So we all managed to survive a new celebration of 9/11. But why should Al-Qaida commemorate 9/11 in the first place? I am not referring to the heavy debates that raged among its leadership about the strategic relevance of striking US territory and that Vahid Brown documented in his landmark study Cracks in the foundation. I am talking about the very un-Islamic way Bin Laden’s network focuses on the number 11 and sticks to the Gregorian calendar.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon opened a series of Al-Qaida suicide bombings on the eleventh day of a Christian month: in April 2002, against the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba; five years later, in April 2007, against the government palace and two security stations in Algiers; in December 2007, again in Algiers, this time against the Constitutional court and the UN headquarters. And Fernando Reinares described how the Madrid bombings were planned months in advance to take place on March 11, 2004.

But I would welcome any satisfactory explanation to this al-Qaeda obsession with “eleven”. My guess is that it is a sinister branding of a terror outfit that wants indeed to commemorate its major strike on 9/11, while demonstrating its sustained ability to control timing.

The fact remains that al-Qaida keeps on computing time according to the “infidel” enemies’ calendar. The simultaneous attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, on August 7, 1998, were supposed to mark the eight anniversary of the US military deployment on Saudi soil (the same way the Egyptian Islamic Jihad attack against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, on November 19, 1995, was intended to “celebrate” the eighteenth anniversary of President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem). And the recent bombings that Al-Qaida in Iraq combined against ministries in Baghdad marked the sixth anniversary of the destruction of the UN headquarters in Iraq by Zarqawi’s group. When jihadis strike, they tend to follow the “kuffar’s” calendar.

By contrast, the references to Islamic calendar are few, seldom operational and sometimes pointless. Ramadan is hailed as the favored month for “jihad”, but it is difficult to prove a systematic surge in violent activity during that period. The two ‘Id, and sometimes the Prophet’s birthday, are often chosen for public display of self-confidence by Al-Qaida leadership. But the most common landmark echoes the battle of Badr that the Prophet won on the seventeenth day of Ramadan, during the second Islamic year. The siege of Tora Bora, in December 2001, matched that Islamic timing, but certainly not what the jihadi propaganda celebrated as “Badr of New York” (9/11) or “Badr of the Maghrib” (the triple suicide-bombing in Algiers in April 2007). And the AQAP attacks in the Saudi capital on November 9, 2003, occurred during Ramadan and were glorified as “the Badr of Riyadh”, but the heavy toll of Muslim casualties generated an anti-jihadi backlash.

So the “eleven” riddle is still to be solved, but the practical acculturation of Al-Qaida, and its deep alienation from Islamic references, seems once more obvious.

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6 Responses

  1. Probably worth to mention that it was September 11th 1991 George H. W. Bush declared the “New World Order”.
    Always found that an obvious timing, given said order figures dominantly with extemists of all colors.

  2. 11: Gregorian calendar….meaning:
    Month 11 año1095 (11th century): Council of Clermont …. Urban II wins to his cause western knights and princes … famous speech in favor of “holy war “…. in Arabic” jihad “… Century 11: Peter the Hermit and Urban II.

    ¡¡España es diferente!!….(Fernando Reinares described Madrid bombings…date mobile phones)
    11 March 1921: Imposition of the Hashemite monarchy: Faisal I….responsible for British policy in the Middle East… creation of a political entity that grouped the former Ottoman provinces of Basra and Baghdad, under British tutelage, and that took the form of monarchy parliament.
    …..11 March 1970, the government administered autonomous region that would unify the Kurdish-majority districts.

  3. The apparent puzzle of why al Qaeda should be using the Kuffar calendar is easily dispelled: as Raymond Ibrahim has noted, al Qaeda has a two-tiered propaganda machine: with one face they communicate to the West, with their second fact they communicate with the Arab world. Perhaps this puzzle reflects their former face, and not their latter face. One would have to dig deeper (and Raymond Ibrahim has noted there remains a mountain of Arabic al Qaeda literature left unread by the West, and he’s only one man) to ascertain to what extent, if at all, they use the Kuffar calendar to communicate in Arabic to Muslims.

  4. Bar religious festivals and dates (especially Ramadan) isn’t the use of the Islamic calender more a ceremonial/cultural tradition know? With the workings of the state and every day life long since working to the Gregorian calender.
    So, no matter how unpleasant the fact of using and acknowledging a non-islamic timeframe is, it’s just a reality that even they can’t avoid for practical reasons.

  5. For what it’s worth, one might also consider the date September 11, 1683 when “the conquering armies of Islam were met, held, and thrown back at the gates of Vienna. ”

    That is, where the ottoman (Muslim) armies were defeated by the christian armies led by King Sobieski of Poland.

    While I am a little skeptical of September 11, 2001 being purposely chosen to mark this specific anniversary, or any similar anniversary for that matter, I am of the opinion that any post 9/11 attacks on-or-around 9/11 will carry a hefty amount of symbolic weight.

    While the 1683 date is symbolic, it seems too obscure, even if al qaeda does not have two media campaigns, to have had a large influence on the decision to choose this date.

    Nevertheless, it’s worth noting. More on the subject can be read here: http://www.globalpolitician.com/23418–osama And a notable editorial piece here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/oct/03/september11.usa2

  6. A question for Jean-Pierre Filiu:

    In your article “Hizb ut-Tahrir and the fantasy of the caliphate” you wrote:

    “Hizb ut-Tahrir has tens of thousands of members across the world but US sources have inflated these, citing a million activists in 40 countries…”

    Would you please provide me with a citation to those US sources?


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