Bin Laden’s Tinsel Offer
Osama bin Laden is apparently certain that the vast majority of Americans, including their policy-makers, are ignorant of al-Qaeda’s goals and strategies. His recent “extended truce” offer to the Americans suggests as much: after offering the truce, he qualifies its earnestness by asserting “for we [Muslims] are a Nation whom Allah has forbidden from breaking pacts and lying.” And this is definitely true — the Koran and Tradition of the Prophet clearly censure acts of perfidy and deception.
However, there are various doctrines and exceptions — also grounded in the Koran and Tradition — that assert that lying and pact-breaking, if done for a “just cause,” such as empowering Islam or preserving one’s life, are permitted. Such is the doctrine of Taqiyyah, which is well established in Muslim tradition (e.g., Koran 3:28). According to this doctrine, Believers may in certain circumstances openly deceive infidels by feigning friendship or goodwill — even a show of apostasy — so long as their heart is secure in its faith.
Also, there are several traditions of the Prophet that justify oath-breaking. For instance, “Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad] said, ‘He who takes an oath but eventually finds a better way should do that which is better and break his oath'” [Sahih Muslim 15: 4057].
Even so, it would be unrealistic to assert that the majority of Muslims, assimilated in the world-body, either engage in — or possibly even know about — these somewhat obscure sayings. But ever-pious al Qaeda both knows and endorses these doctrines of deception, as evidenced by their writings.
For instance, bin Laden’s right-hand man, Aymin al-Zawahri, himself the target of a U.S. attack in northern Pakistan just last week, quoting prominent Muslim scholars and imams throughout the ages, writes: “We grin to the faces of some peoples, though our hearts curse them….Protection is not accomplished with deeds but with the tongue [i.e., dissembling]…. [D]emonstrate friendship to the infidels with your tongues, while harboring hostility towards them….The Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him, said, ‘War is deceit.’…. Now deception in warfare requires that the mujahid bide his time and wait for an opportunity against his enemy, while avoiding confrontation at all possible costs. For triumph, in almost every case, is [achieved] through deception.”
Al Qaeda’s ultimate world vision is to see Islam and Islamic Law made supreme the world over, as is commanded — “Fight those from the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, until they pay tribute with willing submission, and feel themselves utterly subdued” [9:29]. The purpose of the peace treaty, then, is to give al Qaeda and their supporters the required time and leverage to mount an effective offensive. It is not a gesture of good will or hope for reconciliation, since that is impossible for al Qaeda until the whole world is governed by Islam, with those who choose to remain unbelievers “paying tribute with willing submission, and feeling themselves utterly subdued.” In the meantime, and since Islamic hegemony is ostensibly a long way from coming, deception in order to realize their “pious” goals is perfectly acceptable. After all, a pact with an infidel is no pact at all.
The truce offer is also revealing on another level. While al Qaeda endorses deception and perfidy vis-à-vis infidels, they are also aware that going along with infidels and agreeing with them is a dangerous road and one to be treaded cautiously. Writing in a context where he warns against getting too close to infidels Zawahri states: “Only when you are in their [infidels’] power, fearing for yourselves, are you to demonstrate friendship for them with your tongues, while harboring enmity towards them. Should a Muslim, then, encounter circumstances that expose him to death or severe injury, let him utter some words [i.e., “lie”] to stay the infidels’ onslaught. But he must not undertake any initiative to support them, commit sin, or enable them through any deed or killing or fighting against Muslims.”
Based on this final excerpt, and assuming that they heed their own advice, it becomes clear that al-Qaeda today is in a position where they are in the “infidels’ powers,” rightfully fearing “death” and “severe injury.” Thus in many ways this last message from bin Laden, delivered in a rather faint and weary sounding voice, far from evincing confidence and a magnanimous willingness to condescend to peace — for the U.S.’s sake — is really only indicative that the US and its allies are, in fact, closing in on al-Qaeda.