The United States government recently released a select few letters from a trove of Al-Qaeda documents recovered from Osama Bin Laden’s final hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Leaving aside the obvious fact that the release of 17 documents out of thousands is nothing short of war propaganda–and ignoring the absolute vacuous nature of the political punditry that passes as “terrorism expertise” in this country–there was one gem buried in the Bin Laden letters that has gone unnoticed thus far.
In a 2010 letter from Bin Laden to “Shaykh Mahmud” (SOCOM-2012-0000015), Al-Qaeda’s leader mentions the case of Faisal Shahzad, an American Muslim of Pakistani origin who unsuccessfully attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. It is Bin Laden’s views towards Shahzad’s actions that reveal something quite noteworthy.
After the failed Times Square bombing, the cottage industry of Very Serious Terrorism Experts began warning the American people of the looming threat of “homegrown terrorism.” A CNN article entitled Analysis: The spread of U.S. homegrown terrorism declared:
Nearly a decade ago, a group of Saudis and other men from the Middle East came to the United States to carry out the worst terrorist attack on the U.S.
Not a single one had American citizenship.
Almost nine years after the September 11 attacks, the threat of another major terror strike is still a concern, but where the threat is coming from has changed.
A growing number of American citizens and longtime residents of the United States are becoming radicalized enough by al Qaeda’s extremist ideology to kill their fellow Americans, counterterrorism officials say.
It is difficult to call this “analysis” as the title implies. Rather, this is another case of the media operating as the government’s stenographer. The CNN article itself quotes the Homeland Security Secretary:
“In the 9/11 world and in the immediate aftermath, the theory was and the reality was that a terrorist attack, if it were to occur again on U.S. soil, would be someone coming from abroad and coming in to the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “That paradigm has changed, and there are now individuals in the United States, some who have grown up here and are American citizens. … They haven’t done anything to violate the law, but yet they have become radicalized to the point of violent extremism and to the point of … considering coming back to the homeland and conducting an attack of some sort.”
As Stephen Colbert put it in his 2006 speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (via Glenn Greenwald):
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home.
In this case, the government wanted to spread the idea that homegrown Islamic terrorism is the new threat, and that Al-Qaeda was now actively recruiting American citizens. In fact, this claim was nothing new. As early as 2007, President Barack Obama had ominously warned of Al-Qaeda recruiting in U.S. jails:
I will address the problem in our prisons, where the most disaffected and disconnected Americans are being explicitly targeted for conversion by al Qaeda and its ideological allies
Following the failed Times Square bombing in 2010, by 2011 this issue had become such a grave issue that the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security held Congressional hearings “on radicalization in the U.S. Muslim community” to assess the threat of homegrown terrorism.
The idea, that Americans need to fear their fellow Muslim compatriots, is very troubling from a sociological point of view. Throughout American history, various minorities–such as Jews, Catholics, and Japanese–have been portrayed in the fifth column role. Indeed, Islamophobes of the worst order have made a living selling books warning of the “stealth jihad” being waged by American Muslims right here in the United States.
We are told by these anti-Muslim conspiracy nuts that Islam itself permits “holy lying” (a dubious translation of the word taqiyya). To bolster this claim, they reproduce an isolated text from a corpus attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, in which he says “war is deceit.”
I have addressed this issue numerous times in the past. For example, when Major Nidal Hasan used his military clearance to kill U.S. soldiers, I wrote an article explaining why this was in fact strictly forbidden (haram) from an Islamic law point of view. American Muslims must obey U.S. laws, and certainly are not permitted to harm the state or its people.
This is because the Quran–and Islam in general–affirms the importance of “covenants”, i.e. peace treaties, Visa and citizenship agreements, etc. The Quran declares emphatically:
And fulfill every covenant. Verily, you will be held accountable with regard to the covenants. (Quran, 17:34)
As I noted in my earlier article, “[t]he Quran does say that if the believers are being oppressed in some land, then the Muslims should come to their assistance. But it forbids fighting against those with whom a covenant exists.”
In the case of American Muslims, they cannot aid their fellow Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere–at least not militarily or in any way that would constitute treason against the United States. Of this, the Quran states:
If [your coreligionists] ask for your aid in religion, then you must help them, except against people with whom you have covenants with. (Quran, 8:72)
Nonetheless, right-wingers have worked Americans into a frenzy by fear-mongering about how American Muslims supposedly want to overthrow the democratic government of the United States and replace it with a “Sharia state.” This, however, would constitute an act of treachery and treason, which is clearly proscribed in Islam.
American Muslims must constantly remind their fellow citizens of this fact, routinely reaffirming their loyalty to the country. But, Islamophobes insist that this is just a watered down or sugar coated version of Islam, which American Muslims just try selling to Western audiences while behind the scenes they plot the downfall of the government. To them, the Times Square would-be bomber wasn’t hijacking (or rather, carjacking) Islam, but rather, he was faithfully carrying out the commandments of Allah.
However, what the Bin Laden papers reveal is that even Osama Bin Laden–the nefarious leader of the world’s most feared Islamic extremist group–admitted that such homegrown terrorism is not proper, at least from a theological point of view. In the 2010 letter I referenced above, Bin Laden writes to “Shaykh Mahmud” (emphasis is mine):
Perhaps you monitored the trial of brother Faysal Shahzad. In it he was asked about the oath that he took when he got American citizenship. And he responded by saying that he lied. You should know that it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant. Perhaps the brother was not aware of this. Please ask the brothers in Taliban Pakistan to explain this point to their members. In one of the pictures, brother Faysal Shahzad was with commander Mahsud; please find out if Mahsud knows that getting the American citizenship requires talking an oath to not harm America. This is a very important matter because we do not want al-Mujahidin to be accused of breaking a covenant.
So, here we have even the poster boy of Islamic terrorism saying that Faisal Shahzad violated Islamic law by taking American citizenship and then harming America. Islamophobes would be quick to dismiss these words by OBL as taqiyya (“holy lying”), but remember: these were words contained not in a public Al-Qaeda statement but in a private letter between Bin Laden and his associate. This letter was not intended for an outside audience, and was only released by the United States government.
How then could it be a case of taqiyya? Unless Osama Bin Laden wrote the letter in 2010 knowing that two years later the United States would raid his compound in Pakistan and then release his letter. Those wily Islamic terrorists!
Of course, Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are anything but consistent. Despite Bin Laden disavowing Faisal Shahzad’s actions–and recognizing the Islamic principle that prohibits such “homegrown terrorism”–Al-Qaeda’s spokesman Adam Gadahn approved of Major Nidal Hasan’s actions and called on American Muslims to to attack the United States. One could probably find similar inconsistencies in Bin Laden’s own words. (In fact, most of Al-Qaeda’s bread-and-butter acts of terrorism are forbidden in Islam just based on the issue of covenants and the prohibition of being treacherous–even leaving aside the more important issue of non-combatant immunity.)
It’s also true that this doesn’t mean that homegrown terrorism isn’t a major problem. (Other articles of mine point out that homegrown terrorism is highly exaggerated.) But, the point is that even Al-Qaeda’s head honcho, Osama Bin Laden himself, admitted that Islam prohibits homegrown terrorism, even while his group encouraged it. He conceded that Islamic law forbids breaking a covenant, treaty, or trust–that it proscribes treason and treachery. This reinforces what is well-known to real experts of Islam, which is that A-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorists aren’t following Islam at all, despite what the Islamophobes continue to claim.
* * * * *