Bin Laden’s Challengers

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The New York Sun

“Al Qaeda is not the organization it was four years ago,” the State Department said last week in its annual report on Global Terrorism. Commentators in the Arab press, too, in the days following the April 23 release of his latest tape, have observed a wounded Osama bin Laden.

“He sounds deeply disappointed that his messages have fallen on deaf ears. The caravan of jihad has left him behind,” a Middle East analyst and Sarah Lawrence College professor, Fawaz Gerges, told Al-Jazeera, describing the Al Qaeda leader as “desperate.”

“Bin Laden may continue to remind the world of his continued existence thanks to Al-Jazeera. But his time has come and gone,” Amir Taheri similarly wrote in the April 28 edition of a London-based Arabic daily, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s editor in chief, Tariq Alhomayed, said in an analysis of the bin Laden missive, “The most dangerous part of his speech was clear as he referred to combating Arab liberal intellects who he describes as ‘the mockers of Islam.'” Mr. Alhomayed noted that both the Western and Middle Eastern press avoided discussing this part of the speech, and explained that by Mr. bin Laden’s definition, a “liberal” is anyone who disagrees with his ideology.

According to Mr. bin Laden the world is divided into two camps: Those who follow the ideology of Al-Qaeda and everyone else. Now members of the latter, including Arab intellectuals, are lining up to denounce the terrorist organization’s leader and challenge his ideology.

“Why has there been no fatwa against bin Laden?” a Jordanian intellectual who lives in America, Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, asked in an August 7 article in a Kuwaiti daily, Al-Siyasa.

“Despite the fact bin Laden murdered thousands of innocents in the name of our religion and despite the damage he has caused to Muslims everywhere … not a single fatwa has been issued calling for the killing of bin Laden,” a former Kuwaiti minister of information, Dr. Sa’d Bin Tefla, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on August 30, 2004.

A moderate Islamic scholar, Sheik Abd Al-Muhsin Al-‘Abikan, who serves as an adviser to the Saudi Justice Ministry and a member of the Saudi Shura Council, answered the call May 15. He expressed a willingness to confront Mr. bin Laden and his supporters publicly.

“Those who believe in the ideology of Al Qaeda have little knowledge of Islam. So I have challenged them to a confrontation … Yes, I will publicly confront bin Laden … I am willing to confront anyone who defends the ideas of Al Qaeda, at any time,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted Sheik Al-‘Abikan as saying.

Following the summer bombings at Sharm Al-Sheikh, an Egyptian scholar and columnist, Mamoun Fandy, also challenged Al Qaeda and called upon Muslims to issue religious edicts against terrorism: “Just as bin Laden and his group describe moderate Muslims as followers of the West and as unbelievers, it is time for the Muslim leaders to proclaim bin Laden himself to be an unbeliever.”

Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, a former dean of the faculty of Islamic law at the University of Qatar, Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, said the Muslim world needed to launch an ideological, cultural, educational, informational, and religious campaign to eradicate terrorism emanating from the Arab world. The text of one article Dr. Al-Ansari wrote in April 2004 read, “the Muslim public has been deceived” by Mr. bin Laden and his jihad.

In an interview with Bahrain TV on March 2, 2005, Dr. Al-Ansari proposed a solution for dealing with Mr. bin Laden, his supporters, and their ideology of hate: “After 50 years of enlightenment, education, and modernization, along comes someone like bin Laden … We need to act as Germany upon its defeat. The German elite reexamined its culture and found that the entire German culture is full of poison. Its sources are full of poison.”

As the war on terror continues, the West must support and invest in true Arab reformists, weeding out self-proclaimed ones – often found quoted in leading Western press outlets.

Tariq Al-Homayed described such impostors in a November article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “We suffer today from [double] talk, from those who to CNN will brand Osama bin Laden a ‘terrorist,’ yet will appear on Al-Jazeera describing him as ‘Sheikh Osama.'”

It could be interpreted by reading Mr. bin Laden’s most recent speech that the ongoing impact of Arab reformists has now become one of his major preoccupations.

Mr. Stalinsky is executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The New York Sun

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