Dismantling Al Qaeda Through Dialogue?


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


12 comments on “Dismantling Al Qaeda Through Dialogue?

  1. Paul Norheim says:

    what is the equivalent of the Quran for the neocons? Hobbes? Clausewitz? Strauss?
    I would assume that the often nasty realities – the actual outcome of their
    positions – are the best texts we could confront them with for “corrective studies”.
    Perhaps the “liberal interventionists” are easier to argue with – beyond results in
    the real world? I`m thinking of discussions of moral principles, in combination with
    historical perspectives and results.


  2. David says:

    “We must remember that the most important weapon in the fight against terrorism might in fact be a Quran, rather than a predator drone.”
    Against the brand of terrorism America acknowledges, yes, and a very important point. The next question, a point to which others have alluded, is How do we counter terrorism like that which was visited upon Iraq, terrorism dubbed “shock and awe”? And who can offer effective counters to such criminal misuse of our military?


  3. ... says:

    reverse religiousity….


  4. Paul Norheim says:

    “Posted by …, Nov 16 2009, 12:08PM – Link
    try dialogue with the neo cons too while yer at it”
    Using the Torah and the New Testament as weapons against neocon ideology and tea party
    GOP`s sounds like something worth trying.


  5. ... says:

    oa – definitely americans are terrorists… their is no way around this as they have been busy funding wars on others continents with all sorts of cheap excuses for quite some time…. our local retard in power – stephen harper wants to make us the same…


  6. Outraged American says:

    This begs the question of who is a terrorist- American taxpayers
    who fund this endless, bloody quest for “Al Qaeda”?
    A friend of mine died in the 9/11 attacks and in return, and I
    doubt he’d approve, we’ve killed more than a million innocent
    people, most of whom were Muslim, although a sizable % were
    Christian, mostly US soldiers in the latter case.
    Is this wild goose chase for this mythical being called “Al Qaeda”
    worth it for the average American? NO. We have very obviously
    created more “terrorists” by killing innocents than Al Qaeda
    could possibly recruit without our help and we’ve also
    bankrupted our country.
    This is all some tragic joke. Not for me yet, I’m deciding what to
    have for dinner, but for millions of people around the world and
    again I doubt that my friend who died in the 9/11 attacks would
    want the people asleep in Iran or Pakistan right now to die in his


  7. Andrew Lebovich says:

    Silver Slipper-
    Thank you for the comments. It is entirely possible that duress and the potential for an early release in part motivated the jailed leaders’ negotiations with the government, at least in part. That said, the code is far more reaching than anything that the government would require, as it goes beyond renouncing violence against Gadhafi and extends to the realm of jihad. And more importantly, unless the LIFG leaders renounce the document en masse at some point, it will continue to have legitimacy among Muslim populations, and fits with a broader trend of Islamist leaders publicly moving away from Al Qaeda.
    Benotman is an important part of that; consider that he was not under duress from the Libyan government when he confronted bin Laden and Zawahiri or when he publicly broke with al Qaeda. So this should not be dismissed out of hand, despite the involvement of the Libyan state at such high levels.
    Andrew Lebovich


  8. ... says:

    try dialogue with the neo cons too while yer at it… and good luck with that!!! another idea would be to put both these groups in the same room to work it out…. leave the rest of us out of it!!!
    quote from article “We must remember that the most important weapon in the fight against terrorism might in fact be a Quran, rather than a predator drone.”
    that would imply someone actually reading the thing and not walking away with another dumb fuck literal interpretation of a spiritual document… not likely to happen with those who can’t get past the surface of things….


  9. football shirt says:

    arabist – thats a pretty unfair dismissal of these efforts. This is exactly what the Arab and Muslim world needs – clear, upfront and unequivocal condemnation against the mass murder of innocent people. To add to that, they need to have their ideology dismantled like this and clear, rules of engagement provided as a couter argument to the mass murdering ideology of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.


  10. silver slipper says:

    Thanks Mr. Lebovich for this article. It’s good to know of the efforts made by these Muslim leaders to decrease terrorism. This article says that “jailed LIFG leaders” have released new guidelines. I hope that doesn’t mean they are writing these new guidelines in duress. Would the fact they are writing these guidelines from jail cause other LIFG members to not trust that these are genuine beliefs of the jailed leaders?


  11. samuelburke says:

    Philip Giraldi, contributing editor at The American Conservative magazine and columnist for Antiwar.com, discusses the collusion of Congress, AIPAC and the media in agitating for war with Iran, how the media’s repetition of a single false premise shapes public opinion toward war, a proposal for an “X Street” lobby that advocates for U.S. national interests and why the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy need curtailing.
    Philip Giraldi is a former CIA and DIA counter-terrorism officer, member of the American Conservative Defense Alliance and contributing editor at The American Conservative magazine. His “Smoke and Mirrors” column is a regular feature on Antiwar.com.


  12. arabist says:

    The CNN piece was pure propaganda for the Lybian regime, full of
    huff-and-puff exaggeration. So the LIGF has carried a recantation,
    as many other imprisoned groups in the region have. But for the
    last few years they’ve been fighting in Iraq – which they still see as
    legitimate. The reconciliation is with Qadhafi’s regime, not with


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