The War Within Islam
Several recent articles in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Newsweek have explored the growing rifts within and between Muslim extremist factions over the use of violence against civilians in the waging of jihad. A major al Qaeda theorist and former comrade of Ayman al-Zawahiri's, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, has condemned al Qaeda's terrorism as un-Islamic. In Newsweek, Christopher Dickey and Owen Matthews write that "important Muslim thinkers, including some on whom bin Laden depended for support, have rejected his vision." This debate within the jihadist community was ongoing well before 9/11, but has become more pronounced as Arab publics have expressed revulsion at al Qaeda's brutality against civilians in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. While it is important not to overstate the ideological cleavage within al Qaeda (its Islamist critics do not question the justice of resistance in Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, or Afghanistan, only the tactics used), this is certainly a welcome phenomenon, which the United States should encourage as much as possible. These developments offer a rebuke to President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, as they demonstrate that victory against al Qaeda's ideology will not come from the barrel of an American gun but from the condemnation of fellow Muslims.
CONSERVATIVES MISREPRESENT THE EVIDENCE: In the past several weeks, several prominent conservative voices, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt, and former Bush administration officials, have conflated the revolt within jihadist groups with recent events in Iraq to falsely represent them as a vindication of the Bush administration's so-called "war on terror," and to argue for staying the course in Iraq. A May 31 Wall Street Journal editorial cited CIA Director Michael Hayden's acknowledgment of "significant setbacks for al Qaeda globally" and then claimed that "the U.S. offensives in Afghanistan and especially Iraq deserve most of the credit." On June 1, the Washington Post's editorial page, which has long supported the Iraq war, joined in, celebrating "the Iraqi upturn," praising the recent successes of the U.S. and Iraqi armies against al Qaeda in Iraq, but ignoring the fact that the stated goal of the surge -- political reconciliation -- has not been met. The focus on the drop on violence, welcome as it is, also obscures the fact that increased Iraqi security has come through the creation of numerous Sunni militias that express no loyalty to the central government. Peter Wehner, a former assistant to Bush, wrote that "the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism," and gave credit to "the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq." Wehner also claimed last March that "large drops in support for Mr bin Laden...have occurred since the Iraq war began."
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