About a month ago the jihad-friendly website Saraya al-Jihad polled its readers on the question, “Who is the greatest danger to Islam and Muslims in your opinion?” Six hundred forty-three people responded. “Arab Secularists” and “The Shi’a/Misguided Sects” came in at the bottom with 11 percent and 16 percent respectively. A surprise at number two was “America and the Jews” with a paltry 26 percent. (Those fixated on the neocon conspiracy take note–you are wackier than these guys.) And the number-one threat to Islam, coming in at 46 percent, are the “Arab Rulers.” For those familiar with the grievances of the Muslim radicals this makes perfect sense, and also helps one better understand the latest taped message attributed to Osama bin Laden, which premiered Sunday on al Jazeera.
Osama’s message to the Muslim people was directed primarily against these Arab rulers, who in his opinion have sold out to the Crusaders and Jews, unjustly turned on their own people, and are not acting in concert with God’s law, thus making their rule illegitimate. He has been making similar arguments for a long time. His 1996 Declaration of War indicts the Saudi regime in particular, and the main reason the U.S. had to be expelled from the land of the two holy places was to make possible the overthrow of the corrupt local regimes. Having accomplished that and united the Muslims, the real enemy–Israel–could be destroyed, and oil priced at a more reasonable $100/barrel. The most serious recent sin of the Arab rulers was assisting, or not sufficiently resisting, the Coalition attack on Iraq, which OBL described as “a sin against one of the Islamic tenets.” He says that their main motive was fear, “especially after they had seen the arrest of their former comrade in treason and agentry to the United States,” Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden confuses cause and effect somewhat, but his overall message is that the rulers have made a Faustian bargain. You simply cannot trust the Americans. Look at Saddam–he starts out containing Iran, and a few decades later American soldiers have him trapped in a burrow.
The upside of the invasion of Iraq from al Qaeda’s point of view is that it has given Osama a chance to revive his warfighting strategy. The initial plan was to lure America into a punishing Soviet-style guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan, leading to the collapse of the United States, similar to the Soviet breakup, a development which Osama characteristically claims credit for. However, this scheme did not unfold as intended, and since December 2001 the plan has been in various stages of disarray. With American troops in Iraq, an opportunity presented itself to try to make the quagmire happen for real. There are many more Americans in-country, there are pre-existing ethnic tensions to exploit for added chaos, not to mention the useful symbolism of occupied Baghdad, which was the seat of the caliphate bin Laden seeks to recreate.
Yet, the jihad just hasn’t taken off the way al Qaeda projected. In December, there was an average of about .81 American deaths by hostile action per day, down from 1.77 per day in November. Any deaths above zero are too many in my book, but from the terrorist point of view, this simply is not the empire-crushing tempo of violence they expected. This could well explain the hour-long audio message that appeared online this week from Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the commander of the al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. (His statement is excerpted by MEMRI and is online in three parts at a website registered to an address in San Antonio which could well be being used without the webmaster’s knowledge, a common piggy-backing technique utilized by terror groups.) Zarqawi’s lengthy statement, addressed to the Muslim people, is a protracted complaint about the fact that not enough people are engaging in terrorism, bolstered by copious Koranic quotes and model examples of martyrs past. “You failed to mobilize even though the Crusaders came to you fully equipped and in huge numbers and fought you in unison,” he admonishes. “Where is the talk of old times, the nightly chats, the wounds of the days, and the sighs of those who yearn to jihad, paradise, and black-eyed maidens?” Clearly, too few have been heeding the call; “the bride of the martyrs has almost become a widow because nobody asked for her hand in marriage.” There have been infrequent suicide attacks, no large scale armed engagements, no riots in the streets, not even widespread passive resistance. Yes, there have been some attacks from a small number of the faithful, but overall, the “men have lost their manhood” and he would just as soon leave it to the women. (Lest anyone misconstrue this as a call for gender equality, note that in Zarqawi’s personal cultural context, this is an insult.)
To those happy few who have taken up the cause, he says, “Be patient, be patient, it is only a matter of a few days and then comfort and victory will ensue, God willing.” This is one of several recent al Qaeda statements that imply an attack is imminent. Another stated, “The decisive battle is about to start. The swords have been unsheathed and the fingers are on the trigger.” However, looking back over the last two years, there have been many such threats. Some have been more serious than others, and a source told me recently that the last few weeks have been “scary.” It is possible that the new bin Laden message was supposed to follow on the heels of an attack that was broken up. So will the believers continue to be patient? One of them, Qalatok, who posts his views on the “Fortress” forum is getting discouraged. “Enough with lies and fabrications,” he wrote in December, “In the absence of any penalty for those liars who fool around with the Muslims’ feelings and beliefs, anyone can write anything they want.” He said that Muslim morale was low because the threatened Ramadan attacks did not take place. (See for example the threat by Abu-Muhammad al-Ablaj and others discussed here in November.) “This is precisely what Muslims do not need,” Qalatok concluded. This kind of attitude must be very frustrating to Osama bin Laden. The tone of his messages have been the same since the mass Muslim uprising in his defense failed to materialize in October 2001: a patient, sometimes annoyed chastisement of those who won’t get with the program. Sure, the true believers may be tired of waiting, but I can see bin Laden saying to them, do I have to do everything for you people? Show some initiative. Get out there like Malvo and Mohammed and stop being such chat-room geeks. You can’t blog your way to paradise.
But what about the Arab rulers? Bin Laden clearly believes they are vulnerable. The most important part of Osama’s new message was his concluding instruction for a small group of people, the “minimum number” possible, to form a Council of the Righteous. It should be composed of select clerics, dignitaries, respected leaders and merchants, those whom people will follow, who are not compromised by association with the Arab rulers. They should gather in a secure location, “away from the shadow of these suppressive regimes,” and prepare to fill the vacuum when the governments come down. The main task of the Council, as representatives of the whole nation, will then be to appoint a supreme ruler. Once this is done, they will prepare the general mobilization to repulse the “raid of the Romans, which started in Iraq and no one knows where it will end.” Bin Laden does not discuss his nominee for the top leadership position, but does open his message saying he is “keen on safeguarding your religion and your worldly life.” Next week he will unveil his prescription-drug plan, but he insists he is not declaring candidacy.