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'Some of Al Qaeda's arguments are legitimate'

January 2, 2009
Bernard Haykel, an expert on Islam, told Sheela Bhatt in the first part of an exclusive interview that the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008, will be the basis for similar strikes in the future.

In this, the second part of his interview, Haykel, who among other things is defending the legal and human rights of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the prime accused in the 9/11 attacks, talks about Al Qaeda's appeal among Muslims, and how it can be contained.

Many ordinary people have started asking why radicalised Muslim youth want to kill Indians.

It is not just about 'killing Indians'. There is a small minority of Muslims who have become radicalised, who follow an ideology that says the following: Islam is under attack; the enemies are non-Muslims, specially what they call Crusaders by which they mean Americans and British and by Zionists by which they mean Jews; they say India is a part of this alliance of Crusaders and Zionists; they use Kashmir but they also use other incidents like the Gujarat riots and so on to say that there is a Hindu-Christian-Jewish alliance against Islam.

Muslims are obligated to defend Islam, according to Al Qaeda. To defend Islam you have to attack whoever kills Muslims. They argue that they have to keep the balance of terror. They argue that Americans and Israelis are killing Muslims whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Middle East. They think Indians are killing Muslims in Kashmir, and even the Philippines and Russia in Chechenya are their target. They think the entire world is against Islam and violence has to be taken into private hands to defend Islam.

These arguments are quite old and known. The Mumbai attacks means the Global War on Terror has had no impact.

Yes. I think the way it has been fought it has not succeeded.

You can't fight radical Muslim youth and jihadis with police, weapons, imprisonment and traditional tools of law and security enforcement. You have to do this, certainly, but we need to use all other means, too. There is an ideological political environment that allows the recruitment of youth into Al Qaeda.

The world also has to use what is called soft power, not just hard power. The soft power has to engage Muslims but, also, Muslims themselves will have to engage their radicals and clean the house within.

Are you talking about giving them political justice? Do you agree with the view that they are fighting for political Islam?

Some of Al Qaeda's claims are correct. They have appropriated many of the arguments of Marxists, of the anti-colonial and Third World movement, like social justice, transparency and better government and less brutalisation. At one level their arguments are quite appealing, like their argument on anti-globalisation and environment. Some of Al Qaeda's arguments are legitimate.

But, then, what do you do to bring about social and economic justice? Al Qaeda tells radical youth to kill Jews and Americans and Indians. I don't see the connection between the argument for social and economic justice and this claim to go and kill people. That is not at all acceptable.

Image: Al Qaeda sympathisers from the Yemen Soldiers Brigade who took part in a suicide car bomb attack in Yemen in July last year. Photograph: Reuters

Also see: 'Al Qaeda is a corporate entity'

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