Jihad against jihadis: Al-Qaeda has already lost in the realm of ideology
Since 9/11, Western commentators have been calling on moderate Muslim leaders to condemn jihadist ideology, issue fatwas against suicide bombing, and denounce al-Qaeda. Since about 2006, they’ve begun to do so in significant numbers. In 2007 one of bin Laden’s most prominent Saudi mentors, the preacher and scholar Salman al-Odah, wrote an open letter criticising him for “fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering, and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families”. That same year Abdulaziz al ash-Sheikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudis from engaging in jihad abroad and accused both bin Laden and Arab regimes of “transforming our youth into walking bombs to accomplish their own political and military aims.” Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest and most prestigious school of Islamic learning, now routinely condemns jihadism. The Darul Uloom Deoband movement in India, home to the original radicalism that influenced al-Qaeda, has inveighed against suicide bombing since 2008. None of these groups or people have become pro-American or liberal, but they have become anti-jihadist...
This shift does not reflect a turn away from religiosity or even from a backward conception of Islam. That ideological struggle persists and will take decades, not years, to resolve itself. But the battle against jihadism has fared much better, much sooner, than anyone could have imagined.
But the nature of the enemy is now quite different. It is not a movement capable of winning over the Arab street. Its political appeal does not make rulers tremble. This is not an argument to relax our efforts to hunt down militants. Al-Qaeda remains a group of relentless, ruthless killers who are trying to recruit other fanatics to carry out hideous attacks that would do terrible damage to civilised society. But the group’s aura is gone, its political influence limited.
The enemy is not vast; the swamp is being drained. Al-Qaeda has already lost in the realm of ideology. What remains is the battle to defeat it in the nooks, crannies, and crevices of the real world. -- Fareed Zakaria