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Bush-League Sophistry
How al-Qaeda Justifies Killing the Innocent

The following excerpt from Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower" describes clearly the legal sophistry of al-Qaeda's Number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as he attempts to justify the killing of innocent women and children, and civilians in general, as well as suicide killing, despite the Koran's clear conteravention against both.

Zawahiri also alienated many of his remaining followers, who were alarmed both by the death of innocents and by the use of suicide bombers. These issues would always plague the conversation about the morality of global jihad: In responding to these objections, Zawahiri created the theoretical framework to justify the Islamabad bombing and similar al-Qaeda attacks that followed.

He explained that there were no innocents inside the embassy. Everyone who worked there, from the diplomats to the guards, was a supporter of the Egyptian regime, which had detained thousands of fundamentalists and blocked the rule of Islam. Those who carried out the duties of the government must shoulder responsibility for its crimes. No true Muslim could work for such a regime. In this, Zawahiri was repeating the takfir view that had been carried to its logical extreme in Algeria. Yes, he admitted, there might have been innocent victims—children, true believers—who also died, but Muslims are weak and their enemy is so powerful; in such an emergency, the rules against the slaughter of innocents must be relaxed.

The question of suicide was even more problematic. There is no theological support for such an action in Islam; indeed, it is expressly prohibited. “Do not kill yourselves,” the Quran states. The hadith, or sayings of the Prophet, are replete with instances in which Mohammed condemns the action. The specific punishment for the suicide is to burn in hell and to be forever in the act of dying by means of the same instrument that was used to take his life. Even when one of his bravest warriors was severely wounded in battle and hurled himself upon his own sword only to relieve his terrible suffering, Mohammed declared that he was damned. “A man may do the deeds of the people of the Fire while in fact he is one of the people of Paradise, and he may do the deeds of the people of Paradise when in fact he belongs to the people of Fire,” the Prophet observed. “Verily, (the rewards of) the deeds are decided by the last actions.”

In his defense of the bombing, Zawahiri had to overcome this profound taboo. The bombers who carried out the Islamabad operation, Zawahiri said, represent “a generation of mujahideen that has decided to sacrifice itself and its property in the cause of God. That is because the way of death and martyrdom is a weapon that tyrants and their helpers, who worship their salaries instead of God, do not have.” He compared them to the martyrs of early Christianity. The only example he could point to in Islamic tradition was that of a group of Muslims, early in the history of the faith, who were captured by “idolaters” and forced to choose between recanting their religion or being killed by their captors. They chose to become martyrs to their beliefs.

It was, Zawahiri argued, a suicidal choice. Other Muslims did not condemn them at the time because they were acting for the glory of God and the greater good of Islam. Therefore, anyone who gives his life in pursuit of the true faith—such as the bombers in Islamabad—is to be regarded not as a suicide who will suffer the punishment of hell but as a heroic martyr whose selfless sacrifice will gain him an extraordinary reward in Paradise.

With such sophistry, Zawahiri reversed the language of the Prophet and opened the door to universal murder.

From "The Looming Tower" (Knopf, 2006), pp. 218-19.

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