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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Awlaki, Gadahn, Truthiness And Al Qaeda's War On Scholarship

Anwar Awlaki's new video reinforces a message recently sent out by Al Qaeda Central by his fellow American, Adam Gadahn. When Islamic scholarship does not support jihad, the scholars must go.

According to a translation of Awlaki's message from Flashpoint Partners:

[T]he role of fatwas is to protect Islam and not the Americans. The role of the fatwa is to protect the Sharia principles and not the governmental principles. And the person of jurisprudence, his role is to speak the truth, and not patch for the rulers and search for them for an exit every time they fall in a ditch. So if the jurist cannot speak the truth due to being forced, then we call upon the Muslims to follow behind the Ulama who do not fear in Allah the accusation of the accusers. But those who agree with the rulers on everything and are disagreeing with the Mujahideen in everything, then those are the apostate Ulama, and be aware of them.
This parallels a message from Adam Gadahn last month:

[T]he Mujahideen who have gone out to defend their religion, brothers and countries against the campaign and its agents, haven't relied on one fatwa from one Alim (learned man), but rather, have depended on numerous fatwas, and moreover, on numerous proven consensuses about the obligatory nature of Jihad on individual Muslims in a number of scenarios most or all of which have occurred not just in our day, but starting from a number of decades ago at the very least.

This is why anyone who wants to debate the legal basis for the contemporary Jihad must refute all those fatwas and reject all those proven consensus and not just make do with relying to one fatwa or Alim.

Both Gadahn and Awlaki are keenly focused here on discrediting Muslim voices who use religious scholarship to oppose Al Qaeda's brand of military jihad. If you count Awlaki's article on the Mardin Declaration in the most recent issue of AQAP's magazine, that's three messages in two months on this subject.

In addition to the similar messaging, both Gadahn and Awlaki released their messages in Arabic rather than English, despite the fact that both are famous mostly for their English-language content speaking to American Muslims.

Although they may be trying to expand their respective followings in the Arabic-jihadi world, I would suggest this tactic is probably an effort to make them look more credible as they go after credible scholars.

Gadahn's video also featured clips of Awlaki, although Gadahn did not refer to him by name.

So what does it all mean? Here are the possibilities:

1) Awlaki and Gadahn are reacting to the same public events (the Mardin declaration) and not coordinating their messages.

2) Awlaki and Gadahn are echoing each other's messages after seeing them posted to the Web.

3) Awlaki and Gadahn are coordinating their messaging, most likely through a third party.

Obviously, options 1 and 2 are the stronger possibilities. But as I noted previously, the insertion of Awlaki clips into Gadahn's last video was a development which could point to option 3. In this context, it's worth noting that information embedded in the video file suggests Awlaki's latest message may have been recorded as early as July.

Either way, as a journalist I know that three of anything is a trend. Al Qaeda, which once tried to market itself as a home to scholars, is now running away from scholarship in a uniquely American fashion.

There is a longstanding tradition in American politics of rejecting intellectualism, scholarship and even scientific fact in favor of gut-feelings and "truthiness." So it's also fascinating that Al Qaeda's most prominent Americans are leading the charge to dumb down jihad. Who better?

FOLLOW-UP: More Ruminations on Al Qaeda's War Against Scholarship

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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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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