Uh-oh. Several jihadi scholars are engaged in some ideological infighting again and it’s not pretty. As long-time readers of Jihadica know only too well, several jihadi ideologues have participated in quite heated debates about jihad, violence and suicide bombings with the people who are supposedly their brothers in arms. The best-known among these are the accusations between Sayyid Imam and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see here for the first installment of Will’s series of posts on this subject, for example) and the conflict between Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and the supporters of his former pupil Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (see here, for instance). This time, it’s the Syrian-British shaykh Abu Basir al-Tartusi who starts this discussion by criticising the Yemeni militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, which is responsible for several major attacks in Yemen in the past months and is said to have strong ties to al-Qaida. This discussion does not just tell us something about differences of opinion on one radical organisation, but also sheds light on highly diverging views on what the Arab Spring should be all about.
As usual, Abu Basir starts his criticism of Ansar al-Shari’a by pointing out that his critique is simply brotherly advice. That’s about as far as his politeness goes, however, since he immediately starts accusing the group of using suicide bombings without taking the limits and conditions of such operations into account. He also asks: “What is your problem with the Yemeni soldier? You are dealing with him as if he is an American soldier!” Abu Basir states that Yemeni soldiers are against the regime too yet they apparently still constitute legitimate targets for Ansar al-Shari’a. “Is this the shari’a that you proclaim and on whose behalf you’re working?”, he asks rhetorically.
Abu Basir suggests that Ansar al-Shari’a change its strategy now that Yemeni President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih has left. He accuses the group of continuing their fight “as if the tyrant ‘Ali Salih hasn’t left [...], as if the revolution never happened and no changed whatsoever occurred in Yemen!” This unchanged policy has resulted in alienating the protesters and demonstrators in Yemen and “a policy of aggression” that has left many innocent people dead. This only appears to strengthen the claim made by Salih that al-Qaida would fill the void he left. This leads Abu Basir to conclude that Ansar al-Shari’a is not serving the purpose of the revolution but is, in fact, doing exactly what “the tyrant” wants. Despite fighting for more than ten years, the group has not succeeded in implementing the shari’a at all, Abu Basir states. “Or do you think that the shari’a is only about raising slogans?”, he asks sarcastically. “What strategy is this that you are following?”, he adds, while pointing out that they should go and seek the advice of Yemeni scholars on what to do.
End and means
Abu Basir’s criticism was published on his website in March of this year and in that same month, Abu Hummam Bakr b. ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Athari wrote a still rather friendly refutation of his critique. He states that he excuses Abu Basir for his latest remarks because “what we have learned from him [...] is more than [...] what we criticise him for.” Nevertheless, al-Athari goes on to accuse Abu Basir of ignoring – not being ignorant of – two things: the goal that change must bring about and the means to bring about change. The former is to bring people from darkness to light and this is not going to happen, al-Athari states, through democratic reforms called for by the demonstrators; rather, it will be achieved by applying the shari’a, which is exactly what Ansar al-Shari’a wants. The means that will lead to this end has been provided by God himself, al-Athari states: jihad.
Al-Athari further wonders why Abu Basir would like the revolution to stop because President Salih has left. “[Ansar al-Shari'a] fought [Salih] because he ruled through something different than the shari’a.” His successor ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur has only added to that, al-Athari states. “How can it be allowed to fight the former but not the latter?! Or [how can] the democracy of Mansur be Islamic but the democracy of Salih unbelief?!” They both ruled through “un-Islamic” laws and allowed their armies to fight on behalf of the Americans, which also shows you why Ansar al-Shari’a has “a problem” with Yemeni soldiers.
Also in March, Abu l-Zubayr ‘Adil al-’Ubab, a writer or ideologue who appears affiliated with Ansar al-Shari’a itself, wrote another refutation of Abu Basir’s letter. He specifically targets Abu Basir for his criticism of the supposedly reckless use of suicide bombings by Ansar al-Shari’a. He claims that, contrary to what Abu Basir says, the organisation does try to take the conditions and limits of suicide bombings into account and has only been involved in nine of them, which he describes in such a way that makes it seems like a very high number. We only use suicide bombings, he says, “if we have no alternative, if the alternative is very difficult or if it involves more losses”.
Al-’Ubab says things about Yemeni soldiers and the army that are similar to what al-Athari pointed out about them, but delves more deeply into the question of the scholars Abu Basir advises Ansar al-Shari’a to consult. He distinguishes three categories of scholars in Yemen. The first category consists of Sunnis, with whom they consult regularly and from whom they seek advice, except for those Sunni scholars who support the regime or want to go into politics. Then there the scholars of the Muslim Brothers, whom he dismisses as “politicians” and, finally, “the scholars of religious innovations like Sufism, Shiism (al-rafida), Zaydism and those who adhere to them”. Since it is obvious that the members of Ansar al-Shari’a will not ask the latter for advice, al-’Ubab wonders what Abu Basir is talking about.
If the previous two refutations of Abu Basir were still rather friendly, this does not apply to Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti’s refutation: “The Disgusting Deviations of the Critic of Ansar al-Shari’a: A Refutation of Shaykh Abu Basir”, which was published some two weeks ago. Al-Shinqiti is a formidable foe for Abu Basir since the former is one of the most active jihadi ideologues at the moment and seems to be almost the sole provider of fatwas on the Shari’a Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. In fact, with other leading scholars such as Abu Qatada al-Filastini, Nasir b. Hamd al-Fahd and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi locked up, Abu Basir and al-Shinqiti may well be the most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now.
Whatever the case may be, al-Shinqiti does not mince words. He accuses Abu Basir of not basing his views on real arguments and of simply wanting to slander the mujahidun. On top of this, he adds that Ansar al-Shari’a does consult with scholars in Yemen and that these are “more famous and knowledgeable” than Abu Basir. If the latter is so serious about his “advice” to Ansar al-Shari’a, al-Shinqiti says, does he not believe that the Yemeni government is an apostate government that should be fought? “Do you want to abandon the method of jihad and do democracy like the rest of the revolutionaries?”, al-Shinqiti asks. He gets even more direct with regard to Abu Basir’s question about why Ansar al-Shari’a targets Yemeni soldiers. “I don’t understand”, al-Shinqiti says. “Is it possible that you are really ignorant of the answer to this question?” Al-Shinqiti deals with the same points mentioned above, but does so much more vehemently and elaborately, dismissing Abu Basir’s accusations as “fabrications”.
It is clear that Abu Basir’s criticism of Ansar al-Shari’a is quite unacceptable to several of his radical colleagues. His advice to lay down arms and take a more peaceful approach is not an exception, however, as we have seen in my previous posts in this series. Abu Basir consistently takes a more irenic approach towards certain remnants of the regimes that have been toppled and people who do not follow the right type of Islam and often condemns extreme violence. That major radical scholars such as Abu Basir and especially al-Shinqiti are more and more on a collision course is not just clear from the above but also from the fact that the latter ends his critique of Abu Basir by saying: “God willing, we will continue this conversation with shaykh Abu Basir in a forthcoming article entitled “The Enlightenment of the Truth of Shaykh Abu Basir’s Method”. We have not seen the last of this.