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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Change We Can Believe In?

Fascinating read from the the Wall Street Journal. Fascinating because its subject has previously been so rare: a jihadist who has renounced violence. Here's a snippet:
Last year, imprisoned Egyptian radical Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, a.k.a. "Dr. Fadl," published "The Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World." It is a systematic refutation of al Qaeda's theology and methods, which is all the more extraordinary considering the source. Sayyed Imam, 57, was the first "emir" of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, many of whose members (including his longtime associate Ayman al-Zawahiri) later merged with Osama bin Laden and his minions to become al Qaeda. His 1988 book, "Foundations of Preparation for Holy War," is widely considered the bible of Salafist jihadis.

Now he has recanted his former views. "The alternative" to violent jihadism, he says in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat (translated by Memri), "is not to kill civilians, foreigners and tourists, destroy property and commit aggression against the lives and property of those who are inviolable under the pretext of jihad. All of this is forbidden."
Last Summer, I visited the Middle East and several Arab countries. I spent time in Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem and even made a quick trip through the West Bank around Jericho. At the time, I was very pessimistic about future relations between the West and the Muslim world. I envisioned a future with a dhimmified Europe and a United States that would be an isolated Fortress America, a future not unlike the one foretold in Mark Steyn's America Alone. My visit, albeit short, did little to change my opinion about that part of the world. It's a hard place to live. I was stopped at police checkpoints in Jordan (a soldier "commandeered" my car for a ride home actually, though I would have offered anyway - if I had a choice). There was terrible poverty in some places. I was told that in Tel Aviv while grabbing drinks at the rooftop hotel bars there you could catch a glimpse of rocket attacks going back and forth in Gaza (though I can't say for sure if this was true, the attacks were happening). And we got questioned pretty thoroughly by Israeli soldiers (not pleasant, but I'm glad it was Israelis and not anyone else). It's not a pretty picture and frankly, I didn't really even go anywhere THAT dangerous.

This was just before the success the U.S. achieved in Anbar against Al-Qaeda and insurgents, the success of the Awakening Councils in restoring order in Iraq. And today I read about "Dr. Fadl" and his public appeal to Muslims to renounce violent jihad. When was the last time you read about a prominent Muslim speaking forcefully to urge other Muslims to renounce violent jihad. And not just any Muslim, but one who, if the WSJ is to be believed, has Jihadist street cred on the Muslim Street. Dr. Fadl has had long standing disagreements with Ayman al-Zawahiri. That seems like compelling evidence, as unpleasant I imagine Egyptian jail is, that Dr. Fadl is not simply a tool of the Egyptian government but rather Dr. Fadl is publicly speaking out against violent jihad of his own free will.

Dr. Fadl's publication seems like the kind of statement that the West has called for from so called moderate Muslim leaders who have a best tepidly denounced acts of violence in the name of Islam (and why should they, I suppose, when prominent American religious leaders are proud to say "God Damn America!"). And it carries all the more weight because he is NOT a moderate. It's a Nixon goes to China moment.

So while I still have a generally pessimistic outlook, I'll enjoy the brief glimmer of hope that this story provides me.


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