The Implications of Terror
The Implications of Terror
In the 21st century, non-state entities have taken on roles traditionally reserved for nation-states. This new type of political actor is attempting to wage wars on an international level, deriving legitimacy from fundamentalist, Islamic, religious doctrine. As a reaction to American and European interference in the Middle-East region and the militarization and aggressive policies of Israel, Islamic factions have galvanised international structures to oppose the imposition of Western and Israeli paradigms on Dar al-Islam. Following a political ideology that transcends nationalism and sovereign nations, these groups function in a pan-Islamic capacity. The dominant religious traditions of Islam are represented by two of these organizations: Hamas represents the Shiite tradition of Islam and Al-Qaida represents the Sunni tradition. Borne of globalization and grass-roots associations that reject the restrictive qualities of the nation state, these entities are changing the structure of the international community’s response to geopolitical conflict.
The proliferation of European ideals and attempts to implement western democratic structures that ignored or failed to prioritize Islamic values gave rise to a backlash of pro-Islamic subcultures in Egypt at the start of the 20th century. These subcultures, and the philosophies they promoted, would become the foundation for future, fundamentalist, Islamic, transnational organizations. In January 1924, Egypt elected a prime minister, Sa’d Zaghlul, in its first attempt at a European-style parliamentary democracy. Egyptian society had no predisposition for trust in European parliamentary models of government and they held a deep cynicism for the terms of the declaration of independence Britain had granted Egypt in 1922. The terms left Britain “responsible for the security of imperial communications in Egypt, the defense of Egypt against foreign aggression or interference, the protection of foreign interests and foreign minorities in Egypt, and the Sudan and its future status.” Essentially, all of Egypt’s foreign affairs were under the explicit control of the British government. The foremost motivation for European interference in Egyptian affairs was the need to control the Suez Canal, a vital trade route between Asia and Europe. When Italian expansionism in Ethiopia threatened Britain’s management of the area in 1936, the Wafdist government of Sa’d Zaghlul’s renegotiated the terms of the 1922 treaty, giving slightly more independence to Egypt while establishing the permanent condition of British troops on Egyptian soil. It was this kind of collusion between Egyptian leaders and European imperialists that inspired a backlash of anti-western, Islamic sentiment at a grass roots level in Egyptian society. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, proved to be the most important of these groups. It became the source of inspiration for personas and philosophies from which the Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah (Hamas) would be constructed on the night of December 9, 1987.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded mainly on the teachings of Sayyed Qutob, advocated the objective of establishing Islamic states throughout the Middle East that would one day unite into a single nation, or Ummah. While being influenced and motivated by the geopolitical conditions in each of the nations this movement took hold in, representation of the Muslim Brotherhood can be found in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Bahrain, Libya Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. The Palestinian branch would evolve and militarize to counterpoise Israeli government policies enacted in the 1980s.
In the 1980s, the coalition Israeli government was dominated by the Likud Party, a party whose platform was based on the idea that “all lands of biblical Israel should be incorporated into the Israeli state.” Included in the Likud’s desiderata of regions for annexation, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip came under increased “measures designed to isolate and subjugate the Palestinian people” inhabiting these areas. The Likud government practiced a two-pronged policy in Palestinian territory: it terrorized the Palestinian people while constantly advancing settlements into the region. The Israeli government “confiscated plots of Arab land, and the Israeli security services deported a number of suspected political activists.” They “arrested [Arabs] without warrant” holding them for up to 6 months without trials or charges. Arabs were “required to carry identity cards and pay special taxes.” A deliberately confusing bureaucratic infrastructure was imposed that required Arabs to deal with security checks before they could obtain necessary business licences or permits. Any political response to this authoritarian burden elicited punishments ranging from imprisonment to outright torture. This dualistic policy of oppression and settlement intrusion resulted in a climate of reaction from which Hamas emerged as a subversive political tool for engaging Israeli policies.
On December 8th, 1987, an Israeli military tractor-trailer drove head-on into two vans, containing ten Palestinian workers. Three of the workers died while the other seven were badly injured. The Palestinian witnesses who watched the accident felt the Israeli driver had deliberately driven into the vans, sparking widespread demonstrations against the event. During one of these demonstrations, the Israeli army opened fire on a group of Arabs wielding bottles, slingshots, stones and gasoline bombs. Several of the demonstrators were killed. As a direct reaction to these deaths and the events preceding it, the senior leadership of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, also known as Ikhwan, made the decision to transform the organization into a movement that would resist Israeli oppression by any means necessary. The leaders that participated in this group were Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, Salah Shihadah, Abd al-Fattah Dukhan, Muhammad Sham’ah, Ilbrahim al-Yazuri, and ‘Isa al-Nasher.’ On December 14th, 1987, Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi wrote the first communiqué to the press announcing the formation of Hamas.
Hamas, and the fundamentalist pan-Islamic movement it represented, were not limited to political activity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Kuwait, with its prosperous economy, a large population of Palestinians and a relatively open society, became a gathering place for Islamic intellectuals, campaigning for a return to fundamentalist Islamic principles and a lifestyle that empowers Arabs against western interference, politically, socially and militarily. “The Islamic rehabilitation of the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, and consequently the Muslim society were deemed to be the answer to all problems, including the occupation of Palestine by the Jews.” After the launch of Hamas’ more militant version of intifada in 1987, Kuwait became a base for support committees that oversaw and directed Hamas activity in Palestinian territory. Hamas’ executive office, the Tanfidhi, was located in Kuwait until Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. While its goals still centered on the oppression of Palestinians by Israel, Hamas’ circle of support now transcended national borders.
At the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the exceedingly warm season found many of the Kuwaiti intellectuals and elites vacationing in Jordan’s more temperate climate. The leaders of the Palestinian Hamas movement were among these vacationers. As Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait, a climate of suspicion began to surround the Hamas leadership. Many Kuwaitis believed them to have possibly collaborated with Saddam Hussein prior to and during the invasion. Highly empathetic to their cause, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood offered the estranged Hamas leadership offices in Jordan to continue their organization until a better location could be found. Hamas also quickly began to train itself with the assistance of the Jordanian army. Fearing an Israeli attack as a response to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, Jordan’s army had opened up its military training to an enthusiastic public that was eager for a confrontation with Israel. Hamas participated in these training opportunities while covertly setting up an arms procurement committee. Weapons were to be bought and smuggled into Palestine to resist Israeli occupation. When Operation Desert Storm defeated the occupying Iraqi forces and they were forced to exfiltrate Kuwait, the Jordanian government began to crack down on militant factions within its borders. Many in the Hamas leadership were arrested and detained for stockpiling weapons. Some of the Hamas leadership made it out of Jordan before these arrests took place; some went to Washington D.C., while others went to London, where another command centre was established.
During its time in Jordan and Kuwait, Hamas secured lasting relationships, both financial and military, that would prove to be essential in establishing themselves as a political force in the Middle East region. The connections it made in these countries were based on a shared ideological vision of political Islam. The plight of the Palestinians was no longer being viewed as an isolated incident of Israeli-Arab oppression. It had now become part of a much larger, international struggle for the right of all Arabs to establish Dar al-Islam. The struggle would no longer be structured or contained by the western-imposed borders that segregated Islamic cultures. It had now been proven that command of the Palestinian resistance could come from Kuwait, Jordan, and London. It could even come from the heart of Dar al-Kufr: the capital city of America, Washington D.C.
From 1994 to 1988, a different Islamic fundamentalist leadership also had an office for operations in London’s Oxford Street: Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden has an altered (and sometimes convoluted) purpose than that of Hamas. While both of these groups derive legitimacy from fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran, Bin Laden was raised in a strict Wahhabi tradition, whereby an extremely literal and conservative interpretation of the Quran was observed. This austere upbringing resulted in Bin Laden’s hostility to western or communist notions of government, justice and society –only the Quran and the correct interpretation of it could mandate a correct Islamic culture. The Soviet military actions into Afghanistan, Israeli subjugation of Arabs and any incident of American soldiers or officials on Islamic soil all constituted colossal, inacceptable breeches on the rights of Muslims trying to achieve Islamic purity. Invoking the failure of Islamic nations to repel western imposition and control of Muslim lands, al Qaida, with Bin Laden as its figurehead, was formed to provide the fundamentals for a global strategy on Islam’s behalf.
Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a renowned jihadist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, set up a military base in Afghanistan in the 1980s “to help the Afghans resist the Soviet invasion.” This logistical location came to be known as “the base,” or in Arabic, al Qaida, from which the organization that evolved from there came to be called. Following the exfiltration of the Soviets from Afghanistan, Bin Laden, Azzam and a seasoned group of Jihadists and Islamic intellectuals formed a partnership that organized recruits to be brought in from all over the world to be trained in the proper way to wage Jihad. By the end of the 1980s, thousands of enthusiastic Muslims were arriving and moving through training facilities set up by al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Initially, al-Qaida used a hierarchical system where thirty-one members of five separate committees advised the al-Qaida leadership on specific matters. Through this structured arrangement, Bin Laden would receive advice on his armed forces and military affairs, financial matters, logistics, media and publicity and religious guidance. Training camps built by Bin Laden’s construction company were set up in “Kabul, Khost, Mahavia, Jalalabad, Kunar, Kandahar, Tora Bora and Liza.” The military committee also oversaw the organization of secretive sleeper cells all over the world. With this well-organized structure in place, military targets were chosen and attacked and messages were sent to the media explaining the goals and justifications for these attacks. Al-Qaida had become a trans-national, terrorist organization that challenged the very idea of Westphalia-style, state versus state wars. Attacks by al-Qaida were perpetrated all around the world by a multitude of citizens of various countries. The first attack was on American soldiers at the Movenpick Hotel in Aden, Yemen. While no American soldiers were killed (they were staying at a different hotel), Muslim civilians were. Al Qaida being able to justify this fact altered the paradigm by which this war would be fought. If any person colluding with western society was a target, then how could the West deduce where the war was being fought? The potential al-Qaida objectives were endless.
Bin Laden may have been the purported leader of al-Qaida, but the there existed a dichotomy of goals and intentions within the immediate leadership surrounding him. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri worked very closely with Bin Laden to formulate the goals and rhetoric that al-Qaida utilized. A fellow Salafi, Zawahiri shared Bin Laden’s resentment of Western imposition on Islamic lands. However, Zawahiri carried an even more extreme message than that of Bin Laden’s. He promoted the idea of takfir. This meant that any Muslim or Muslim nation that was not adhering to strict Islamic principles or was seen as colluding with non-Islamic nations could be designated an apostate or an apostate culture. As apostates, they could justifiably be killed according to Zawahiri’s interpretation of Muslim principles. Essentially, this idea of takfir allowed Zawahiri to advocate the killing of Muslims in the cause of al-Qaida. It also meant that all Westerners lived within and enabled governments that did not adhere to Muslim law; therefore, Muslim or not, they were all apostates and killing them to further the cause of jihad was acceptable. Bin Laden did not share in Zawahiri’s idea of takfir wholeheartedly and although his goals for al-Qaida were shaped by Zawahiri’s religious influence, there remained a struggle within the al-Qaida leadership and its public message as to what the actual goals of the organization were.
The first declaration of war that al-Qaida issued against America was done through Peter Bergen, a CNN journalist, in April, 1997. This declaration blamed the United States for the deaths of all Arabs killed in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. It accused America of occupying Muslim lands, exploiting Muslim resources and imposing American leadership over Muslim nations. The second declaration of war was forwarded to the London newspaper, Qods al Arabi, in February, 1998. It stated how it was every Muslim’s duty to kill all Americans and American allies in any country they were capable of doing so. This second declaration contained a meaning in continuity with Zawahiri’s principle of takfir. It appeared that Bin Laden had decided to promote the message that the war he intended would be fought using a different matrix than any war had been fought before. Bin Laden’s modus operandi would include those who may never have been trained by al-Qaida or had any sort of contact with them at all.
America’s response to al-Qaida attacks under the Clinton administration showed how incapable they were at dealing with this new enemy. During what was called “Operation Infinite Reach,” cruise missiles were deployed against what was thought to be an al-Qaida chemical weapons plant in Khartoum, Sudan. A serious reconsideration of the evidence that led to the decision to attack showed the pharmaceutical factory “probably had no role whatsoever in CW [chemical weapons] development.” America had opened up the hostilities on al-Qaida with a conventional response in a war: find a target and take it out. George Bush continued this same policy by declaring war on Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a response to al-Qaida’s attacks on the World Trade Centre. Bush justified a target using as much evidence as he could construct and attempted to wage a conventional war against it. Both George Bush and Bill Clinton’s methods have failed. There remains just as much potential for terrorist attacks inspired by al-Qaida now as there has ever been before.
The difficulty with waging a war on Hamas or on al-Qaida is that these factions are only symptoms of much larger predicaments. The oppression of the Palestinian people, the instability of the Middle East region as a whole, the conflictive nature of two cultures assimilating into one another and the ambiguous words of a self-proclaimed prophet are all circumstances that cannot be solved with the weapons war. It is like trying to “win” an earthquake. The rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups has changed the face of international reaction to conflict in that leaders are now looking for the illnesses that cause the symptoms. Barack Obama, in his first few weeks as President, has initiated contact with Iran, looking for middle ground to compromise on age-old conflicts between the West and the Middle East. While Obama may be continuing, if not escalating, the war in Afghanistan, his stated, long-term policies for that country involve “bringing a more regional diplomatic approach to bear.” The truth of his rhetoric has yet to be determined. What has been determined is that this is a battle that needs to be fought with open hands, rather than closed fists. Kamal El Helbawy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader from the Finsbury Park mosque in London, explained, “To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals ... you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise." The first step in overcoming this conflict is understanding the principles and history that guides what opposes you.
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