As regular readers of jihadi literature know, the RAND Corporation is no friend of al-Qa‘ida. Supporters of the latter have a tendency to blame RAND for trying to destroy them and the rest of the world’s Muslims into the bargain. Although RAND is not alone in being perceived by jihadis as an almost conspiratorial observer of every move the jihadis make (West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, as long-time readers of Jihadica know all too well, is another), it is probably the one that gets criticised most. (If you were not aware of this, see Jarret Brachman’s excellent post on this subject.) Recently, however, one Nur al-Islam posed a question relating to RAND that I had not seen before: Is there a connection between the RAND Corporation and extremists of takfir?
Takfir and takfiris
Takfir, as many readers will know, is the practice of excommunication, i.e. of declaring another Muslim to be an infidel (kafir). Traditionally, Muslim scholars have generally been careful to apply this concept in their dealings with other believers because of the drastic consequences it could have; according to the shari‘a (Islamic law), a Muslim who consciously and willingly abandons Islam or converts to a different religion may be killed. In recent times, many jihadis have argued in favour of a greater application of takfir, applying it to rulers of Muslim countries for not (fully) legislating on the basis of Islamic law. Since many (but certainly not all) jihadis claim applying the shari‘a is part and parcel of being a Muslim, they contend that rulers who refrain from doing so cease to be believers and are, in fact, infidels. Because of this, they subsequently claim that waging jihad against these rulers is legitimate.
According to most Muslim scholars (as well as probably the overwhelming majority of Muslims), this is a rather extreme application of takfir that will only bring about chaos and civil strife. Jihadis who apply takfir this way are therefore often referred to as takfiris or even extremists of takfir (ghulat al-takfir). These labels are fiercely rejected by many jihadis, however, who associate the term ghulat or ghulat al-takfir with Muslims who not only excommunicate political rulers for their failure to apply the shari‘a but also ordinary Muslims who have nothing to do with legislation whatsoever. In some cases, these ghulat even excommunicate entire societies. This latter group of Muslims (i.e. the ones who are willing to apply takfir to large groups of people) is referred to as “the extremists of takfir” even among jihadis and this is also how Nur al-Islam uses the term.
Annihilating global Jihadi-Salafism
One can justifiably wonder what on earth such extremists have to do with RAND. When I first read the title of this piece, I was rather hoping to find a highly intricate and complex reasoning that starts from a ridiculous premise but is nevertheless so logically argued that one is tempted to believe it all as the only possible outcome. This is often the case with jihadi writings, which are sometimes mistakenly dismissed as the rantings of crazy radicals but are actually often cleverly reasoned, despite their horrific message. Although this piece disappointed me in this respect, it is interesting nevertheless.
The author first gives the reader some general information about RAND and continues by stating that the enemy (i.e. RAND) wants to understand its enemy (i.e. jihadis) in order to fight them better. He then goes on, however, to claim that RAND has actively sought the help of other Muslims, including the scholars of al-Azhar in Cairo and the popular Egyptian preacher ‘Amr Khalid, to “annihilate global Jihadi-Salafism”. These were only second choices, however, since the author states that RAND had first asked other, non-violent Salafis to help them with this task but this had failed. He then asks whether RAND’s next step may be to asks extremists in takfir for their help in destroying (the less extreme and supposedly pure) Jihadi-Salafism. The author continues by pointing out that these extremists in takfir not only adhere to extremist teachings but have also done tremendous damage to Jihadi-Salafism by criticising scholars and activists who do stick to the true and correct teachings, like Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, including a surprising number of Jordanian Jihadi-Salafis.
At this point, it becomes clear what the author’s real intention is. He is not at all trying to criticise RAND, as so many jihadis have done before. His real aim is to attack the people he calls extreme takfiris for their criticism of the Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi community supportive of al-Maqdisi. This has been done before, as I have pointed out elsewhere, but Nur al-Islam takes the charge of extreme takfiris to a new level. He claims that, just like RAND tries to destroy Jihadi-Salafism worldwide, so do the extreme takfiris. The author states that these ghulat al-takfir may or may not be aware of RAND’s plans “but unfortunately the result is, in any case, the same”, namely that both of them try to “bring down” Jihadi-Salafism and its leaders.
The author’s seemingly critical piece about RAND thus turns out to be little more than what may be the start of a larger smear campaign against al-Maqdisi’s jihadi enemies. By even suggesting that these supposedly extreme takfiris may possibly be working with the widely-hated RAND, the author tries to undermine their credibility. To me personally, this charge seems a bit too far-fetched to be taken entirely seriously and I therefore doubt whether the accusation will be picked up by like-minded jihadis to frame their opponents as being in bed with RAND. Still, it would be interesting to see if the already impressive array of labels Islamists use to discredit each other is soon going to be joined by another one: Randis.