Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Graveyard of Jihadism: Why Democracy in Iraq Threatens Al-Qaeda

"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it,"

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Quoted in "Zarqawi Pledges War on Iraq Elections", The Daily Telegraph, January 23, 2005.

This statement was just one of many made by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the runup to Iraq's historic elections. The terrorist leader repeatedly denounced the elections as an "infidel" institution, and threatened the mass slaughter of those who dared take part in them. The failure of Zarqawi, who was personally appointed commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq by Osama bin Laden, to make good on those threats was clearly a short-term blow to the prestige and reputation of the terror organization. But does the success of the Iraqi elections have broader implications for the struggle with al-Qaeda? Does al-Qaeda fear democracy in general, or is the sentiment voiced by Zarqawi simply reflective of his bitter opposition to the US presence in Iraq?

Richard Clarke, for one, has argued that Zarqawi's statements are not indicative of a broader al-Qaeda aversion to democracy. In a piece for the February 6th New York Times he wrote that:

Zarqawi and his followers do oppose democracy in Iraq, but they do so partly because they believe that the continuing electoral process (a constitutional referendum is planned for October of this year and a national election for December) is an American imposition. In this they are joined by the many Iraqis who simply want an occupying army to leave. In addition, Zarqawi's group seeks support from the Sunni Arab minority, which in any democratic process will lose power as compared with what it had in the decades of Baath Party rule.

Beyond Iraq, in the greater Muslim world, opposing democracy is not uppermost in the mind of Al Qaeda or the larger jihadist network.

(link courtesy of QandO)

Contrary to Mr. Clarke, however, the evidence is overwhelming that al-Qaeda does indeed fear the spread of democracy in the Muslim world, and that opposing democracy is in fact "uppermost" in their minds.

1. As evidenced by the quote at the beginning of this essay, Zarqawi rejects the very concept of democracy, regardless of how or where it comes about. For example, on January 23rd, 2005 he stated that:

Democracy is based on the principle of considering the position of the majority and adopting what is agreed upon by the majority, even if they agree upon falsehood, error, and blatant heresy… This principle is totally wrong and void because truth according to Islam is that which is in accordance with the Koran and the Sunna [i.e., the tradition of the Prophet], whether its supporters are few or many; and that which contradicts the Koran and the Sunna is false even if all the people of the world agree on it…"

2. Zarqawi's views are very much in line with those of other radical Islamists. For example:

-Zarqawi's mentor, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, has written that "[Democracy is] denying Allah the Almighty, attributing [to other deities] partnership with [Allah,] the Lord of heaven and earth, and [it] contradicts the religion of monotheism [i.e., Islam] and the religion of the prophets, for many reasons."

-In the mid 1990's, the jihadi terrorists in Algeria waged a frenzied campaign of violence aimed in part at preventing elections in that country. Journalist Amir Taheri quotes Algerian jihadist leader Antar Zu'abri as saying that "(t)hose who want the rule of the people defy the rule of God, which is Islam."

-On December 30, 2004, the Iraqi jihadist terror group Ansar al-Sunnah issued a statement saying that democracy amounts to "denying Allah the Almighty, attributing [to other deities] partnership with the Lord of heaven and earth, and [it] contradicts monotheism, the Muslims' religion."

-In the same month, the leader of the Chechen jihadists, Abu Omar al-Sayf, wrote that "it is forbidden to hold general elections to choose the general imam or [to choose] members of the Shura council even in a country ruled by the laws of Islam, because these are the methods and ways of the infidel democratic regime, and [these methods] must not be associated with Islam."

As Joseph Braude noted in his analysis of Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri's February 2005 statement, democracy has no place in the worldview of the jihadists. Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli explains why:

Islamist terrorist organizations share a profound conviction that elections are apostasy. Muslims should be governed by Islamic religious laws ( Shariah )as interpreted by the likes of bin Laden or al-Zarqawi, and not by man-made laws promulgated by elected officials. This Islamist world's view was largely defined by Sayyid Qutb in his book ' ma'alim 'ala al-tariq ' ('Signposts on the Road'), published in 1957 by the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. The book was predicated on a perfect dichotomy between believers and infidels, between Islamic religious laws and the laws of the infidels, between tradition and decadence and between violent change and sham legitimacy. To quote Qutb himself: "In the world there is only one party, the party of Allah; all of the others are parties of Satan and rebellion. Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of the rebellion." In short, voting in elections, or making a choice is, according to the followers of Qutb's thoughts, a defiance of Allah's ultimate jurisdiction over the conduct of human beings.

In short, al-Qaeda and the jihadist movement clearly regard democracy in all its forms as anathema to their totalitarian vision for the Islamic world.

3. In addition to opposing democracy on ideological grounds, there is clear evidence that al-Qaeda does indeed fear that the spread of democracy in the Muslim world will spell disaster for their cause. While many in the West scoffed at the Bush Doctrine, al-Qaeda's top strategic thinker, Yussef al-Ayyeri, had a far different reaction. In 2003 he wrote that:

"It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its survival, is American democracy".

As journalist Amir Taheri noted in an September 2003 essay, al-Ayyeri saw the American project of fostering democracy in the Middle East as a mortal threat to the jihadist movement. Taheri's piece remains a must-read for anyone interested in how the Iraq campaign fits into the broader war with jihadism:

The goal of democracy, according to Al-Ayyeri, is to "make Muslims love this world, forget the next world and abandon jihad." If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith.

He says that it is vital to prevent any normalization and stabilization in Iraq. Muslim militants should make sure that the United States does not succeed in holding elections in Iraq and creating a democratic government. "If democracy comes to Iraq, the next target [for democratization] would be the whole of the Muslim world," Al-Ayyeri writes.

Al-Ayyeri was killed by Saudi security forces in June 2003. Had he survived, he would clearly see the events of the last two months as fulfilling his worst fears. Iraq's elections were a major success, and that country's first ever democratically elected government will probably assume power in a few days. Lebanon's Cedar Revolution has offered a powerful alternative vision to that of the jihadists. Throughout much of the Arab world, people are beginning to express their desire for democracy, and even to speak well of George W. Bush. In the words of Dr. Fawaz Gerges, "Zarqawi, bin Laden and other jihadis miscalculate monstrously if they think their anti-democratic diatribes will resonate with ordinary Muslims."

Ultimately, Al-Ayyeri believed that al-Qaeda would succeed in making Iraq the "graveyard of secular democracy", as Taheri put it. Al-Ayyeri shared the widespread belief that America would flee Iraq once it had suffered enough casualties. Thankfully, he was wrong. Al-Qaeda has failed to prevent democracy from taking root in Iraq, and has been unable to force an American withdrawal. It is democracy, not jihadism, that now appears to be the "strong horse" in the Middle East. Far from being the "graveyard of democracy", Iraq may well prove to be the graveyard of jihadism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:13 AM  

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