For those who haven’t seen it yet, CNN’s Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank had an excellent piece air this weekend, detailing efforts by former Libyan terrorist leaders working with the Libyan government to convince jailed militants to renounce violence and al Qaeda for good.
The two-part video segment, the fruit of two years of research and reporting, follows the ongoing work by Saif al Islam al Gadhafi, the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, as well as Noman Benotman, a former senior commander in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), to change the way jihad is practiced and turn Muslims away from terrorism. These efforts resulted in jailed LIFG leaders releasing new guidelines for waging jihad this past September; the weighty religious commentary, called “Corrective Studies,” eschews terrorism and expressly forbids the killing of civilians.
Benotman is fascinating, a man who fought the communist Najibullah government in Afghanistan and came to know Osama bin Laden, before confronting the al Qaeda leader over terrorist bombings in 2000 and publicly criticizing al Qaeda in 2007. He also braved security restrictions in order to speak at the New America Foundation Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative’s conference last month on the civilian dimensions of counterterrorism.
And as Cruickshank and Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative Co-Director Peter Bergen pointed out in The New Republic last year, the efforts of Muslim leaders like Benotman and religious scholars such as the Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Ouda are crucial in convincing terrorists to abandon their struggle as well as stanching the flow of recruits to al Qaeda. These men and others like them have enormous credibility, from their time as militants or from the influence of their religious scholarship. As such, they can frame anti-terrorist arguments in a way that uniquely resonates throughout the Muslim world, whether in a Libyan jail cell or a London mosque.
When discussing those who had turned against al Qaeda, Bergen and Cruickshank write that:
Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States…but their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer. If this is a war of ideas, it is their ideas, not the West’s, that matter. The U.S. government neither has the credibility nor the Islamic knowledge to effectively debate Al Qaeda leaders, but the clerics and militants who turned against them do.
We must remember that the most important weapon in the fight against terrorism might in fact be a Quran, rather than a predator drone.
— Andrew Lebovich