No. 534 27 Av 5765 / 1 September 2005
Looking to explain to the British public the “deep roots” of the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London, Prime Minister Tony Blair pointed to the underlying causes of the violence including the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
Clearly, Israel is one of many international grievances cited in the Islamic world today, but the purported link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rage of al-Qaeda and its supporters is patently groundless. Historically, al-Qaeda was not born in 1948, 1967, or 1973, in response to any of the Arab-Israeli wars. Rather, it was established in 1989, at the time of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.
Looking at the nationalities that make up the manpower of al-Qaeda, they mostly come from other conflict areas, from Kashmir, western China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Iraq, and Morocco.
It may be more comforting to stress the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or any other aspect of Western policy in the Middle East, in generating the rage behind Islamist militancy, but it is simply wrong. In fact, this rage emanates from “who we are” and not from “what we do.”
Should the Quartet impose an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in 2005-06 that denied Israel its security safeguards against terrorism, Western powers might mistakenly think they have removed a major cause of militant Muslim rage, but at the same time they would be erecting the next safe haven for international terrorism. This is precisely the dilemma that the West will face if it forces Israel to prematurely open up international access to the Gaza Strip – after disengagement but before the Palestinian Authority dismantles the vast terrorist infrastructure in that area.
Tony Blair’s Flawed Analysis
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a rare beacon of light in the global war on terrorism. He has frequently defied the sentiments in his own party and British public opinion in order to defend the security of the West as a whole. But there is one flaw in his analysis of the current situation that unfortunately comes up far too often. Looking to explain to the British public the “deep roots” of the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London, he pointed to the underlying causes of the violence including the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.1
Just after President Bush’s 2004 election victory, Blair offered congratulations and added that the allies now must pursue the war on terrorism by non-military means, as well, including an effort to revitalize the Middle East peace process, which Blair defined as “the single most pressing political challenge in our world today.”2 This was said by a British prime minister, but could have been asserted by a half-dozen European leaders.
In other words, it wasn’t Iran’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, the fragile condition of the new Afghan government, or Pakistan’s failure to dismantle its own terrorist militias, protected in the mountains of Northwest Frontier Province, that needed to be addressed urgently, but rather the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On July 13, during prime minister’s questions, Blair characterized Saudi Arabia – which, it is to be recalled, backed the Taliban and spread its own radical Wahhabist ideology to places like Iraq, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia – as a state seeking to recapture “moderate Islam.” He did not address the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers (15 out of 19), and indeed the clear majority of the foreign insurgents in Iraq, were Saudis. According to his reasoning, Israel and the Palestinian question are the central problem, but the fountainhead of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia is not.
Blair somewhat corrected these impressions three days later, on July 16, when he specified, “what we are dealing with is an evil ideology.”3 He spoke about its roots “in the madrasses of Pakistan” and the “extreme forms of Wahhabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia.” This correction of his position made sense in retrospect when a month later it was revealed that two senior al-Qaeda operatives inside Saudi Arabia made money transfers and used coded text messages to communicate with suspected terrorists in Britain prior to the London bombings.4 But the Israel factor was still a major part of Blair’s analysis of the motivation behind the new wave of Islamist terror.
In ticking off the political demands of al-Qaeda, Blair led with, “they demand the elimination of Israel,” which he followed with, “the withdrawal of all westerners from Muslim countries.”5 The other well-known parts of this militant agenda included the establishment of Taliban-like states in the Arab world “en route to one Caliphate of all Muslim nations.” Blair rejected outright the notion that any of these demands was negotiable, but, nonetheless, Israel was the top item in his analysis.
Blair was not alone and, in fact, has faced pressures from political circles that have been far more explicit about blaming Israel for ongoing conflicts. Right after 9/11, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw remarked during a visit to the Middle East: “One of the factors that helps breed terror is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.”6 Former MI-6 officer Alistair Crooke, who served as a European Union go-between with Hamas, has stated that the word “terrorist” obfuscates for him that many of these groups are “freedom fighters.” Objecting to Western military action in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, Crooke has looked to handling the problem of terrorism by providing a “political horizon” to organizations like Hamas.7 A case can be made that there is a widespread belief in certain British political circles, based on the Northern Ireland experience, that tough measures against insurgent movements are counter-productive and negotiations should be preferred instead that address these groups’ core grievances.8
More recently, an internal draft memorandum prepared jointly by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office and submitted to the British cabinet in May 2004 tried to grapple with the sources of extremism in the British Muslim community. The classified report, leaked to the Sunday Times on July 10, 2005, contained frightening conclusions: it identified 16,000 potential terrorists and supporters in Britain out of a total Muslim population of 1.6 million. The analysis observed that the “anger” of British Muslims came from “a perception of ‘double standards’ in British foreign policy, where democracy is preached but oppression of the ummah (the nation of believers) is practiced or tolerated, e.g., Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya.” The Israeli-Palestinian issue is here diluted with other areas facing an Islamist insurgency. As proof of this assertion, the memorandum cites Osama Saeed, a member of the Muslim Association of Britain, who wrote in the Observer: “What is needed is a debate about the root causes of terrorism, which is our country’s foreign policy.”
Clearly, Israel is one of many international grievances cited in the Islamic world today. But the purported link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rage of al-Qaeda and its supporters is patently groundless. Historically, al-Qaeda was not born in 1948, 1967, or 1973, in response to any of the Arab-Israeli wars. Rather, it was established in 1989, at the time of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. Its ideological fathers, like Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden, saw their struggle in global terms: just as the armies of early Islam defeated Byzantium and Persia, the great powers of the seventh century, al-Qaeda had begun the long march to defeat the Soviet Union and then the United States and its allies. Israel was not a part of the calculus. As the prominent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis has pointed out, Israel at best appeared as a distant third in bin Laden’s declared priorities. It may be argued that al-Qaeda declared war against the “Zionist-Crusader” alliance in 1996, but operationally, al-Qaeda focused its initial efforts against the “occupation of the land of the Two Holy Places” (i.e., Saudi Arabia) because it was “the greatest of all these aggressions.” Israel barely existed on al-Qaeda’s early radar screen.
No Correlation Between Israeli-Palestinian Peace and Al-Qaeda’s Terror Campaign
Still, if progress was made in the Arab-Israeli peace process, wouldn’t that at least remove one grievance from the table and reduce the hostility of Islamist militancy against the West? During the decade of the 1990s, when Israel actually did make unprecedented concessions in the peace process to Yasser Arafat’s PLO, starting in 1993 with the Oslo Agreements, the fact of the matter is that al-Qaeda’s rage against the West was simply unaffected. Israel and the PLO signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in 1994, the Interim Agreement over the West Bank in 1995, the Hebron Agreement in 1997, and the Wye Agreement in 1998, while the Barak government offered unprecedented concessions at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and early 2001. Yet al-Qaeda pursued Western targets in the very same period. After the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, U.S. citizens were bombed in Saudi Arabia in 1995, followed by the U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, and the USS Cole in 2000. Blair’s formula for ameliorating the rage of global terrorism through Israeli concessions was shown not to work – after more than ten years’ experience. There was simply no correlation between the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and al-Qaeda’s terror campaign against the West.
More recent evidence shows that this is still the case. True, al-Qaeda began to attack Israeli targets after 9/11, like its attempt to down an Arkia jetliner in Mombassa, Kenya, in December 2002. Yet this shift in al-Qaeda’s strategy would not be affected by the peace process. Blair’s government sees that process being advanced through the Quartet Roadmap for Peace, based on the common positions of the U.S., the UN, Russia, and the European Union, which in 2005 is headed by Britain itself. But on January 4, 2004, bin Laden issued an audio tape through al-Jazeera in which he describes the roadmap as a “trick” that is being used “to destroy…the mujahideen in beloved Palestine.”
A Need to Atone for European Imperialism?
Then why do assertions like those of Tony Blair persist? Much of the British analysis of the root causes of terrorism assumes that al-Qaeda arose on the world stage because of something the West did to the Islamic world. In other words, al-Qaeda’s actions were externally generated. As such, many observers assume that this terrorism was a defensive reaction to years of European imperialism and exploitation. For much of the British political class, whose fathers oversaw the dismantling of the British Empire, this reasoning makes sense. Now, according to this line of thought, all that European statesmen have to do is identify what exactly the West is still doing to the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia to enrage young Muslims, and then alter their nations’ policies accordingly.
An American adherent to this school of thought, Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst, summarized this view in his bestseller Imperial Hubris: “It’s not who we are but what we do.” He mentions the dismantling of Muslim Indonesia and the creation of Christian East Timor. But he reserves his harshest criticism for U.S. support of Israel. His analysis became popularized in America through his appearances on CBS News’ Sixty Minutes and in many high-profile lectures. Like some of his British counterparts, Scheuer believes that a change in U.S. policy toward the Middle East and other conflict zones is necessary to ameliorate the new wave of global Islamist terrorism.
Radical Islamist spokesmen often recognize Westerners’ sense of historical guilt when explaining their attacks. The British jihadist Abu Hamza, who once preached at the Finsbury Mosque in North London, was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company on March 16, 2004, and demonstrated considerable skill in manipulating this Western predisposition. Asked whether jihad justified violence, he immediately shifted the discussion to the West’s use of violence, including the bombing of Hiroshima. When asked whether he approved of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, he replied: “Of course I agree with it.” It was justified, he explained, because the very presence of a Western warship in a Yemeni port was “a kind of occupation, humiliation.”
Clearly, the arrival of a U.S. Navy ship at the Yemeni port of Aden was not a case of military “occupation.” Indeed, Yemen benefited from hefty port fees as well as military cooperation with the U.S. that improved the combat readiness of its forces. But by blaming the attack on the USS Cole on the policies of the U.S. and the West, Abu Hamza cleverly obfuscated the real explanation: that the U.S. and the West were confronting a political doctrine that was launching a war of aggression against them. Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith explained the 9/11 attacks with the usual references to “humiliation,” but then revealingly added that it was his organization’s belief that “his nation was created to stand at the center of leadership, at the center of hegemony and rule.”9
Islamist Militants Hate Westerners for Who They Are, Not What They Do
Indeed, this type of aggressive doctrine is not about to be diverted to a more accommodating posture by any adjustments of Western policy towards various zones of conflict worldwide. The reason is that the rage of this Islamist militancy does emanate from “who we are” and not from “what we do.” The same Abu Ghaith explains why America was targeted on 9/11: “America is the head of heresy in our modern world, and it leads an infidel democratic regime that is based upon separation of religion and state and on ruling the people by the people via legislating laws that contradict the way of Allah and permit what Allah has prohibited.”10
The idea that democracy is anti-Islamic and must be destroyed also runs through the writings of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the religious mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who leads today’s al-Qaeda insurgency in Iraq.11 Al-Maqdasi spent years with master terrorist al-Zarqawi in a Jordanian prison. He wrote a book Democracy is a Religion, in which he argues that democracy is a form of heresy; as a result, Christians and Jews in the West are no longer protected peoples, according to his version of Islam, because they participate in the democratic process, which he says is a form of polytheism, with multiple sources of authority. For this reason, they are to be defined as combatants who may be killed. This provides the religious justification for erasing the difference between civilians and the military – a necessary prerequisite for Islamist terrorists. These sorts of anti-democratic ravings are common among al-Qaeda clerics and are used to set the stage for justifying the mass murder of today’s infidels: the West and its allies.
Why Do Islamist Militants Target Shiite Muslims?
The source of the rage motivating Islamist militancy can also be seen in the selection of targets in the current wave of terrorist attacks. Since the rise of al-Qaeda, atrocities against Shiite Muslims have increased dramatically, ending the relative coexistence between these major Islamic communities over the last century. In central Afghanistan, thousands of Hazara Shiites were exterminated by the Taliban in the late 1990s. Others were offered the choice of accepting Sunni Islam or expulsion from Afghan territory.12 Today, Shiite mosques in Pakistan and in Iraq are regularly attacked by suicide bombers with scores killed each time. What do these attacks on the Shiites have to do with militant Muslim grievances against the West for “what it has done.” No one would argue that a quick solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow make Shiites in Najaf more secure from Zarqawi’s forces. Indeed, for the supreme Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the al-Qaeda attacks against Shiites are very much motivated by “who they are”; he has even branded this terrorism as a “genocidal war.”13 After all, it is a war against whole categories of people and not against particular policies.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has demonstrated that it is willing to kill the nationals of any state, regardless of its position on the validity of the Iraq War or whether it is formally a member of the coalition. Twelve Nepalese workers lost their lives to Islamist insurgents in early September 2004 even though their government did not support the U.S. position on Iraq. Yet Nepal is the only state in the world whose official religion is Hinduism, which is regarded by Islamists as one of the worst polytheistic faiths. It seems likely that these Nepalese died precisely because of “who they were” and not because of “what their government did.”
Root Causes in Wahhabi-Muslim Brotherhood Ideologies
The key to understanding the true root causes of Islamic militant rage against the West is to look beyond the policies of the U.S. and Europe toward the Middle East. Abdal Hakim Murad, the imam of the Cambridge mosque in Great Britain, linked the London bombings to internal ideological developments in the Islamic world: “Wahhabism, the hard-line ideology at the core of current terrorism, has cut deep wounds in Islam and helped alienate young UK Muslims.”14
It is important to recall that Osama bin Laden and his followers were the products of two Islamist movements that closely interacted in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan of the 1980s. The Wahhabi movement of Arabia re-invigorated the idea of the militant jihad (holy war), especially in order to eradicate any innovations in Islam that compromised the idea of pure monotheism. It seized on the Koranic verse: “slay the polytheists (mushrikin) wherever you find them,” applying it more broadly than ever before to include other Muslims. Shiite veneration of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, made them fitting objects for military attack, as seen in the Wahhabi slaughter of 5,000 Shiites in Kerbala in 1802, well before Zarqawi’s campaign against the Shiite mosques in Iraq.
It was the Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928, that sought to return Egypt to true Islamic rule after the leader of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, abolished the Ottoman caliphate four years earlier. The Brotherhood rejected the constitutional models of government that Egyptian political parties at the time were seeking to copy from the West. Their opponents were Egyptian nationalists seeking immediate independence and an end to British rule. Both the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood are regarded as salafi movements that aspire to restore a more pristine form of Islam taken from their pious ancestors (al-salaf) of the seventh century and stripped of the medieval innovations that were later added to Islam.
What is common to both the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood is that the growth of their fierce, anti-Western ideology was primarily internally driven. It grew out of an entirely domestic religious discourse. The spread of Wahhabism had nothing to do with Western encroachments on the Middle East, for it emerged from the Najd, the barren plateau of central Arabia where Europeans were rarely seen. The United States didn’t even exist at the time, and in the mid-eighteenth century, the West’s colonization of the Middle East had not even begun.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was from the start anti-Western, nonetheless focused its energies on the question of Islamic governance. Because bin Laden himself was raised in a Saudi family that was very close to the Saudi establishment, their Yemeni roots notwithstanding, Wahhabi doctrines affected his upbringing. Once he came under the influence of his mentor, Abdullah Azzam, the former head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the two militant movements together served as a wellspring for the growth of his ideas and those of his followers.
Saudi Arabia was a critical partner for the Muslim Brotherhood, for it controlled the Muslim holy sites and, even more importantly, had huge oil resources. Its universities, like the Islamic University of Medina, took in members of the Muslim Brotherhood and gave them jobs after they ran away from Nasserist Egypt. It set up huge foundations, like the Muslim World League, the World Assembly for Muslim Youth (WAMY), and al-Haramain, which in many cases employed members of the Muslim Brotherhood and spread Wahhabi Islam to every corner of the Islamic world, as well as to the heart of Europe. The U.S. Treasury Department, on June 2, 2004, called al-Haramain “one of the principal Islamic NGOs providing support for al-Qaeda and promoting militant Islamic doctrines worldwide.”15 Moderate Sufi mosques could not compete with seemingly endless Saudi resources. Thus, these Saudi foundations, which were headed by ministers of the Saudi government, became conduits for promoting the global jihad – whether through terrorist financing or by providing its ideological justification.
Wahhabi Outreach to Britain
This Wahhabi outreach apparently reached Britain as well. The imam of the Cambridge mosque recently noted: “Among alienated and confused young Muslims in the United Kingdom, there is also a Wahhabi influence. One Muslim bookseller tells me that mainstream Islamic bookshops cannot compete with the radical alternative, since Saudi organizations supply the radical shops with books free of charge.”16 He added that there is a “tendency of some young British Muslims to study in new Wahhabi colleges in Pakistan and elsewhere.”17 One by-product of this influence is the tendency of Islamist militants to dismiss everyone who does not adhere to their religious doctrine as kuffar, or infidels, the killing of whom is fully permitted. The Insight Team of The Times of London recently published excerpts of recordings from the followers of Sheikh Omar Bakri of East London. These very themes surfaced in sermons which “repeatedly justified war against the ‘kuffar‘ through acts of violence, including suicide bombings.”18
Concluding that the attacks in London in 2005, like those of 9/11 four years ago, came about because of “who we are” is difficult to swallow. For Western civilization, that has come to stress the importance of pluralism and tolerance as well as the rejection of racism, it is also difficult to begin to comprehend the militant Islamist mindset, especially if statesmen engage in projection and assume that they are dealing with those who share the same moral universe. It is far easier to see international conflict as a more limited political struggle over a disputed piece of territory, which reasonable men can discuss in a wood-paneled room. Territorial conflicts can be comprehended, but a military effort to destroy one’s civilization is frightening. It may be more comforting to stress the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or any other aspect of Western policy in the Middle East, in generating the rage behind Islamist militancy, but it is simply wrong. As the Arab-American commentator Fouad Ajami has noted: “We should be done with the search for ‘explanations’ that dignify the hatreds, that attribute them to Western deeds and policies.”19
The Islamist Mission: World Domination
Indeed, the aims of these Islamist movements have become increasingly expansive. The Muslim Brotherhood has published an Arabic weekly in London called Risalat al-Ikhwan, the “Message of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Several months after 9/11 it changed its masthead, which until November 2001 read: “Our mission: world domination.” Initially, al-Qaeda’s founders, like Abdullah Azzam, spoke about the Islamic duty to defend the “Land of the Muslims.” However, in addition to calling for the liberation of Palestine, the Philippines, and Lebanon, Azzam also called for recovering “Andalusia” – the historic name for Islamic Spain.20
In more recent years, radical Saudi clerics have written that the command of jihad applies not only to Muslims on the confrontation lines of the Islamic world, but also to Muslims living in the West as well.21 They have also taken up the theme of Islamic expansion into Europe, sometimes with implicit official backing. For example, in late 2002, the imam of the mosque at Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Defense Academy, Sheikh Abdul Raham al-Arifi, preached: “We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it.” These movements are not just seeking to protect the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe, which would be understandable. They seek to subdue Europe and defeat democratic values. For example, al-Arifi foresaw “the Christians” of Europe in the future paying the poll-tax of non-Muslims under Muslim rule “or they will convert to Islam.” These themes were also reflected in the writings of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been hosted by the City of London, who said: “Constantinople was conquered, and the second part of the prophecy remains, that is the conquest of Romiyya. This means that Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor.”22
Appeasement Will Not Work
What would happen if President Bush adopted Blair’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle as a root cause of terrorism? Patrick Sookhdeo, who has analyzed the doctrines of radical Islamist groups for the British armed forces and earned the praise of senior British officers, has looked at the value of policies that yield to the terrorists’ demands.23 He notes that BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson has suggested that “there is only one method of defeating political violence” and that includes “reducing the causes of discontent.” Yet Sookhdeo utterly rejects the idea that peace could be bought if the West met the political demands of the current Islamist agenda and ceded “Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, south Thailand, and Mindanao in the Philippines” to the Islamic world, for these groups are engaged in “a struggle for dominance,” not coexistence. In other words, appeasement is not only a morally flawed policy option, it also will not work. After the 2004 al-Qaeda attacks in Madrid, Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq and met the political demands that appeared on al-Qaeda websites. But given the recurring theme of liberating “Andalusia” that is voiced by militant Islamists, did Spain actually buy immunity from future al-Qaeda attacks? It could be inferred from Sookhdeo’s analysis that Spain still remains vulnerable despite its policy change.
There is an additional important dimension of such an appeasement strategy. If al-Qaeda and its supporters were able to claim that they succeeded in getting the West to change its policies toward Israel, India, or any other country, they would be able to announce that their strategy of terrorism indeed works. The same would be the case if Britain were to withdraw from Iraq in the aftermath of suicide bombing attacks in London. These policy changes would also promote the illusion that the “root causes” of terrorism were at last being addressed and the West could let down its guard as a result. Rather than reducing terrorism, however, such a diplomatic strategy would reignite it and ultimately prove to be completely self-defeating.
There will be those who, nonetheless, argue that even if the persistence of an unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the main reason for the existence of al-Qaeda, nonetheless, Palestinian grievances assist al-Qaeda in recruiting new members, so that an imposed political solution by the Quartet might still help the war on terrorism. But looking at the nationalities that make up the manpower of al-Qaeda, they mostly come from other conflict areas: Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco, western China (Uighurs), and the Philippines. Historically, even when the West went to war on behalf of threatened Muslim societies like in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo, those efforts did not reduce the growing momentum of the global jihadi movements in the 1990s. In any case, the most frequent messages utilized in al-Qaeda’s recruiting films (and hence in their view the most persuasive images to convey) are the scenes of what they believe are their military successes: the bombing of Western targets in Iraq or the beheading of their prisoners.
Should the Quartet, nonetheless, impose an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in 2005-06 that denied Israel its security safeguards against terrorism, Western powers might mistakenly think that they had removed a major cause of militant Muslim rage, but at the same time they would be erecting the next safe haven for international terrorism. This is precisely the dilemma that the West will face if it forces Israel to prematurely open up international access to the Gaza Strip – after disengagement but before the Palestinian Authority dismantles the vast terrorist infrastructure in that area.
British Jihadists Turn On Their Hosts
In the meantime, the most immediate risks to the United Kingdom come from radicalized elements inside Britain itself. In an interview with the Sunday Times on July 31, 2005, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan specifically warned that two radical Islamist groups in Britain should have been banned long ago: Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muharijoun (lit. “the Emigrants”). These two organizations were also singled out by the British government’s joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office-Home Office internal memorandum that appeared in The Times on July 10, 2005. Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 in Jordan and Saudi Arabia as a movement that sought to revive the caliphate and create a single Islamic state over the entire Muslim world. It was highly influenced by the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia,24 and has been especially active in the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Sheikh Omar bin Bakri Muhammad, a key leader in Hizb ut-Tahrir and its offshoots, who came out of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, subsequently became involved in Hizb ut-Tahrir in Beirut. He settled for a number of years in Jidda, Saudi Arabia; deported by the Saudis in 1985, he made London his main base of operations.25
In Saudi Arabia, Bakri had established al-Muharijoun as a radical offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir and then brought the movement to London. Besides recruiting British volunteers for the global jihad, al-Muharijoun openly supported Osama bin Laden and launched a campaign to commemorate the 9/11 attacks by “the Magnificent 19” in Great Britain. Two Britons of Pakistani origin who had attended al-Muharijoun meetings flew to Israel in April 2003, where one of them committed a suicide bombing against “Mike’s Place,” a Tel Aviv nightclub near the U.S. Embassy.26 But within Britain itself, Bakri maintained a “covenant of security” that prohibited attacks against the British state as long as it hosted British Muslims peacefully.27 Bakri determined that this “covenant” had ended in January 2005, exposing Britain to new domestic terrorist attacks.
Bakri worked closely with radical Wahhabi jihadists in Britain from the “Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia,” which seeks the overthrow of the Saudi royal family; their very presence in London has enraged the Saudi government.28 He also has been supportive of Interpal, a British-based fund that openly collects money for Hamas; the fund has been outlawed in the U.S. and Israel.29
In short, the creation of a radical Islamist center in London over the past decade – what has been called “Londonistan” – has posed a threat not only to Israel, but to other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as well. Now this radical presence has turned on its British hosts. Bakri is not shy about talking about his group’s aims: “flying the Islamic flag over Downing Street.”30 This is clearly a global threat and not a spin-off of the Arab-Israel conflict.
The true dimensions of the current challenge from radical Islamist militancy may seem daunting, but they are not beyond the capability of the West to meet. To do so requires first an understanding that this is a battle inside the Islamic world that expresses itself in attacks on Western targets. This battle has actually been fought before; the Ottoman Empire, which was headed by a sultan who was the caliph in all Sunni Islam, defeated the Wahhabis in 1818. Currently, these struggles are being waged inside Islamic societies. The West needs to deny one side the resources it needs, while providing military and diplomatic backing to the other side. It needs a coordinated, multi-national effort to disrupt terrorist financing. It also needs to get Saudi Arabia to stop its export of radical Islamist ideologies. Ultimately, the Islamic world must reform itself from within, a process that will take a great deal of time. The 9/11 Commission judged that this struggle may last a generation or more. Deflecting international attention away from the true nature of this conflict to the question of Israel and the Palestinians will only prolong the process of dealing with its true root cause.
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1. Matt Moore, “Investigators Search for Clues, While Families Search for Loved Ones in London Bomb Blasts,” Associated Press, July 9, 2005; http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20050709-0309-britain-bombings.html
2. “Blair Calls for World to Unite After Bush Win,” Associated Press, November 04, 2004; http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,137541,00.html
3. “Blair Speech on Terror,” BBC, July 16, 2005;http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1458178/posts
4. Tony Harnden and Andrew Alderson, “UK Terrorists Got Cash from Saudi Arabia Before 7/7,” Daily Telegraph, August 7, 2005.
5. “Blair Speech on Terror.”
6. James Bennet, “Arafat and Peres Agree to Meet Today in Gaza in First High-Level Talks Since July,” New York Times, September 26, 2001.
7. Document seized (November 2002) in the Palestinian Authority Preventive Security compound in Gaza: A transcript of a secret meeting held by Alistair Crooke, then a senior EU representative, with a Hamas delegation headed by (the late) Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and a meeting he held with members of the Fatah Tanzim, mediated by Preventive Security seniors (June 2002). http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/sib/4_05/tran_eu.htm
8. Dean Godson, “Lessons from Northern Ireland for the Arab-Israel Conflict,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 523, October 1-15, 2004.
9. “Al-Qaeda Spokesman: ‘Why We Fight America’,” MEMRI, June 12, 2002; http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Area=egypt&ID=SP38802
11. Jonathan D. Halevi, “Al-Qaeda’s Intellectual Legacy: New Radical Islamic Thinking Justifying the Genocide of Infidels,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, December 1, 2003.
12. Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords (London: Pan Macmillan, 2001), p. 74.
13. Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq’s Top Shia Cleric Warns of ‘Genocidal War’,” Independent, July 19, 2005.
14. Abdal Hakim Murad, “Islam’s ‘Heart of Darkness’,” Islam Daily, July 24, 2005; http://www.islamdaily.net/EN/Contents.aspx?AID=3276
16. Murad, “Islam’s ‘Heart of Darkness.'”
18. The Insight Team, “Focus: Undercover in the Academy of Hatred,” The Times, August 7, 2005.
19. Fouad Ajami, “Within the Gates,” U.S. News and World Report, July 16, 2005.
20. Giles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 147.
21. Halevi, “Al-Qaeda’s Intellectual Legacy.”
22. “Leading Sunni Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi and Other Sheikhs Herald the Coming Conquest of Rome,” MEMRI, Special Dispatch – No. 447, December 6, 2002; http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP44702
23. Patrick Sookhdeo, Understanding Islamic Terrorism (Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2004).
24. Ahmad Rashid, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 116-118.
25. Yotam Feldner, “Radical Islamist Profiles: Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad – London,” MEMRI, October 24, 2001.
26. Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, “The Dangers of Tolerance: Clerical Error,” New Republic, August 8, 2005.
27. Daniel Pipes, “British Islamists Threatened Violence,” FrontPage Magazine.com, July 8, 2005.
28. Richard Beeston and Michael Binyon, “Blair ‘Repeatedly Failed to Tackle Radical Muslims in His Backyard’,” The Times, August 10, 2005.
30. “Undercover in the Academy of Hatred.”
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Dr. Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1997-1999, heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. His book Hatred’s Kingdom surveys the rise of Islamic militancy in Saudi Arabia.