FrontPage Interview’s guest today is al-Qaeda expert Raymond Ibrahim. His work includes the al-Qaeda entry for the World Almanac of Islamism; an analysis of al-Qaeda’s worldview for the Middle East Review of International Affairs; and most recently an article on Ayman al-Zawahiri for Bloomberg. He is best known for compiling, translating, and annotating The Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007), the definitive work on the terrorist organization’s writings. Because the book contains al-Zawahiri’s premiere treatises and provides a snapshot of his mind, it takes on renewed relevance now that al-Zawahiri has been declared the leader of al-Qaeda.
FP: Raymond Ibrahim, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about what you know about Ayman al-Zawahiri. But I think it would be best to begin with The Al Qaeda Reader. Tell us what the book is about and why you wrote it.
Ibrahim: Sure, Jamie.
I primarily wrote The Al Qaeda Reader (AQR) to demonstrate the organization’s doubletalk. After the strikes of 9/11, al-Qaeda’s messages to the West began to be translated and disseminated in the media; and their theme was one—that al-Qaeda’s terrorism was in retaliation to any number of Western crimes. Then, back in 2005 when I was working at the Library of Congress, I came across unknown Arabic texts written by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri that articulated their violence and terrorism purely within a jihadist paradigm; the temporal and emotive language directed at the West, when re-directed at fellow Muslims, was discarded for the eternal and immutable language of Islam.
For example, for all of al-Qaeda’s talk that Israel is the heart of the problem, bin Laden exposed his true position when he wrote to fellow Arabic-speaking Muslims not long after the 9/11 strikes the following:
Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue—one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice—and it is: Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually? Yes. There are only three choices in Islam:  either willing submission [conversion]; or  payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or  the sword — for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. (AQR, p. 42)
As you can see, this view, which is well codified in Sharia, is the ultimate source of conflict—not political, temporal grievances.
FP: Ok, so how does al-Zawahiri fit into the AQR?
Ibrahim: I have always believed that al-Zawahiri was the key to understanding al-Qaeda’s worldview. When I compiled the book between 2005-2006, I intentionally included more of his writings than bin Laden’s (an approach deemed unconventional then, as most people were more interested in learning what the more visible and notorious bin Laden had to say). The ironic result is that today the AQR exposes the philosophy of al-Qaeda’s new chief more than other al-Qaeda books, which had focused on (the now moot) bin Laden.
FP: What does the book tell us of al-Zawahiri and what can be learned from his words?
Ibrahim: I split the book into two sections, “Theology” and “Propaganda.” In the theology section, I included three long treatises by al-Zawahiri amounting to over 100 pages:
According to his “Loyalty and Enmity” (AQR pgs. 63-115), the Muslim believer is “obligated to befriend a believer—even if he is oppressive and violent towards you and must be hostile to the infidel, even if he is liberal and kind to you.” Al-Zawahiri bases this doctrine on Koranic verses that prohibit Muslims from befriending non-Muslims, specifically Jews and Christians (e.g., 5:51, 60:4).
He advocates deception, or taqiyya—that Muslims feign friendship with non-Muslims whenever it is advantageous; he quotes early Muslims saying “We grin to the faces of some peoples, while our hearts curse them” and recommending “lamenting and mourning in order to dupe the infidels.”
In “Sharia and Democracy” (AQR pgs.116-136), he advocates strict enforcement of Sharia law and animosity for democracy—complaining that democracy creates “equality between the citizenry,” allows freedom of religion, and abolishes “man’s domination over woman.”
In “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents,” (AQR, pgs. 137-171), al-Zawahiri goes to great lengths to promote suicide operations, grounding them in little known hadiths and historical anecdotes, as well as Koranic verses like 9:111; he quotes Islam’s prophet saying that the “martyred” jihadist “will couple with 72 maidens” in paradise. And he adheres to a very narrow definition as to who is considered “innocent” during the jihad—which precludes women, children, and even Muslims, if necessity calls for it.
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