- Nineteenth Century Anarchist Terrorism: How Comparable to the Terrorism of al-Qaeda?
Richard Bach Jensen
Terrorism and Political Violence
Vol.20, No.4, 2008 (589–596)
Comments on James L. Gelvin’s ‘‘Al-Qaeda and Anarchism: A Historian’s Reply to Terrorology’’
Terrorism and Political Violence
Vol.20, No.4, 2008 (597–600)
Al-Qaeda and Anarchism: A Historian’s Reply to Terrorology: Response to Commentaries
James L. Gelvin
Terrorism and Political Violence
Vol.20, No.4, 2008 (606–611)
Al-Qaeda and Anarchism: A Historian’s Reply to Terrorology
James L. Gelvin
Terrorism and Political Violence
Vol.20, No.4, 2008 (563–581)
This article situates al-Qaeda and similar jihadi movements within the category of anarchism. In so doing, it challenges the central pillar of the terrorology paradigm: the notion that terrorism is useful as an independent unit of analysis. The article takes a two-fold approach; in the first part, it offers a five-part definition of anarchism, based on the literature in the fields of history, political science, and sociology. Anarchism is distinguished by five characteristics: First, anarchism is an episodic discourse which provides its adherents with a prescription for action and which has been consistently available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world. Second, anarchism makes for itself the claim of being defensive in nature. Third, anarchism is anti-systemic; i.e., the target of anarchist grievances is the very system (the nation-state system, capitalism) anarchists view as the source of oppression. Fourth, by “othering” the source of oppression, anarchists delineate, either implicitly or explicitly, an ideal counter-community. Finally, unlike the disarticulated domain of, for example, scientific socialism, the discursive field of anarchism draws heavily from the specific cultural milieu from which it springs. The second part of the article examines al-Qaeda and similar movements in terms of these five characteristics, contrasts al-Qaeda with other organizations (Hamas, Hizbullah) which have often been conflated with al-Qaeda under the terrorist rubric, and argues that, based on those characteristics, al-Qaeda does not represent a new or sui generis phenomenon, but rather fits squarely into the anarchist mold.
According to an apocryphal story, Henry Kissinger/Andre Malraux/an unidentified journalist once asked Chinese premier Zhou Enlai about the significance of the French Revolution. Zhou reportedly replied that it was still too early to tell. Taking this story in its intended spirit, one might reasonably ask the following question: If it is too early to determine the significance of a phenomenon that had occurred a century and a half earlier, is it at all reasonable to attempt to determine the significance of one that is a mere two and a half decades old? More specifically, is it possible for historians and other social scientists writing six years after the attacks of 9/11 (when most turned their attention to the problem) to typologize and historicize the phenomenon of jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda?
Zhou’s reported caution aside, it is not as if the freshness of the phenomenon has prevented everyone from journalists to historians to specialists in the newly reinvigorated field of “terrorology” from weighing in on the issue. Some have chosen to view contemporary jihadi movements as a phenomenon sui generis; for others, they are variations on one or another historical theme. Putting aside for the moment the ‘‘what went wrong’’ school of analysis, which presents jihadi movements as a manifestation or the logical culmination of a civilization gone bad,1 two styles of sui generis narrative appear with some regularity. First, there are those accounts that focus on the genealogy of jihadi movements by applying a traditional history of ideas methodology. In these accounts, ideas evolve one from the other in a linear and progressive manner, somehow radiating their influence across time and generations. Thus, the family tree of contemporary jihadi movements most frequently begins with ibn Taymiyya and runs through Muhammad ibn Wahhab, Mawlani Abul A’la Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad al-Faraj and ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, until it reaches ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman (“the blind sheikh”), Ayman Zawahiri, and Osama bin Laden.2 Like all traditional history-of-ideas narratives, this one attempts to make up for what it lacks in sufficiency with an overabundance of necessity. (As will be seen below, a stronger case might be made for replacing the progressive chronological sequence with one that starts with bin Laden and continues back in time through ibn Taymiyya, and substituting the words “selected and drew from” for “influenced”.)
Others have attempted to address this shortcoming by affixing to their narratives contingent external events that, they claim, have increased the availability of or receptivity to proto-jihadi or jihadi ideas. Thus, the now-familiar stories of a drunk American woman’s abortive shipboard seduction of Sayyid Qutb (and the Cairene’s reputed and less than convincing shock at the loose, small-town American values of the late 1940s [!]), the petrodollar-backed spread of Wahhabi doctrines, the hothouse atmosphere of Nasser’s and Mubarak’s jails and America’s covert support of Arab-Afghan mujahidin fighting the Soviet Union.3 Unfortunately, accounting for the resonance of jihadi ideology (instead of, say, the Islamo-nationalism represented by Hamas or Hizbullah or a more “traditional” Islamist ideology such as that espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) remains a problem here as well. And just what is the point of social science if every phenomenon belongs to its own distinct category?
If, on the other hand, contemporary jihadi movements are to be put into an already existing social science category, what category might that be? “Islamofascism” has achieved a certain cachet in right-wing political circles, but if one were to set aside the superficial and normative attributes contemporary jihadi groups and genuine fascist movements hold in common (i.e., their shared propensity for violence and general nastiness), it soon becomes apparent that the rubric “Islamo-fascism” is polemic masquerading as analysis and that the only ones who would make a connection between the two disparate phenomena are those who know little about either Islamic movements or fascism. There is a similar problem of confusing the glitter with the gold when it comes to transforming “terrorism” from a tactic into a category of analysis (a problem matched only by the perennial dilemma of defining “terrorism” in the first place4), and the attempt to save terrorism as a transhistorical category by differentiating among “waves of terrorism” or between the “old terrorism” and the “new terrorism” only serves to demonstrate why political scientists and habitues of think-tanks should study more history.5 In the end, one must agree with the assessment made by Walter Laqueur, of all people, thirty years ago that “a good case can be made for the comparative study of terrorism, but it should [be] apparent that not everything can be compared with everything else”.6
There is, however, one comparative category that has achieved somewhat of a cult status that begs for further investigation: the jihadism promoted by al-Qaeda and its ilk, on the one hand, and anarchism, on the other. Soon after the events of 9/11, I began making the comparison myself in talks and written works. For example, in the Introduction to my The Modern Middle East: A History, I drew the distinction between al-Qaeda and mass-based Islamist groupings such as Hamas and Hizbullah and wrote of the former,
The preference of the leaders and adherents of al-Qaeda for action over ideology, their single-minded focus on resistance, their lack of programmatic goals, their pursuit of violence for its own sake, their use of a highly decentralized structure built upon semi-autonomous cells—all these factors align al-Qaeda with a type of movement that historically has had nothing to do with Islam at all: anarchism. Like other anarchist movements, al-Qaeda is reactive. It focuses solely on resisting what it considers to be an intrusive alien order and preserving a culture and lifestyle and the homeland of that culture and lifestyle its members believe to be under attack. And unlike other movements whose discourse al-Qaeda shares, al-Qaeda does not operate as a cog within the international state and economic systems. Rather, it wars on those systems.7
Although I have changed my mind about some of the particulars of my argument, overall I still think it stands.
In all modesty, I must add that I was hardly alone in viewing al-Qaeda in this way. Others also drew the comparison between al-Qaeda and anarchist organizations, particularly those anarchist organizations that emerged during the period between 1880 and 1920, the so-called heyday of anarchism: The Economist (‘For Jihadist, Read Anarchist’); Graham Stewart for the Times of London (‘Al-Qaeda, Victorian Style’); Niall Ferguson (who refers to al-Qaeda-style jihadism as “Islamonihilism . . . in the Nechaevan tradition”); John Gray (“The strategy [of al-Qaeda] is the same [as Conrad’s Secret Agent]—to remake the world by spectacular acts of terror”); the Rand Corporation’s James Dobbins (“If Al Qaeda has a historic antecedent that one can usefully point to, it’s probably the anarchist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century”); Lee Harris in Policy Review (who speaks of the “Sorelian myth” guiding al-Qaeda’s tactics); Ted Galen Carpenter for the McClatchy-Tribune News Service (“The closest historical analogy for the radical Islamic terrorist threat is neither the two world wars nor the Cold War . . . It is the violence perpetrated by anarchist forces during the last third of the nineteenth century”); Malise Ruthven (“The [jihadi] message of revolutionary anarchism that ‘every system that permits some people to rule over others be abolished’ owes more to radical European ideas going back to the Jacobins than to classical or traditional ideas about Islamic governance”) and so on.8
Where I differ from most of the aforementioned, however, is what I mean by the term “anarchism”. Most of those listed above do not use the term to delineate a distinct type of political phenomenon; rather, most adopt the assumptions of terrorology and compare the seemingly mindless violence perpetrated by the proverbial black-clad, bearded, bomb-wielding nineteenth-century anarchist of legend with the proverbial white-clad, bearded, bomb-wielding al-Qaeda operative of present. Hence, articles explaining the acts of 9/11 in terms of nineteenth-century anarchism almost inevitably include a list of what might literally be taken as anarchism’s greatest hits, such as the following:
Beginning in the 1880s . . . the world community of nations considered anarchism to pose the greatest threat to the internal political and economic order, and to international stability. Between 1894 and 1900, anarchist assassins had killed the President of France, the Empress of Austria and the King of Italy. In Russia, anarchists would assassinate numerous government ministers. In September 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley. McKinley’s assassination came after a wave of anarchist terrorism in Europe. The political (and to some extent social and economic) consequences were similar in
many respects to those of the 9/11 attacks.9
That the concept of anarchism is so easily shorn of any analytical utility in articles such as the above cannot just be blamed on the kudzu-like effect of the terrorology paradigm. Responsibility must also be borne by those social scientists who have studied the phenomenon and who cannot seem to agree on an acceptable definition. They, in turn, might point to the difficulty of defining a phenomenon whose self-professed adherents have included William Godwin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin, Georges Sorel and Errico Malatesta, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, Emma Goldman and Sacco and Venzetti, Leo Tolstoy and Annie Besant, Alexander Berkmann and Sergei Nechaev. No wonder, then, that even normally eloquent spokesmen for the cause such as Daniel Guerin have been reduced to defining anarchism affectively as a “visceral revolt”.10 As anarchist and convicted terrorist Emile Henry put it (quite ironically, in light of the argument of this paper) on the way to the guillotine,
Beware of believing anarchy to be a dogma, a doctrine above question or debate, to be venerated by its adepts as the Koran by devout Moslems. No! the absolute freedom which we demand constantly develops our thinking and raises it toward new horizons (according to the turn of mind of various individuals), takes it out of the narrow framework of regulation and codification. We are not ‘‘believers”!11
Since no commonly-accepted definition of anarchism currently exists, perhaps the following, culled from the literature of history and political science, might suffice:
Anarchism, in the broadest sense, is an episodic discourse. In other words, it is a mode of conceptualizing the world which provides its adherents with a prescription for action and which has been consistently available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world.12 This last point, while not entirely necessary for a definition of anarchism, deserves to be underscored: the notion that anarchism is “consistently available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world” makes it possible for us to restore agency to its rightful owner. It also helps us avoid the problematic attempt to carve up the periodic eruptions of anarchism into discrete waves: Although in such a reckoning the first wave [1880–1920] might be uncontroversial and the contemporary wave [say, 1989-present] might prove arguable, the wave theory falls short when it comes to dealing with Spain during the 1930s, the overly-romanticized events of 1968 and countless other localized and/or fleeting eruptions.
To continue with our definition: Like similar discourses—racial anti-Semitism, for example—anarchism makes for itself the claim of being defensive in nature. Unlike racial anti-Semitism, however, anarchism is after a much bigger fish than society’s outcasts: Anarchism targets the very system that is, for anarchists, the wellspring of subjugation. (In this alone anarchism differs from nationalism, whose very raison d’eˆtre is the assertion of the right of a self-proclaimed “nation” to participate in the system.) That system has historically been identified with the oppression of nation-states, capitalism, or (more recently) globalization and neo-liberal economics, and the operant oppressor that is the immediate target of anarchist antipathy might be the state, the bourgeoisie, “the establishment”, or multinational corporations and the International Monetary Fund.13
This brings us to the final two parts of our definition. Anarchism has commonly been identified with the adage (attributed to Eduard Bernstein), that “the goal is nothing, the movement is all”. This is not really the case. While the goal does play second fiddle to the movement, the very structure of the world as constituted by anarchists requires them to delineate the contours of some sort of ideal “countercommunity”, either explicitly or implicitly.14 Of course, those contours, and the tactics for bringing the counter-community into being (if, indeed, it does not already exist in some inchoate, unselfconscious form), have hardly been consistent over time.
And so the final point: Anarchism differs from discourses like scientific socialism in one very fundamental way. Scientific socialism creates for itself an enclosed, “disarticulated” domain, complete with a language and worldview that is as at home in nineteenth-century Germany as it is in twentieth-century Cuba. This is not the case for anarchism. Anarchism rarely strays far from the cultural milieu in which anarchists are embedded. Thus, nineteenth-century European and New World anarchist movements drew their rationale, vocabulary, and visions for the ideal society from a variety of sources that today’s anarchists might view as “quaint”, including Christian communitarianism, Romanticism, socialism and Liberalism. As Noam Chomsky has put it,
There have been many styles of anarchist thought and action. It would be hopeless to try to encompass all of these conflicting tendencies in some general theory or ideology. And even if we proceed to extract from the history of libertarian thought a living, evolving tradition . . . it remains difficult to formulate its doctrines as specific and determinate theory of society and social change. . . . One might, however, argue rather differently: that at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to—rather than alleviate—material and cultural deficit. If so, there will be no doctrine of social change fixed for the present and future, nor even, necessarily, a specific and unchanging concept of the goals toward which social change should tend.15
In other words, for anarchism it might be said, “the particulars are nothing, the structure is all”.
Now, what does all this have to do with al-Qaeda? Let us, for the moment, set aside the task of demonstrating that al-Qaeda articulates with its immediate milieu and appears episodically. As far as the former is concerned, no one can dispute the fact that al-Qaeda’s discourse draws from and deploys symbols and tropes which al-Qaedists and their target audience share. As far as the latter is concerned, I shall discuss the episodic nature of al-Qaeda’s discourse below. In the meantime, if we shift our focus to attributes internal to al-Qaeda’s discourse, we see that it hits the same discursive marks as the anarchism of our definition:
Mark #1: anarchism makes for itself the claim of being defensive in nature: As anyone who has read al-Qaeda’s pronouncements or watched its videos can attest, the struggle the ‘‘Zionist-Crusader alliance’’ is waging against the Islamic umma—and the legality of and obligation to self-defense—plays a central role in the group’s polemics. For example, in his “Letter to Americans: Why do we Fight and Resist You?”—first released on the internet in October 2002, then re-released in videotape form in January 2006, bin Laden notes:
Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple: Because you attacked us and continue to attack us. You attacked us in Palestine . . . You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon. Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries, which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis. These governments prevent our people from establishing the Shari‘a, using violence and lies to do so. . . .16
For bin Laden and his supporters, the current worldwide conspiracy against Islam, led by the United States, is but the latest manifestation of an assault that has been ongoing since at least the time of the Reconquista. According to Ayman Zawahiri, “Shaykh Abdullah Azzam . . . constantly repeated and affirmed that the Muslims are in sin from the fall of Spain until today, because they have not performed their personal duty of freeing the lands of Islam from the infidels”.17
Of course, declaring a defensive jihad against the enemies of Islam serves as a mobilizational tool as well: As ‘Azzam argues above, an assault on the Islamic community transforms jihad from a duty that might legally be delegated to other members of the Islamic community (fard kifaya) to one that must be borne by each individual (fard ‘ayn). And neither bin Laden nor Zawahiri have been shy about touting the obligations incurred by individual Muslims as a result of this assault:
Religious scholars throughout Islamic history have agreed that jihad is an individual duty when an enemy attacks Muslim countries. This was related by the Imam ibn Qudama in ‘The Resource’, by Imam al-Kisa’i in ‘The Marvels’, by al-Qurtubi in his exegesis, and by the Sheikh of Islam when he states in his chronicles that ‘As for fighting to repel an enemy, which is the strongest way to defend freedom and religion, it is agreed that this is a duty. After faith, there is no greater duty than fighting an enemy who is corrupting religion and the world’. On this basis, and in accordance with God’s will, we pronounce to all Muslims the following judgment: To kill the American and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty incumbent upon every Muslim in all countries, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Mosque from their grip, so that their armies leave all the territory of Islam, defeated, broken, and unable to threaten any Muslim.18
But there is a danger in reading too much into the utilitarian function of defensive jihad; polemical pieces are, after all, polemical pieces, specifically designed as calls to action. Furthermore, it would not serve any good purpose to discount either the coherence and inner logic of the discursive field in which defensive jihad is situated or the historical antecedents and discursive tropes from which bin Laden and Zawahiri have chosen to draw. Defensive jihad, in other words, is an integral part of, not just a handy derivation from, the discourse of al-Qaeda-style jihadism.
Mark #2: anarchism targets the very system that is, for anarchists, the wellspring of subjugation: In the broadest sense, al-Qaeda spokesmen rail against the international system which, they argue, is a tool of the Zionist-Crusader alliance and is rigged against Islam. The United Nations, which preserves Zionist-Crusader dominance, is a particular target of vituperation:
The West is still living according to the doctrine of racial superiority, and views other peoples with disdain from on high, believing it is above them. They are dominated by the view that other peoples are inferior, and by the shadows and residue of centuries past, when the sun didn’t set on what were called their colonies. Because their greedy armies of occupation sucked out everything beneficial to those peoples and reduced them to slavery, they are still consumed by the shadows and residue of their former power. In their view, white people are masters and darker peoples are slaves. Thus, the West institutionalized and codified as law all that would preserve the enslavement of these people. The West established the United Nations to this end. What is their veto power except glaring proof of this? It is nothing but a consecration of this oppressive, tyrannical doctrine that considers jihad in the path of God or defense of oneself and one’s homeland terrorism. . . . The Crusader International, along with the Buddhist pagans, hold the five permanent seats on the Security Council and enjoy what is called the privilege of the veto. America and Britain represent the Protestants, Russia represents the Orthodox Christians, France represents the Catholics, and China represents the Buddhists and pagans of the world.
The Islamic world, on the other hand, is represented by fifty-seven countries, makes up one fifth of the world’s population, and constitutes more than one quarter of the countries of the UN. The population in some countries in the Islamic world—in the Punjab region of Pakistan, for example—is larger than that of France or Britain. The territory in some—in the Darfur region of the Sudan, for example—is larger than that of Britain and about the same as that of France. Yet, there is no seat Al-Qaeda and available for them in the Security Council. To be sure, I’m not demanding this, but I am pointing out that this is oppressive and the reality. The UN is an organization of unbelief and whoever is satisfied by its rules is an unbeliever. It is an instrument for applying the decisions of the Zionist=Crusaders, among which are decisions to wage war against us and to divide and occupy our lands. It is a Zionist/Crusader war against the Muslims.19
It was thus the Great Powers that created the United Nations and have dominated it ever since, just as it was the United Nations that created the State of Israel and has shielded it ever since. But the true perfidy of the Great Powers goes back further: Even before the creation of the United Nations, the Great Powers, sanctioned by an international system they had created in the first place, ensured the enervation of the Islamic world by creating ‘‘dozens of states and mini-states’’20 in Muslim territory. ‘‘You should understand,’’ Zawahiri recently protested, ‘‘that we are a single nation, who do not recognize the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Percy Cox maps, and Durand lines.’’21
But the argument presented by al-Qaeda spokesmen goes deeper than just complaints about the balance of power within the international system. After all, if that were the sole complaint, al-Qaeda’s objections to the contemporary state system would be indistinguishable from those lodged by the Third Worldists of the midtwentieth century. Instead, as had been the case with the anarchists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is the very building block of that system—the nation-state—and the ideological glue that holds the nation-state together— nationalism—that raises al-Qaeda hackles. According to bin Laden, ‘‘Fighting should be for the sake of the one God. It should not be for championing ethnic groups or for championing the non-Islamic regimes in all Arab countries, including Iraq.’’ And then there is Louis Attiya Allah, a frequent spokesman for al-Qaeda, who wrote in the online magazine, sawt al-jihad (The Voice of Jihad),
The (Arab) nation states . . . are a Western model that the West created to allow it to build up its general colonialist plan for the Islamic East. These countries have no religious foundation, and have neither a right to exist nor a popular base. They were forced upon the Muslim peoples, and their survival is linked to the Western forces that created them. Therefore, the general aim of the jihad and the Mujahideen is to strike at the foundations and infrastructure of the Western colonialist program or at the so-called world order—or, to put it bluntly, to defeat the Crusaders in the battle that has been going on for over a century. Their defeat means, simply, the elimination of all forms of nation-states, such that all that remains is the natural existence familiar to Islam—the regional entity under the great Islamic state.
And finally, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Salim al-Shamari, writing in the same venue: “And these are the lessons we learned: The collapse of national identities. When these are opposed to the Sharia or attempt to rival it, and when they cause division among people and [provide a basis for] allegiances, then these national identities should fall and Arab nationalism first and foremost.”22
It should be recalled here that a rejection of the nation-state and nationalism does not necessarily flow from so-called Islamist discourse. Most politically-active Islamists have made their peace with the system, at least ostensibly. Indeed, the Taliban itself asserted its right to represent Afghanistan at the United Nations up through the bitter end (a right opposed by the United States, of course). Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—an organization that is usually cited as the precursor of contemporary Islamo-nationalist groups—put it this way:
Wataniyat al banin, i.e., the love for one’s country and place of residence, is a feeling hallowed both by the commands of nature and the injunctions of Islam. Bilal . . . and the Prophet himself approved of this kind of wataniyah when they expressed their tender love for their home town of Mecca.
Wataniyat al-hurriyya wa’l-’izza, i.e., the desire to work for the restoration of the honour and independence of one’s country is a feeling approved by the Qur’an . . . and by the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] . . .23
The differing approaches taken by al-Qaeda and Islamo-nationalist organizations with regard to the nation-state problem is perhaps most visible when it comes to the Palestine issue. While al-Qaeda spokesmen have articulated their support for the liberation of Palestine from the start, they have been less than enthusiastic about the strategy and goals of the largest and most powerful Islamist organization working for that end, Hamas. As a matter of fact, they treat that strategy and those goals as ‘‘permanent revolution’’ Trotskyites of a previous generation treated ‘‘socialism in one country’’ Stalinists. Even though Hamas has, to date, refused to recognize Israel, sign on to a two state solution, or repudiate its strategic commitment to jihad or its commitment to establishing an Islamic state in all of Palestine, it has reached agreement with secularists (brokered by the duplicitous Saudi regime, no less), ‘‘entered polytheistic councils,’’ based its right to rule on vox populi rather than divine commandment, privileged the bond of nationality over the sacred bond of religion and, overall, transformed a front in the struggle to liberate all Islamic lands from Spain to Bosnia to Kashmir into just another movement for national liberation. ‘‘Bush, the propagandist for democracy, has threatened Hamas,’’ Zawahiri wrote in a ‘‘friendly’’ message to his brethren,
. . . with cutting off aid if it does not recognize Israel, give up its struggle, and abide by the agreements of surrender signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In this connection, it is incumbent on me to call the attention of my Muslim brothers in Palestine to a number of things so that they understand the breadth of the American conspiracy against them:
First: Arriving at power is not an end in itself; rather, it should be viewed as a means to apply the law of God throughout the land [of Palestine]. If we were to abandon the foundation of religion—rule by Islamic law—how can we spread God’s will in the land. . . .
Second: It is incumbent on us to understand the nature and extent of the conflict. In terms of the nature of the conflict, the Israeli occupation of Palestine stands at the forefront of the Crusaders’ campaign against Islam and Muslims. In terms of extent, the conflict pits the entire Muslim community against the Crusader West.
Palestine is the cause of every Muslim. It is not possible to undertake jihad in it on a narrow secular nationalist basis which shuns sharica while respecting those secularists who would sell Palestine. Likewise, every Muslim in Palestine is a part of the Muslim community and has a responsibility to assist that community in all matters.
The secularists in the Palestinian Authority have sold Palestine and have agreed to undermine it. Recognizing those who cede their rights and accepting the legality of their actions is contrary to the way of Islam.
Measured by Islam, they are criminals. Palestine is not their possession, nor is it property to be bequeathed or abandoned. Entering into a legislative assembly alongside those who would sell Palestine and watching the sale is contrary to Islam, and the idea that the ultimate arbiter for deciding the differences between us and them is the number of votes is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Qur’an.
This means that a recognition of the legality of their power and their order would be a recognition of the treaties they signed. And this also means that if those criminals are able to win a majority of votes in any upcoming elections we must surrender to them on the question of their right to sell Palestine even though it is not the right of anyone—Palestinian or not—to give up one grain of Palestinian sand.
The nonbelievers have occupied the House of Islam and it is the individual duty of every Muslim to reclaim it. This is the danger of entering into secular assemblies on the basis of a secular constitution and on the basis of Madrid, the Oslo Accord, the Roadmap, and any other agreements of capitulation that not only contravene, but collide with shari‘a. . . .
Third: If we give up on the rule of shari‘a in the hope that we shall get back a piece of Palestine, the Crusader West will not be satisfied and will continue to wage war against us and it will not be possible for us to rule until we recognize and surrender to Israel. Why should we sell our religion for imaginary earthly rewards? We know with certainty that Palestine will not be liberated by elections—rather by jihad in the path of God.
Fourth: A number of statements have been issued indicating acceptance and respect for the agreements signed between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In other words, those who make these statements accept Madrid, the Oslo Accord, the Roadmap, and similar agreements of capitulation. This is a dangerous error which must be reversed immediately.
Someone might ask: What was gained by surrendering the rule of shari‘a? What was gained by accepting the treaties of capitulation? For eight seats on the Gaza municipal council?24
No shrinking violet, Hamas has not hesitated to return al-Qaeda’s scorn in spades. In a manner reminiscent of nineteenth- and twentieth-century leftist polemics, Hamas spokesmen have accused al-Qaeda of adventurism, calling it ‘‘destructive and isolationist’’ and warning of the threat posed by the spread of al-Qaeda-style jihadism in the occupied territories (targeting both al-Qaeda and the Palestinian born and bred Hizb al-Tahrir, whose ideology overlaps with that of al-Qaeda). And Hamas has not hesitated to go beyond verbal duels by confronting al-Qaeda-style jihadis both inside and outside the occupied territories directly. Hamas leaders, like those of Hizbullah and analogous Iraqi groups, have recognized al-Qaeda as more than an irritant or a rival for the hearts and minds of their constituencies, but rather as an adversary on the most elemental ideological level.25
Mark #3: the very structure of the world as constituted by anarchists requires them to delineate the contours of some sort of ideal ‘‘counter-community,’’ either explicitly or implicitly: Much (probably altogether too much) has been made of the call by a number of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda associated spokesmen for a re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate as the centerpiece of their vision of a counter-community. For example, according to a New York Times report filed during the Summer of 2007, ‘‘Last year, a leaked Marine intelligence report conceded that the war in Anbar was effectively lost, and that it was on course to becoming the seat of the Islamic militants’ plans to establish a new caliphate in Iraq.’’26 The problem with such stories is not that they falsely denote al-Qaeda designs; rather, the problem with such stories is that they do not accurately connote al-Qaedist aspirations. For al-Qaeda, liberation of a piece of Islamic territory from the clutches of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy and its local henchmen (whether that territory be in or coincide with the current boundaries of states such as Afghanistan, Iraq, or, most recently, Somalia) will lead to the establishment of an operational base—an ‘‘amirate’’ in al-Qaeda parlance—in which jihadists might establish a temporary ‘‘badlands administration’’ (idarat al-tawahhush, usually rendered, for some inexplicable reason, ‘‘a maintenance of savagery’’) and from which Muslims might launch their struggle to liberate the remainder of Islamic territory.27 Once that is accomplished, it will be possible to re-establish a caliphate.
Whatever caliphate the future holds in store, however, should not be mistaken for an Islamic ‘‘state’’ writ large. The caliphate under discussion is not analogous to the sort of state al-Qaeda spokesmen reproach Hamas or Hizbullah or the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt for advocating. Rather, in the al-Qaeda imagination it seems that the caliphate might be defined as a territorial expanse freed from the constraints of the nation-state system and ordered and administered according to the precepts
of Islamic law.
The use of the word ‘‘seems’’ is appropriate here because al-Qaeda spokesmen and texts have differed on exactly what it is they mean by a caliphate. At times, they define ‘‘caliphate’’ in the above terms. At other times, the term is deployed metaphorically to connote ‘‘Islamic rule that will respect the rights and honors of its citizens, fight corruption and spread justice and equality,’’ a place ‘‘in whose shade will retire every Muslim—nay, every wronged one and seeker of justice on the face of this earth.’’28 At still other times, the term ‘‘caliphate’’ has the eschatological ring of post-millennialism, as when bin Laden declared ‘‘that the entire Islamic community has set in motion the establishment of a rightly-guided caliphate which our prophet foretold in an authentic hadith; to whit: the rightly-guided caliphate will return, God willing.’’29
Whatever the case, the vagueness or even inconsistency of al-Qaeda pronouncements about the future probably has more to do with the difficulty of coming up with an entirely original program for governance-cum-disciplinary mechanism from a vantage point located within the existing nation-state system than with maintaining a purposeful tactical ambiguity. It is, in fact, this very problem with which all anarchist movements (not to mention all Islamo-nationalist movements as well, in spite efforts of apologists like Hassan al-Banna) have had to contend.
Although the al-Qaeda vision of counter-community remains ambiguous, its strategy for bringing that counter-community about is less so. Historians have regarded the violence perpetrated by nineteenth-century anarchist groups in a number of ways. Some have called it a ‘‘free-floating signifier’’ whose only meaning was what pre-existing scripts infused it with. Others have found violence to be a ‘‘symbolic-expressive performance.30 But a number of anarchist theorists have emphasized the instrumental function of violence. I am referring here to the ‘‘propaganda of the deed’’ of Errico Malatesta, Johann Most, Georges Sorel, and their devotees and imitators. For many nineteenth-century anarchists, the more outrageous the violence they perpetrated the better, for a number of reasons: Spectacular acts of violence would inflict damage on the target. They would spark reprisals and repression that would reify the boundaries dividing the counter-community from the enemy. Spectacular acts of violence would potentially spark a revolutionary upsurge or even the ever-elusive holy grail of a ‘‘general strike.’’ They would present the counter-community with its own mythogenesis and forge bonds of resistance among its members. Finally, acts of violence would challenge the target’s claim to invincibility by displaying its vulnerability. In this vein, here is how bin Laden described the deed perpetrated by the nineteen hijackers of 9/11:
They struck at the very heart of the Defense Department. They struck the American economy in its black heart. They rubbed America’s nose in the dirt and its haughtiness in the mud. The twin towers of New York collapsed, and with them there collapsed something greater and more colossal:
. They shattered the myth of American greatness.
. They shattered the myth of democracy.
. They revealed the baseness of American values.
. They shattered the myth that America was the land of the free.
. They shattered the myth of American national security.
. They shattered the myth of the CIA, praise and glory to God.
One of the most important positive effects of the attacks on New York and Washington was that they revealed the truth about the struggle between the Crusaders and Muslims, and they revealed the immense hostility the Crusaders feel toward us. The attacks demonstrated that America was really a wolf in sheep’s clothing and revealed the truth of its hideousness. The entire world awakened from its sleep, and Muslims awoke to the importance of the doctrine that God alone defined their friendships and enmities. Thus was the spirit of brotherhood amongst Muslims strengthened, which might be considered a huge step toward the unification of Muslims under the oneness of God and toward the establishment of the rightly guided caliphate, should God will it.31
Substitute ‘‘bourgeoisie,’’ ‘‘proletariat’’ and ‘‘socialism,’’ for ‘‘Crusader,’’ ‘‘Muslim’’ and ‘‘rightly guided caliphate’’ and you pretty much have Sorel.
If we return to our main point, then, it appears that the jihadism represented by al-Qaeda does hit the same three marks as anarchism. Like anarchism, the jihadism of al-Qaeda makes for itself the claim of being defensive in nature. Like anarchism, the jihadism of al-Qaeda targets the very system that is, for it, the wellspring of subjugation. And, as with anarchism, the very structure of the world as constituted by the jihadism of al-Qaeda requires its adherents to delineate the contours of some sort of ideal ‘‘counter-community,’’ either explicitly or implicitly. But even though the jihadism of al-Qaeda may hit the same three marks as anarchism, there still are, admittedly, grounds for treating this particular historical analogy with caution. First of all, whether or not one is convinced that jihadism as represented by al-Qaeda hits the same three marks as anarchism matters only if one accepts my definition of anarchism in the first place. And this is not the end of our problems. While it might seem easy to compare the discourse of jihadism as espoused by al-Qaeda and its ilk with that of anarchism, see how we stand and call it a day, such a comparison presumes that the discourse of al-Qaeda is coherent and consistent. We cannot take such coherence and consistency for granted. As far as the former is concerned, Olivier Roy (who just might know) and John Gray (who probably does not), have written that the term ‘‘al-Qaeda’’ no longer refers to a distinct entity but has become ‘‘a brand name ready for franchise.’’32 Dr. Zawahiri’s ‘‘brotherly’’ admonitions to former gangbanger Abu Musab al-Zarqawi seem to demonstrate how far local franchisees might stray from the original vision of al-Qaeda’s founders.33
Even were we to attempt to get around this problem by restricting our sampling to the inner core of founders—say, to bin Laden and Zawahiri (as we have, for the most part, done)—we would find that the two draw from different sets of referents: Bin Laden’s point of reference has been the animosity he feels toward the Saudi regime; Zawahiri’s point of reference is the internecine Islamist squabbles he experienced in Cairo. And while we are on the subject of cherry-picking ‘‘authentic’’ spokesmen, it should be added that limiting our sample to some ‘‘real’’ or ‘‘original’’ inner circle involves the privileging of one group of ‘‘al-Qaedists’’ over other adherents and groups who have appropriated the same name—a choice that may be defensible, but a choice nonetheless. As if we did not have problems enough, bin Laden himself has complicated matters even further by denying the existence of an entity called ‘‘al-Qaeda,’’ claiming—with some plausibility—that the term merely referred to what a bunch of guys hanging out in the Afghan badlands called each other before Westerners endowed it with substance:
So the situation is not how the West portrays it, that there is a specific organization called [such as Al Qaeda]. [Al-Qaeda] is a very old name, created without input from us. Brother Abu ‘Ubaida al-Banshiri, may God have mercy on him, had created a military base to train young men to fight the tyrannical, oppressive, atheistic, terroristic Soviet Union. We called this place ‘the base’ [al-qa‘ida] because it was a training base. Then this name caught on. But we are not separated from the rest of the Islamic community—we are the issue of the community and an inseparable part of it.34
Then there is the problem of consistency: One need only compare bin Laden’s original declaration of war against the Americans, written in August 1996, with his rambling videotaped message of June 2007 to see how far a little historicization and contextualization can go.35 In the former, bin Laden calls for jihad against America to redress grievances about which only Saudi nationals could possibly care; in the latter, he takes a kitchen-sink approach, calling for jihad against America because of the genocide committed against the original inhabitants of North America, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, corporate control of America, America’s contribution to global warming and the need for campaign finance reform, among other offenses.
In sum, while the problems of coherence and consistency may not prove to be insurmountable, their presence deserves to be acknowledged nonetheless.
On a totally different level, analysts of al-Qaeda-style jihadism face another problem as well: Assuming that al-Qaeda-style jihadism falls into the category of anarchism, and assuming that anarchism is a structurally distinct episodic discourse ‘‘available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world,’’ it might be asked what is it that has sparked this particular anarchist episode? In other words, why now? Once again, I entered the lists on this one early:
The recent reappearance of anarchist movements (al-Qaeda is just one among many) is directly related to the purported transformation of the international system that coincided with the end of the Cold War—a transformation that goes under the rubric of ‘‘globalization’’. . . . For many, globalization represents the homogenization of cultures, the influence of distant, unelected corporate technocracies and international financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization), and an expanding commercialization and commodification of culture at the expense of ‘‘authentic’’ indigenous cultures. For many, globalization is little more than a fig leaf for American imperialism. This rejection of ‘‘American globalization’’ certainly exists in the Middle East, but it also exists in places as diverse as Latin America (hence, the recent resurgence of ‘‘neo-populism’’ in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and other places in the region) and Europe (it was not, after all, an ‘‘Islamo-fascist’’ who burned down a McDonald’s in France). On the broadest level, the United States has become the principal target of anger because of what it represents: the foremost military, economic, and, arguably, cultural power in the world today (and by cultural power I am referring to America’s ability to impose its cultural standards and icons—from Mickey Mouse to Michael Jordan—worldwide). Other places that have recently experienced jihadist outrages, such as England and Spain, have been targeted because of their willingness to participate in a New (American) World Order. . . .36
And once again, I was not alone in linking al-Qaeda and globalization.37 Who, after all, can blame those of us who jumped on this bandwagon? Have not eruptions of anarchism historically coincided with revolutionary transformations or disruptions in the international economic and=or state systems—at least as historians gauge those transformations and disruptions after the fact? Did such a transformation/disruption not take place in the aftermath of the global economic crisis of the 1970s and the collapse
of the Soviet Union, out of which conjuncture the discourse of globalization emerged? Does the fact that al-Qaeda’s discourse is anti-systemic not tell us all we need to know about what triggered its formation in the first place? Have bin Laden and Zawahari themselves not railed against the American/Western attempts to impose ‘‘secularism, moral dissolution, military capitulation, political affiliation [and] economic looting,’’ on the Islamic world in order ‘‘to turn the Muslim nation into a humiliated, obedient, and defenseless herd?’’38 And did al-Qaeda not attack the very symbols of American economic and military hegemony—the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—on 11 September (‘‘As for the World Trade Center, the ones who were attacked and who died in it were part of a financial power. . . . It wasn’t a children’s school!’’)?39 Absolutely. Nevertheless, this time I would like to amend what I had written earlier.
There is a linkage between globalization and al-Qaeda-style jihadism, but it is not causal, whatever I may have said or implied in my earlier writings and whatever the even more extravagant claims that have been made by others.40 Such claims ignore the human factor. They also are instrumentalist and reductionist—sins of the first order among historians. Furthermore, the very assumption that the question ‘‘Why now?’’ has an answer is itself problematic for two reasons. First, it assumes that systemic values as articulated by the system’s beneficiaries are hegemonic and that opposition to the system is both exceptional and pathological.41 More particularly, since anarchism both articulates with its immediate environment and is consistently available to political actors in the modern world, chances are that someone would have articulated an Islamic anarchism sooner or later, globalization or no globalization. Someone very well may have done so before this current eruption—although, if such were the case, no one seems to have noticed. After all, no one has achieved the sort of notoriety bin Laden, Zawahiri, and at least nineteen others have achieved.
Rather than attributing al-Qaeda-style jihadism to globalization, then, it might be more appropriate to set our sights a little lower: It is not that globalization spawned al-Qaeda-style jihadism; instead, it is the resonance al-Qaeda’s actions have had among (predominantly) Muslim populations that might be attributed to the effects of what falls under the rubric of globalization.42 Lexuses and olive trees aside, the world connoted by the term globalization is, for most members of what is innocently called ‘‘our global village,’’ a malevolent world, to put it mildly. By its actions, al-Qaeda speaks to those alienated not only from the current global economic and state systems, but from non-anarchist alternatives to amending those systems as well. In so doing, al-Qaeda has been able to carve out a niche for itself and for its brand of jihadism in an already crowded public sphere.