The man who founded Al Qaeda is dead, but too early do we rejoice - for the men who inspired the ideology itself have lived on, and so will bin Laden's memory in the minds of many who yearn for the revival of the once glorious Islamic past. The unending speculations of what may come next have only left many baffled with Al Qaeda. Minutes after his death, fake images displaying bin Laden's bloody corpse have circulated on the Internet and television news programs such as NBC News. There is no doubt that skepticism has been fuelled by twists of accounts of the struggle leading up to Osama's death regarding him being armed and his wife being used as a human shield. The Guardian has even released interviews of many who have questioned bin Laden's residence in the mansion which, from photographs, does not look like 'an extraordinary luxury compound' worth millions of dollars. Yet in Abbottabad many residents doubt the Americans are telling the truth, claiming that even a photo of bin Laden's body can be fake. Still others are convinced that 9/11 had been an attack orchestrated by the CIA to 'invade Muslim lands.'
We could not expect bin Laden's death to pass without a reaction from Jihadists and prospects to retaliate. Looking into recent statements made by Al Qaeda leaves the inspirations of Jihad questionable. The ideology has evolved from what was once a duty to protect Muslim land and people of the book into justifications for eventually bombing both. Recall that many of bin Laden's attacks have taken place on Arab soil. Many talks of conspiracies that pervade even mainstream media have left Al Qaeda Jihadism blurred in a myriad of half-truths and protracted conflicts. What was once an ideology inspired by a man known as Ibn Taymiyah has been radicalized by the tortures of both founding figures of Al Qaeda, Sayid Qutb and Al Zawahari.
This protraction of conflicts happened in two ways. Firstly, the radicalisation of Al Qaeda was influenced by the Naqba, or 'the catastrophe', as a result of Israel declaring its existence in 1948 and the Naksa, 'the setback' following the six-day war in 1967. This tipping point caused a major sense of psychological defeat to the entire Middle East. Secondly, as Arab radicalists looked to the past, they believed they had failed because they had abandoned and betrayed the old ways, which meant that they had deviated from the path indicated to them by the Prophet. These defeats caused a psychological traumatisation for Arabs who were forced upon the Muslims, particularly those who have seen the course of events as a signal of infidel and corrupt leaders making deals with the West. A new vision began to emerge.
Al Qaeda recently released a statement calling the day of bin Laden's death a 'historic day of the days of the great Islamic Umma and in a noble stand of one of its great men and heroes across its blessed age and on the path taken by the will of all the mighty predecessors.' They called it martyrdom and reminded the United States that bin Laden's death had not killed what Osama had lived for: 'Sheikh Osama didn't build an organization that will vanish with his death or fade away with his departure.' They claimed to continue on the path of Jihad and would 'not deviate from that honorable path until God be the final judge between us and our enemy.'
This path reiterated by Al Qaeda goes back to Sayyid Qutb, the ideologist who inspired those who flew the 9/11 planes. On his trip to the US in 1948, he had observed Americans as being 'lost souls'. When Qutb returned to Egypt, he saw that the American culture and effects of liberty were spreading to Egypt, and he wanted to control people's selfish and individualistic desires from overwhelming. Inside the cell where Qutb was tortured, he experienced a heart attack that further radicalised his ideology. He believed torture had shown the most barbarous aspects of humanity, called jahiliya, or 'ignorance', where people thought they were free but in fact they were regressing to a barbarous age. The 'failure of the west' as Qutb experienced firsthand during the time he spent in the US had been its failure to take the form of a system responsible for all life and binding the kingdom of earth to the kingdom of heaven. In fact, the philosopher Leo Strauss had cautioned that the basis of the liberal idea of freedom where individuals pursued individual interests would inevitably lead to chaos. Strauss pointed out that liberal societies contained the seed of its own destruction, that Western liberalism led to nihilism and that liberalism had developed to the point to which it could no longer defend or define itself.
The inhumane tortures endured by Qutb and then Al Zawahari, as remembered by bin Laden and Mohammad Atta, became an utmost component of their radicalisation, which consequently transformed to a strategic and theological sense. Yet the man who led the justifications of Al Qaeda jihadism was Ibn Taymiyya. Taymiyyah had perceived that the Caliphate during Mongol rule had become indifferent towards Islam and therefore purging the lives of unbelievers who claimed to be Muslims was the only way to improve society and lead to the formation of an Umma under God's divine laws. Ibn Tayymiyah believed that if people were apostates, they were justly punishable by death. He further proclaimed that fighting against apostates was part of the duty of a Muslim (jihad) and defined apostates to include all those who had aided any infidel regime. If those who were killed were in fact believers, then they would be redeemed in the afterlife. The Jihadists were convinced of their authority to inflict death on others and determined to bring back an Umma, reminding America that it 'shall not enjoy nor live in security until the people in Palestine live it and enjoy it'. They also reminded the West that they would continue to plan and plot 'without any fatigue, boredom, despair, surrender or indifference.'
Both the West and the East have used the past to justify their causes. While George Bush compared the American goal of 'bringing freedom to the Iraqi people' to the great crusades, many Islamic militants adopted the name of the Muslim Sultan Saladin in their cause. Ironically, Saladin who was associated with the glorious Islamic past was firstly Kurdish, the same ethnic group that Saddam tried to annihilate. More importantly, after Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem, he had allowed many Christians and Jews to reside in peace, denouncing the killing of innocents that Al Qaeda had justified.
The justifications of killing Muslims and non - Muslims regarded as infidel is the dangerous ideology adopted by Al Qaeda. We have been rejoicing the death of one man prematurely, for his ideology will live on and cause many more innocent lives. Like bin Laden, Al Zawahari once questioned why Muslims failed to see the truth and rise up, proposing a solution of inflicting death as he formulated that killings could have a noble purpose of seeing reality in a different way. The future in their eyes is already determined by God and for that reason Al Qaeda believes nothing can stop them.
Lebanese/French journalism student currently studying at Sciences po Paris
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