Friday, January 8, 2010

The Expansion of Al-Qaeda-Affiliated Jihadi Groups in Gaza: Diplomatic Implications.


by  Dore Gold


  • In the West there is a growing trend to view Hamas as separate from al-Qaeda in order to open a political dialogue with Hamas, but is this view correct?
  • In its annual survey of terrorist threats to Israel during 2009, the Israel Security Agency noted the spread and buildup of "global jihadi" organizations in Gaza. In recent years a number of these jihadi groups have emerged that openly identify with al-Qaeda, such as Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam), Jaish al-Umma (the Army of the Nation), and Fatah al-Islam
  • Hamas was founded in 1987 as the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Osama bin Laden was educated in Saudi Arabia by Muhammad Qutb of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Abdullah Azzam of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, came out of the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood still defines its goal as "a world Islamic state."
  • In February 2004, the U.S. designated Sheikh Abd al-Majid Zindani, president of Iman University in Yemen, as a "loyalist to Osama bin Laden." On March 20, 2006, Zindani, who recruited volunteers for al-Qaeda, sponsored a major fundraising event for Hamas in Yemen. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, went to hear lectures on radical Islam at Iman University.
  • The al-Qaeda affiliate Jaysh al-Islam joined Hamas in the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. This proves that Hamas and al-Qaeda affiliates have been involved in joint operations. In 2007, the Egyptian press reported that one of the heads of al-Qaeda in Egypt had escaped and sought sanctuary in Gaza. In May 2009, Egypt charged that another al-Qaeda-linked group was using Gaza for training terrorists for attacks in Egypt.


In its annual survey of terrorist threats to Israel during 2009, the Israel Security Agency (also known by its Hebrew acronym Shabak or Shin Bet) noted a number of positive trends - with one glaring exception: the spread and buildup of "global jihadi" organizations in Gaza.1 A number of these groups, like Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam), Jaish al-Umma (the Army of the Nation), and Fatah al-Islam, openly identify with al-Qaeda.2

Indeed, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told al-Hayat on February 26, 2008, that al-Qaeda was present in Gaza and he charged that "the Hamas movement brought al-Qaeda." He described the two groups as "allies." However, in the West there is a growing trend to view Hamas as separate from al-Qaeda in order to open a political dialogue with Hamas.


Western Calls to Open a Dialogue with Hamas

For this reason, it should not be surprising that in the months ahead, it is likely that British, European, and even American groups will step up their efforts to demand that Hamas be brought into the political process. To advance this goal there will be increasing calls for direct political engagement with Hamas by various governments and current and former officials. Already in July 2009, the head of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael Gapes, made such a statement.3

A few months earlier an American group, including former Congressman Lee Hamilton (who co-chaired the influential Iraq Study Group during the Bush years) and former U.S. ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering, called on the Obama administration to begin talking to Hamas without preconditions. Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led a small congressional delegation to Gaza in February 2009 without meeting Hamas officials. Nevertheless, Ahmad Youssef, the Hamas deputy foreign minister, praised the visit as a very good first step.

Those who call for granting political legitimacy to Hamas, of course, completely reject the idea that Hamas can be compared to al-Qaeda, despite the fact that both groups have used suicide terrorism backed by the doctrines of radical Islam. In fact, Hamas' image as a more pragmatic organization was strengthened in August 2009 when its forces attacked an al-Qaeda affiliate in Gaza called Jund Ansar Allah in Rafiah, killing 15 of its members. In a speech at Oxford University last year, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared to be hinting at Hamas and al-Qaeda when he implored policymakers in the future to separate between two types of Islamist groups: "Little or sometimes no distinction was drawn between those engaged in national territorial struggles and those pursuing global or pan-Islamic objectives."4 


Hamas and Al-Qaeda: Linked by a Core Ideology

But is it correct to view Hamas as completely separate from al-Qaeda? Historically, Hamas was founded in 1987 as the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Article 2 of its Charter. In the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden was educated in Saudi Arabia by Muhammad Qutb of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Abdullah Azzam of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, came out of the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood remains an organization with a global mission: its website still defines its goal as "a world Islamic state."5 Hamas has never renounced its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood or its universal ideology.

Hamas definitely sees itself as part of a global jihadi network, even if it has never attacked U.S. territory, like al-Qaeda. A Hamas poster distributed in the West Bank in 2003-2004 featured Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin alongside a group of jihadist leaders including Chechen leader Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden. The Arabic headlines on the poster detail the battlefields of jihad: Chechnya, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine, and Lebanon.6 In this same period, the religious authorities who appeared on the Hamas website were also known to be important ideological mentors of al-Qaeda, in general, and even Osama bin Laden, in particular, like Sheikh Sulaiman bin Nasser al-Ulwan, a Saudi Wahhabi cleric. His writings were also taught in Hamas schools, illustrating the ideological overlap between the two organizations. True, the two organizations had strong tactical differences at times over such questions as entering into election races, but their long-term aims remained the same nonetheless.


Operational Links between Hamas and Al-Qaeda

Practically, there have been noticeable operational links between Hamas and al-Qaeda. When two British Muslims of Pakistani descent came to Israel under orders from al-Qaeda and attacked "Mike's Place," a Tel Aviv bar, on April 30, 2003, they had previously filmed themselves wearing Hamas uniforms. After the 2005 Gaza disengagement, reports of Hamas-al-Qaeda coordination multiplied, particularly with the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections. On March 20, 2006, Sheikh Abd al-Majid Zindani, who recruited volunteers for al-Qaeda, sponsored a major fundraising event for Hamas in Yemen. In February 2004, the U.S. Department of the Treasury had designated Zindani as a "loyalist to Osama bin Laden." He is president of Iman University, the notorious terrorist breeding ground on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, San'a, where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, went to hear lectures on radical Islam.7

David Welch, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told al-Hayat in April 2006 that Hamas orchestrated many attacks by using international terrorist links, an implicit reference to al-Qaeda.8 Factually, al-Hayat reported on April 4, 2006, a "definite presence" of al-Qaeda operatives who infiltrated Gaza from Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen. On July 18, 2007, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner admitted that al-Qaeda and Hamas were in contact with one another.9

A whole assortment of al-Qaeda affiliate organizations has emerged in Gaza since 2005, the most prominent of which is Jaysh al-Islam, which joined Hamas in the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. This proves that Hamas and al-Qaeda affiliates have been involved in joint operations. In 2007, the Egyptian press reported that one of the heads of al-Qaeda in Egypt had escaped and sought sanctuary in Gaza.10 In May 2009, Egypt charged that another al-Qaeda-linked group was using Gaza for training terrorists for attacks in Egypt. This group included Belgian, British and French Muslims.11 It is no wonder that Egypt has become more determined than ever before to block the smuggling tunnels between Egyptian Sinai and Gaza; not only has Israeli security been undermined by the tunnels but also the security of Egypt as well. 

Despite these developments, the conventional wisdom has taken root that Hamas is in one category of Islamist organization and al-Qaeda is in another. As a result, it is difficult to make the argument that al-Qaeda and Hamas have anything to do with each other. Nonetheless, the counter-argument must be made.

In addition, it may be easier to point out the similarities between Hamas in Gaza and the Taliban in Afghanistan, both of which provide refuge to al-Qaeda branches. Today, the U.S., backed by NATO forces, is involved in a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban because they provided bases to al-Qaeda to attack New York and Washington. Certainly, Israel has a right to defend itself against a regime that not only harbors al-Qaeda affiliates, but also directly attacks Israel itself. If the West does not recognize the Taliban, it should apply the same rules to Hamas.



1. See

2. Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, "Al-Qaeda Affiliate - Jaish al-Islam - Receives Formal Sanctuary in Hamas-Ruled Gaza," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 8, No. 7, August 20, 2008, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs,

3. "Britain Should Approach Hamas," BBC News, July 26, 2009,

4. Julian Borger, "West Must Show Respect to Gain Trust of Muslims, Admits David Miliband," Guardian (UK), May 21, 2009,

5. Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, "The Muslim Brotherhood: A Moderate Islamic Alternative to Al-Qaeda or a Partner in Global Jihad?" Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 558, November 1, 2007, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,

6. "Hamas Identifies With and Supports Chechen and International Islamic Terrorism on CDs found in the Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories. The CDs Are Distributed by Hamas to Palestinian Youth in Various Educational Institutions," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, September 2004,

7. "Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: One Boy's Journey to Jihad," Sunday Times (UK), January 3, 2010,

8. "U.S. Concerned Over Possible Al-Qaeda-Hamas Link," Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2008,

9. "Hamas Has Contacts with Al-Qaeda - French Minister," Reuters, July 18, 2007,

10. See

11. Michael Slackman, "Egypt Arrests 7 in Bombing of Cairo Bazaar," New York Times, May 23, 2009,

*     *     *

Dr. Dore Gold, Israel's ambassador to the UN in 1997-99, is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back to the Future.


by Noah Pollak

A year into the Obama administration, a pattern has been established for public diplomacy with Israel versus the Palestinians. For Israel, the administration airs an ongoing series of petty complaints, most of which relate to housing construction in Obama-disapproved neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Such construction is hurting the peace process, intones Robert Gibbs; it prevents the recommencement of negotiations and is inconsistent with the Road Map, he laments.

Even defensive IDF operations, such as the one last week that eliminated three Fatah murderers, are now reason for public finger-wagging from the administration and requests for "clarification." This was done on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. There indeed should have been a request for clarification, but it should have been directed at the PA, given the fact that the terrorists in question were on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority's ruling party, Fatah.

By contrast, the administration has been indifferent to Palestinian terrorism and its official celebration by the PA. I can't recall a single instance in which the president or a prominent member of his administration criticized the Palestinians for anything. Maybe it's because the PA has been doing such a commendable job when it comes to incitement and terrorism? Not quite.

In just the past week, official PA television has hailed the first female Palestinian suicide bomber; PA president Mahmoud Abbas personally honored Dalal Mughrabi, a legend of Palestinian terrorism who participated in the coastal-road massacre, the deadliest act of terrorism in Israel's history (37 innocents were murdered); and both Abbas and the supposedly moderate PA Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, celebrated the killers of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai, who was gunned down by members of Fatah while driving last week.

Meanwhile, Politico reported that a federal judge "complained that the Obama administration was 'particularly unhelpful' and the State Department 'mealy-mouthed' in refusing to provide official guidance" on a lawsuit that implicates the Palestinian Authority in the terror murder of an American citizen.

President Obama is repeating one of the worst mistakes of the Oslo period, when the official promotion of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority was studiously ignored on behalf of the larger "peace" mission. We know how successful that strategy was.


Noah Pollak

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


First, Do No Harm.


by Evelyn Gordon

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.


Evelyn Gordon

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is the US Constitution Worth Dying For?


by  Emmanuel Navon


A few weeks ago, a reader posted the following comment on my blog: "I perceive that young liberal U.S. Jews (i.e., the vast majority) are uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish "nation" - just as they challenge the ethnic identification of nations generally. This is only natural for an American whose allegiance is to a legal document (the Constitution) and a flag, not a people. How do you make the argument to young Jews who are two generations removed from violent anti-Semitism, attracted to the "tikkun olam" worldview, and skeptical of nationalism generally, that Jews need a separate nation of their own that is worth killing and dying for? I think this is a serious issue that is already manifesting itself in the ever weakening support of Israel among under 40, non-orthodox U.S. Jews."


Most nations today define themselves ethnically. This is true of the Japanese, of the Germans, of the Russians, or of the Swedes. Indeed, it is because of ethnic differences that a civil war broke out in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s and that Czechoslovakia broke apart twenty years ago. And it is because of ethnic differences that the Québécois keep trying to break apart from Canada. Nationalism and national identity are a fact a life, whether you like it or not. Many academics have tried to de-construct and to de-legitimize nationalism and national identity, but it is a fact that most people identify with a nation, and that most nations define themselves ethnically.


I can understand that some people feel uncomfortable with the fact that many nations, indeed most nations, define themselves ethnically. But nations are entitled to define themselves however they want. And it is illiberal to be judgmental on how they define themselves. So people cannot on the one hand call themselves "liberal" and on the other hand denigrate the way other people wish to define their identity. Why is there such tolerance for gender and ethnic differences within American society, but at the same time such intolerance for ethnic differences within the international community?


It is true that American national identity is not ethnic. But the fact that Americans do not define themselves ethnically does not mean that other nations are not entitled to do so. The way America defines its national identity is the exception rather than the rule. And Israel happens to be part of that exception.


Israel, as a nation, does not define itself ethnically. Being Jewish does not mean being part of an ethnic group. Walk on the street in Israel, and you'll see for yourselves that there are Jews of all types of ethnic backgrounds: Black Jews from Ethiopia, fair-skinned Jews from Eastern Europe, dark-skinned Jews from Yemen, and red-head Jews.


Until the nineteenth century, with the emancipation of Jews in Europe and the emergence of modern nationalism, most if not all Jews defined themselves religiously. Being part of the Jewish nation and of the Jewish religion was the same thing. It meant being the descendants and inheritors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of the children of Israel who left Egypt, received the Torah at Mount Sinai, built the Kingdom of Israel, and were dispersed by the Babylonians and by the Romans. In exile, being Jewish meant living according to the Torah and its commandments and always aspiring to return to the land of Israel.


Secular Zionism tried to redefine Jewish identity in purely ethnic terms by downplaying if not removing the religious content of Jewishness. But you can't write off three thousand years of Jewish history. I know this is going to shock you, but the opening sentence of Israel's Declaration of Independence fails the test of evidence and scrutiny. It says that "The Jewish people was born in the land of Israel." Really? That's certainly not the way the Bible records the birth of the Jewish people.


According to the Bible, the Jews became a people the moment they received the God-given constitution called the Ten-Commandments. The Bible does not describe the land of Israel as the source of Jewish identity, but as a means to build a society according to the principles of the Torah. Ethnic national movements see their land as the origin of their identities. The ancient Greeks regarded themselves as the original occupants of their land. The French talk about mère patrie (motherland) and the Germans about Vaterland (fatherland). But in the Bible, the land in neither mother or father. It is God-given and the Jews deserve it only if they honor their contract with God by keeping His commandments.


Ben-Gurion tried to depart from the traditional Jewish narrative by adopting an ethnic definition of Jewish identity. But this simply doesn't hold water, because the Jews do not constitute an ethnic group. Indeed, Israel's citizenship law contradicts Ben-Gurion's definition of national identity. If all you need to become Jewish and to enjoy the right of automatically becoming an Israeli citizen is to convert to Judaism, how exactly is Jewish nationality divorced from Judaism?


The fact that most Jews and most Israelis are not strictly observant doesn't mean that their identity is not, ultimately, rooted in the Bible. According to a recent survey, 98% of Israelis have a mezuzah on their front door; 85% participate in a Passover seder every year; and 71% always light Hanukkah candles.


In recent years, many Israelis, who received a strictly secular education, have been exploring their Jewish roots. Very often, they travel to the Far East after their military service and then realize that you don't have to fly to India to find spirituality. You can just take a bus to Jerusalem. I recently read the story of an Israeli student who had just returned from a trip with her school to America. When she was asked about her trip, she said she was angry at her parents and at her teachers. When asked why, she replied: "Because as a Jew who grew up in Israel, I shouldn't have to go to America to see havdalah for the first time in my life."


We are the People of the Book. The Nazis killed six million Jews not because of the color of our skin or because of some common genes. They killed us because of the ideas and ideals we stand for. They burned our books because they knew that our identity and purpose as a people are rooted in a book. And they didn't send Jews to gas chambers according to their level of religious observance. Our enemies realized what many Jews seem to forget: That whether or not we are observant, whether or not we are religious, our national DNA is the Book of Books.


This Book of Books is the bedrock of Western Civilization. It gave birth to three monotheistic religions and inspired the US Constitution. So if young American Jews can relate to the fact that the source of American nationality is a 200 year old Constitution, surely they can relate to the fact that the source of Jewish nationality is a 3,000 year old Constitution. Not only is our Constitution older; it is the original. America's is the copy. Young American Jews who feel that national allegiance can only be to a document are the ones who have to explain why it's OK when this allegiance is to the copy, but not when it's to the original.



Emmanuel Navon

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


The Suicidal Rules of Arab Political Debate: How Relatively Moderate Regimes are Robbed of Self-Defense.


by Barry Rubin

It’s always interesting to analyze those little stories that show so clearly the rules of Arab politics and debate, themes which never quite find their way into the Western media, which only see these issues in a Western political and intellectual framework. Yet if you want to understand Middle East politics it is imperative to comprehend such realities.

The example here is a statement by Egyptian Minister of Legal Affairs Mofid Shehab attacking al-Jazira television for, in his words, “instigating civil war” in Egypt. Al-Jazira has been complaining that Egypt is building a steel barrier along its border with the Gaza Strip to block Hamas from smuggling in weapons and other things.

Shehab complains:.

"A number of Arab satellite stations, and [al-Jazira] especially, have placed themselves as responsible for the sovereignty of our country, and as usual have poisoned the public against the state."

Here are some of the rules. The more militant a group is in fighting Israel or the West, the better. All Arab regimes are supposed to help these groups without reservation, even if it damages their infrastructure and drags it into an unwanted war (Lebanon in 2006; Jordan in the 1960s).

Egypt is building the barrier because it views Hamas as an enemy of the Egyptian regime and national interest in two respects. First, Cairo sees Hamas as an instrument of Iran and its bloc, a grab for regional power of Persian, Shias, and Islamists to the determinant of Arabs, Sunnis, and Arab nationalists.

Second, because Hamas is aligned with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which wants to overthrow the regime. If Hamas succeeds in entrenching itself in the Gaza Strip, that will be an inspiration to the regime’s enemies at home, while the arms’ smuggling will also eventually provide more guns for terrorists within Egypt.

Consequently, the Egyptian government would like to see Hamas fall from power in the Gaza Strip and be replaced by a Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority regime. But given the constraints of Arab politics, it will not do too much to bring about that outcome. Similarly, the Egyptian government would be happy in theory if the Palestinians made peace with Israel, ended the conflict, and obtained a state. Again, though it won't do much toward that goal other than insisting the United States has to make it happen.

The above is basic and normal national interests’ stuff. Yet not one word of this—or at least very little--can be expressed by Egypt. After all, Hamas is fighting Israel and Western influence, so that has to be good. It is “Islamist,” piously Muslim, so that has to be good, too. Iran and Syria can speak and act freely; Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan cannot.

Shehab expresses his views in an interview with al-Ahram, a regime-controlled newspaper. Clearly, Hamas’s use of statist repression isn’t something repugnant in principle to the Egyptian government. And so Shehab switches the target from Hamas itself to foreign news media which is assumed to be the instrument of another state rather than merely reporting facts.

The goal of these television networks, explains Shehab, is, “To engender a civil war and inflame the Egyptian and Arab streets, and cause a clash of official authorities."

That is, calling attention to the wall is intended to stir up Egyptians against their own government. How come they’re restricting rather than helping Hamas in its battles? Since Shehab’s government cannot answer that question within the bounds of permitted discourse, it has to focus on the mere raising of the issue as the problem.

Shehab then raises another issue in his arsenal: al-Jazira and other Arab media attacked Israel during the Cast Lead operation in the Gaza Strip in early 2009. They now criticize Egypt. Therefore, according to this logic, they are comparing Egypt to Israel, which is unacceptable: "They have launched a war against the Egyptians just as they did during the barbaric attack on Gaza a year ago."

The mythology must be maintained that all Arabs are always on the same side and that all Muslims are always on the same side. The good guys are good guys who cannot be criticized; the bad guys are always bad guys who must always be criticized. Indeed, Shehab then turns to the ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb of propaganda: attacking Israel and America:

"Why didn't Al-Jazeera have a single word of condemnation to say about the weapons, missiles, and smart bombs that were sent from Al Udeid Base [in Qatar]to Israel in order to bomb the residents of Gaza?"

This is quite a startling lie for a cabinet minister of a “moderate” government “aligned” with the United States and receiving massive amounts of American aid. Shehab, obviously with permission from the highest levels of the Egyptian government is trying to “inflame the Egyptian and Arab streets, and cause a clash" of the Arab masses with the United States.

And of course it is untrue, a lie that could lead to terrorist murders of Americans. There was no U.S. equipment shipped to Israel especially in order to be dropped on the Gaza Strip, especially not from Qatar (which is singled out here because it is the master of al-Jazira). In other words, the proper response for any criticism by Arabs or Muslims is: Oh yeah! Well, you’re a murdering Zionist agent and a lackey of American imperialism!

This is, one must remind oneself, the end of the twenty-first century’s first decade while in the Middle East it is just like being in the 1960s. And the early 1960s at that.

Indeed, Shehab continues, this specific report is a Zionist operation to discredit Egypt:

"This civil war network is first and foremost an Israeli tool. It transferred reports on the Egyptian construction on the border from the news agencies in Israel and has begun to weave its usual plot."

Of course, Israel is happy that Egypt is building this wall. Precisely at the moment when Egyptian and Israeli interests align, the Egyptian government has to step up its verbal attacks on Israel.

The minister does note indirectly that the barrier is being built to avoid a repeat of the time in January 2008 when many Gazans broke through the border defenses as Hamas gunmen shot at Egyptian soldiers. "I ask all Egyptians, and all those who support their homeland, are you willing to accept the violation of your country's sovereignty?"

Shehab thus indulges in a bit of Egyptian patriotism, which is permissible though usually only as a secondary factor which doesn’t enjoy the same level of legitimacy of the other arguments. In short, a more moderate state, at least, is not quite able to pursue its own interests.

They can go against the current when necessary but always at a cost. Egypt made peace with Israel, for example, but faced years of boycott, President Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated, and the peace cannot be a warm one. Saudi Arabia can seek Western help in the fact of Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait but the cost is the rise of Usama bin Ladin and years of terrorism.

Already criticisms and demonstrations are starting against the Egyptian wall in various countries. The claim is that the structure is unacceptable because it “helps” Israel. The fact that it also helps Egypt as much or more is not considered to be relevant.

Thus, one sees in this little item, as in hundreds more, how crippled the Arabic-speaking world is by its own form of Political Correctness. Such a doctrine is incompatible with democracy at home, full peace with Israel or a real alliance with the West. The question for the future is whether it is compatible with the survival of the Arab regimes themselves in the face of a challenge from Iran and revolutionary Islamists.



Barry Rubin
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


How Taqiyya Alters Islam's Rules of War. Part I


by Raymond Ibrahim

1st part of 2

Islam must seem a paradoxical religion to non-Muslims. On the one hand, it is constantly being portrayed as the religion of peace; on the other, its adherents are responsible for the majority of terror attacks around the world. Apologists for Islam emphasize that it is a faith built upon high ethical standards; others stress that it is a religion of the law. Islam's dual notions of truth and falsehood further reveal its paradoxical nature: While the Qur'an is against believers deceiving other believers—for "surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar"[1]—deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur'anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Taqiyya offers two basic uses. The better known revolves around dissembling over one's religious identity when in fear of persecution. Such has been the historical usage of taqiyya among Shi'i communities whenever and wherever their Sunni rivals have outnumbered and thus threatened them. Conversely, Sunni Muslims, far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya—not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior—to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Yet if Muslims are exhorted to be truthful, how can deceit not only be prevalent but have divine sanction? What exactly is taqiyya? How is it justified by scholars and those who make use of it? How does it fit into a broader conception of Islam's code of ethics, especially in relation to the non-Muslim? More to the point, what ramifications does the doctrine of taqiyya have for all interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims?


The Doctrine of Taqiyya

According to Shari'a—the body of legal rulings that defines how a Muslim should behave in all circumstances—deception is not only permitted in certain situations but may be deemed obligatory in others. Contrary to early Christian tradition, for instance, Muslims who were forced to choose between recanting Islam or suffering persecution were permitted to lie and feign apostasy. Other jurists have decreed that Muslims are obligated to lie in order to preserve themselves,[2] based on Qur'anic verses forbidding Muslims from being instrumental in their own deaths.[3]

This is the classic definition of the doctrine of taqiyya. Based on an Arabic word denoting fear, taqiyya has long been understood, especially by Western academics, as something to resort to in times of religious persecution and, for the most part, used in this sense by minority Shi'i groups living among hostile Sunni majorities.[4] Taqiyya allowed the Shi'a to dissemble their religious affiliation in front of the Sunnis on a regular basis, not merely by keeping clandestine about their own beliefs but by actively praying and behaving as if they were Sunnis.

However, one of the few books devoted to the subject, At-Taqiyya fi'l-Islam (Dissimulation in Islam) makes it clear that taqiyya is not limited to Shi'a dissimulating in fear of persecution. Written by Sami Mukaram, a former Islamic studies professor at the American University of Beirut and author of some twenty-five books on Islam, the book clearly demonstrates the ubiquity and broad applicability of taqiyya:

Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practices it … We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam, and that those few sects not practicing it diverge from the mainstream … Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.[5]

Taqiyya is, therefore, not, as is often supposed, an exclusively Shi'i phenomenon. Of course, as a minority group interspersed among their Sunni enemies, the Shi'a have historically had more reason to dissemble. Conversely, Sunni Islam rapidly dominated vast empires from Spain to China. As a result, its followers were beholden to no one, had nothing to apologize for, and had no need to hide from the infidel nonbeliever (rare exceptions include Spain and Portugal during the Reconquista when Sunnis did dissimulate over their religious identity[6]). Ironically, however, Sunnis living in the West today find themselves in the place of the Shi'a: Now they are the minority surrounded by their traditional enemies—Christian infidels—even if the latter, as opposed to their Reconquista predecessors, rarely act on, let alone acknowledge, this historic enmity. In short, Sunnis are currently experiencing the general circumstances that made taqiyya integral to Shi'ism although without the physical threat that had so necessitated it.


The Articulation of Taqiyya

Qur'anic verse 3:28 is often seen as the primary verse that sanctions deception towards non-Muslims: "Let believers [Muslims] not take infidels [non-Muslims] for friends and allies instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with God—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions."[7]

Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d. 923), author of a standard and authoritative Qur'an commentary, explains verse 3:28 as follows:

If you [Muslims] are under their [non-Muslims'] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them with your tongue while harboring inner animosity for them … [know that] God has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels rather than other believers—except when infidels are above them [in authority]. Should that be the case, let them act friendly towards them while preserving their religion.[8]

Regarding Qur'an 3:28, Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), another prime authority on the Qur'an, writes, "Whoever at any time or place fears … evil [from non-Muslims] may protect himself through outward show." As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad's close companion Abu Darda, who said, "Let us grin in the face of some people while our hearts curse them." Another companion, simply known as Al-Hasan, said, "Doing taqiyya is acceptable till the Day of Judgment [i.e., in perpetuity]."[9]

Other prominent scholars, such as Abu 'Abdullah al-Qurtubi (1214-73) and Muhyi 'd-Din ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240), have extended taqiyya to cover deeds. In other words, Muslims can behave like infidels and worse—for example, by bowing down and worshiping idols and crosses, offering false testimony, and even exposing the weaknesses of their fellow Muslims to the infidel enemy—anything short of actually killing a Muslim: "Taqiyya, even if committed without duress, does not lead to a state of infidelity—even if it leads to sin deserving of hellfire."[10]


Deceit in Muhammad's Military Exploits

Muhammad—whose example as the "most perfect human" is to be followed in every detail—took an expedient view on lying. It is well known, for instance, that he permitted lying in three situations: to reconcile two or more quarreling parties, to placate one's wife, and in war.[11] According to one Arabic legal manual devoted to jihad as defined by the four schools of law, "The ulema agree that deception during warfare is legitimate … deception is a form of art in war."[12] Moreover, according to Mukaram, this deception is classified as taqiyya: "Taqiyya in order to dupe the enemy is permissible."[13]

Several ulema believe deceit is integral to the waging of war: Ibn al-'Arabi declares that "in the Hadith [sayings and actions of Muhammad], practicing deceit in war is well demonstrated. Indeed, its need is more stressed than the need for courage." Ibn al-Munir (d. 1333) writes, "War is deceit, i.e., the most complete and perfect war waged by a holy warrior is a war of deception, not confrontation, due to the latter's inherent danger, and the fact that one can attain victory through treachery without harm [to oneself]." And Ibn Hajar (d. 1448) counsels Muslims "to take great caution in war, while [publicly] lamenting and mourning in order to dupe the infidels."[14]

This Muslim notion that war is deceit goes back to the Battle of the Trench (627), which pitted Muhammad and his followers against several non-Muslim tribes known as Al-Ahzab. One of the Ahzab, Na'im ibn Mas'ud, went to the Muslim camp and converted to Islam. When Muhammad discovered that the Ahzab were unaware of their co-tribalist's conversion, he counseled Mas'ud to return and try to get the pagan forces to abandon the siege. It was then that Muhammad memorably declared, "For war is deceit." Mas'ud returned to the Ahzab without their knowing that he had switched sides and intentionally began to give his former kin and allies bad advice. He also went to great lengths to instigate quarrels between the various tribes until, thoroughly distrusting each other, they disbanded, lifted the siege from the Muslims, and saved Islam from destruction in an embryonic period.[15] Most recently, 9/11 accomplices, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, rationalized their conspiratorial role in their defendant response by evoking their prophet's assertion that "war is deceit."

A more compelling expression of the legitimacy of deceiving infidels is the following anecdote. A poet, Ka'b ibn Ashraf, offended Muhammad, prompting the latter to exclaim, "Who will kill this man who has hurt God and his prophet?" A young Muslim named Muhammad ibn Maslama volunteered on condition that in order to get close enough to Ka'b to assassinate him, he be allowed to lie to the poet. Muhammad agreed. Ibn Maslama traveled to Ka'b and began to denigrate Islam and Muhammad. He carried on in this way till his disaffection became so convincing that Ka'b took him into his confidence. Soon thereafter, Ibn Maslama appeared with another Muslim and, while Ka'b's guard was down, killed him.[16]

Muhammad said other things that cast deception in a positive light, such as "God has commanded me to equivocate among the people just as he has commanded me to establish [religious] obligations"; and "I have been sent with obfuscation"; and "whoever lives his life in dissimulation dies a martyr."[17]

In short, the earliest historical records of Islam clearly attest to the prevalence of taqiyya as a form of Islamic warfare. Furthermore, early Muslims are often depicted as lying their way out of binds—usually by denying or insulting Islam or Muhammad—often to the approval of the latter, his only criterion being that their intentions (niya) be pure.[18] During wars with Christians, whenever the latter were in authority, the practice of taqiyya became even more integral. Mukaram states, "Taqiyya was used as a way to fend off danger from the Muslims, especially in critical times and when their borders were exposed to wars with the Byzantines and, afterwards, to the raids [crusades] of the Franks and others."[19]


Taqiyya in Qur'anic Revelation

The Qur'an itself is further testimony to taqiyya. Since God is believed to be the revealer of these verses, he is by default seen as the ultimate perpetrator of deceit—which is not surprising since he is described in the Qur'an as the best makar, that is, the best deceiver or schemer (e.g., 3:54, 8:30, 10:21).

While other scriptures contain contradictions, the Qur'an is the only holy book whose commentators have evolved a doctrine to account for the very visible shifts which occur from one injunction to another. No careful reader will remain unaware of the many contradictory verses in the Qur'an, most specifically the way in which peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were initially baffled as to which verses to codify into the Shari'a worldview—the one that states there is no coercion in religion (2:256), or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert, or at least submit, to Islam (8:39, 9:5, 9:29). To get out of this quandary, the commentators developed the doctrine of abrogation, which essentially maintains that verses revealed later in Muhammad's career take precedence over earlier ones whenever there is a discrepancy. In order to document which verses abrogated which, a religious science devoted to the chronology of the Qur'an's verses evolved (known as an-Nasikh wa'l Mansukh, the abrogater and the abrogated).

But why the contradiction in the first place? The standard view is that in the early years of Islam, since Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by their infidel competitors while living next to them in Mecca, a message of peace and coexistence was in order. However, after the Muslims migrated to Medina in 622 and grew in military strength, verses inciting them to go on the offensive were slowly "revealed"—in principle, sent down from God—always commensurate with Islam's growing capabilities. In juridical texts, these are categorized in stages: passivity vis-á-vis aggression; permission to fight back against aggressors; commands to fight aggressors; commands to fight all non-Muslims, whether the latter begin aggressions or not.[20] Growing Muslim might is the only variable that explains this progressive change in policy.

Other scholars put a gloss on this by arguing that over a twenty-two year period, the Qur'an was revealed piecemeal, from passive and spiritual verses to legal prescriptions and injunctions to spread the faith through jihad and conquest, simply to acclimate early Muslim converts to the duties of Islam, lest they be discouraged at the outset by the dramatic obligations that would appear in later verses.[21] Verses revealed towards the end of Muhammad's career—such as, "Warfare is prescribed for you though you hate it"[22]—would have been out of place when warfare was actually out of the question.

However interpreted, the standard view on Qur'anic abrogation concerning war and peace verses is that when Muslims are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the ethos of the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, however, they should go on the offensive on the basis of what is commanded in the Medinan verses (war and conquest). The vicissitudes of Islamic history are a testimony to this dichotomy, best captured by the popular Muslim notion, based on a hadith, that, if possible, jihad should be performed by the hand (force), if not, then by the tongue (through preaching); and, if that is not possible, then with the heart or one's intentions.[23]


War Is Eternal

That Islam legitimizes deceit during war is, of course, not all that astonishing; after all, as the Elizabethan writer John Lyly put it, "All's fair in love and war."[24] Other non-Muslim philosophers and strategists—such as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes—justified deceit in warfare. Deception of the enemy during war is only common sense. The crucial difference in Islam, however, is that war against the infidel is a perpetual affair—until, in the words of the Qur'an, "all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to God."[25] In his entry on jihad from the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Emile Tyan states: "The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily."[26]

Moreover, going back to the doctrine of abrogation, Muslim scholars such as Ibn Salama (d. 1020) agree that Qur'an 9:5, known as ayat as-sayf or the sword verse, has abrogated some 124 of the more peaceful Meccan verses, including "every other verse in the Qur'an, which commands or implies anything less than a total offensive against the nonbelievers."[27] In fact, all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence agree that "jihad is when Muslims wage war on infidels, after having called on them to embrace Islam or at least pay tribute [jizya] and live in submission, and the infidels refuse."[28]

Obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam's dichotomized worldview that pits the realm of Islam against the realm of war. The first, dar al-Islam, is the "realm of submission," the world where Shari'a governs; the second, dar al-Harb (the realm of war), is the non-Islamic world. A struggle continues until the realm of Islam subsumes the non-Islamic world—a perpetual affair that continues to the present day. The renowned Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) clearly articulates this division:

In the Muslim community, jihad is a religious duty because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the jihad was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.[29]

Finally and all evidence aside, lest it still appear unreasonable for a faith with over one billion adherents to obligate unprovoked warfare in its name, it is worth noting that the expansionist jihad is seen as an altruistic endeavor, not unlike the nineteenth century ideology of "the white man's burden." The logic is that the world, whether under democracy, socialism, communism, or any other system of governance, is inevitably living in bondage—a great sin, since the good of all humanity is found in living in accordance to God's law. In this context, Muslim deception can be viewed as a slightly less than noble means to a glorious end—Islamic hegemony under Shari'a rule, which is seen as good for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

This view has an ancient pedigree: Soon after the death of Muhammad (634), as the jihad fighters burst out of the Arabian peninsula, a soon-to-be conquered Persian commander asked the invading Muslims what they wanted. They memorably replied as follows:

God has sent us and brought us here so that we may free those who desire from servitude to earthly rulers and make them servants of God, that we may change their poverty into wealth and free them from the tyranny and chaos of [false] religions and bring them to the justice of Islam. He has sent us to bring his religion to all his creatures and call them to Islam. Whoever accepts it from us will be safe, and we shall leave him alone; but whoever refuses, we shall fight until we fulfill the promise of God.[30]

Fourteen hundred years later— in March 2009—Saudi legal expert Basem Alem publicly echoed this view:

As a member of the true religion, I have a greater right to invade [others] in order to impose a certain way of life [according to Shari'a], which history has proven to be the best and most just of all civilizations. This is the true meaning of offensive jihad. When we wage jihad, it is not in order to convert people to Islam, but in order to liberate them from the dark slavery in which they live.[31]

And it should go without saying that taqiyya in the service of altruism is permissible. For example, only recently, after publicly recounting a story where a Muslim tricked a Jew into converting to Islam—warning him that if he tried to abandon Islam, Muslims would kill him as an apostate—Muslim cleric Mahmoud al-Masri called it a "beautiful trick."[32] After all, from an Islamic point of view, it was the Jew who, in the end, benefitted from the deception, which brought him to Islam.


Raymond Ibrahim
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.