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mamoun fandy

There was no program of assimilation within these countries to integrate these people and make them into citizens. They always stayed on the margin of things. What is Salafism?

The word salafi means the past, the previous generations, if you will. So Salafis are those people who believe in the teachings of Islam based on the dictates of the previous generation. And by the previous generations, they mean the generations of the followers of the prophet who came after him, in the eighth century. So that's the literal translation of it; that those who subscribe to the notion of Salafism are those who are unhappy with the interpretation of Islam today, and they want to go to the origins of Islam and what was intended to be in the time of the prophet and his companions.

And the role that the seventh-century caliphate plays in Salafism -- can you explain?

The main idea is that the world is divided into two places, and it occurs in even the speeches of bin Laden today. It is made of the world of Islam and the world of war, that of Islam or that of the house of Islam and the house of war.

So those within Islam are the ones within the world of peace, and the rest is in the world of war. So the caliphate means that all Muslims throughout the world are under one leader, the caliph -- or the khalifa, in Arabic -- who is the commander of the faithful. They refer to him as the commander of the faithful, whose word would go forth and influence the views of Muslims of the world around.

So Salafism and the caliphate is all bundled up in a vision of the world of Islam or the house of Islam versus the house of war, Muslims against foreigners and so on, with the idea of the propagation of the faith, because they think that Islam is for everybody, for all humanity. Therefore everybody has to be within the world of Islam, and those outside it are in the world of war.

And within Salafism, there are different streams, different approaches, different ways of attaining their goal? Can you talk a bit about that?

There are those who are status quo Salafists. These are people who are considered the ulama, or the men of religion, who support an existing political order, like Saudi Arabia, for example. These are people who are Salafis, but they are not revolutionary Salafis. They are not subscribed to the notion that the world outside the house of Islam is the house of war. These are people who are status quo Salafists. They take a very specific interpretation of Islam that supports the establishment.

photo of fandy

Dr. Mamoun Fandy is a senior fellow at the Baker Institute and a specialist on Middle East politics, as well as a professor of Arab politics at the Near-East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. In this interview, he discusses the Salafist ideology and its more radical roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and teachings of Sayyid Qutb. Fandy explains how these extreme movements have become more mainstream over time. "If you look at Al Qaeda today in the Arab and Muslim world, it has moved from an extreme to mainstream," he says. "Most young people think being affiliated with Al Qaeda is cool. It is something to be proud of. They're wearing T-shirts with pictures of Osama on it." This interview was conducted on Oct. 18, 2004.

There are the revolutionary Salafists, which is the world of bin Laden and [Ayman al-]Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood and so on and so forth. These are the people who believe that all the world should be brought under the control of the Muslims as well as the teachings of Islam.

So when European academics refer to Salafist jihadists, they're referring to the revolutionaries?


What is generally the revolutionaries' or jihadists' ideology of Salafism?

The Salafist jihadist -- the word jihad is, again, a contested word in the world of Islam, and this is where the difference [lies] between the status quo Salafists and Salafist jihadist. The status quo Salafists consider that jihad is an internal struggle for the betterment of the individual and making him a good citizen. For the jihadist, jihad means war, a holy war against non-Muslims.

So these are two divergent currents within the interpretation of Islam, whether jihad is for an internal struggle within the individual versus a struggle against the nonbelievers. And bin Laden, the Muslim Brotherhood and so many of these groups subscribe to the revolutionary, activist jihadist that's jihad as a form of holy war against non-Muslims.

What they would like to achieve, their vision, the end result, what would it be?

The utopian vision is the whole world turned into a Muslim world, that every person in this world should be a Muslim because that's the way for salvation for everybody. That's their ultimate goal.

The intermediate call is to bring Muslim nations all under one leadership, under a caliphate, and setting it up in motion in a confrontation with the world of the heathens, the world of unbelievers, the world of the West, if you will.

Are we talking theocracies? Is the idea of creating a theocracy under shari'a? Is that the idea?

The basic underpinnings of their view is that there is a Muslim imam, a head of the Islamic state, in the same way that we saw it in the case of Khomeini in Iran or the way we see the Taliban state or the Sudanese state, also another Islamic state. Their view is that there is that guiding supreme guide or supreme authority on Earth that's the caliph, and then under that, there is the army of Muslims; there is the world of Islam that's in confrontation with the world of non-Muslims.

Their basic issue of a model of governance is the application of the literal interpretations of the Quran and the shari'a in terms of how people should conduct their lives. And certainly the Shi'a sect of Islam in Iran tried to apply that and have an Islamic state in Iran, and certainly applied elements of shari'a, namely restrictions on women's movements, the cutting off of hands of thieves, the cutting off of heads of people who murder others publicly, and so on. The application of ... the basic punishment codes of Islam -- that's how they see a Muslim state should look like.

Are there any parallels between that vision and say, European fascism of the 1920s and '30s and their worldview, the Italians going to bring back the Roman Empire? Is there a parallel there?

Very much so. Actually, many people who look now today to engage in a dialogue with what's called the Islamist or the moderate Islamist misread the whole situation and think of these people as sort of centrist in many ways. But in fact, most of these movements, if you put them on the scale of European politics, before the wars -- I mean the interwar period -- you realize that you're looking at the equivalent of the Nazis and the fascists and so on. These are the forces that we are dealing with today.

Tell me about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Well, the Muslim Brotherhood started in Ismalia in Egypt, on the coast of the Suez Canal in 1928, under the leadership of a man named Hassan al-Banna. And it was originally designed to fight the British, who were occupying Egypt in that time, and also make Egypt into an Islamic state during that time.

It continued to flourish throughout the country, became a very strong organization until the '50s, when [Gamal abd al-]Nasser's coup took place in Egypt, or Nasser's revolution in 1952. At first they were supportive of the ousting of the king of Egypt, King Faruq, and supported Nasser. But later on, they wanted to assassinate Nasser in Alexandria in 1956, and this is when Nasser rounded them up, and the movement moved from a political movement to a more underground movement with a secret organization. They call them the Green Shirts, young men who are very much like the forces of bin Laden today, who are carrying weapons and attempted assassinations against various prime ministers of Egypt and so on, until one branch, one offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, managed to kill President [Anwar al-]Sadat in 1981.

And the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood to understand the roots of Al Qaeda -- can you explicate that?

Well, the Muslim Brotherhood is the mother of all these movements, ideologically. The whole Salafist jihadist and the activation of the views of the world of the house of Islam and the house of war are the ideas that emerged from the writings and the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially with the teachings of not Hassan al-Banna himself but one of his followers, [Sayyid Qutb], who was executed by Nasser after that because he wanted to overthrow Nasser's government violently.

So the basic teachings of the world for [Qutb] as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, we live in a world of jahiliyya, the world of ignorance, and we have to be brought into the world of Islam and the world of light. So everybody else outside the realm of the Muslim Brotherhood lives in jahiliyya, lives in a world of ignorance, and they have to be taught the right teachings of Islam.

They had many choices in terms of how to deal with the world of jahiliyya, or the world of ignorance. Some of them suggested that they have to follow the model of the prophet by actually emigrating and leaving that world of jahiliyya and consolidate their power and then come back as conquerors of that world. And this is where the germs of the very idea of Takfir started; that is, to first state that the society that we live in is a society of ignorance and of hedonism and of lack of godliness in it, and therefore it has to be abandoned. And as you consolidate your power, you come back and conquer it and make these people into pure Muslims again.

So the germs of many of these organizations we are dealing with, you can see the ideological strands coming from the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood, the beginning that the world is one of jahiliyya, a world of ignorance that has to be changed and has to be changed by force, not changed by basically a da'wa, or a call; it had to be changed by the power of the gun.

A variety of groups took that to extremes, whether it is [Shukri] Mustafa of Takfir wal-Hijra or [Ayman al-Zawahiri] of the [Egyptian Islamic] Jihad movement, who later on became the number two in Al Qaeda; and the GIA [Armed Islamic Group] in Algeria, as well as ... the Front Islamique du Salut, or the Islamic Salvation Front. All of these movements are branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. ... Hamas itself in the Palestinian Territories, most of its teachings came from the Muslim Brotherhood. [Sheikh Ahmed] Yassin, the head of Hamas, was a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestinian Territories. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan --

It is really sort of the Muslim "Internationale," if you will, and this is sort of the mother of all movements and the most extended movement throughout the world. I mean, if there is an organization with global reach, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. It exists in every corner in the Arab world, in the rest of the Muslim world, in Europe, in Canada, in the United States, all over the place.

And Qutb has been described as like the Marx or Lenin of the Muslim Brotherhood. Tell me a little bit more about who he was and how he came to his views.

Well, Sayyid Qutb is from a regional governorate of Egypt called Assyout in middle Egypt. And he started out as a student of literature. He was a literary critic and a writer, and he worked in the Ministry of Education of Egypt until 1951, when the ministry sent him to the United States to come and study the curricula of school teachings in the United States. He came to the United States and came to Washington, D.C., and went to Boston and to New York, and then ended up staying most of his time at a mining town in Colorado, where he encountered fundamentalist Christians, who are basically looking for the pure life again.

His main comments came as a sort of a response to cultural shock when he came to the United States. His main writings after that became really commentary on the world of the West, the decadence of the West.

The first book he wrote was Islam and Capitalism, [about] the confrontation between the world of Islam and the capitalist world, because this is the world of justice against the world of injustice and the world of social reform against the world of social decadence and promiscuity and everything. He saw America as the land of corruption, of decadent sexuality, and he imagined that this world is going to expand and is going to influence the lives of Muslims, and they have to confront it early on.

Most of his teachings, whether it was Islam and Capitalism, Social Justice [in Islam], or another book that was a landmark for most of the Islamic movements that followed was called Signposts [more commonly known as Milestones] or Ma'alim fi'l Tariq [in Arabic] -- signpost teachings for Muslims, how to follow the road of Sayyid Qutb in terms of pushing or expanding the world of Islam to protect Muslims against the infectious, the decadent, the bad values of the West.

So Sayyid was visible and stylistically was a great writer, very convincing to a world that has at the time probably 70 percent of illiteracy. We're talking very few literate people, very few who traveled in the West, and in that sense, he managed to influence tremendously public opinion throughout the Arab world in particular.

There's a story -- I don't know if it's true -- that when he was in Colorado, he had gone to a church meeting, one of these fundamentalist church meetings, and people [were] dancing to a song called "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

That's correct. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- that's the title of one of his chapters in his book that came out later on called My Days in America. And that song was very central, that it is cold outside, and played on the division of the inside versus outside, the cold world of the West against the warm and good world of Islam; that it's very cold out there, and that world is not for Muslims.

Does his writing indicate he was somewhat horrified by these church meetings, these fundamentalists he met in Colorado?

He was very ambivalent about them. He was horrified as well as intrigued, and he had the view that the church is alive and well in the West, while the mosque in Islam is not as powerful and it's not a support of social life the way it is in the West. But he also saw the threat against Islam coming from these other religions.

You mentioned Takfir in passing. Talk a bit about its origins. Talk a bit about, again, its importance today and where it came from.

The idea of Takfir comes [from Takfir wal-Hijra]; Takfir meaning to render somebody a kafir, or to pass a judgment on somebody's behavior or [what is thought] to be the thinking and the behavior of the infidels. So Takfir is to claim that the society has strayed away from the teachings of Islam, and therefore you pronounce as a kafir society or as an infidel society. That's the word Takfir.

Hijra means flight or emigration or leaving, so if you have an infidel society, in their judgment you have to leave it ... to really gather your forces and strengthen yourself to come back as a conqueror, to come back to change that society. And the origin of this is the world of jahiliyya, or the world of ignorance in the teachings of Sayyid Qutb.

And its impact on the Al Qaeda movement, how would you characterize it?

It is very central to Al Qaeda movement. First of all, you have to see [that] it's physical hijra that happened when bin Laden and Zawahiri left the Arab world, and it was a hijra, or a flight or an emigration, to the land of Taliban, the land of the Caliph Omar, of the Taliban. And [Mullah Omar] of Taliban for them was representing the caliph. Taliban was the eminence or the emirate of the Muslims, so for them to leave the Arab world and go to Afghanistan is a literal interpretation of the Takfir wal-Hijra; that they had pronounced their own societies to be the societies of infidels, and therefore they had to leave it, and they leave it to [go to] a place where they feel safe and work hard and build a mini-Islamic state, in the case of Taliban, with the idea of coming back to undermine the Saudi government, the Egyptian government, the Algerian government and so on, and turn the Arab world into a Muslim society.

So it is very central to the thinking of bin Laden and the jihadists and Al Qaeda in terms of whether it was Ayman al-Zawahiri -- Ayman al-Zawahiri is directly linked to Sayyid Qutb, most of his writings and teachings and so on, and some family connections bring him to the world of Sayyid Qutb.

So Takfir wal-Hijra is very central to the teachings of bin Laden. Takfir wal-Hijra emerged as a movement in the '70s in Egypt, under the leadership of a man named Shukri Mustafa. And at the beginning, they conducted an operation to take over the Military Academy of Egypt with the idea of collecting all the weapons and try to kill the president of Egypt. The plot failed, but the ideas continued.

And its views, or Takfirs' approach to violence or the use of violence as a means, can you describe how they view violence?

For Takfir wal-Hijra is first of all pronouncing a society or an individual as kafir, meaning that you have to apply Islamic justice on that individual. And it happened in the case of even ordinary people, writers like [Farag Foda] in Egypt, who challenged their interpretations of Islam. They managed to kill him.

So for them, the first element of Takfir is to use violence to silence these voices that are propagating the ideas of the West or the ideas of the infidel, whether they are individuals or governments. So violence is justified as part of what they consider the application of Islamic justice against these individuals.

[Kafir's] meaning practically is to smear somebody completely and make them look and appear un-Muslim in their own societies, and therefore the killing looks legitimate or appears legitimate in the eyes of those who don't know much about Islam. So their basic idea is to create a huge propaganda to make either an individual or a society, paint it as kafir or as infidel, and therefore whatever form of violence they will conduct against them will be seen as part and parcel of Islamic justice.

And are Takfir viewed as the most extreme element within the Salafist jihadist movement, or are they more mainstream?

All these movements, we can see the progression of them. They start out as extreme. The Muslim Brotherhood started out as an extreme movement, but gradually, today, we're looking at it in Egypt and other places as mainstream. The same happened with Sayyid Qutb. At first he was seen as an extreme voice within the Muslim Brotherhood, and later on, Sayyid Qutb's idea of jahiliyya and others seemed to dominate the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the '70s, the Takfir wal-Hijra came out also as an extreme of the extreme, but gradually by the '80s, as we reach the assassination of President Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981, the ideas of Takfir wal-Hijra looked mainstream within these Salafist jihadist movements.

Al Qaeda, Sept. 11, it appeared as an extreme of extremes. If you look at Al Qaeda today in the Arab and Muslim world, it has moved from an extreme to mainstream. Most young people think being affiliated with Al Qaeda is cool. It is something to be proud of. They're wearing T-shirts with pictures of Osama on it. And they are not just in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia, but also you can see that in the Latin Quarter in France, near the mosque there. You see young kids in the La Cite just outside Paris wearing the T-shirts of Osama, [and] I'm sure in Canada and other places.

So you have, in a sense, by the historical drive and the force of language and media and so on, these movements move from extreme to mainstream.

In Europe and in North Africa you're seeing the term Takfir used quite a lot now.


What does that mean? Does it mean that the ideology has taken root in Europe, in the Muslim communities, and in North Africa?

Well, it is. Even sometimes amongst not very active Muslims that, let's say, if you interpret the teachings of Islam differently, all of a sudden, there are people who would pronounce you as kafir or as outside the bounds of Islam, and therefore some form of vigilante justice has to be taken against you.

So in terms of the spread of the word Takfir, there are many authors and writers who are considered kafir or infidels, like Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, an Egyptian professor of Arabic literature who was providing different kind of interpretations of the Hadith and the Quran. Then there was a fatwa issued on his head, and he was separated from his wife, and he had to flee Egypt and go to Holland. There are many Muslim authors and writers who are being terrorized and intimidated by Takfir, whether it is in the Muslim world proper, if you will, or in the Arab world, but also in Western capitals, whether they are in New Jersey or in Paris or they are in North African cities as well.

The idea is spreading like an amazing virus throughout Muslim communities, and it's taking hold actually more so amongst the Muslim communities outside the Arab world than it is inside the Arab world.

The Arabs know the language of the Quran. They can tell the difference between what's real and what's fake. But amongst Pakistani Muslims or Indonesian Muslims, who do not have access to the original language of the Quran, they believe anything. And in that sense, especially also Westerners, [someone] like [John] Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, these are people who are the easy prey of the Takfiri movement.

The Madrid bombing, afterwards, the former head of the Al Qaeda cell in Spain, Abu Dahdah [alias for Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas], gave an interview with a Spanish newspaper in which he felt the people who carried out the Madrid bombing were perhaps Takfir. Did that make sense to you from you what know of them?

It does in the broader sense, that these are people who subscribe to the idea of Takfir, that killing Spaniards is not a problem because they are kafirs; they are part of the world of Takfir. They are part of the world of infidels; therefore, killing them or pillaging their properties and things like that, it's considered not a sin. It's part of your duty in terms of doing the active jihad against those who are trying to oppress the Muslims.

And so in that sense, I can see it to be -- suicide bombings and many of the activities we see, we see it because the notion of Takfir is seen to be taking root in the minds of the -- I call it the software of Takfir, and it's running in the heads of the Muslim young throughout. And that software was uploaded in the minds of the young throughout the '70s and kept being choreographed and written and rewritten with various versions in Europe and in North Africa and even in the United States to convince people that they are alien in these societies.

Now in Europe, there seems to be at times this evidence that you'll see North Africans or people or Arabs in the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, that's where they become radicalized. Has that been your experience, that they're not getting radicalized so much in the mosques in Egypt; they're getting radicalized in the mosques of Berlin or London or Spain or Milan?

That's correct.

What's happening?

Probably one can point out two issues here. One is the issue of alienation of most of these Muslim communities, that these émigrés went to France and went to Italy from Tunisia, from Morocco, from Algeria, from Egypt. They went to England also from Pakistan, Afghanistan and from so many Muslim countries, and they could not fit. There was no program of assimilation within these countries to integrate these people and make them into citizens. They always stayed on the margin of things. And in that sense, they felt alien, and they are actually, physically.

I talked to many of them and interviewed many of them in France, as well as in London. These are people who are physically in the West, but mentally they did not leave the homeland; they did not leave the ideas that they subscribe to, that indeed they exist in the land of the infidels.

They subscribe to the idea of making money and wealth and bettering their lot financially, but they still think that this is not a world that they want to raise their children in, especially their daughters, because they do not want their daughters to be Westernized, to be dating or having sex outside marriage and so on and so forth. These are the things that frighten them, so they create a community that's centered around the mosque, and it's really living on the periphery of most of the societies, and they are disgruntled. So in that sense, the ideas of Takfir appeal to them. The idea of the West as being the land of infidels appeals to them.

But they are also stuck. They see that the West is also empowering local governments in their own societies, mostly dictatorial or authoritarian governments that are not giving them their rights at home. So they feel the West is not only just the land of infidels, but it is also supporting those who are suppressing them back home and making their lives miserable.

So there is a dual accusation against, let's say, France from Tunisians who think that the French are supporting the government of [Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali or supporting the government of the king of Morocco to oppress Muslims, or the government of [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika in Algeria. So they see the West as guilty and implicated in supporting dictators in their part of the world, and yet allowing them to come in as political refugees in many cases or just refugees and not assimilating them, but keeping them on the margin of the societies.

So in that sense, in that world of anger, that world of fear, that world of anxiety, ideas of Takfir take hold.

And why do so many of the well-educated young Muslim men in Europe embrace Takfir or Salafist jihadism? [It] seems to be [that] many of the people, like [Mohamed] Atta and others, well-educated people ... [are] the leaders, in particular, of these groups.

These are people who claim that they've seen the West, and it is not what people tell them what the West is all about. It's really all fake. They've seen it; they've been there. They are not impressed anymore, and they know the means of even how to destroy Western societies. So the whole idea of the awe and being impressed as a new immigrant by the West, the glitters of Western civilization, as they call it, as they look deep into it, they realize it is fragile, and it is easily destroyed.

So these are the people who, after staying for long in the West, they feel not only equal to Westerners, but they're also superior; that, in fact, they themselves can undermine that powerful civilization. And these were the views of Mohamed Atta ... and all these guys who were involved in 9/11.

Another element of this is that throughout, the West has not come to terms with not just the idea of Takfir, but the very central idea called al-Wala wal-Bara, al-Wala wal-Bara [meaning] in terms of who you are loyal to. Are you loyal to the grand umma [community] of the world of Islam or the new country that you are coming to?

So in that sense, the issue of citizenship is problematic for these people, because their loyalty first and foremost [is] to their faith, to Islam; therefore they cannot be citizens of another place. And in that sense they see the idea of citizenship as really having passports, things that facilitate their daily lives. ...

Takfir is very central to the issue of citizenship and how citizenship is being viewed amongst these extreme movements that live in the West, that they see themselves as sojourners, not as citizens. And unless there is a serious program that engages that, or there are serious tests to ensure that citizenship means that you are a citizen of a particular country, everything will be temporary; it's a temporary arrangement: "We are here because we fled the world of jahiliyya, or ignorance of the Arab and Muslim world, to the West, to stay there temporarily as a hijra, a flight; as sojourners; to gather forces, to collect money, to make money and to collect weapons and go back as conquerors."

This is why you find the most successful fund-raising organizations for these movements exist in the West. The most money collected by Osama bin Laden through Ayman al-Zawahiri was collected from Pittsburgh and from Boston and from California. These are the places that Ayman al-Zawahiri went to.

Most of the money for the GIA was collected in France. Most of the money for the Tunisian movement was collected in Italy. There is no system in the West that checks this money flow and also the kind of identity cards and passports and so on to make sure that these are citizens, not sojourners. And that story continued even after 9/11.

Just taking it up to the present, the impact in your view on the war in Iraq, on the Salafist jihadist or Takfir element, what has been the impact?

The war in Iraq, to be honest, was a very big blow to the Takfirist jihadist. It actually, whether it was in Afghanistan or in Iraq, it is the West coming at them and coming with full force. But it also galvanized them and provided some form of a rallying cry that "We told you so; since Sayyid Qutb, we told you that the world of the infidels would encroach on the world of Islam, and it is happening today, and therefore we have to defend the faith."

Certainly this alone would not create what we see in Iraq or in Afghanistan, but also there is a complicity by other states who see in the Western project in Iraq as undermining their own political structure, namely in a place like Syria. If the project in Iraq is to produce a democracy in Iraq, therefore it would be a model that will affect neighboring states, and all neighboring states of Iraq, south and north and all of that, are dictatorships in some form or another; therefore both Iran and Syria work very hard to undermine the project of building a democracy in Iraq.

They are working with Salafist jihadists, and whether they are allowing them through the Syrian borders or sending them through the borders of Iran, it is the claim I heard from various Iraqis that Iran sent about 10,000 of those Salafist jihadists immediately after the fall of Saddam into Iraq.

The same happened through Syria and through Jordan, where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came through. [At] the moment in Iraq, we see really kind of a tactical alliance between Salafist jihadists and their local enemies, for a while, to undermine the Americans in Iraq. And for them, this goes back to a saying that ... means "my brother against my cousin." But [instead], it's "me and my cousins against the foreigner."

So this tactical alliance makes sense, that the jihadists and the Syrians and the Iranis are working together now, although ideologically they are different, to undermine the infidels and the foreigners. But certainly after they do that, then they will retreat back to their original array of forces and the original fight between Islam and world ideologies. ...

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posted jan. 25, 2005

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