Osama bin Laden has performed a useful service: He’s settled the lingering international debate over whether or not Saddam Hussein has links to al Qaeda.
On the audio tape released Tuesday, bin Laden (and we can assume that’s who was speaking) expressed his support for the butcher of Baghdad and advised Saddam’s supporters how best to fight the infidel Americans. That should put to rest — finally — any doubt about the fact that radical Islamism and Islamo-fascism have made common cause.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and war, as von Clausewitz instructed us, is merely politics by other means. There were real differences among the Axis during World War II, but Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Militarist Japan were able to come together to fight the Allies — among whom the differences were even more formidable.
So now are various extremist groups coming together to fight a jihad against America, Israel, India, the Philippines, and other democratic societies.
All the Jihadist groups — bin Ladenists, Wahhabis, Baathists, Khomeinists, Arafatists — are united by at least four shared goals:
(1) expanding the realm of Islamic rule, in particular throwing Christians, Jews, and other “infidels” out of the Middle East and any other land ever ruled by Muslims (This can be viewed as a sort of Islamist version of the Brezhnev doctrine.);
(2) promoting the belief within the Muslim world that the Islam is in a state of permanent conflict with other religions — and that this conflict can only be resolved by Islam’s unambiguous victory;
(3) insisting that all Muslims have a religious duty to wage Jihad to vanquish Islam’s enemies;
(4) persuading Muslims to oppose democracy, religious freedom, the rule of law and other Free World values — as bin Laden has phrased it: Humans cannot “share with God in His sole right of sovereignty and making the law.”
For a long time, many Middle East analysts have argued that doctrinal differences would prevent religious extremists like bin Laden from making common cause with ostensibly secular Muslims like Saddam Hussein (whose Baathist ideology is essentially a blend of Nazism and Stalinism with Islamism slathered on like icing over the last ten years).
Clearly, Saddam is not bin Laden’s kind of Muslim. But it was silly to believe that would prevent bin Laden from pursuing mutually beneficial projects in terrorism directed at common enemies: Christians, Jews, Hindus and moderate Muslims (Algeria, where more than 100,000 have been slaughtered by jihadists is an example of the last category on that list).
How, from a doctrinal standpoint, can bin Laden justify such alliances? In the past, bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya, a forerunner of Wahhabism and an important molder of Islamic thought from the 13th century. Ibn Taymiyya exhorted his fellow Muslims to join together fight the common enemy of that era: the Mongols.
Ibn Taymiyya wrote: “To fight in the defense of religion and belief is a collective duty; there is no other duty after belief than fighting the enemy who is corrupting the life and the religion.”
Michael Scott Doran, a Near Eastern studies scholar at Princeton, recently wrote that bin Laden has been promoting the idea that, “People of Islam should join forces and support each other to get rid of the main infidel” — even if that means that true believers will be forced to fight alongside Muslims of dubious piety.
As for Saddam Hussein, clearly he is willing to take help from anybody who will give it — al Qaeda, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg; it makes no difference to him.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism formed after 9/11.