2 May 2011

Bin Laden

So they finally got Osama bin Laden. I'm not convinced that this is a politically significant moment really, except that it will greatly strengthen Obama and increase the chances of his reelection. One of the big themes of Obama's campaign was that he (unlike the Republicans) would make taking out Bin Laden a top priority of his administration whereas McCain seemed more dovish about the issue. People often forget that Obama said all along he would escalate the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Before was he even nominated his "geopolitical posture" was described as "more aggressive than that of President Bush"; although to be accurate he did later say that using nuclear weapons against Afghanistan or Pakistan would be a "mistake". In one of the Presidential debates I remember McCain even criticised Obama for being too overtly hawkish regarding Pakistan:

Hamm: Should the United States
respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?

Obama:...I think it's so important for us to reverse course, because that's the central front on terrorism. They are plotting to kill Americans right now. As Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, said, the war against terrorism began in that region and that's where it will end. So part of the reason I think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that's funding terrorism.

But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can't coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants.* What I've said is we're going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.

And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain?

McCain:...You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly -- talk softly, but carry a big stick. Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly. In fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable.

You know, if you are a country and you're trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion. When you announce that you're going to launch an attack into another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us.

*Note here the problem isn't the US coddling a dictator and giving him billions of dollars, of course Obama was more than happy for them to do that in Egypt and the US continues to prop up dictators. Rather Obama's problem is that this dictator then makes peace agreements with countrymen who the US doesn't like when he should be waging war against them and tearing up his own country in the process, which is what's happened to Pakistan since Obama took office and his policies implemented.

So Obama's definitely on to a winner now, we'll be seeing him around until 2017 unless he really screws up between now and the 2012 election. And as for Ismail Haniyah, he really needs to resign now. I doubt he's truly upset about Bin Laden getting killed more likely they're trying to appease the Bin Ladenite crazies in Gaza who they've been fighting with but that doesn't make his idiotic statement any less stupid/indefensible/unforgivable. Already you have the New York Times reporting "In many quarters, there were calls for revenge and anger at his killing, most publicly by Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister and head of the Islamist movement Hamas, who called Bin Laden “a Muslim and Arab warrior.” Great. Oh by the way notice how to defame Palestinians in general they're calling him the 'Palestinian prime minister' now when they never did before usually he's just the 'Hamas leader in Gaza'. Palestinians now = supporters of Bin Laden. Zionist propagandists will now never let us hear the end of that quote. People who support the Palestinians should get angry if someone acting as their representative makes a completely idiotic statement that only takes them further away from reaching their goals and increasing their suffering. Palestinian leaders should assess their actions in terms of will this action bring us closer to Palestine's liberation or take us further away, as well as taking basic morality into account. If international opinion wasn't important then Zionists would not invest so much time, effort and money into propaganda efforts. But even disregarding the effects of international opinion it's still completely stupid for a Palestinian leader to start taking sides with Al-Qaeda when they are enemies of the Palestinians. Mind you Hamas thinks Husni Mubarak and Omar Sulayman were friends of the Palestinians, more of their stupidity for you.

As for Bin Laden's impact himself, I doubt whether his death will make any real difference. It's important to know that Al-Qa`ida is not a real organisation nor was it anything like as sophisicated as it's so often made out to be, and was effectively destroyed after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. What exists is a sinister ideology which was actually on its last legs by 9/11 (attacking America was not a sign of strength, it was actually an act of desperation after all their attempts to create revolutions in the Muslim world failed abysmally). It was by exaggerating the threat it posed (as if a few scraggly Arabs running around a couple of primitive camps in Afghanistan are a serious threat to the United States) and then invading Iraq that it was given £200 and a get out of jail free card. Although there is definitely now an 'Al-Qa`ida' ideology out there, this is a relatively new thing (i.e. post 9/11) thanks to mass publicity Osama bin Laden and his gang of crazies gained after the 9/11 attacks. Putting any significant proportion of the issues in the Muslim world from the last thirty years or so down to Al-Qa`ida would be wholly inaccurate, Al-Qa`ida is a (unintended but predictable) creation of the US-Saudi alliance. You'll find governments regularly call groups Al-Qa`ida (or 'linked' to them) even if they have no physical connection to Bin Laden at all, for example some of the militas in Somalia. What Al-Qa`ida really is, I mean what they're always referring to, is when the crazy fundamentalist US-Saudi created gangs go rogue and start doing stuff they're not supposed to. Imperialist and tyrannical forces in the Muslim world have always had this problem that their opponents are often Muslims and have been religiously raised in a struggle/resistance culture that makes them committed. This is something that you can't easily combat with mercenaries which is what they usually use across the world, because mercenaries won't die for you. A perfect example of why mercenaries don't work against Islamic groups would be May 2008 in Lebanon when Hezbollah defeated a large, well-armed mercenary force backed by the US and Saudi Arabia in... about 2 hours. As soon as some of them were killed they gave up, they're not going to die for Hariri, hundreds of them surrendered at a time it was really quite funny. So what the Saudis have always done (with US blessing and assistance) is try to raise fanatics, by drawing people from the impoverished wrecks that they've created through the Muslim world directly from their economic policies and filling them with hate-filled Wahhabi ideology. And unfortunately this does work in creating fanatical fighters willing to die as well as do awful things, although they also tend to be far less intelligent (there's a difference between fanaticism and piety) and also they can get out of control. And when they get out of control they're called Al-Qa`ida. Note that they still have the same ideology as the House of Saud, just that they've broken with them over foreign policy. This is where Osama Bin Laden comes from. But pretty soon after the 9/11 attacks because of cynically alarmist politicians and even more alarmist media coverage people have it so deeply ingrained in their minds that Al-Qa`ida is (or was) a cohesive international terrorist organisation with cells all around the world commanded by Osama bin Laden, that they would never be able to separate this fantasy from the real basis of what Al-Qa`ida actually is. And Western elites don't exactly want to talk about how they're responsible for Bin Laden's creation and are continuing the policies that created him and will most likely create future terrorists like him. I should add here however that the real group referred to as Al-Qa`ida (which was a few dozen strong at most) also had another component that gave the fanatical Wahhabi element an ideological tinge, because really Wahhabis don't have much of an ideology as such they just hate everyone. Their extra ideological origins lie in a group of Egyptian militants who - inspired by Sayyid Qutb's works arguing that as a result of being ruled by corrupt dictators the Muslim world had effectively ceased to exist - unsuccessfully plotted to overthrow the Egyptian government (though they succeeded in killing President Sadat, God curse that vile man). They represent the very extreme fringe of people influenced by Qutb, eventually deciding that ultimately the only way to solve the problem was to kill the 'infected' Muslims on a massive scale to shock them and to force the masses to snap out of it, as Al-Qa`ida has.

The actual organisation referred to as Al-Qa`ida (although there's no evidence that Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, or anyone else associated with the group called it 'Al-Qa`ida' until the Americans started doing so) only ever consisted of little more than a few dozen radical Wahhabi/Qutbist militants who - on the run after failing to violently overthrow governments in their own countries - had fled to Afghanistan and had came together in the mid 1990s around Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who devised a new spin on the radical Qutbist ideology, arguing that since they had failed to create revolutions in the Muslim world because the mass violence they created had disgusted so many people, they should instead attack the United States, and that would legitimise them in the Muslim world again and get the revolution back on track. Osama bin Laden was originally a fighter against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and was associated with the Wahhabi fighting groups around Abdullah Azzam, but him and some of his associates ended up linking up with Al-Zawahiri. Bin Laden was selected as this little group's leader, but most likely (certainly one of the former commanders of the Arab mujahideen forces in Afghanistan who I've met and talked to thinks so, he lives in London now) this was only done to keep him on board because he was the only one who had lots of money, and that Al-Zawahri is the real brains behind the whole operation. This very loose band were connected to the 9/11 attacks in that they had given assistance to the man who planned the attacks but didn't really carry them out directly. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, a Kuwaiti militant of Pakistani descent who had volunteered in the Afghan-Soviet war and later the Bosnian-Serbian war, and had also travelled to Qatar, Yemen, Sudan, the Phillipines, Malaysia and Brazil to support attacks against Americans there. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad mainly wanted to attack the US because he was angry about its support for Israel, and after bringing his proposal (i.e. the 'planes operation') to Osama bin Laden in 1998-9 he was given money and some recruits from the militant training camps in Afghanistan from which he could go to the US carry out his plan. The assistence Al-Qa`ida gave to him would prove disastrous for them however, because the United States government had after 9/11 that along with using it as an opportunity to go after some interests that really had nothing to do with fighting terrorist they were also going to totally obliterate whoever was behind the attacks, as well as any who harboured them or in any way gave assistence to them and didn't give a damn about civilian casualties or whatever. In contrast to the situation in Iraq (where the Bush administration has squeezed every last bit of credit possible out of any success like that last bit of toothpaste from the tube, dismally attempting to distract people from the fact that the invasion has been a catastrophe), the success in Afghanistan was actually downplayed by the Americans (perhaps because they were already planning to invade Iraq under the justification that Saddam Hussein was harbouring Al-Qa`ida, and so reporting too much success in Afghanistan would be counter-productive to convincing people of this claim). Although Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahri both got out alive, the real group referred to as Al-Qa`ida was almost crippled beyond repair in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; most of their original group had been killed; Afghanistan's training camps had been almost completely destroyed, (while the vast majority of these had neither anything to do with Osama bin Laden or were interested in attacking America, they did provide potential trained recruits) the Taliban had been destroyed and the Afghan Mujahideen (who hated the militants of the training camps) had retaken control of the country, with NATO assistance.

I really object to calling people like Bin Laden Islamists/Jihadists or whatever. Referring to people randomly killing masses of civilians as 'Jihadists' (not that that's a real word, but nevermind) is done either out of ignorance or for one of two reasons. Either it's an attempt to give them some kind of Islamic justification they don't deserve, these groups come up with all kinds of wacked explanations for how their tactics are religiously legitimate or 2 it's to defame Islam and say this is what Islam and jihad are all about. There is nothing in Islam that even in war justifies doing the kinds of things Bin Laden and his associated fanatical groups have done. The word jihad literally means to struggle or to exert oneself, and in the Qur'anic context means to exert yourself to better serve God. The first verse to talk about jihad (which has been translated as 'strive') in the Qur'an is this:

And strive in the way of God as you ought to strive. He has chosen you and has not imposed upon you any unbearable hardship in your religion; (this is) the faith of your forefather Abraham. He (God) has named you Muslims, before this and in this (book), that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and that you may be witnesses to mankind. So establish prayer, give regular charity, and hold fast unto God; He is your Patron. A blessed Patron and a blessed Helper! (22:78)

In Islamic jurisprudence jihad almost always refers to fighting against aggression or some injustice (for example the occupation Palestine, oppression by states) and is a communal obligation upon Muslims; but what is being referred to is a much more noble cause than nihilistic murders committed by those who only the shameful associate with Islam. Here's an oft-quoted verse of the Qur'an:

And why should you not fight in the cause of God, and of the weak among men, women and children who are crying: Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Your presence some guardian! Oh, give us from Your presence some defender! (4:75)

But you may also legitimately ask why do these people say what they're doing is jihad? Do they think it is? Well, the answer is yes and no. For Wahhabis there's not much to analyse really, they're just fanatics who hate anyone who doesn't agree with them and don't have much of an ideology to it. In the case of radical Qutbists, the term has been totally redefined in the context of their metanarrative. In Qutbist theory, the entire Muslim world has fallen into a state of jahiliyyah, an Arabic word which has no exact translation in English, but means something like 'deluded ignorance' and was used by the Prophet Muhammad to refer to pre-Islamic Arab civilisation. Now, at the time it was readily accepted amongst the populace of the Muslim world that they were one nation which although politically divided were still part of a Muslim civilisation. For someone like Sayyid Qutb to turn up and write that not only was this not true, but that there wasn't even any Muslim 'nation' or 'civilisation' to speak of, and that the Muslim world (or what was the Muslim world) had fallen into jahiliyyah, that is a very powerful and shocking statement, but he felt it was necessary if Muslims were going to wake up to reality, because the nature of jahiliyyah is that it deludes people into thinking they're successful when they're actually failures, united when they're actually divided, civilised when they're actually barbaric. The biggest group influenced by Qutb's works is the Muslim Brotherhood, although they've been increasingly distancing themselves from him at late. But those influenced by him there interpret Qutbism as that it's by 'educating' the people and using the will of the people against the dictators ruling the Muslim world (and some of them believe the Egyptian uprising was the fruit of their works, which is partially true although there's a lot more to it than that or the Muslim Brotherhood, which certainly did not instigate the uprising) that they can be overthrown, and generally do not approve of violent methods. But of course there is the more radical faction, who in the early 1980s lead by Ayman Al-Zawahiri decided that the way to end jahiliyyah was through 'jihad', and plotted a coup to overthrow the Egyptian government through the mass killing of government officials, whereupon the Askariya (vangard) could then form a new government, free the Muslim masses from jahiliyyah and establish the Islamic state, and a harmonious society would soon emerge without the need of any enforcement. In case you're wondering if this sounds somewhat familiar, it sounds familiar to me too, and to me is clearly just Marxist-Leninist theory dressed in Islamic terminology, exchange terms like jahiliyyah/commodity fetishism, Askariya/revolutionary vanguard and Islamic state/Communism and they're pretty much the same. I've always found it ironic that right-wing American thinktanks refer to Al-Qa`ida's ideology as 'Islamofascism', when it really has very little in common with fascism but they always miss the Marxist aspect.

When this coup attempt failed, the interpretation of 'jihad' changed, as they deemed trying to kill the leaders of jahiliyyah to be a failed policy. Because the Muslim masses did not rise up and assist in the overthrowing of their government, they were deemed to be infected by jahiliyyah to such a degree that they were trapped into supporting it, and thus were guilty and must also be killed. Thus 'jihad' went through the first major change in definition in their ideology, rather than killing the corrupt leaders of Muslim countries to free the masses from jahiliyyah, it now effectively meant killing as many Muslims as possible in order to collectively free them from jahiliyyah. This application first reached horrific levels Algerian Civil War in which somewhere in the region of 200,000 people were killed, much of which at the hands of fanatical Al-Qaedaesque militias (although they were far from the only guilty party, the Algerian state/military with the support of France also carried out many massacres of civilians often trying to blame them on the 'Islamic' groups to terrorise people) who had now moreorless decided that jihad meant to deliberately commit the most shocking acts of violence possible against the Muslims of Algeria. They would go round Algerian villages nihilistically slaughtering hundreds of civilians, all of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the conflict, purely for the sake of killing them. Of course such tactics did not work in creating a revolution either, and led to the 'Muslim masses' hating these fanatics wherever they were and nobody would give them a second's tolerance. Later around 1995-96 the faction of radical Qutbists that would later became known as Al-Qa`ida, realising that mass violence against Muslims in order to shock them into a revolution had been an utter failure too, made a second major change in their definition of jihad. Remembering how inspirational the Afghan's defeat of the superpower Soviet Union was, they decided that instead of killing Muslims or indeed focusing their activities in Muslim countries at all, they would attack the world's only superpower, the United States, striking specific targets (preferably military) rather than mindlessly killing civilians, and that this would give them legitimacy in the eyes of the Muslim masses, and so lead them to rise up in revolution against their governments hoping to replace them with the 'freedom fighters' they saw battling America. This strategy doesn't seem to have lasted very long though, probably because Al-Qa`ida (the group) doesn't really have that much influence. For example the Iraq War, where despite Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahri urging the fanatical Wahhabi forces to back off from massacring Shi`as and concentrate on fighting the American occupation forces, we can see it didn't take long for militant leaders like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (who although he renamed his group 'Al-Qa`ida in Iraq' in 2004, this was more because it was a more attention grabbing brand name, not that he was actually part of Al-Qa`ida proper) to go back to the usual savagry, and thus we see the thousands of Muslim civilians being murdered often for no discernable reason other than to kill people and create as much chaos as possible.

So my answer to the posed question is 'yes' they do think that what they're doing is jihad, and 'no' because they're defining jihad purely within the context of their own crazed political ideology which hasn't the slightest basis in Islamic theology but is really a kind of distorted Marxism-Leninism expressed in Islamic terms and with added Wahhabi lunacy/hatred on top. Going back to Sayyid Qutb, a pretty central point of his ideological analysis of modern society is that the masses believe that they are free when really they're slaves to their own desires, and that a revolution is necessary for them to first realise that they're enslaved. These kinds of ideas don't have much basis in Islamic theology and very similar to Marxist-Leninist thinking. Marx believed in the 19th Century that capitalism was an inherently oppressive system that could only get more and more oppressive over time and thus sowed the seeds of its own downfall as eventually the workers would be so oppressed they would revolt and would spontaneously overthrow the bourgeoisie an establish socialism as a kind of rule of nature. Obviously this didn't happen, and later Marxist thinkers had to explain why. The Leninist explanation is that the people are so alienated from reality by the capitalist system that they treat it as an inevitable fact of life and lack any kind of class consciousness. Marx touched on this concept a little and referred to is as 'reification' as a specific form of alienation, although it was more developed by later thinkers like Gramsci and Lukacs. So psychologically people construct a false consciousness where they believe that they're free in the present capitalism system when really they're not,  and distance themselves from their real allies (i.e. Communist revolutionaries trying to free them) because they can't see reality, and thus they will never be able to carry out a spontaneous revolution against the bourgeoisie as Marx predicted they would. The way to get around this problem (for Leninists) was by creating an enlightened revolutionary vanguard who properly understood 'the science of Marxism' and which would violently overthrow the capitalist system and set the people free by force. They would then create a dictatorship of the proletariat (which Marx also predicted) which would rule over society in the transition from capitalism to communism and ruthlessly destroy the remnants of the existing order to prevent counter-revolution, and with the transition to communism the people would gain class consciousness and develop harmonious communal societies and would thus become truly free, and would then be able to export the revolution across the world.

When Ayman Al-Zawahiri gives his "intellectual" (he's not that smart though he likes to think he is) explanations/justifications for Al-Qa`ida actions as well as some of Bin Laden's speeches he doesn't sound anything like a normal Muslim at all. It's like his group have totally reinvented the religion, adopted a load of Marxist terms and given them Islamic sounding names, yet they also still claim to be following Wahhabi ideology as well which is supposedly based on following the practices of the first generations of Muslims to the letter, being ultra-tradition as it were. But Al-Qa`ida have created something totally new and brought in so many innovations from outside Islam, and then talk like Wahhabis and kill traditional Muslims as 'heretics' despite the fact that it's them who are the heretics objectively speaking. Al-Zawahiri is a twisted ideological descendent of Qutb, and when you read him and his talk of the Muslim masses being enslaved without realising it and the only way to free them is for an armed vanguard of true Muslims who properly understand Islam to lead a revolution to overthrow the state and lead a transition to an Islamic state where the people would become truly free and a harmonious society would then emerge where the people would become true Muslims and then be able to export true Islam across the world it's really just Lenin's plan laid out in State and Revolution but expressed in Islamic sounding terminology. Just switch Communism/Islamic state, jahiliyyah/false consciousness around and that's pretty much it. Likewise Al-Qa`ida's justification for attacks on civilians is identical to how Marxists sometimes justified assassinations as 'propaganda of the deed' that would help the masses gain class consciousness, Lukacs was particularly focused on this. Both Qutb and Marx (but in particular the Leninists) believed that modern society reduced humans to the lowest common denominator through a psychological process that traps them into reifying social structures and commodity fetishism, processes Qutb described as jahiliyyah. Qutb started developing his theories when he was studying an educational administration major at an American university in the 1950s so it's almost certain he would have came across Marxism in his time there (Marxism was widely studied at this time), the ideas are certainly far too similar to have developed independently.

But anyway, Bin Laden is irrelevant now. The real movement in the Muslim and Arab world are the uprisings/possible revolutions taking place now in Egypt in particular, and it's there where those of us who have the capability should be focusing our efforts. So you might ask, so what's with this ridiculously long post if you think we shouldn't be bothering with him too much? Well... I'm just like that sometimes. Now you don't have to bother with him any more.

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