The Al-Qaeda Reader
I happened upon an amazing interview this morning with Raymond Ibrahim on KPCC / AirTalk with Larry Mantle. Ibrahim has translated and released a number of Al-Qaeda documents in his new book, The Al-Qaeda Reader, released just last week. I intend to review this volume in the near future. The salient point he makes is the same one Sam Harris made in The End of Faith: despite apologist and multiculturalist claims, notions of Jihad and world conquest originate in and are inseparable from the text of the Quran.
Ibrahim documents this by separating the book into two sections, theology and propaganda. The propaganda section outlines the public pronouncements, which claim that Al-Qaeda attacks will stop when certain conditions are met (Palestine, etc.). The theology section covers the much more sinister and irrevocable doctrinal goals of the Caliphate, Ummah and Sharia.
Ibrahim’s work debunks a certain orthodoxy on the left (outlined in this atrocious screed on Salon by Glenn Greenwald) which claims Islam is no threat, and that the U.S. “war on terror” has no legitimate purpose and is a cynical creation of the neo-cons to establish greater domestic control.
Now, I will be the first to denounce the manner in which the Bush Administration has taken on (or not taken on) radical Islam. And I deplore the decision to invade Iraq instead of going after Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I level harsh criticism at the administration for its cynical decision to start a war for oil when it could have spent the war budget on developing renewable energy (which could have eliminated the need for Iraqi oil).
But to deny the fact that radical Islam represents a united and powerfully motivated ideological foe bent on Western destruction beggars belief. Ibrahim’s important and timely work nails the coffin of that left-wing denialist dogma permanently shut.
What do our enemies believe? What motivates their war against the West? What is their vision of the ideal Islamic society? Surprisingly, more than five years after 9/11, there is very little understanding of these questions.
Despite our tendency to dismiss Islamic extremism as profoundly irrational, al-Qaeda is not without a coherent body of beliefs. Like other totalitarian movements, the movement’s leaders have rationalized their brutality in a number of published treatises. Now, for the first time, The Al Qaeda Reader gathers together the essential texts and documents that trace the origin, history, and evolution of the ideas of al-Qaeda founders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.
This extraordinary collection of the key texts of the al-Qaeda movement—including incendiary materials never before translated into English—lays bare the minds, motives, messages, and ultimate goals of an enemy bent on total victory. Al-Qaeda’s chilling ideology calls for a relentless jihad against non-Muslim “infidels” repudiates democracy in favor of Islamic law, stresses the importance of martyrdom, and mocks the notion of “moderate” Islam.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these works is how grounded they are in the traditional sources of Islamic theology: the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet. The founders of al-Qaeda use these sources as powerful weapons of persuasion, reminding followers (and would-be recruits) that Muhammad and his warriors spread Islam through the power of the sword and that the Koran is not merely allegory or history but literal truth that commands all Muslims to action.
In addition to laying bare al-Qaeda’s ultimate motives, The Al Qaeda Reader includes the organization’s propagandist speeches, which are directed primarily at Americans, Europeans, and Iraqis. Here, al-Qaeda’s many “official” accusations against the West are meticulously delineated, from standard complaints such as the Palestinian issue and Iraq to wholly unexpected ones concerning the U.S.’s exploitation of women and the environment.
Taken together, the Theology and Propaganda sections of this volume reveal the most comprehensive picture of al-Qaeda to date. They also highlight the double-speak of bin Laden and Zawahiri, who often say one thing to Muslims in their religious treatises (”We must hate and fight the West because Islam commands it”) and another in their propaganda directed at the West (”The West is the aggressor and we are fighting back merely in self-defense”).
Westerners from across the political spectrum will be fascinated and enlightened by The Al Qaeda Reader’s insights into the nature of Islamic texts and the ways in which al-Qaeda has used these texts to manufacture hatred against our civilization and our way of life.