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Disowned by Mentor, Bin Laden Seeks New Pastures
|Jihad against capitalism: Bin Laden expands his appeal to discontents of the West while his Islamic mentor Salman al-Oadah (inset) denounces him for the mayhem|
NEW YORK: After Osama bin Laden reappeared on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, television and newspaper commentators pondered the meaning of his newly blackened beard and the significance of his message. Barely noticed in the Western media barrage was the reaction of a Saudi cleric that could have far-reaching impact on the fortunes of Al Qaeda.
In an open letter, one of his prominent Saudi mentors, preacher and scholar Salman al-Oadah, publicly reproaches bin Laden for causing widespread mayhem and killing. “How many innocent children, elderly people, and women were killed in the name of Al Qaeda?” asks al-Oadah on his website, Islamtoday.com, and in comments on an Arabic television station. “How many people were forced to flee their homes and how much blood was shed in the name of Al Qaeda?” The reaction of his former pupil is not known, but the angry denunciation by bin Laden’s supporters leaves no doubt that it hurts.
The significance of that can be appreciated only in the context of the position al Oadah holds in Islamic orthodoxy. He’s a heavyweight Salafi preacher with a large following in Saudi Arabia and abroad. In the 1990s the Saudi regime imprisoned al-Oadah, along with four leading clerics, for criticizing the kingdom’s close relationship with the US, particularly the stationing of American troops there after the 1991 Gulf war. That decision – posting forces in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam – was the catalyst that drove bin Laden to attack the US. Throughout the 1990s bin Laden cited al-Oadah as a dissident voice and critic of the Saudi royal family and fellow Salafi traveler who shared his strict religious principles and worldview.
Although al-Oadah and other senior Muslim scholars condemned the 9/11 attacks, they had refrained from direct criticism of bin Laden. With al-Oadah’s new frontal assault on the elusive Al Qaeda leader, any ambiguity vanished. He holds bin Laden personally accountable for the occupation of Muslim lands in Afghanistan and Iraq, displacement of millions of Iraqis, killings of thousands of Afghans, internment and torture of promising and deluded young Muslims, and a tarnished image of Islam all over the world.
“Are you happy to meet Allah with this heavy burden on your shoulders?” al-Oadah, a highly prolific scholar and media commentator, presses bin Laden. “It is a weighty burden indeed – at least hundreds of thousands of innocent people, if not millions [displaced and killed].”
Ironically, the letter includes no criticism of US foreign policy toward the Muslim world, a dramatic departure from the norm.
The widespread suffering of Muslims stems from “crimes” perpetrated against civilians by Al Qaeda on September 11, al-Oadah said. Islam, he reminds his former disciple, prohibits the killing of any bird or animal, let alone “innocent people, regardless of what justification is given.”
The letter to bin Laden received coverage by the Arab media, including Al Jazeera network and Islamonline.com, and elicited angry reactions by Al Qaeda’s supporters. The targeted attack on bin Laden and his militant group by a respected religious authority is lethal, coming at a critical juncture for Al Qaeda and like-minded factions worldwide.
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia – largely independent from Al Qaeda Central – faces the beginning of an internal revolt by Sunni tribes and fighters fed up with its sectarian fanaticism. Sunni resistance to Al Qaeda in Iraq gathers steam, limiting the group’s movement and options. Another militant group – Fatah al-Islam, which subscribes to Al Qaeda’s ideology and was active in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el Bared in North Lebanon – was dealt a mortal blow by authorities and universal rejection by Muslim Palestinian and Lebanese opinion. Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Saudi Arabia has suffered major setbacks and is on the run.
Although Al Qaeda appears to revitalize its infrastructure in Pakistan-Afghan tribal areas, it faces insurmountable challenges in the Arab hinterland – its historic social base of support.
Perhaps in implicit recognition of his success in tapping marginalized youth in Europe, bin Laden went to great length in his videotape to project a new image and message, an effort to appeal to a larger audience. He has exchanged his military fatigues and Kalashnikov for a white robe, circular cap, and beige cloak, portraying himself as a spiritual figure, not the old rifle-toting self.
In his address to the American people, bin Laden borrows the language of the left and anti-globalization movement, an attempt to galvanize Americans against their oppressors – big capital, multinational corporations, and globalization. His use of secular-political language is a conscious, yet naive, attempt to drive a wedge between Americans and their leaders who, he says, serve the interests of the capitalist system and war industry.
According to the new bin Laden, this global system of big capital that benefits the wealthy class is responsible for the tragedies in Iraq, Afghanistan, the poverty of Africa and the huge gap between the haves and have-nots within the US. By rejoining the debate raging in the US over the war in Iraq and due legal process, a growing wealth gap connected with anti-globalization sentiment, bin Laden aims at broadening his constituency and scoring gains in another war – the war of ideas.
Contrary to common sense, bin Laden believes that Westerners will buy his new message and assign blame to “warmongering owners of the major corporations.” Apparently, he had never expected a direct rebuke by one of his spiritual Salafi mentors. Dispensing with formalities, al-Oadah pins the blame squarely on bin Laden for the 9/11 spark that lit subsequent fires throughout the world:
“You are responsible – brother Osama – for spreading Takfiri ideology [excommunication of Muslims] and fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families.”
The Saudi scholar admonishes his elusive countrymen for turning Muslim nations like Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and others into a battlefield where no one feels safe. “To what end, even if your plan succeeds by marching over the corpses of hundreds of thousands of people?” al-Oadah inquires. “Is Islam only about guns and war? Have your means become the ends themselves?”
Never before has bin Laden been subjected to such direct, withering censure by a Salafi scholar who cannot be dismissed by militants as a vessel of the ruling regime. His record of defiance of the Saudi royal family speaks volumes of independence of judgment and moral courage. His credibility as a defender of Muslim rights worldwide is unassailable. In November 2004, al-Oadah, along with 25 prominent Saudi religious scholars, posted an open letter on the internet, urging Iraqis to support fighters waging legitimate jihad against “the big crime of America’s occupation of Iraq.”
Adding insult to injury, al-Oadah praises those jihadist “brave hearts” and “courageous minds” that defected from Al Qaeda and distanced themselves from its terrorism. “Many of your brethren in Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere have come to see the end road for Al Qaeda’s ideology,” he states. “They now realize how destructive and dangerous it is.”
Al-Oadah’s public censure of bin Laden deepens internal fissures within the Salafi universe which supplied his group with many of its foot soldiers.Just before the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden released a new videotape, in which he adopts a neo-Marxist posture, suggesting that mortgage debt, global warming, growing wage inequality and other ills are a result of greed from multinational corporations and politics of the West. "The capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of 'globalization' in order to protect democracy," bin Laden says. Perhaps bin Laden worries that his fundamentalist message fails to resonate or he hopes to inspire more would-be terrorists among disaffected youth in the West. Or, he wants to give the most conservative US presidential candidates a boost. While pundits of the West bantered about his darkened beard, the reaction from the Arab world was more serious. In an open letter, Salman al-Oadah, a prominent Salafist scholar and cleric based in Saudi Arabia and one-time mentor of bin Laden, criticizes Al Qaeda, blaming the 9/11 attacks for delivering death and suffering to the Muslim world and damaging the reputation of Islam. He urges young Muslims to distance themselves from terrorism. The words of one cleric and scholar, spread with the help of the internet, offers a glimmer of hope, more so than what comes from periodic reports of arrests and killing of terrorists. –