[ by Charles Cameron — another timely reminder of the Mahdist / “end times” strand in AQ affiliate JN ]
Sami Al-’Uraydi, senior Jabhat Al-Nusra religious authority, according to MEMRI’s account:
Thanks to Allah, the banner has been raised. The first to raise this banner in this century was Sheik Osama, may Allah accept him in Paradise. The banner passes from on lion to another, from one man to another, until it will reach Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. Allah wiling, the banner will not be lost, until it has reached Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. The age of great wars began with the 9/11 attacks.
It is only too easy for the secular western analytic and or decision-making mind to discount the religious content of AQ and related rhetoric, but even more dangerous to overlook the specifically apocalyptic element — in which expectation of the “soon coming” of the Mahdi is implicit — an element which facilitates what Richard Landes, leading world authority on millennialisms, terms “semiotic arousal”.
Remember Tim Furnish‘s remark in the first para of Holiest Wars, which I’ve quoted here more than once?
Islamic messianic insurrections are qualitatively different from mere fundamentalist ones such as bedevil the world today, despite their surface similarities. In fact, Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.
We’re not there yet — there has been as yet no successful Mahdi claimant — but the messianic meme is present among both Sunni and Shia fighters.