether truthfully or not, Awlaki addresses a question that has been posed to me by both Muslims and journalists: "When did Awlaki become a radical?"

Some background is in order. Aside from his employment as imam at mosques in San Diego and Washington, D.C., Awlaki was the author/artist of a series of quite popular and passionate audio lectures on subjects such as the lives of the prophets, the hereafter and the companions of Mohammed. For this work, he attracted a fairly large following among mainstream Muslims, many of whom were floored to hear his name surface in connection to Nidal Hasan and Christmas-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

So when we talk about Awlaki, a key question is when did he become a radical. There are three possible answers to this question:
  • He was always a radical, but didn't always show it.
  • He became a radical some time before leaving the U.S.
  • He became a radical after leaving the U.S. (possibly after being arrested and interrogated in Yemen).
Awlaki claims, in this new video, that he became radicalized after the invasion of Iraq, which would place the change after he left the U.S. but before he went to Yemen. He was in the U.K. at the time of the invasion. According to Awlaki's new audio:
"However, with the American invasion of Iraq and continued U.S. aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the U.S. and being a Muslim. And I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding on myself, just as it binding on every other able Muslim. [...]

"To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters? How can you hand your loyalty to the government that is leading the war against Islam and Muslims?"
While it makes a convenient talking point for Awlaki to have become suddenly radicalized by Iraq, the evidence suggests it happened much earlier. For one thing, there is Awlaki's well-publicized association with 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and Washington, D.C. I'll have more to say about that in my book, but it sure looks to me like this association was not entirely innocent (although there is currently no evidence that Awlaki knew specifics about the 9/11 plot).

More to the point, here's an excerpt from a 2002 sermon that Awlaki gave at the Dar El Hijra mosque -- before the invasion of Iraq and before he left the U.S. for good. He's railing in hysterical tones against the government after a series of raids on Islamic charities suspected of financing terrorism:
So this is not now a war on terrorism. We need to all be clear about this. This is a war against Muslims. It is a war against Muslim and Islam. Not only is it happening worldwide but it’s happening right here in America, that is claiming to be fighting this war for the sake of freedom, while it’s infringing on the freedom of its own citizens just because they’re Muslims. For no other reason.

And as Muslims, if we allow this to continue, if we do not stop it it ain’t gonna stop! It’s not gonna stop. If you don’t stand up in this struggle and make your voices heard and unite and make it clear to the authorities that you’re not going to allow your necks to be stepped over and your rights to be infringed upon. If you do not do that, then only Allah knows where it’s going to stop. Maybe the next day the Congress will pass a bill that Islam is illegal in America.
So while we have to acknowledge Awlaki's version of these events, we don't have to accept his version blindly. Whatever the details of Anwar Awlaki's path to the jihad, it started long before Iraq.

Here's the new audio. Please credit if you broadcast or link the clip. The 2002 audio is also available. Broadcast journalists can contact me for a copy.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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