In a first effort to pin down Shaykh `Isa on the big Jihadi questions of the day, I read through his opinion on the near enemy/far enemy debate: “Are jihadi operations in the abodes of the original infidels preferable? Or in the lands of Muslims that are ruled by infidels?” The “original infidels” in the first part of the question are people who have never been Muslims. The unqualified “infidels” in the second part includes original infidels and Muslims who have apostatized.
In answering the question, `Isa offers America as an example of the “abodes of the original infidels” and Afghanistan as an example of the “lands of Muslims that are ruled by infidels.”
`Isa’s bottom line: “The apostate who has authority over Muslim lands is, in the eyes of the inhabitants of these countries, the near enemy, and the original infidels in their lands are the far enemy” (p. 20). A few paragraphs later he says, “Undertaking jihadi operations in countries that were ruled by Islam and then taken over by the enemy–like Afghanistan–are more obligatory and have greater priority than undertaking these operations in the abodes of the original infidels that Muslims have never conquered and in which Islamic law has never been applied–like America. Preserving capital has greater priority than new profit, especially when the person who has taken over Muslim abodes is an apostate” (p. 20). Elsewhere, he says that if the Muslims who live in these lands are unable to overthrow the apostate, then the duty to fight him expands to include the Muslims of the surrounding countries (p. 1).
Although the document is not dated, his remarks about Afghanistan being taken over by “the enemy” and an apostate taking power indicate that it was written after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the accession of Hamid Karzai. So `Isa is addressing a current debate, not a pre-9/11 debate.
`Isa’s position is at odds with the one publicly adopted by al-Qaeda’s leadership in the ’90s and today, so it is strange that he would have such a high-profile position in the organization. Perhaps `Isa is a more independent actor than press reports suggest. Or perhaps he gives himself wiggle room in this document by making the near enemy/far enemy debate dependent on the capacity of the locals to overthrow the local apostate. Or perhaps AQ Central is shifting its strategic focus back to the near enemy. Reading more of `Isa’s works and knowing more about his relationship with AQ Central will help sort out some of these questions.
(هل العمليات الجهادية في ديار الكفار الأصليين أفضل؟ أم في بلاد المسلمين التي استولى عليها الكفار؟)