*Qazi Hussain Ahmad, leader of Pakistan’s fundamentalist Jama`at-i Islami, has warned that after Iraq, the US intends to take over Pakistan. This allegation is ridiculous, of course, but it will be widely believed. Qazi Hussain’s fundamentalist coalition now rules the Northwest Frontier Province, and has 20% of the seats in the national Parliament. He has advocated kicking US troops and FBI agents out of Pakistan and stopping the manhunt for al-Qaeda there. (Last I knew, of the estimated 1000 al-Qaeda fugitives in Pakistan, who fled there from Afghanistan, about half had been arrested and the bulk of those turned over to the US.) The fundamentalists in Pakistan have already had rallies against the looming Iraq war, and these will grow as the war breaks out. The elected Pakistani government probably has enough legitimacy to weather these protests, but it is hard to see how they will not interfere in the war on terror. Will Pakistani police in the Northwest Frontier really be so eager to cooperate with the FBI if they think the Americans are genocidal, or are coming after Pakistan next? The Bush administration has, apart from anything else, badly timed this Iraq campaign. The effort against al-Qaeda has been left half accomplished, and an Iraq war could cost us the cooperation of key publics like that of Pakistan.
*The new Bin Laden speech is translated at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2751019.stm
The first thing to say is that Bin Laden has gotten his history wrong. The Koran sides with the Byzantines, not with the Persians. It predicted victory for Heraclius over the Sasanians in Koran 30:1. Early Arab Muslim attacks on what is now Jordan, Syria and Egypt took place before or contemporaneously with the conquest of the Persian Sasanians and Iran-held Mesopotamia. This mistake is important because it shows that Bin Laden projects a Muslim-Christian struggle into early Islamic history and assumes that the Muslims took actions that benefited other easterners, i.e. the Iranian Zoroastrians. In fact, the Koran says that Christians are closest in love to Muslims. And, far from helping the Persians, the Muslims overthrew the Sasanian empire immediately, whereas they co-existed with the Byzantines for centuries (often being at war with them, it is true).
I suppose it is hopeless to try to correct this, but Koran 5:50/51, which says that Muslims should not take Jews and Christians as their wali (pl. awliya’), does *not* mean they should not have Jewish or Christian friends or allies. Muhammad and his followers had plenty of both at one time or another. Wali here is an ancient Arabian technical term meaning “patron.” Whether a Muslim should have relations of clientelage with Jews and Christians depended on the circumstances, but it did open him to social pressure that might be undesirable. At-Tabari gives evidence that this verse is a complaint about the alliance of Abdu’llah b. Ubayy with some Jewish patrons that had become increasingly uncomfortable with Muhammad’s leadership of Medina. When another Muslim came to Muhammad after the verse was revealed and said he was ready to give up his ties of clientelage to Jews, Muhammad said that he was referring to Abdu’llah b. Ubayy and he could keep his. At the very least, at-Tabari begins by noting that there is controversy about the meaning and universal applicability of the verse. Unfortunately Bin Laden does not care about things like scholarly Koran commentary, he just wants to find excuses to kill people.
If I were Saddam Hussein, I would not give weapons of mass destruction (or any weapons at all) to someone who spoke about me the way Bin Laden did: “Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden.” I think Bin Laden has made it clear what should be done to infidel regimes. I fear in his use of this tape to tie Iraq to al-Qaeda, Secretary Powell has hit the low point of his public career.
The non-utopian element in al-Qaeda strategic thinking is also demonstrated by Bin Laden’s choice of governments to be overthrown: “The most qualified regions for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the land of the two holy mosques [Saudi Arabia], and Yemen.” It is interesting that he seems to have given up on Algeria (at last) for the moment. Well, maybe Morocco is a utopian choice, though the Islamists did better than expected in the recent elections there. Northern Nigeria could easily emerge as a successor to the Taliban as the most fundamentalist Muslim polity in the world. The other places he mentions have had substantial Islamist popular political movements or have a social base for such movements were they to be allowed by the rulers. They also have fragile regimes open to overthrow by military-populist coups by Islamist officers (something al-Zawahiri’s group, al-Jihad al-Islami, is particularly aware of because of their infiltration of the military academies in the late 70s).