Will’s latest post suggested that at least one jihadi is quite critical of what al-Qa’ida is doing regarding the Palestinian question. Well, he’s not the only one. Late last year, the Shumukh al-Islam forum published a book of its Q&A sessions with a jihadi leader from Gaza, namely Abu l-Walid al-Maqdisi, the amir of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad and a member of the Shari’a Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. While most questioners praised Abu l-Walid and wished him well, many also asked critical questions that forced Abu l-Walid to defend what essentially boils down to his group’s failure to achieve any substantial successes. In a short series of posts, I intend to work my way through this book, thereby providing insight into the problems that jihadis in the Gaza Strip face.
The book has about 160 pages (there’s no pagination) and contains 292 questions. What is interesting is that a large number of them refer to the unity (or, rather, the lack thereof) among jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip; in fact, the very first question deals with this. Abu l-Walid doesn’t really get much further than saying there are efforts to unify groups from Gaza and that this has been discussed a lot. He stresses that jihadis in Gaza are suffering from a difficult security environment – presumably because of both Hamas and Israel – and that this hampers efforts to unify the groups. Abu l-Walid might be right that the “servants of God” are weak because of the repression by “the enemies of God from among the Jews, the lords of secularism and the propagandists of democracy” (response to question no. 9), but it does not explain why jihadi groups are still working separately. Abu l-Walid later adds (in response to question no. 7) that the reasons for this lack of unity among jihadi groups in Gaza has nothing to do with major differences in ideology, and he even admits that there is no real Islamic legal obstacle that prevents them from uniting. They just have legitimate differences that keep them separate.
The fact that this question is repeated so often – with Abu l-Walid repeatedly referring back to his previous two answers – indicates that many questioners have strong feelings about it and are perhaps frustrated that the different groups have not united. One can hardly blame them. Apart from general factors, such as belonging to the same people and speaking the same language, the different jihadi groups operate in a relatively small piece of territory that they necessarily have to share; they have two common enemies (Israel and Hamas); and they share the same ideology. Given these circumstances, it is easy to see why many questioners are apparently frustrated at the lack of unity among them.
Things are not looking up vis-à-vis Hamas, the ruling power in the Gaza Strip, either. Abu l-Walid states that cooperation between Hamas and Fatah can only increase the security pressure on jihadi groups since Fatah is experienced in cracking down on organizations and has the power and the means to do it (question no. 11).
Considering the jihadis’ apparent lack of fighting against Israel (see Will’s post again), one might assume that Abu l-Walid is a strong advocate of fighting Hamas, but he’s not. In response to a questioner asking why there are no military operations against the Hamas government, “knowing that most Salafi movements excommunicate this government,” Abu l-Walid states that the time is not ripe for that yet, given the weakness of the jihadi groups at the moment (question 14).
The weakness argument is used often by Abu l-Walid, including to defend his group’s decision not to engage in activities beyond the Gaza Strip. He describes his group as “small” (question no. 18) and states that the security situation on the West Bank is difficult because of the “coalition” between “the [Palestinian] Authority and the Jews” (question no. 19).
One reader nevertheless advises Abu l-Walid to leave Gaza altogether: “Don’t you agree with me”, this questioner asks, “that Palestine has never been liberated throughout history except from the outside and not from within?” Abu l-Walid retorts that it is indeed difficult but not impossible and that patience, preparation, education, mobilizing people’s efforts, and setting up cadres are needed to make it work (question no. 35).
Whether these defensive answers are enough to satisfy Abu l-Walid’s readers is what we will see in the next installment of this series.
To be continued…