Bin Laden & The Debate Inside Islam


osama-bin-laden-seated.jpgNoman Benotman, a former top tier member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and a mujahadeen who fought along with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, has helped broker “reconciliation” between members of his former group and the Libyan government.
Benotman’s strategy has been to intellectually challenge the Islamic narrative bin Laden and his fellow travelers push. And there is some evidence Benotman and others who concur with his approach have been effective.
Recently, I visited Libya as a guest of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation and met Benotman, and a number of the Islamic clerics who were working to bring about not only reconciliation between Gaddafi’s government and jailed Islamists but who were trying to export to other countries in the region an alternative reading of key Islamic principles that they feel bin Laden, al Zawahiri and others are manipulating.
I found this interview that Noman Benotman did with Rania Karam of Al Shorfa to be a good illustration of the tensions inside Islamic doctrine — and something those of us outside this debate should try harder to understand.
Here is a clip:

Al-Shorfa: Would that be the response of those who divide the world into two “camps”, according to the bin Laden’s classification?
Benotman: Even when we talk about the “Abode of Islam” and the “Abode of Disbelief” – as per the traditional Islamic concept – there is still ambiguity about these concepts.
The “Abode of Islam”, according to the traditional meaning, is the abode where the legitimate Islamic Caliphate exists, governed by an Islamic political authority. This abode does not exist today. For the Abode of War to exist, it needs an Islamic Abode [in the political sense]. There is another Islamic definition [for Islamic abode] but that refers to a group of people who share a common faith, and they need not be organised into a political entity.
Let them designate where the Abode of Islam is, and I hope they don’t say it’s the caves of Afghanistan. Where is the Abode of Islam in terms of political authority, so that we can say that there is a corresponding Abode of War? There are 55 Islamic countries, so are there 55 Caliphates and 55 Caliphs? Is this conceivable?
Al-Shorfa: So, was bin Laden wrong?
Benotman: I would like to have a discussion with him on the subject of the camp that I am concerned with, which is the camp of Islam. I want him to delineate it for me, as Ibn al-Qayyim did. He must delineate it with precision. Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia part of that camp? Is Algeria part of it? Are Libya, Morocco and Egypt also within that camp? Let him draw the borders of the camp of Islam.
Al-Shorfa: Perhaps he meant that the camp includes the regions under the control of people he considers as “Mujahideens” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other countries.
Benotman: Let him designate where it is. Is the camp of Islam Qandahar? Or Helmand in Afghanistan? Or Diyala Province in Iraq? Is this categorisation a valid one so we can say that this or that region is part of the Islamic camp?
I would like the one who came up with the issue of camps to specify where they are, because their answer would show the weakness of their theory. The slogan they promote about the existence of two camps is nothing but a political slogan meant to mobilise people and is not based on real concepts and knowledge.

— Steve Clemons


11 comments on “Bin Laden & The Debate Inside Islam

  1. daCascadian says:

    Josh M> “…Sam Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations…”
    Why is it that no one in the West that mentions this work
    discusses the fact that he puts forward the suggestion that one
    of the likely possibilities is that the Taoist “civilization” (China,
    which has, BTW, an equally non-Western perspective as does
    the Islamic one) will work to play the Judeo-Christian
    “civilization” and the Islamic one off against each other for their
    (Taoist) benefit ?
    Until this possibility is considered and recognized as important
    as any other the Western “civilization” is going to continue to be
    played like a fiddle as it has been.
    Time to pay attention to all of the possibilities.
    “…it’s the end of the world as we know it…” – REM
    [once again your captcha has no clue as to what it displays so
    FIX IT ! – 3rd attempt]


  2. nadine says:

    “Benotman’s strategy has been to intellectually challenge the Islamic narrative bin Laden and his fellow travelers push. And there is some evidence Benotman and others who concur with his approach have been effective. ” (Steve Clemons)
    Why, that almost sounds like bin Laden is a member of a major theological school of Islam, which Benotman is countering with other, more moderate, Islamic arguments — with both sides drawing support from quoting the Koran and the Hadith.
    But wait a minute. Haven’t we been told over and over and Islam is a “religion of peace” that Osama bin Laden and a small fringe band of extremists have “hijacked”?
    How could this be, if they both have a well worked out theology supported by Islamic scripture? How could that be, if they have lots of followers who get “swept” into jihad?
    Either it’s the first case, or it’s the second. Thank you, Steve, for breaking it to the Left that the first case is the better fit. Islam is not a religion of peace unless you chose to interpret it that way — and if you don’t, you have lots of Koranic support to chose from.
    We can’t help the moderate side win the argument. They have to argue for themselves. But we can help the radical side lose the argument by making it lose in the field, since they routinely promise that Allah will reward their violence with victory.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Digital watch and bulk Ameri-merc jackets. The only thing we didn’t buy him was the head scarf.
    Nietzsche would probably sum up his existence as boogeyman best of anyone, we propagated OBL’s influence.


  4. Mats says:

    Years ago when Khadaffi was in the midst of his move to reconcile with the west, I was in Mali. As Khadaffi was in the news shaking western hands, the locals told me he was supplying weapons to the muslim rebels in the north-east of the country.
    This makes it very hard to believe that a movement against extremism would come from that corner.
    Of course it could be that Khadaffi sees himself and not BinLaden as leader of his own version of muslim/arab nationalism.


  5. Josh M. says:

    Part of the reason this type of approach is
    effective is because it recognizes that the notion
    of “political Islam” as an exclusive branch and
    approach to Islam is an artificial one. That is,
    Islam is viewed as a way of life — a sort of
    universal that explains the full spectrum of
    universe-related phenomena.
    The West has tried create a War on Terror that
    seeks to undermine violence, but has done little
    to actually penetrate the way-of-life-perspective
    had by Muslims in the countries where Muslims have
    grievances against the U.S.
    Sam Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, in my
    opinion at least, had far more to say about
    Western relations with Islamic countries than
    liberal-progressives in the U.S. would like to
    admit. The fact is that Western countries and
    Islamic ones really do have entirely different
    life-perspectives at the atomic level of the
    state, which is the individual. In consequence,
    our broad public diplomacy initiatives and the
    like as meant to penetrate the “fundamentalist”
    group of Islamists really does nothing and can’t.
    Trying to negotiate with Bin Laden’s cohorts in
    terms of “reason” as mediated by Western concepts
    and largely non-Islamic (or not directly Islamic)
    ideology is really bound to fail. It is not as if
    this is a new challenge though — ever tried to
    communicate to a person that speaks a different
    The reality is that the Islamic community has
    always known best how to handle “radical” Islam.
    I’m not trying to purport that Islam is a
    monolithic ideological doctrine — but amongst the
    more radical followers that cling to it, they’re
    system is rather consistent. Islamic
    fundamentalists are not “irrational” so to speak –
    – talk to a Palestinian that is considering
    joining Hamas, and you find a rational calculation
    that is simply based on a different set of values
    than most Westerners can understand (excluding, of
    course, Robert Pape’s thesis that suicide
    terrorism is a byproduct of having one’s property
    occupied — just recall our reaction to Pearl
    Harbor, 9/11, etc…)
    Behavioral economics is on the cutting-edge of
    finally understanding what post-colonial theorists
    have been trying to express to Western leaders for
    decades — people are entirely rational, but
    according to their own values and perceived
    Hopefully, the Obama administration understands
    that the War on Terror can’t be won by the West
    alone, or at least not mostly (or even barely)
    with Western standards and values. The war against
    Islamic radicalism can only be won through Islamic
    language and logic and a form of rapprochement
    with the West where Western leadership finally
    appeals to the “terrorists” in the terms that they
    understand. Part of that is material (class and
    property considerations), but an equally important
    part is ideological and purely Islamic in
    character and content.
    Everything else is just cannon fodder. E.g. Faisal
    Shahzad is a symptom of a much much wider problem
    — a decade after 9/11, the West still just
    doesn’t get it. Killing people around the world
    just won’t cut it, when the reality is that a
    single individual can scare the living hell out of
    the American political process and society. If the
    War on Terror was really all about physical
    security, then we’d be out of the regions in
    question — but it’s not, it’s a protection of a
    global network of material interests and capital.
    It’s the world we value and love — and it’s one
    that apparently requires aggression and violence
    in the international system to maintain.
    But violence begets violence. We can stop being
    violent and end the terrorists’ violence, but then
    we’d also likely sacrifice substantial material
    wealth (e.g. leaving the Middle East and the black
    gold industrial power-base behind).


  6. JohnH says:

    Mirrors Judaic “religious” nationalism: “The slogan they promote about the existence of two camps (“Abode of Islam” and the “Abode of Disbelief”) is nothing but a political slogan meant to mobilise people and is not based on real concepts and knowledge.” Amalek vs. Zionism put into an Islamic context. Or “you’re with us or you’re against us.”
    It all part of political leaders’ efforts to dehumanize their opponent in order to justify war and conquest, theft of land and resources, subjugation of others, etc. American exceptionalism, Zionist “chosen people,” German ubermenschen, “dar el islam” all separate US from THEM.
    IMHO we could all use a lot more “common humanity” and less of an attitude of superiority.


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Hmmm, while we are on the topic of terrorism, do your part to STOP our support of state sponsored terrorism. Cut Israel’s financial balls off…..

  8. fyi\ says:

    More apt to be more specific and state that the debate, if any, is within Sunni Islam.
    This is utterly irrelevant to Shia Mulsims.
    The terrorists targeting US, UK, and others all come from countries ostensibly friendly to US.
    No such terrorist has come from Syria or Iran.
    Strange choice of enemies and friends, don’t you think.


  9. DonS says:

    . . . and while the US narrative seems bent on demonizing ‘terrorists’ based on the aberrant Islamist views, let’s consider the attempted NYC bombing. Now allegedly attributed to a “Pakistani Taliban”, will we be treated to the ‘obvious’ links between this attempted act and the alleged perpetrators religious background?
    In a vacuum it’s much easier to make this equation with regard to Al Quada, who anti-western obsession is based on [to some] more amorphous animus against the west. But with regard to northern Pakistan righteous causation, need we look much further than, as a singular example, predator drones, predator drones, predator drones… and their physical and psychological effect on a population?


  10. Steven Clemons says:

    Larry — I agree with those running the operations generally, these
    arguments have no impact. But on followers they do. I saw this
    demonstrated in Libya — and unless you spend some time with
    some of the folks who have been swept into jihads – as happened
    against the Soviets in Afghanistan — i think you underestimate the
    theological dimensions of what motivates followers. Best, steve


  11. larry birnbaum says:

    I guess I just don’t think that these kinds of theoligical nitpickings are the actual reasons or causes of the behavior of violent Islamic jihadists (or violent religious fanatics in general). So exposing the “weakness of their theory” isn’t really going to have much impact. Their “theories” about these issues are emotional window-dressing for themselves.


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