I had to read the report by the Reuters news agency several times to ensure I did not misunderstand: Osama bin Laden declared his opposition to attacks against civilians. In an Internet posting on Feb 24, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2, wrote: “There are certain operations attributed, rightly or falsely, to the mujahideen, in which Muslims are attacked in their mosques, market places or gatherings … I and my brothers in al Qaeda distance ourselves … from such operations and condemn them.” He also said that militants should refrain from indiscriminate attacks on “Muslims and non-Muslim.” I still ask myself if this posting was some sort of joke, an early “April Fool’s” stunt, if you will.
Yet, it may be a sign of Al Qaeda’s desperation. As the wave of revolution continues to roll all across the Arab Middle East, the neo-Kharijite militants of Al Qaeda have been relatively silent as of late. Indeed, according to the website Magharebia, Zawahiri was posting statements about the Egyptian revolution, but it seemed to have very little effect or influence. In fact, the events of Jan 25-Feb 11 in Egypt, coming on the heels of the “Jasmine Revolution” of Tunisia, is Al Qaeda’s worst nightmare: political change coming about using peaceful, non-violent protest.
Throughout its existence, Al Qaeda has maintained that political change can only be achieved through violent struggle, which they falsely claim to be “jihad.” And it has matched its rhetoric with vile actions throughout the world, killing scores of people. Yet, the overwhelming majority of those people have been innocent civilians, most of them Muslims. Zawahiri has condemned Islamist groups that seek to participate in secular political processes, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Magharebia, Zawahiri “challenged those who do not share his opinion to provide ‘one example’ of a peaceful revolution that succeeded in changing a regime.”
Well, the youth of Egypt and Tunisia have met his challenge and proven that real political change can be achieved without the use of a suicide bomb vest; regimes can be toppled without having to resort to bombing innocent people eating pizza, or buying groceries, or praying in a house of God. And, it seems, it has gotten Al Qaeda scared to death in their caves.
Indeed, the extraordinary events the world has witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt has completely decimated Al Qaeda’s main premise and raison d’etre. In fact, it was Al Qaeda-like violence that brought about the brutal repression that led to the revolution in Egypt. In response to the assassination of Anwar Sadat by “Islamist” militants, Hosni Mubarak put into a place a perpetual state of emergency, allowing his security services to arrest and torture at will. After three decades of state-sponsored brutality, the Egyptian people stood up and would not take “No” for an answer.
Yet, they did so peacefully, despite a brutal and ugly crackdown by regime supporters. The weight of their dignified nonviolence was finally too much, and the regime crumbled. This must have terrified Al Qaeda to the point that their “Sheikh” Osama Bin Laden directed Zawahiri to “reiterate this matter” about attacks on civilians and urge “the mujahideen to consider the rulings of sharia (Islamic law) and the interests of Muslims before undertaking any jihad operation.”
Yet, what Al Qaeda doesn’t seem to realize is that this popular, nonviolent uprising is wholly in keeping with the Sharia, and their brutal violence is the complete antithesis of the Sharia. In another article on Magharebia, the calls to violence and “jihad” by Zawahiri last October were widely rejected:
“This is not the first time that Zawahri calls Muslim rulers infidels and calls for people to get out of their rule. And calls by Al-Qaeda generally do not find any echo in the community. It has become sure enough that people who respond to such calls, are people who suffer from psychological and social problems. Al-Zawahiri is known as a doctor, but instead of choosing to treat people, he chose to kill them, and this choice in itself is an indication that the mental abilities of this man aren’t sane,” said Driss Moussaoui, President of the Moroccan Association for Social Psychiatry.
Even the Salafists in Algeria issued a fatwa banning violence against the government: “Any opposition must occur in a peaceful context and must be marked by the need not to fall into violence in any form: riots, demonstrations, sit-ins, and even insults,” said Salafist theologian Sheikh Mohamed Ali Ferkous.
And judging by the actions of Muslims all across the Middle East, this view of rejecting violence is clearly majoritarian . It has been government actions – such as the gunning down of unarmed protesters chaning “Salmeya, Selmeya (Peaceful, Peaceful)” in Bahrain – that has been “Al Qaeda-esque.” It has been the autocratic Arab governments who have been the terrorists. It has been Arab governments who have seemingly taken the advice of Al Qaeda by reacting to peaceful protest with brutal violence. And the most beautiful thing is, this reaction has only further strengthened the resolve to answer violence with peace – and completely destroy everything for which Al Qaeda stands.
Indeed, the death of Al Qaeda was bound to happen. This band of thugs was nothing more than murderous criminals who wrap their bloodthirstiness in the garbs of religiosity, much like the Kharijites were before them. And just as the Kharijite phenomenon fizzled, the Al Qaeda phenomenon will fizzle as well. That is because the core of Islam – the message and movement of another Prince of Peace, Prophet Muhammad – will always endure and survive any aberration that seeks to overtake it.
It is as God says: “They aim to extinguish God’s light with their utterances: but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.” (61:8) Al Qaeda, with its brutal violence and bloody actions, sought to extinguish God’s light by claiming any view other than its own as “infidel” worthy of death. But, “God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness,” and that meant that aberrations such as Al Qaeda were inevitably going to fail.
What is even more extraordinary is that I had always thought the main thrust against the thugs of Al Qaeda would come from the Muslims of the West. It turns out, however, that the death blow will probably come from the Muslims of the East. The barbrians of Al Qaeda are surrounded on all sides by the true warriors of Muhammad. And they cannot be wiped out soon enough.
The revolutions spreading all across the Middle East were long in coming and long overdue. It is my hope and prayer that the light of freedom and human dignity shines forth in every Muslim country all across the world, nay, every country on the face of the earth. The Arabs are no less deserving of living in freedom, no less deserving to be able to shape their own destiny. As they raise the flag of freedom and dignity, in all its nonviolent splendor, they will forever prove to all the nay-sayers that Islam does not encourage violence. On the contrary, so many of the protestors cite Islam as their motivation to say “Selmeya, Selmeya.” It has been said that, on 9/11/01, Al Qaeda rose to its prominence, and on 2/11/11, Al Qaeda breathed its last. To the giant that is Islam, Al Qaeda’s phenomenon was nothing more than a gnat, a fleeting blip. And its obituary was written on the streets of Tunisia and in Tahrir Square.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is called God, Faith, and a Pen. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).