Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Man and His Message : The Influential Recruiter

"If you look for Awlaki on YouTube, you get about 67,500 results. The vast majority are from his life's work. What makes him so effective -- apart from being a charismatic speaker -- is that his work goes from early stuff, like 53 CDs on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, to a call for jihad when he puts on a camo jacket and has a Yemeni dagger in his belt."
"He's telling Muslims it's their obligation to attack the United States. And no matter how nice your non-Muslim neighbours seem to be, they are the enemy. It's an extremely pernicious message."
Scott Shane, New York Times reporter, author, Objective Troy
Anwar al-Awlaki on Oct. 14, 2001, when he was an imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va. Credit Linda Spillers for The New York Times

This is a man whose writing and example has inspired and motivated Islamists around the Globe. His death through a Predator drone strike authorized by President Barack Obama represented the first time the United States assassinated an American citizen. But these are not ordinary times, although jihad itself is very ordinary in the sense that the 'pernicious message' that author Scott Shane mentions has always represented the ultimate responsibility of the faithful to Islam.

Jihad is what Muslims are enjoined to engage in, through various passages in the Koran, itering and reiterating a pious Muslim's obligation to view non-Muslims as a beacon call to action on their part. The 'unbelievers' must be made aware of their status, and given three options; to surrender to Islam and pledge allegiance to Allah, or given the opportunity to live under Islamic rule, but taxed for the privilege; alternately they can choose death to release them from an unworthy life.

The call to jihad is universal among the Islamic ummah, the community of believers whom Allah loves, to dedicate themselves to advancing Islam's interests by swelling the ranks of the faithful. To do otherwise is to abandon that basic element of the faith that is required of everyone. It seems that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen of Yemenite descent, came from a family that enjoyed being American citizens, and who felt committed to the United States.

In his early years as a cleric, al-Awlaki too supported the  United States; as late as 2001 in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, on the Pentagon in Washington, and the planned passenger plane missile that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, this man as a faithful American and a Muslim, deplored the atrocities. But it seems that something transpired to convince him that his adopted country was in the process of mounting an existential war against his beloved religion.

That realization was whetted by events following 9/11, when a public backlash against Muslims manifested itself in the wake of 9/11, and in the declaration of war against al-Qaeda. His growing antipathy toward the United States reached full status on the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq. And he became a firebrand cleric who declared, in turn, war on the West, but particularly on the United States. From Yemen he issued announcements denouncing the U.S. and urging his followers to declare themselves wedded to jihad.

Mr. Shane, in his new book on Anwar al-Awlaki reveals that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was suspicious of al-Awlaki's associations and began investigating him. They discovered no links to al-Qaeda or terrorism, but did discover that the rigidly puritan cleric, married and with three children, frequented a house of ill repute. He was warned by the proprietor of an escort agency that the FBI had been enquiring about his secret sex life, and he was both infuriated and fearful that word would go the rounds of his sanctimonious hypocrisy.

This was when he left the United States to return to Yemen, and when he began his orchestration of jihadi recruitment messages. His incendiary messages, the respect in which he was held as a scholar and a cleric through his historical and religious publications marked him as a dangerous element in the 'war on terror', which Muslims increasingly identified as a 'war on Islam', and coined the word with all its inherent connotations that labelled suspicions of Islam as 'Islamophobia'.

The irony is that as an American Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki had considerable political and social influence in the United States. He was considered a valued intermediary to the body politic as a loyal American with deep roots in the Islamic community, someone who could help the administration convince American Muslims that any conflict that existed resulted from violence and terrorism committed by Muslims who 'misunderstand' what jihad means.

He, on the other hand, knew very well what jihad means, and it has no interpretation of any value other than as a call to arms to defend Islam from the base assaults of non-believers, and to promote belief in Islam as the only true world religion to which all others must prostrate themselves.

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