it’s the circle of jihad

June 9th, 2012

(read the book free online – get a copy for your Kindle – read the Reddit AMA)

Many of the groups that eventually coalesce into full-fledged terrorist organizations start off as cut-and-dry insurgences: FARC, the Shining Path, the PLO, and more recently al-Qaeda, which got its start fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan before metastasizing into an international terrorist organization and ideology.

But with all the press that it’s getting, it’s important to keep in mind that the ongoing uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria has nothing at all to do with al-Qaeda.  As the dead bodies of women and children begin to pile up underneath hand-wringing UN officials, Syria’s Lebanese neighbors are at least mobilizing to do something about it: dusting off their kalashnikovs and crossing the border to once again fight for their fellow Muslims.

Many of their parents fought against Israeli’s invasion of Lebanon, so it’s no surprise that this generation is ready and willing to put their lives on the line in the what’s just about the most classic justification for jihad you can possibly imagine.

And in a Christian Science Monitor exclusive earlier this month, a Lebanese native who made his way into Syria to fight against the ruling regime there makes a nuanced and important point:

“If you took a picture of me holding a rifle in front of a black flag inscribed with ‘There is no God, but God’ and put it in a Western paper, everyone would say I am Al Qaeda,” he says. “[But] I am a Muslim on jihad to defend Muslims. If the West cannot understand that and thinks I’m Al Qaeda, then the West has a problem.”

Most Westerners would immediately assume that anyone fighting in the name of Islam is simply a terrorist, and leave it at that.  Our popular discourse hasn’t left any room at all for the idea that not only can someone fight against an oppressive regime in the name of Islam and have nothing to do with al-Qaeda, and especially not the idea that even the men who are in fact part of al-Qaeda see themselves much differently than we do:

Because terrorists see themselves as soldiers. As commandos who use asymmetric tactics to fight a war worth dying in, a war that transcends their lives, and any interpretation of right or wrong and Good vs. Evil that we – as outsiders – might bring in from the outside.

Passing normative judgments doesn’t give  us any insight whatsoever into what motivates the men we might consider terrorists, nor does it help us anticipate their next move.  And as events unfold in Syria, hopefully all of us in the West can keep in mind that regardless of how much credit al-Qaeda tried to claim, the uprising against the Assad regime in Syria has nothing at all to do with terrorism and is just about protecting the lives of innocent civilians.

Which, uncomfortably, is the exact same justification that al-Qaeda has always used for its attacks – just usually on the larger scale of actions between nations instead of within them.


Category: current affairs, domestic terror, islam, news, politics, terrorism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , Comment »

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