Monday, July 25, 2005

Philosophical Roots of Al-Qaeda's Ideology

Just catching up, but this post, citing Andrew Wheatcroft’s Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam, traces the roots of Al-Qaeda's ideology to the 19th century and concludes:
The political philosophy behind al Qaeda’s movement has been developing for more than a century. Indeed, to a non-expert outside observer, it looks as though al Qaeda’s articulated radicalism is the only political philosophy that seriously competes for legitimacy in much of the Muslim world. Communism – which once contended for legitimacy in many Muslim countries -- is dead, and “moderate Islam” does not seem to excite sufficient passion to motivate most Muslims to risk their lives to turn in the radicals in their midst. Western concepts of “popular sovereignty,” which are worth fighting for, are not well-known and are only being articulated at all in a few corners of the Muslim world. Indeed, most Muslim governments are based not on any defendable political philosophy, but on rank authoritarianism or the divine right of kings. In the absence of competition, a coherent and superficially spiritual political philosophy can gain a lot of traction, almost no matter how horrible its consequences. That political philosophy in turn will inspire groups that are only loosely affiliated with the founding political movement. This is why al Qaeda, which means "the base," and its affiliates have been able to sustain wars in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, the Balkans, Spain, England and the United States, and used many other countries (Germany and the Netherlands, for example) as staging areas. Al Qaeda will not go away if America withdraws from Iraq, and it would not go away if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories. It can, in the end, only be beaten by Muslims who are willing to take a stand and risk their lives in defense of an inspiring alternative political philosophy.
Can the West help moderate Islam (such as by spreading democracy) or will none of it matter unless an Islamic Luther comes to the fore?

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