Across the Bay

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Strike Juan, Two, and Three

So, Juan has retracted his silly comment about the Zawahiri letter. Well, not quite. It's only a half-baked retraction (although, we should probably salute Martin Kramer, because this time around, Cole's "slip of the keybord" was explicitly noted and didn't mysteriously disappear into thin air like several others in the past!). Here's what he wrote:

A lot of Muslim and Arabist readers have written to say that my argument below (now at bottom in italics) is incorrect and that I have confused the ritual of saying blessings on the Prophet when Muhammad's name is mentioned (during which Sunnis typically do not mention the family of the Prophet) and the ritual salutation at the beginning of a letter, in which the mention of the family and companions of the Prophet by Sunnis is not unheard of.

Uh huh... "Not unheard of." Yeah, that's right. And it's not just a matter of "Sunnis." How about it being used verbatim by a Salafi wesbite devoted to Zarqawi's teacher!?

But anyway, I digress. Now, Cole is back with another dubious comment. He just had to come back and have the final word, in order to assert that despite the fact that the backbone (compare the amount of space dedicated to it to that spent on the other points) of his earlier argument was dead wrong, his theory is indeed correct. Here's what he added:

The other thing that struck me as odd about the Zawahiri letter was that at the end he raises the question of whether a non Iraqi should be leading the insurgency. This is odd for several reasons. Al Qaeda does not think in terms of nationality but of the umma or Muslim community. It reads to me like an attempt to undermine Zarqawi. And it is an insult.

Cole's dogmatism has been his Achilles' heel. And as I've noted in the past, it's also been a problem in approaching Islamist groups, their ideologies, and the various identities they evoke. However, there's more here than just rigid categorizations and assertions ("Al-Qaeda does not think in terms of nationality." Yet, these Salafis like to add their nationality to their nicknames, as in Abu Mus'ab as-Suri, or Abu Hamza al-Masri, or Abu Faraj al-Libi. Don't forget the hierarchy, especially in the camps in Afghanistan.). It's actually a very incomplete (even somewhat dishonest) description of what the passage actually says, especially if read in the broader context and overarching theme of the letter. Here's my translation of the whole passage in question:

"Another matter having to do with Iraq that I hope you could clarify for us, for you undoubtedly know better, is whether having a non-Iraqi lead the mujahidin or a section of the mujahidin could rouse sensitivities among some. If there is such sensitivity, what is its effect? What is the way to get rid of it? All the while maintaining the cohesion of the jihadist operation and not exposing it to any seisms. We ask that you detail us on that matter."

I don't even have to add anything, really. It's very clear what the author is interested in and what he's saying. On the other hand, Juan has only the rigid conventional ideological categories to regurgitate. He's out.