Across the Bay

Friday, October 14, 2005


Professor/Inspector Cole is once again bedazzling his fans with some stellar philology and Islamic sectarian nuances -- mixed with his usual weakness for conspiracy theories -- as he analyzes the recently publicized letter (PDF, in Arabic) from Zawahiri to Zarqawi.

The clue that caught Cole's eye was the inclusion of "wa alihi wa suhubihi (sic)" to the formulaic blessing on the Prophet:

But before I went to Pakistan I had never, ever heard a Sunni Muslim add "wa alihi" (and his family) to the salutation. I associated it strongly with Iran and Shiism, and was taken aback to hear Sunnis say it on Pakistani television. Certainly, I never heard that form of it all the time I lived in Egypt.

I just put "salla Allahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam" into google in English transliteration and *all* the sites that came up on the first page were either Shiite or Pakistani Sunni (Chishti, Barelvi, etc.) I tried adding Misr (Egypt) to the phrase and got a Shiite attack on the medieval Sunni hardline thinker, Ibn Taymiya. I tried adding Qaida and got a Shiite attack on Sunni extremism.
My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.

Hmmm, indeed. Like IraqPundit said, I have no idea whether this actually is "psy-ops" or not. I'm more concerned with Cole's assertion quoted above regarding the language of the blessing.

Cole says that he googled the English transliteration (perhaps because his Arabic is not free of colecisms). Well, I did it in Arabic (even though I don't have a perfect Najafi accent), and, among the various results I found that would deflate Cole's categorical assertion, this one in particular stood out. It's the "minbar at-tawḥīd wal-jihād," a Salafi website. The greeting at the very top reads "waṣ-ṣalātu was-salām 'ala rasūli l-lāh wa ālihi wa ṣaḥbihi wa man wālāh." (Emphasis mine.) In other words, it's the exact same wording as the one in the Zawahiri letter. What's more interesting about this site is that it has a link dedicated to Islamist Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Zarqawi's former teacher!

Again, I have no idea whether the thing is authentic or not. Moreover, I'm not an expert on Islamic sects, nor do I speak Urdu at home or hang out with mainly Muslim Indians in Lucknow and Delhi, but this wouldn't be the first time we've been entertained by Cole's philology involving Salafi diction. After the London attacks, when Cole was busy making a fool out of himself, shooting from the hip, he informed us that Salafis would never use words like "baṭal" ("hero") in conjunction with "mujāhid." Of course, he was wrong, and I linked to a statement by Maqdisi, using the terms together! So there goes that!

All this of course has not prevented twit Helena Cobban from jumping all over Cole's claims and labeling them "very convincing" and that the letter was "almost certainly" a fraud. Indeed, indeed... because you see, she too is steeped in Arabic philology and Salafi diction!

Well, better luck next time. Until then, I only have one question to ask...

Addendum: A friend who knows a lot more about these kinds of websites has written informing me of the following: "Minbar al-Tawheed does not just have a link to Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, it is devoted to him, and possibly even administered under his guidance. It is also, or was originally, accessible on the adress It is al-Qaeda's library on the web, the single most important and largest collection of al-Qaeda materials. If you want to know what the radical Islamic ideology is, that's the place to go."

That is very much the case. The link devoted to Maqdisi contains an archive of his collected writings and speeches. Other advertised links include all kinds of Jihadist material.

Furthermore, one of the other hits I came across was this site, Al-Qal'ah, which is not just Salafi, but al-Qaeda affiliated.

Addendum 2: I just picked this up from a commentator on Marc Lynch's site, who apparently did the same kind of research I did, and reached the same or similar conclusions. He also spotted this, which I missed. It's the text of a previous video message by Zawahiri. It was published on al-Jazeera. It starts -- surprise surprise! -- with the following greeting:

د. أيمن الظواهري: بسم الله والحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وآله وصحبه ومن والاه.

It's the exact same greeting as the one in the present letter.

Again, if this is a forgery, the guy/team who did it did their research infinitely better than Cole, with his supposed bona fides.