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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Jihadis on the Anniversary of September 11 #ذكرى_11سبتمبر

Dear jihadis:

I’ve spent some years now reading what you write and say to each other, and talking to you directly from time to time. I’ve been thinking about those conversations a lot, and I have a few things I want to say.

I think most of you are trying to do the right thing. Sure, some of you are jerks, sometimes very violent and homicidal jerks (and you don’t have a monopoly on that). But I believe many of you, perhaps most, get involved with jihadi movements because you genuinely care about the welfare of Muslims and about doing the right thing according to the dictates of your religion and individual consciences.

That doesn’t mean I agree with you on the issues, or how you see the world, or the values you hold, or the logic of your position. I’m not trying to mislead you. We’re miles and miles apart on almost every imaginable issue having to do with culture or politics. In fact, I downright hate a lot of what you represent.

Nevertheless, I want to tell you a few things about how I see your movement and your current situation.

I think you should think about finding ways to exercise your consciences without engaging in an endless, aimless war with the West that you stand no chance of winning. So far, your actions have been suicidal for you personally and immensely damaging to your global Ummah.

Contrary to what you might think, no serious-minded person in the West believes that you should be forcibly prohibited from pursuing your religion and your political beliefs. We may not agree with your values, but we believe even more in self-determination, the right of peoples in the world to choose their own path.

It is not what you believe, but how you pursue those beliefs, that leads to conflict between us. Al Qaeda’s ideas guide your movement, and the philosophy of Al Qaeda (unlike that of Islam) is based entirely on destruction. This ideology is best expressed in the “Constants on the Path of Jihad,” a text famously interpreted by Anwar Awlaki, which boils down to one simple idea: “If you’re winning, the strategy is kill, and if you’re losing, the strategy is kill.”

“Constants” states – explicitly – that the outcome of your actions doesn’t matter. Win, lose, help people, hurt people, it’s all the same to Al Qaeda.

"As long as there is slaughtering, we're with them. If there's no slaughtering, there's none, that's it. Buzz off," as one member of your movement put it, in an unguarded moment. The only real constant is death.

That argument is not only unreligious, it’s insane. It causes you to pursue killing instead of building a stable foundation for your beliefs and your community.  

As we say in the West, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Your reactions to the situation in Egypt are a perfect illustration of this problem. Within hours of the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall from power, you guys were drooling with excitement. It’s proof, you tweeted furiously, that democracy doesn’t work for Muslims.

I was actually glad to see these comments. If you want to hold democracy to performance-based standards, I’m totally fine with that. But first, you have to hold yourself to the same standards. Before you argue Egypt proves “more jihad” is needed, first check to see whether “more jihad” has succeeded. Anywhere. Ever.  

Where are your success stories? I’m not talking about body counts. Let’s just agree you’re good at that. But where have you made life better for anyone? Where have jihadis created a society that is good for Muslims?

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, the country was dragged down by civil war and then under the Taliban’s cruel and brutal regime, starved and demoralized, and eventually demolished because it granted safe haven to Al Qaeda.

In Bosnia, you committed atrocities and accomplished the unthinkable – you actually gave the Serbs a bargaining chip in international negotiations. The Dayton pact that ended the war had to include a requirement that you all leave Bosnia.

You reduced Iraq to rubble, killing thousands of Muslim civilians, and you’re still doing it even though the United States has left the country, hundreds dead during this year’s Ramadan alone. How is that helping Muslims?

In Somalia, you weren’t even content to simply kill Muslims, you killed mujahideen. After you destroyed the basic necessities of life and starved the Muslims by obstructing aid shipments during a historic drought, you began killing your own fighters and religious leaders solely to feed the ego of Al Shabab’s insane emir, Ahmed Godane.

On September 11, 2001, you carelessly killed Muslims right alongside American civilians and called down ruination on Afghanistan.  In Boston, you planted a bomb at the feet of an eight-year-old boy, then published magazines to brag about it.  

What has any of this accomplished?

You have not made Muslims safer in any country where you operate. You haven’t made them healthier, wealthier or more powerful. You’ve made them poor, scared and dead.  And this is the key point – you claim to want to defend and protect Muslims. Most of you claim that is your primary goal in taking up the black banner. But look at what you have accomplished – or more accurately what you have failed to accomplish. And ask yourself whether you can find a better way.

It’s not difficult to see when people are suffering. It’s not difficult to see when your towns and cities have been reduced to smoldering rubble, by your own forces at least as often as by your self-appointed enemies.

Is that what Islam dictates for Muslims? Poverty, suffering and pointless death?

I don’t think most of you believe that. I think you do what you do because you think it will make the world a better, safer place for Muslims to live good lives.

But any idiot can see that you are failing. Spectacularly.

I won’t lie to you. I think the ultimate, best solution to your problem, and our problem with you, would be for you to stay home, raise happy, healthy families and try to build vibrant, loving, inclusive, productive communities.

If it were not so sad, I would laugh at those who literally abandon their own families to hardship and poverty in order to theoretically defend the families of others. I heard that argument from Omar Hammami, the American who ran out on his wife and baby in order to join Al Shabab and defend Somali Muslims. He took two wives there and abandoned them too, to an even worse fate than enduring a deadbeat dad. Poor Omar, who has now killed more mujahideen than he has “crusaders.”

The religious mandate you profess to believe is not about killing for killing’s sake. Your actions can be meaningful only in the context of greater goals – goals for the welfare of Muslims and of Islam. If you never make any progress toward those goals, and you know it, but you keep killing anyway, you’re nothing more than murderers.

Some of you will point toward metaphysical rewards, toward ajr and houris. If your motivation is the promise of virgins in the life to come, there’s probably nothing I can say to change your mind.  You see God as the ultimate capitalist, a vending machine who coughs up treats as long as you put in the right combination of coins. You don’t care if you’re doing good, as long as you get what’s coming to you.

I hope that most of you are smarter than that. If a just God does indeed reward people in the afterlife, those rewards are reserved for the just – not for the selfish and misguided who mindlessly spread misery because they think it means God will owe them something.

In my conversations with you online, I see a growing contingent of jihadis who are fundamentally uncomfortable with terrorism per se, with its intentional targeting of civilians, including women and children, and with the bloody, ugly spectacle of it all. I see a desire among many of you to express your convictions in a manner that is more clear and defensible from a moral perspective.

In country after country, you have repeated the same basic approach: Foreign fighters with an explicitly jihadist philosophy rush to join battle in a foreign land, and the first thing they do is put themselves on a pedestal.

In Bosnia, your propaganda videos boasted that the first task for the mujahideen was to “correct” the beliefs of Bosnians, even as they suffered under a genocidal attack and before lifting a hand to defend them.

This is madness, and it is stupidity, but most of all, it is arrogance.

When you go to “help” people in foreign lands, you immediately start punishing them for failing to meet your standards. You harass and even kill local Muslims whose beliefs do not align with your own.

Arrogance defines your movement, above all else. You refuse to acknowledge doubts, or to evaluate how your actions affect others. You refuse to admit when you are obviously failing at the task you claim is all-important.

You believe you perfectly understand all the politics of the world, but God did not promise you infallibility. And although you are imperfect humans, you believe without a shadow of a doubt that you perfectly understand what God expects from you.

If you hear nothing else I say, hear this: Arrogance is and will always be your downfall. Until you learn to question your assumptions, you will never be able to correct your mistakes. Until you find humility, you cannot help anyone.

For you, perhaps, and for us, and mostly, I hope, for the many innocent Muslims whose lives have been terribly, tragically disrupted by your actions so far, I hope you can learn that lesson. Before you destroy what’s left of your lands, your wealth and your lives.  


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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