Beloved U.S. Imam Preaches Jihad

By Scott Shane and Souad Mekhennet
The New York Times, May 8, 2010


Edited by Andy Ross

Anwar al-Awlaki is the imam of a mosque outside Washington. This lanky man, with scholarly wire- rims and equal command of English and Arabic, sells thousands of CD sets of his engaging lectures on the Prophet Muhammad. American-born, he has a sense of humor, loves deep-sea fishing, and has dabbled in get-rich-quick investment schemes. A few weeks before 9/11, he preached in the United States Capitol.

Nine years later, from his hide-out in Yemen, Mr. Awlaki has declared war on the United States. "America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil," he said in a statement posted on extremist Web sites in March. Though he had spent 21 of his 39 years in the United States, he added, "I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding upon myself, just as it is binding on every other able Muslim."

The United States government has responded in kind. Mr. Awlaki has become the first American citizen on a CIA list of terrorists approved as a target for killing. The designation has only enhanced his status with admirers.

Mr. Awlaki said he was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen, and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith.

The truth is more complex. A product both of Yemen's deeply conservative religious culture, he hesitated to shake hands with women. But even as he preached about the sanctity of marriage amid the temptations of American life, he was picked up twice by the San Diego police for soliciting prostitutes.

Starting in 2000, Mr. Awlaki recorded a series of highly popular boxed sets three, totaling 53 CDs, devoted to the "Life of Muhammad" alone; others covering the lesser prophets of Islam (including Moses and Jesus), the companions of the prophet and an account of the hereafter.

Two future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi, prayed at Mr. Awlaki's San Diego mosque and were seen in long conferences with the cleric. Mr. Alhazmi followed the imam to his new mosque in Virginia, and 9/11 investigators called Mr. Awlaki Mr. Alhazmi's "spiritual adviser."

In the records of the 9/11 commission, a detective said he believed Mr. Awlaki "was at the center of the 9/11 story." An F.B.I. agent said that "if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been" the cleric, since "someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused."

As the American authorities rounded up Muslim men after 9/11, Mr. Awlaki grew furious. After raids in 2002 in Virginia, he led a chorus of outrage: "This is not now a war on terrorism, we need to all be clear about this, this is a war on Muslims!"

In a bare lecture room in London, where Mr. Awlaki moved after leaving the United States, he addressed his rapt, young followers: "The important lesson to learn here is never, ever trust a kuffar," he said, chopping the air, his lecture caught on video. "Do not trust them!"

In 2004, Mr. Awlaki moved to Yemen to preach and study. In 2006, he was imprisoned for 18 months by the Yemeni authorities. He used his solitary confinement to study the Koran and to study Islamic scholarship. He was enraptured by the works of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian whose time in the United States helped make him the father of the modern anti-Western jihadist movement in Islam.

Today, from his mountain hide-out, Mr. Awlaki sends out the occasional video message. No matter what happens to him, his electronic legacy is secure.

Islam's Nowhere Men

By Fouad Ajami
The Wall Street Journal Asia, May 11, 2010
[no link: subscribers only]

"A Muslim has no nationality except his belief"
Sayyid Qutb

Globalization and the doors for immigration flung wide open by Western liberal societies have given Qutb's worldview greater power and relevance. The Islamists are now within the gates.

In an earlier age the world was different. Mass migration from the Islamic world had not begun. The immigrants who turned up in Western lands were few, and they were keen to put the old lands, and their feuds and attachments, behind them. Islam had not yet put down roots in Western Europe and the New World.

The dominant ideology was one of assimilation. National borders reflected deep civilizational differences. Postmodernist ideas had not made their appearance. Western guilt had not become an article of faith in the West.

Nowadays the Islamic faith is portable. It is carried by itinerant preachers and imams who transmit its teachings to all corners of the world. From the safety and plenty of the West they often agitate against the economic and moral order that sustains them. Satellite television offers an incendiary version of the faith to younger immigrants unsettled by a modern civilization they can neither master nor reject.

Pakistani authorities say Faisal Shahzad made 13 visits to Pakistan in the last seven years. The path of citizenship he took gave him an American passport but made no demands on him. In Pakistan, Shahzad's father was a man of high military rank and of property and standing. The secular parents and the radicalized children is a tale of Islam.

Pakistan was to be a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent, but not an Islamic state in the way it ordered its political and cultural life. The bureaucratic and military elites who dominated the state and defined its culture were a worldly breed. The British Raj had been their formative culture.

But the world of Pakistan was recast in the 1980s under a zealous and stern military leader, Zia ul-Haq. Zia offered Pakistan Islamization and despotism. This was the Pakistan in which young Faisal Shahzad was formed. Pakistan is governed by a trinity Allah, Army, America.

The struggle against radical Islamism is a long twilight war.

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