July 27, 2007

Violent Jihad's Author To Recant?

The Guardian reports that the philosophical founder of modern terrorist jihad has apparently experienced a change of heart. Sayid Imam al-Sharif, the man behind the assassination of Anwar Sadat and whose writings led an entire generation of radical Islamists to terrorism, now says that the theological underpinnings of such actions are completely faulty and should be discarded:

Sharif, a surgeon who is still known by his underground name of "Dr Fadl", is famous as the author of the Salafi jihadists' "bible" - Foundations of Preparation for Holy War. He worked with Ayman al-Zawahiri, another Egyptian doctor and now Bin Laden's deputy, before being kidnapped in Yemen after 9/11, interrogated by the CIA and extradited to Egypt where has been serving a life sentence since 2004.

Sharif recently gave an electrifying foretaste of his conversion by condemning killings on the basis of nationality and colour of skin and the targeting of women and children, citing the Qur'anic injunction: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits; for God loveth not transgressors." Armed operations were wrong, counterproductive and must cease, he declared sternly.

Zawahiri, evidently rattled, rounded sarcastically on him in a video message broadcast after Sharif's statement - faxed from Torah prison to an Arabic newspaper - announced not only his change of heart but a book-length repudiation endorsed by hundreds of other former militants, and which is due to be published soon.

Not surprisingly, Zawahiri has continued his denunciations of his former partner. He ridiculed Sharif by asking whether Egypt had recently installed fax machines in prison cells, a thinly-veiled accusation against Sharif of being Mubarak's stooge. Three years of imprisonment, Zawahiri implies, can change the heart of even the most dedicated jihadist, although one would have to wonder whether that really helps Zawahiri's argument much at all.

It's easy to see why Zawahiri has to destroy Sharif's reputation before he comes out with his new treatise. It would entirely undermine the al-Qaeda position on jihad. In fact, it would specifically argue that al-Qaeda is, in effect, un-Islamic and therefore an apostasy to be shunned, not a movement to support. That argument has been made by moderate Muslim clerics in the past, but not from one of the leaders of the radical Islamist movement. Coming from a man with the background of Sharif, it would be a stunning blow, at least rhetorically, to Osama bin Laden and the rest of the radical jihadis.

That's not to say that Sharif has transformed into a cosmopolitan Muslim who embraces diversity. His main argument is that violent jihad has not benefitted the Islamist cause, and that it serves the imperial ambitions of the crusaders and the Jews. That will help his credibility among the jihadis, but it hardly moves the ecumenical dialogue in a helpful direction.

Will it stop the suicide bombings and the terrorist attacks? Not immediately, no. Sharif's detention in Egypt will convince most of the current crop of jihadis of his status of turncoat. However, if Sharif's writings get wide enough dissemination -- and he has Arab newspapers champing at the bit to publish them -- he could start a significant counterargument to violent jihad to seriously undermine Osama and AQ in the long run.


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Comments (8)

Posted by Dale Michaud aka TexasDude | July 27, 2007 9:41 AM

Until we demonstrate a greater will to defeat the terrorists, that is kill them, than to appease, nothing will change.

Posted by Dishman [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 27, 2007 9:52 AM

I would say that Sharif has the right of it. Murder and mayhem do not aid their cause. They are not sufficiently strong to instill terror, and instead only produce hatred.

Al Qaeda chose to "double-down" in Iraq. I believe this will be shown to be a strategic error on par with Barbarossa. Sharif recognizes the error (belatedly). Zawahiri does not.

Posted by Bob Smith | July 27, 2007 10:10 AM

al-Sharif isn't rejecting Jihad, he's rejecting takfir (the declaration that a fellow Muslim is an unbeliever and can thus lawfully be killed). Jihad against Jews and Christians is still ok.

Posted by furious | July 27, 2007 1:04 PM

Amazing how 25 years in an Egyptian prison will help focus one's mind.

Still, to the point above, seems like the argument with Zawahiri is over Muslim-on-Muslim mayhem, not any moderation of violence towards Christians and Jews.

When Mr. Sharif calls for reconciliation with and acceptance of their Coptic brethren, maybe then I'll feel safe going to visit the Pyramids.


Posted by eaglewings | July 27, 2007 2:09 PM

They have a "TORAH" prison (couldn't be for the non-existent Jewish population in Egypt).
Are the cells named by chapter and verse?
Bereshet, Shemot...Devarim? Most interesting thing I read all day, and I'm sure the muslims would not get the irony.

Posted by Bob Smith | July 27, 2007 5:50 PM

Why not have a Torah prison? If it had verses on the walls and Hebrew cell names it would be hell for any Muslim imprisoned there.

Posted by TBinSTL [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 27, 2007 7:32 PM

Being in jail is probably the only thing that will give him any chance of surviving this.

Posted by patrick neid | July 28, 2007 6:29 AM

hmmm. let's see, a jail house confession to avoid probable intermittent torture--real torture, not the frat party kind we did at abu ghraib.

i could care less........