by Ed Husain
Source: The Guardian (UK)
Jan 4 2010
Another botched terrorist attack, and a much-needed excuse for some agenda-driven American ideologues to demand opening ”new fronts” in the ”war on terror”: ”profiling” Muslims at airports is expected to be at the core of the airport-security review announced by the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
That thinking is flawed and will make matters worse.
Yemen is not a willing home to al-Qaeda – it is victim to an ideology exported from neighbouring Saudi Arabia. In our desire to blame and eventually bomb, let us not forget the other Yemen: one of the last bastions of traditional, serene Islam.
Yemeni Sufis have been imparting their version of normative Islam for centuries through trade and travel. Hundreds of British Muslims have been studying in Yemen’s pristine Islamic institutions. They have returned to Britain connected to an ancient chain of spiritual knowledge and now lead several Muslim communities with the Sufi spirit of love for humans, dedication to worship and service to Islam.
For me, empowering and supporting this Yemeni Islam against the rigid, literalist, supremacist Wahhabi ideology of our Saudi allies in Riyadh is a sure recipe for eventual victory. But will we dare upset the House of Saud? It seems unlikely. The US President, Barack Obama, literally bowed before the Saudi king in London last year.
We are now being told that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula runs terrorist camps and this justifies ”pre-emptive strikes” on Yemen. But what is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula except leading Saudi terrorists – Naser al-Wahishi and Said al-Shihri – who have set up shop in Yemen with a ragtag army of 200 men? Who is Osama bin Laden except a Saudi who wanted political reforms in his own country, failed, and then turned his guns on the Western backers of the Saudi regime?
Time and again, from September 11, 2001, to the attempted Detroit-bound airline attack last week, there are Saudi fingerprints – ideological and practical. Yet Western powers stab in the dark in Iraq and Afghanistan – and now possibly Iran and Yemen – with the unconvincing language of making us safer in our streets.
In Britain and America demands for profiling all Muslims at airports are getting louder. This mindset not only fails to understand that most Muslims around the world detest al-Qaeda, but also cannot comprehend how terrorists are always one step ahead. If it is Muslim-sounding names that are to be stopped, would Richard Reid – the infamous shoe bomber – have been detected? If it is Asian men who are to be stopped, will we see an increase in white men recruited?
Al-Qaeda’s English spokesman is Adam Gadahn, a white American. If it is men who are stopped, we will see women terrorists emerge. Let us not forget Palestinian groups’ repeated use of single women as suicide bombers. Do not underestimate the power of terrorists to recruit serving airline pilots and other aviation personnel. Where there is a will, there will always be a way.
The profiling of ordinary Muslims not only opens other avenues for al-Qaeda, but results in the harassment and potential loss of support from the people we need to contain al-Qaeda: ordinary Muslims. Without mainstream Muslims on side, Western powers cannot deal al-Qaeda and its associates the blow that it deserves. It was the Muslim father of the Nigerian would-be plane bomber who alerted the US embassy in Lagos six weeks before last week’s attempted attack.
In the end, this is a battle of ideas. No amount of drone attacks in Pakistan, troops in Afghanistan, occupation of Iraq and air raids in Yemen will stem terrorism. Violence breeds violence.
The strongest weapons available to our enemies are ideas of religious supremacy and perennial confrontation, backed with logistical networks, and repressive political conditions that help strengthen their narrative and network.
Unless we in the West can combat their ideas with better ideas, puncture the alluring narrative of victimhood politics, question their self-assured martyrdom, and end perceptions of incessant enmity with non-Muslims, we will be confined to dealing with symptoms of terrorist attacks rather than healing the underlying causes.
Ed Husain wrote The Islamist and is co-director of the London counter-extremist research institute, the Quilliam Foundation