By Amir Taheri, Iranian commentator on Middle Eastern affairs. July 10, 2005.
There is no way to reason with the terrorists, but the thinking behind
their actions is perfectly clear.
THE FIRST QUESTION that comes to mind is: what took them so long? The
answer may be that in the past four years the British authorities have
succeeded in preventing attacks on a number of occasions. David Blunkett,
who was then Home Secretary, was often mocked for suggesting that this was
It may take some time before the full identity of the attackers is established. But
the ideology that motivates them, the networks that sustain them and the
groups that finance them are all too well known.
Moments after yesterday’s attacks my telephone was buzzing with requests for
interviews with one recurring question: but what do they want?
That reminded me of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker, who was shot by
an Islamist assassin on his way to work in Amsterdam last November.
According to witnesses, Van Gogh begged for mercy and tried to reason with
his assailant. “Surely we can discuss this,” he kept saying as the shots kept
coming. “Let us talk it over.”
Van Gogh, who had angered Islamists with his documentary about the
mistreatment of women in Islam, was reacting like BBC reporters did yesterday,
assuming that the man who was killing him may have some reasonable
demands which could be discussed in a calm, democratic atmosphere.
But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want
anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger
management or round-table discussions.
Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control
of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you
dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.
The ideological soil in which alQaeda, and the many groups using its brand
name, grow was described by one of its original masterminds, the Pakistani
Abul-Ala al-Maudoodi more than 40 years ago.
It goes something like this: when God created mankind He made all their
bodily needs and movements subject to inescapable biological rules but decided
to leave their spiritual, social and political needs and movements largely subject
to their will.
Soon, however, it became clear that Man cannot run his affairs the way
God wants. So God started sending prophets to warn man and try to goad him
on to the right path. A total of 128,000 prophets were sent, including Moses
and Jesus. They all failed.
Finally, God sent Muhammad as the last of His prophets and the bearer of His
ultimate message, Islam. With the advent of Islam all previous religions were
“abrogated” (mansukh), and their followers regarded as “infidel” (kuffar). The
aim of all good Muslims, therefore, is to convert humanity to Islam, which
regulates Man’s spiritual, economic, political and social moves to the last detail.
But what if non-Muslims refuse to take the right path? Here answers diverge.
Some believe that the answer is dialogue and argument until followers of the
‘abrogated faiths’ recognise their error and agree to be saved by converting to
Islam. This is the view of most of the imams preaching in the mosques in the
But others, including Osama bin Laden, a disciple of al-Maudoodi, believe
that the Western-dominated world is too mired in corruption to hear any
argument, and must be shocked into conversion through spectacular ghazavat
(raids) of the kind we saw in New York and Washington in 2001, in Madrid last
year, and now in London.
That yesterday’s attack was intended as a ghazava was confirmed in a
statement by the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation
in Europe, an Islamist group that claimed responsibility for yesterday’s atrocity.
It said “We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid
(ghazava) in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long
period of time to ensure the success of the raid.”
Those who carry out these missions are the ghazis, the highest of all
Islamic distinctions just below that of the shahid or martyr. A ghazi who also
becomes a shahid will be doubly meritorious.
There are many Muslims who believe that the idea that all other faiths have
been “abrogated” and that the whole of mankind should be united under the
banner of Islam must be dropped as a dangerous anachronism. But to the
Islamist those Muslims who think like that are themselves regarded as lapsed,
and deserving of death.
It is, of course, possible, as many in the West love to do, to ignore the strategic
goal of the Islamists altogether and focus only on their tactical goals. These
goals are well known and include driving the “Cross-worshippers” (Christian
powers) out of the Muslim world, wiping Israel off the map of the Middle East,
and replacing the governments of all Muslim countries with truly Islamic
regimes like the one created by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and by the Taleban
How to achieve those objectives has been the subject of much debate in
Islamist circles throughout the world, including in London, since 9/11. Bin
Laden has consistently argued in favour of further ghazavat inside the West. He
firmly believes that the West is too cowardly to fight back and, if terrorised in a
big way, will do “what it must do”.
That view was strengthened last year when al-Qaeda changed the
Spanish Government with its deadly attack in Madrid. At the time bin Laden
used his “Madrid victory” to call on other European countries to distance
themselves from the United States or face similar “punishment”.
Bin Laden’s view has been challenged by his supposed No 2, Ayman
al-Zawahiri, who insists that the Islamists should first win the war inside several
vulnerable Muslim countries, notably Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and
Until yesterday it seemed that al-Zawahiri was winning the argument,
especially by heating things up in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yesterday, the bin Laden doctrine struck back in London.