December 1, 2009


Al Qaeda's Dissident: How the prison writings of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of al Qaeda's founders now labeled a turn coat, are doing more to expose the terrorist group's hypocrisy than anyone else. (JARRET BRACHMAN, DECEMBER 2009, Foreign Policy)

Since his incarceration, [Sayyid Imam al-Sharif's] writings have taken aim at the very heart of the ideology that he once helped build. According to Sharif, this represents no particular epiphany: He claims he came to realize that the haphazard use of violence by Islamist groups causes more harm than good with respect to Islamic law, an idea he had been pondering since he left terrorism in the early 1990s.

In 2007, Sharif went public with those qualms, issuing Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World, in which he argued that al Qaeda's version of jihad was not in compliance with Islamic law and, therefore, unjustifiable. Jihad, he wrote, is still a duty for Muslims and can include use of violence. There are, however, strict legal constraints governing that violence, constraints that he now argues al Qaeda has violated. One of the most significant of those is ensuring that other Muslims are not injured in the process. But al Qaeda, he points out, has built its post-9/11 reputation on killing Muslims.

In 2009, Sharif added to his case for nonviolent jihad with Gaza: Waving the Bloody Shirt, an attempt to reclaim the Palestinian cause from violent hard-line groups such as Hamas, which he thinks have unnecessarily spilled Muslim blood. It is one more brick in the counterideological bulwark that he is building against extremist jihadi terrorism.

An important metric for how vulnerable al Qaeda feels about a given topic is how much its leaders publicly discuss it. Not only has Zawahiri responded to Sharif in multiple video statements and interviews, but in early 2008 he published an entire book on the Internet, titled Exoneration, in which he states that Sharif is blatantly lying and manipulating facts to suit the agenda of his captors. Other al Qaeda leaders, supporters, and surrogates have released their own attacks on Sharif.

Sharif's recent writings have re-energized a community of former Egyptian terrorists who now stand against the use of violence. Coming from within the movement, he has been able to subvert it in a way no one else ever has.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2009 5:29 PM
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