In an unprecedented effort to rally popular support, al Qaeda is apparently trying to refashion its image from an ultra-conservative, radical Islamist group with clear and precise goals – the ultimate being to implement sharia law around the globe – to what the liberal West has long had a soft spot for: a romanticized revolutionary movement of the “Ché” variety, fighting to overthrow oppression and exploitation (which, as the usual story goes, are products of U.S. greed and aggression).
Speaking to the many “underprivileged” of the world in his most recent interview, al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri declares: “That’s why I want blacks in America, people of color, American Indians, Hispanics, and all the weak and oppressed in North and South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world, to know that when we wage jihad in Allah’s path, we aren’t waging jihad to lift oppression from Muslims only; we are waging jihad to lift oppression from all mankind, because Allah has ordered us never to accept oppression, whatever it may be….This is why I want every oppressed one on the face of the earth to know that our victory over America and the Crusading West – with Allah’s permission – is a victory for them, because they shall be freed from the most powerful tyrannical force in the history of mankind.”
American blacks, however, are Zawahiri’s primary targets. For a traditional Arab Sunni who despises everything borne of the West, Zawahiri spends an inordinate amount of time praising and quoting Malcolm X – who, though a convert to Islam, was still very much a byproduct of the U.S.
Zawahiri’s interview even portrays video-clips of the political activist preaching about freedom and fighting: “Anytime you beg another man to set you free, you will never be free. Freedom is something you have to do for yourself. The price of freedom is death.”
Also included is a lengthy excerpt where Malcolm X delineates the differences between “house-negroes” (an epithet Zawahiri later applies to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) and “field-negroes” (“real men” who fight and kill to avenge their honor). Based on this unexpected “African-American” interlude, it is clear whom Zawahiri has in mind for an audience: probably characters like D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad, who went on a shooting spree randomly murdering Americans shortly after 9/11.
Commenting on the U.S.’s many crimes against nature, Zawahiri next tries to evoke the sentiments of a radically different segment of the world’s population: environmentalists. Unlike the former groups, they are generally white and affluent. “[The U.S.] went out and ruined for the entire world, the atmosphere and climate with the gases emitted by its factories,” says Zawahiri.
Indeed, years ago Osama bin Laden himself used this tactic when complaining about America’s failure to sign the Kyoto protocols: “You [the U.S.] have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history.” (As if al Qaeda, which has little regard for life or limb, could truly care about the environment.)
At any rate, what does this ostensibly disparate group of people – third worlders, environmentalists, and disaffected American blacks – have in common? They all harbor “leftist” sentiments that can be easily exploited and turned against the U.S., which is precisely what al Qaeda is trying to do.
What of Zawahiri’s talk of “lifting oppression from all mankind” and al Qaeda’s desire to “free” humanity from “the most powerful tyrannical force in the history of mankind”? Is he serious? Actually, yes, he is.
The seeming contradiction stems from the Western notion of “freedom” and “oppression” and radical Islam’s different view of those two terms. For radicals in al Qaeda, the dichotomy between “freedom” and “oppression” is wholly founded on whether sharia law is made supreme in the world; that is, whether every single man, woman, and child – both Muslim and non-Muslim – lives under the mandates of Islamic law. If they do, they are considered “free”; if not, as the case is today, the mass of humanity is considered to be “oppressed.”
Osama bin Laden himself makes this clear in one of his more arcane documents written for Muslim eyes only: “Muslims and especially the learned amongst them, should spread sharia law to the world – that and nothing else. Not [secular] laws under the ‘umbrella of justice, morality, and rights’ as understood by the masses. No, the sharia of Islam is the foundation.…For practically everything valued by the immoral West is condemned under sharia law…. As for [the concept of] oppression, the only oppression is to forsake them [Americans] in their infidelities, and not launch a jihad against them till they submit to the faith – as the Prophet did with them.”