"Let's just get it out of the way right off that bat that Al Qaeda madmen don't actually want to blast through bridges, skyscrapers, and subways in righteous protest of the First Amendment," an exasperated Katie Paul began her March 23 tirade about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent address to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"It's mind-boggling that politicians still consider this nonsense an effective enough talking point as to employ it in their keynote speeches to national audiences--until, that is, you realize they usually only bring it up when they're after something else," the Newsweek reporter added in her The Gaggle blog post, going on to argue Netanyahu's AIPAC speech was just red meat tossed out to a pro-Israel audience to bolster his closed-door meeting with President Obama over the Middle East peace process.
To be fair, it is true that politicians can and do simplify complex matters into sound bites that don't do justice to the issues at hand, but in this case, Paul is far too dismissive of the argument that al Qaeda's real complaint is not just with particular foreign policies of the United States and/or Israel but with the whole Western concept of secular, pluralistic liberal democracy.
Indeed, Paul doesn't have to take any politician's word for it, she need only look at al Qaeda's own pronouncements. From a February 4, 2005 Congressional Research Service document entitlted "Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology" (emphases mine):
Following his declaration of jihad on the United States, Bin Laden released a series of statements that expanded the vision and scope of his self-declared conflict with the United States and specified his political prescriptions for the reformation of Islamic societies. Echoing U.S. academic Samuel Huntington's theory on the impending clash of civilizations, Bin Laden repeated his characterization of a so-called "new crusade led by America against the Islamic nations," and emphasized his belief that an emerging conflict between Islam and the West would be fought "between the Islamic world and the Americans and their allies." Bin Laden argued that the Islamic world should see itself as one seamless community, or umma, and that Muslims were obliged to unite and defend themselves. Turning his focus to the internal politics of the Islamic world, Bin Laden urged Muslims to find a leader to unite them and establish a "pious caliphate" that would be governed by Islamic law and follow Islamic principles of finance and social conduct. Bin Laden repeatedly argued that Afghanistan had become a model Islamic state under his Taliban hosts and used religious rhetoric to solicit support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda and Political Islam. Recent statements from Osama Bin Laden,
Ayman Al Zawahiri, and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi display the uncompromising
commitment of Al Qaeda's leaders and affiliates to a consistent ideological agenda focused on the expulsion of foreign forces and influences from Islamic societies and the creation of an Islamic state ruled by sharia law. The political prescriptions outlined in the statements are rooted in an Islamic principle known as tawhid, or the principle of the absolute unity of God and an identification of Islam as an all encompassing religious, political, and social system. According to this perspective, Islamic faith, adherence to Islamic law, and implementation of conservative Islamic social and political principles are synonymous. Throughout their recent statements, Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi characterized as "infidels" those who do not share these beliefs, those who oppose the creation of an Islamic state on the terms they
describe, and those supporting existing governments and coalition activities in the Islamic world.
"The Three Foundations." In a January 30, 2005 audiotape, Ayman Al
Zawahiri identified the "three foundations" of Al Qaeda's political ideology and applied them to recent events. Zawahiri, who is regarded as Al Qaeda's chief ideologue, described Al Qaeda's core principles in sharp contrast to secular and religious reform ideologies voiced by other Muslims as well as recent U.S. support for democracy. This may signal an attempt by Al Qaeda's leadership to renew and clearly define its goals as a basis for attracting new recruits and inspiring new affiliates. The "three foundations," as outlined by Al Zawahiri are as follows:
- "The Quran-Based Authority to Govern." According to Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda supports the creation of an Islamic state governed solely by sharia law. Secular government or "man-made" law is considered unacceptable and deemed contrary to Islamic faith.
- "The Liberation of the Homelands." Zawahiri argued that reforms and free elections will not be possible for Muslims without first establishing "the freedom of the Muslim lands and their liberation from every aggressor." He also emphasized the importance of establishing control over the Middle East’s energy resources and described the Muslim world as “impotent and exposed to the Israeli nuclear arsenal.”
- “The Liberation of the Human Being.” Zawahiri articulated a vision
of a contractual social relationship between Muslims and their rulers
that would permit people to choose and criticize their leaders but
also demand that Muslims resist and overthrow rulers who violate
Islamic laws and principles. He criticized hereditary government
and identified a need “to specify the power of the sharia based
judiciary, and insure that no one can dispose of the people’s rights,
except in accordance with this judiciary.”
Al Qaeda, Democracy, and Reform. Recent statements from Osama Bin
Laden and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi applied these and other similar principles to
current issues of democracy, reform, and conflict in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the
Palestinian territories. In both of his December 2004 statements, for example, Bin Laden clearly stated his view that democracies, constitutional governments, and insufficiently Islamic monarchies are equally unacceptable forms of governance for Islamic societies because they empower human rulers and man-made legal systems rather than “the law of God.”
Of course, Paul seems ignorant of these statements, even as she hearkens back to a statement from bin Laden made a full five years before the September 11 attacks:
Not to rehash every War on Terror debate that's taken place over the last decade, but let's just assume for a moment that the most extreme example of the "militant Islam" he's referencing is Al Qaeda. A quick glance at Osama Bin Laden's inaugural fatwa from 1996 reveals otherwise:
My Muslim Brothers (particularly those of the Arab Peninsula): The money you pay to buy American goods will be transformed into bullets and used against our brothers in Palestine and tomorrow (future) against our sons in the land of the two Holy places. By buying these goods we are strengthening their economy while our dispossession and poverty increases.
Muslims Brothers of land of the two Holy Places: It is incredible that our country is the world largest buyer of arms from the USA and the area biggest commercial partners of the Americans who are assisting their Zionist brothers in occupying Palestine and in evicting and killing the Muslims there, by providing arms, men and financial supports.
Say what you will about the delusional logic and abhorrent inhumanity of Al Qaeda's manifesto. But after a decade of hearing about their ideology, we should all be on the same page by now in recognizing that a hatred of freedom is not what motivates these guys.
After a decade of hearing about al Qaeda's ideology, you'd think Paul would know that al Qaeda sees an "imperialistic" America and Israel as symptoms of a world that thumbs its nose at Allah by refusing to conduct itself along Islamic principles.
To the end, it is correct of Prime Minister Netanyahu to say al Qaeda hates Israel and America for their freedom. It's a shame Paul doesn't get that.