Islam Online, an Islamic website founded by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, recently published an article called “Jihadist Revisions or Changing Their Minds” by Jordanian writer Yasir al-Za’aterah. It argued that revisionists (see here, here, and here) may have shifted their positions on violence, but they have not changed their fundamental political views.
Al-Za’aterah stated that the revisionists are basing their new approach on “religious legitimacy,” which is what they used to justify their violence in the past. He maintained that the issue of forcibly expelling an unjust leader who claims to be a Muslim is contentious in Islamic jurisprudence because it often involves many “mistakes”, making it closer to what scholars consider fitna or civil unrest, which is why many refuse to condone force against a Muslim ruler.
Al-Za’aterah concluded that modern Islamic movements have not rejected armed insurrection because they consider violence non-permissible; rather, they have rejected it because such action is impossible in the face of the modern state with a powerful security apparatus supported from abroad. Thus, revisionists have not acknowledged their failure. Instead, they have adopted a new “intellectual” position, not a new political position. “The reality is that [these groups] were defeated on the ground before their ideas changed and the revisions are only paving the way for the release of their leaders and members from prison.”
Al-Za’aterah’s article suggests two points. First, revisionists will continue to push for their version of Islamic rule, which could bolster the most conservative segments of Islamic society. Second, since it is state power that has caused the revisionists to stop their calls for violence, if such power were to wane, they could revert to armed action. Thus, while the revisionist trend is a positive step, the revisionists themselves have not changed much and may represent a security threat or an obstacle to reform in the future.
I quite agree with your conclusion that these revisionists are still extremists and not particularly nice people. It seems to me, however, that from a policy point of view, the “revisions” are tremendous step forward. They represent a wedge that non-extremists can use (hopefully) to defeat the extremists in detail starting with the violent extremists. I fail to understand those people who say that we must go after all of our ideological allies simultaneously.