by Steven R. Corman
There has been a lot of buzz recently about dissent in the ranks of al Qaeda. Much of it has focused on a rejection of violence against civilians by Sayyid Imam al Sharif, a.k.a Dr. Fadl, issued from by fax from an Egyptian prison. Lawrence Wright has an article about it in the current issue of the New Yorker. Another analysis comes from Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank in the current issue of the New Republic. Both authors see this as part of a rising chorus of dissent in the Islamist community against the violent methods of al Qaeda, causing worried reactions from al Qaeda leaders.
Today the Diane Rehm Show on NPR hosted a panel discussion including Bergen, Fawaz Gerges, Michael Scheuer, and Jarret Brachman discussing these developments, which I commend to COMOPS Journal readers. Highlights include Scheuer going against the grain, saying that no Muslims would be fooled by pronouncements issued from an Egyptian prison and that al Qaeda’s strategy against the West is proceeding according to plan. Bergen disagreed, giving examples of how cracks in The Base extend well beyond Egyptian jails.
Brachman made perhaps the most important point of the discussion (with which Gerges seemed to agree). Notwithstanding their own image problems, the extremists’ propaganda punch relies on damning the West with its own actions, showing how it fails to live up to its own values. I would add that we are also playing into the extremist narrative. At a recent conference I spoke to a Pakistani general, whose comments were telling. He said nobody in his part of the world cares about bin Laden anymore. So, I asked, what sustains the extremists? “The extremists say that the United States is trying to conquer the Muslims and destroy the Umma. So what do you do,” he asked. “Invade a Muslim country,” I said. And he smiled.
Here is a post at Danger Room about Scheuer’s nay-saying, including a link to some comments he posted Thursday on a thread there.