The Al Qaeda Reader
by Raymond Ibrahim
New York: Doubleday, 2007. 352 pp. $15.95, paper.
Reviewed by Geoffrey Alderman
The Jewish Chronicle (London)
About a year ago, I discovered that I had acquired an entry in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia.Wikipedia is a controversial project. It is used by billions of inquirers who want easy-to-get-at information on every conceivable and many inconceivable subjects. But its entries are not subject to peer review. This means that literally anyone can register online and insert or modify an entry.
I don’t know who was responsible for my entry (I wasn’t, by the way). When I discovered its existence, I took the trouble to correct some factual errors and then forgot about it. But a friend has now drawn my attention to a recent addition. In a new section in my Wikipedia entry, entitled “Controversies”, somebody — using an alias — has alleged that my JC columns “often cover Islam or Muslims” and that I have “been accused of displaying a consistently hostile, if uninformed, view” of this subject-matter.
Well, of course, any Tom, Dick or Hymie might have made such an accusation, and it is true that from time to time some Muslim spokespeople have written to the JC to protest at what I have written. A piece I ran on August 3, which addressed Muslim attitudes to Jews, drew some criticism on the grounds that it reflected an irrational — or phobic — hostility to Islam. But I was careful to stress that the evidence on which I had based the column was verifiable, and came from within the Islamic world. In focusing on the negative stereotyping of Jews in Islam, I was being neither devious nor hysterical.
With that imperative in mind, I want to draw your attention to an excellent volume, published a few weeks ago by an American of Egyptian origin, Raymond Ibrahim. Mr Ibrahim, who now works at the Library of Congress, is fluent in Arabic. He has translated The Al Qaeda Reader (Broadway Books), a compendium of key texts originating with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.
It is a commonplace refrain — and a cornerstone of the propaganda spun by Islamists and their media friends — that the al Qaeda attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001 were merely a retaliation for various so-called “crimes” committed by America and its allies against the Muslim world, including unconditional support for Israel; the consequent persecution of Palestinian Arabs; the deaths of innocent Iraqis as a result of UN sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein; and the support offered by the West to corrupt “un-Islamic” governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere. Specifically, the 9/11 attacks were explained by Mr bin Laden as retaliation for the destruction of Lebanese tower blocks (and their inhabitants) by Israel in 1982.
In other words, the West has brought the vengeance of al Qaeda upon itself by its evil acts against the Muslim world.
But the documents translated in The Al Qaeda Reader tell a quite different story. It is Mr Ibrahim‘s contention that while the language of retaliation is used freely by al Qaeda in its propaganda aimed at the West, this propaganda masks its true intentions. When al Qaeda addresses Islamic audiences, its arguments are entirely different, and are couched in the language of an intolerant religious fanaticism. For instance, when, after 9/11, a group of Saudis wrote an open letter to the USA declaring that “justice, kindness and charity” were at the very heart of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, Mr bin Laden berated them: “As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels… Enmity shall forever reign between us, till you believe in Allah alone… And this fierce hostility [will cease]… only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam.”
Indeed, Mr bin Laden is on record as virtually excusing Western hostility to Islam because — in his own words — it is actually the “offensive jihad” of Islam that has provoked this hostility in the first place.
Mr Ibrahim also translates an essay by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born surgeon who is often described as Mr bin Laden’s principal lieutenant. The essay addresses the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims: “Muslims must always be loyal to other Muslims. Love and friendship for [non-Muslims] contradicts faith.” Apparently quoting the Koran, Mr al-Zawahiri declares: “Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other. Whoever among you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them” — that is, an infidel.
Of course, these views do not reflect the totality of Islamic thought on infidels, Jews and the West. But they appear to mirror an important part of that thinking, enthusiastically embraced by Muslims the world over.