So Al-Zarqawi has released a video in which he attacks the United States and all of his other enemies. And who are they?
“Any government that will be established in Iraq today, whoever is in it, whether they are the rejecters (Shiite Muslims) or the secular Zionist Kurds or the agents who are Sunnis in name, it will be a puppet government that will owe its allegiance to the (Western) crusaders,” he said in the videotape. He likened the new government to “a poisonous dagger in the heart of the Islamic nation.”
Let’s see. He hates Shiites, Kurds, Zionists, “false” Sunnis, nonMuslims, anyone associated with the Iraqi government, and democracy. By my reckoning that includes about 99% of the world’s population and probably 80% of Muslims.
Zarqawi belongs to a tiny “purist” sect of Islam, Salafism, that is violently intolerant of insufficiently “pure” Muslims as well as nonbelievers.
Salafism emphasizes the rootlessness of faith. It despises local saints and mystical practices (like those of Sufism) and any other departures from the most rigid Sunnism. It despises Shiites. It commonly despises all other sects or practices that Salafis might consider ”bida,” or ”innovation.” Given this intense preoccupation with purity, Salafis are constantly trying to identify and expel the impure. This is called ”takfir,” often translated as ”excommunication”: an old, disused term that has found new life in Salafism, which permits, even encourages, the killing of Muslims whom Salafis have expelled through takfir. Perhaps the most ferocious embodiment of takfiri Salafism today is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Some of their attitudes are embodied in a book:
”The Creed of Abraham” is the most important single source of teachings for Jordanian Salafist jihadis. In it [the author, a man named Maqdisi] speaks of infidels and tyrants, using the expansive definitions favored by Salafis. ”Tyrants,” on my reading of the book, could include idols made from stone, the sun, the moon, trees. They could also include graves, a reference to the Sufi and Shiite practice of visiting the graves of saints and imams. And ”tyrants” could also include the laws made by men. It was the duty of the faithful to expose the infidelity of all these forms of worship and idolatry and manifest their hatred of them.
According to Maqdisi, democracy is a heretical religion and constitutes the rejection of Allah, monotheism and Islam. (He mounted a full-scale attack in his book ”Democracy Is a Religion.”) Democracy is an innovation, placing something above the word of God and ignoring the laws of Islam. It places the people (or the tyrant) above Islam, but in the Salafist view only God can make laws. Maqdisi held that the regimes that ruled Muslims were un-Islamic. Therefore, Muslims did not owe them obedience and should fight them to establish a true Islamic state.
I quote all this to lead up to a question: Why are we in danger of losing the “war of ideas” to this guy? He’s like a human version of Ebola: So exclusionary and deadly that while outbreaks are horrible, he ought to burn himself out before he spreads too far.
You can’t say it’s about Islam, because he considers most Muslims to be the enemy as well. His beliefs are so radical and unpalatable that there’s no way he could ever muster meaningful popular support, as evidenced by the fact that Salafists are a tiny, tiny sect of Sunni Islam.
Maybe it’s that most people don’t know his beliefs, and so project on to him whatever they want to see: a brave jihadi standing up to the American serpent, say. Maybe it’s that they hear the rhetoric but dismiss much of it as heat and light.
Or maybe it’s because we have made so many missteps — the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, calling the fight against terror a “Crusade”, failing to provide decent security in Iraq — that he doesn’t seem so bad by comparison. Sort of the way Hamas won the election in Palestine: Not because of their hard anti-Israel line, but because of their lack of corruption and ability to provide basic services.
Given al-Zarqawi’s extremism, we should have won the “war of ideas” long ago simply by publicizing what he actually says and believes. Hell, we should have bought him a gigantic megaphone so that everyone could hear his ideas firsthand. The fact that we think we’re in danger of losing the “war of ideas” to a schmoe like him speaks volumes about how badly we have handled things, notably by failing to match words to deeds. Say what you will about Zarqawi, but he’s demonstrated over and over again that he really means what he says. We might consider borrowing that page from his playbook.