Radical Islamist Thought
The thoughts of radical Islamists should initially be mentioned in order to better understand the ideology of Al Qaeda. First of all, radicals or in other words fundamentalists support and legalize the use of violence for political ends. Secondly, the project of radicals is a revolutionary one targeting the acquirement of power in order to set up a new Islamic order. Thirdly, they typically put much more emphasis on politics, specifically on the capture of the state. They disagree to play by the rules of regime and societies that they condemn for having turned their backs on Islam. Furthermore, they advocate that the only way for the purification of the society is the seizure of the power. In some respects, their strategy has the characteristic features of Leninist approach. It envisages the creation of a small, well-organized “vanguard” party led by committed, professional Islamist revolutionaries who will overthrow incumbent governments and then use state power to reshape society from above, along “Islamic” lines.
Finally, democracy is rejected by radicals. They do not accept the sovereignty of the people. Instead they are in favor of the sovereignty of God- hakimiyya- and reject the notion that the former supersedes over the latter. According to them, the sharia – which they consider as God’s will about how human society should be organized and how it ought to handle its affairs – must be the first over the will of majority. Moreover, the sharia law should decide what “rightful” place of women and minorities is in an Islamic society. According to democrats, this comes into the meaning of the legalization of state-sanctioned discrimination against minorities and women.
Transnational Al Qaeda
Due to the invasion of Afghanistan in 1978 by the Soviet Union, voluntary people from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey and European countries flew into the Afghanistan for jihad. One of these volunteers was Osama Bin Laden, who left from Saudi Arabia and came to Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden, was born in July 1957, the 17th of 20 sons of a Saudi construction magnate of Yemeni origin.
Most Saudis are conservative Sunni Muslims, and Bin Laden seems to have adopted militant Islamist views while studying at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There he studied Islam under Muhammad Qutb, brother of Sayyid Qutb, the key ideologue of a major Sunni Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is known that as a member of rich Saudi family, Osama Bin Laden financially and morally supported the rebellion movement in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion (1979-1989). In the mid of 1980, Laden together with the leader of Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, Abdullah al Azzam established Mekteb ül Hidamat with the aim of helping financially and militarily to the rebellions taking place in the Afghan resistance in Peshawar, Pakistan. Azzam is defined by some experts as the intellectual architect of the jihad against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and ultimately of Al Qaeda itself; he evaluated the Soviet invasion as an attempted conquest by a non-Muslim power of sacred Muslim territory as well as people.
Laden and Azzam separated from each other in 1988. It is thought that the reason of this break up would have been the desire of establishing a different organization by Bin Laden. Although the philosophical foundations of Al Qaeda organization were put forward for some time, this organization emerged during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Together with, Muhammad Atıf and Abu Ubeyde El Banshiri, Bin Laden founded the Al Qaeda in 1988. In 1989, Abdullah al Azzam and his two sons were killed in a bombed attack in Peshawar. After that, all manpower and assets of Mekteb ül Hidamat were passed to Al Qaeda.
After the end of invasion, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. In this term, he started to voice the necessity of developing different alternatives after seeing the humiliation of large Muslim groups and the failure of Muslim states in protecting their own people. He protested the use of Saudi Arabian territories by the United States for military intervention aiming to stop the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. He has adverted that the soils of Saudi Arabia are holy within the context of Islam history and use of these soils by a non-Islamic power like the United States would be an insult against Islam. His protests resulted in his deportation from this country on September 1st, 1991.
Bin Laden issued his “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Holy Mosques” from the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan on August 23, 1996. He called upon all Muslims to join the jihad. On, February 23, 1998, Al Qaeda officials, along with the Egyptian Jihad Group, Al Jihad, The Jihad Movement of Bangladesh, and the Pakistan Scholars Society, endorsed a fatwa under the heading “International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders.” The fatwa instructed Muslims to kill Americans, including civilians, wherever they can be found.
Within the context of all this process, the name Al Qaeda has been frequently used for defining this movement led by Bin Laden. As an Arabic word, “Al Qaeda” means The Base. In contrast to many other terrorist organizations, Al Qaeda does not have aims that are limited and will have been achieved in short term. As a religious support, the writings of Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, are taken as the basis.
The main aim of Al Qaeda is the purification of all Muslim countries from all non-Islamic facts and their effects at the outset that include all the formations and individuals namely the West. Al Qaeda’s one of the most significant assumptions is that the fight is a clash of civilizations. Holy war is a religious mission and essential for the liberation of one’s soul and the defense of the Muslim nation. Another assumption of Al Qaeda is that there exists only two sides and there is no middle way in this apocalyptic struggle between Islam and the forces of evil. Western and Muslim nations that disagree with Al Qaeda’s vision of true Islam are regarded as enemies.
Al Qaeda leaders further advocate that the violence is only course of action in a defensive war on behalf of Islam. The peace with the West is unlikely. Moreover, they defend the idea that since this is a just war, many of the theological and legal limitations on the use of force by Muslims are invalid. Since U.S. and Western power is primarily relied on their economies, their main goal is large-scale mass casualty attacks that concentrate on economic targets. They think that the Muslim governments which are in collaboration with the West and do not apply strict Islamic law are called as apostasies and they must be overthrown by using violence. Finally, they advert that Israel is an illegitimate nation and must be engulfed.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, assists Bin Laden in the formation of the philosophical framework of the organization and he is also responsible for the revision of the philosophy of organization according to the changing circumstances. In a January 30, 2005 audiotape, Ayman Al Zawahiri did identify the “three foundations” of Al Qaeda’s political ideology and adapted them to recent events. Zawahiri defined Al Qaeda’s core principles in sharp contrast to secular and religious reform ideologies voiced by other Muslims as well as recent United States support for democracy.
- “The Quran-Based Authority to Govern: Al Qaeda supports the creation of an Islamic state governed solely by sharia law. Secular government or “man-made” law is considered unacceptable and deemed contrary to Islamic faith.
- The Liberation of the Homelands: Reforms and free elections will not be possible for Muslims without first establishing “the freedom of the Muslim lands and their liberation from every aggressor.”
- The Liberation of the Human Being: Social relationship between Muslims and their rulers that would permit people to choose and criticize their leaders but also demand that Muslims resist and overthrow rulers who violate Islamic laws and principles”.
Based upon these assumptions, there are five principal goals of Al Qaeda.
- All U.S. and Western forces must be removed from the Arabian Peninsula, which contains Islam’s holiest sites.
- All U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands must be expelled.
- America must stop its support of nations such as Russia, India, and China that oppress Muslims.
- America must stop its support of repressive Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, and stop its support of Israel.
- An Islamic caliphate under the rule of Islamic law must be established in an area corresponding to the historic Islamic empire.
Al Qaeda is not a traditional hierarchical revolutionary movement, nor does it call for its followers to do much more than involve in terrorist violence in the name of the faith. It is a transnational movement with members and supporters throughout the Muslim world. Terrorism is used as a matter of routine by this international revolutionary movement which has two overarching goals; to link together Muslim extremist groups throughout the world into a loose Pan – Islamic Revolutionary Network and to expel non-Muslim influences from Islamic regions and countries.
Al Qaeda can also be regarded as a sui generis network in that it does not have any territory. It does not plead the aspirations of an ethno-national group. It does not have a “top-down” organizational structure. Furthermore, she does have virtually nonexistent state sponsorship, and it does promulgate political demands that are vague at best. Finally, it is completely religious in its worldview. Al Qaeda is comprised of units that are flexible, mobile and loose network of like-minded Islamic revolutionaries. The Emir- Osama Bin Laden- takes place on the top of the structure. Under him, there exists a Chief Council to Him, Ayman Al Zawahiri. After that, Consultation Council – Majlis al Shura- comes. Under this, there exist three committees namely Islamic Study Committee, Military Committee and Finance Committee. At the lowest level, there comes Cells.
Most Al Qaeda cells are small and self-sustaining and apparently get funding when set in motion for specific missions. Not all cells are sleeper cells which are identified as groups of terrorists who take up long-term residence in countries prior to attacks. Due to not known of the other cells by another section or cell that are caught or decoded, the dissolution of the organization by the security forces is unlikely.
It is estimated that Al Qaeda has 70.000 members in more than 60 countries. Therefore, every section or unit is able to make independent decisions from the standpoint of the selection of target, the timing of attack and the method of attack. Cells and larger groups have become resident in such predominantly Muslim regions and countries as Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, the southern Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, the West Bank, and Yemen.
Other cells have covertly been stationed in such Western and non-Muslim countries as Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Spain, United States, and the border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Members access with each other by using modern technologies such as faxes, the Internet, cell phones and email. Al-Qaeda has collaborated with a number of known terrorist groups worldwide including:
- Armed Islamic Group
- Salafist Group for Call and Combat and the Armed Islamic Group
- Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Egypt)
- Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya
- Jamaat Islamiyya
- The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
- Bayt al-Imam (Jordan)
- Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Kashmir)
- Hezbollah (Lebanon)
- Harakat ul Ansar/Mujahadeen
- Harakat ul Jihad
- Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
- Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the Philippines)
- Abu Sayyaf Group (Malaysia, Philippines)
- Al-Ittihad Al Islamiya – AIAI (Somalia)
- Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
- Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen)
Al-Qaeda linked attacks do include:
- May 12, 2003 car bomb attacks on three residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
- November 2002 car bomb attack and a failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli jetliner with shoulder-fired missiles, both in Mombasa, Kenya,
- October 2002 attack on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen. Several spring 2002 bombings in Pakistan,
- April 2002 explosion of a fuel tanker outside a synagogue in Tunisia,
- September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
- October 12, 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen killing 17 crew members and wounding 39.
- August 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,
- Al-Qaeda is suspected of carrying out or directing sympathetic groups to carry out the May 2003 suicide attacks on Western interests in Casablanca, Morocco; the October 12, 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia; the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and a series of incidents in Saudi Arabia against U.S. targets from 1995 to 1996.
Many people, all around the world, tend to see Muslims as potential terrorists and view Islam as if it were a religion of terror. But, Islam is a religion which orders peace, mercy to all creatures, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and love whereas condemns violence. Furthermore, killing living creatures is regarded as one of the greatest sins in Islam. Islam, like all world religions, neither backs nor requires terrorism. Logically, Islam and terror cannot be considered together.
Particularly since 1990s, some terrorist actions have been committed for the sake of Islam and terrorists are identified themselves as jihadist. One of these jihadist groups is the transnational Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda has radical Islamist views. It is in favor of establishing an Islamic state based on sharia law. It believes that the Western principle of secularism is contradictory to the Islamic belief. This organization defines the world as black and white. It completely rejects the West. Al Qaeda thinks that fighting against the West and their supporters in the Muslim world is a religious task and this is fundamental for their salvation. Al Qaeda considers that the violence is a legitimate mean in their fight against the West. It does not believe the likelihood of peaceful coexistence with the West. By being totally anti-Western, Al Qaeda believes the concept of “Clash of Civilizations”. This organization supports the violence and organizes terrorist activities in every part of the world against Western states as well as Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and so on in which Al Qaeda thinks that these states are cooperating with the West. Osama Bin Laden was killed by American Special Forces operation in Abbotabad city of Pakistan on May 2011 without giving any information to Pakistani authorities before the secret operation. Now, the leader of this transnational organization is Ayman Al Zawahiri.
The assessment that all Muslims support the thoughts of Al Qaeda is wrong and a great prejudice because not all Muslims support Al Qaeda’s ideology. Only few Muslims share the views of Al Qaeda. By organizing terrorist attacks and also by voicing radical statements, they are misinterpreting the Islam and serving to further popularize the thesis of “Clash of Civilizations” put forward by late Samuel P. Huntington. It can be concluded for Al Qaeda that since the views of transnational Al Qaeda do not represent the real Islam, they are untenable.
 Guilain Denoeux. “The Forgotten Swamp: Navigating Political Islam”, 2002, pp. 71-72.
 Hüseyin Cinoğlu, Süleyman Özeren, “ABD’nin Yeni Terörle Mücadele Konsepti: Savaş Yerine Uyumlu İşbirliği mi?” in Dünyadan Örneklerle Terörle Mücadele, (Eds.) İhsan Bal and Süleyman Özeren (Ankara: USAK Yayınları, 2010), p. 349.
 Selin Çağlayan, Müslüman Kardeşler’den Yeni Osmanlılar’a İslamcılık (Ankara: İmge Kitabevi Yayınları, Ankara, 2010), pp. 257-259.
 Mesut Hakkı Caşın, Uluslararası Terörizm, (Ankara: Nobel Yayın Dağıtım, 2008), p. 624.
 Paul L. Williams, Al Qaeda: Brotherhood of Terror ( United States of America: Alpha Books and Pearson Education Inc, 2002), pp. 13-19.
 Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues (United States of America: Sage Publications, 2010), p. 187.
 Ibid, pp. 2-3.
 Cinoğlu and Özeren, op.cit., p. 352.
 Christopher M. Blanchard, Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology. CRS Report for Congress, July 9, 2007, Accessed on 28 January 2011, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32759.pdf.
 Hugh Pope, Dining with Al Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, An Imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2010), p. 145.
 Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues, p. 290.
 Williams, op. cit., p. 6.
 George Friedman, America’s Secret War: Inside the Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies (London: Abacus, 2007), p. 36.
 Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues, pp. 290-291.
 Global Security, Al Qaida, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-qaida.htm, Accessed on 20 December 2010.