Wednesday, June 14, 2006

OPINION: Al-Qaeda terrorist chief deserved to die

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should be cheered by Muslims, writes Irfan Yusuf.

The real celebrations on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will be on the streets of Iraq. More than 25,000 Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence directly orchestrated by the Jordanian-born terrorist since the destruction of a Shia Muslim shrine in February.

Zarqawi’s life personified self-evident truths too often obscured by such neo-conservatives: politically inspired violence of groups like Al-Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah claims many more Muslim than non-Muslim lives, and that terrorism hardly deserves the label Islamic.

Since the September 11 attacks, neo-conservative writers have lined up to recite the mantra that Islamic theologies and cultures preach violence. The natural corollary of this claim is that the West and the Muslim world are on some inevitable collision course. .

The arguments has even captivated prominent theologians like Australian Cardinal George Pell, who relied heavily on such sources during his February speech to a Florida Catholic summit, concluding the Koran is a document that preaches violence toward non-Muslims

Zarqawi and his colleagues represent a form of blasphemy truer than 100 Danish cartoons, in which establishment of their form of Islamic state become an end in itself. God must play second fiddle to the establishment of God’s state, even if it means flouting God’s own prohibitions on killing innocent civilians.

Zarqawi formed a key plank of Al-Qaeda, a network formed from the remnants of more radical veterans of the Afghanistan conflict. A number of Al-Qaeda operatives (including Osama bin Ladin) received training and support from the US, which used the various Mujahideen groups to fight a proxy war against the Soviet intervention forces present in Afghanistan since 1980.

All were fed anti-Shia propaganda produced by religious scholars close to the Saudi royal family, close allies of the US. Shia Muslims make up around 12% of the world’s Muslims. It is the dominant sect in Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan. Substantial Shia minorities also exist in Pakistan and a number of Middle Eastern states.

Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran’s theocratic regime. The US-sponsored Afghan “jihad” coincided with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. The US, together with its Western and Arab allies, supported Iraq with weapons, finance and intelligence. The war was sold to Sunni Muslims as a battle against resurgent Shia heterodoxy.

Polemical anti-Shia literature flooded Muslim communities across the world (including Australia), much of it published by religious institutions financed by the US and Saudi Arabia.

This anti-Shia propaganda push has come back to bite the US in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Taliban regime fed on anti-Shia sentiment to conquer Afghanistan. Regular Taliban massacres of Shia Tajik and Hazeri tribesman saw waves of refugees flee to all corners of the globe, including Australia.

Zarqawi used anti-Shia rhetoric to inspire sectarian violence. In an audio recording released on jihadi websites in April, Zarqawi echoed the sentiments of typical Saudi-financed anti-Shia propaganda: “Wake up, pay attention and prepare to confront the poisons of the Shia snakes. Forget about those advocating the end of sectarianism.”

Zarqawi’s war was regarded by few Iraqis as a religiously-sanctioned jihad or just war. BBC Monitoring cited one elderly Iraqi man expressing joy at Zarqawi’s death. “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi deserves to be cut into pieces because he hurt, killed the people and slaughtered the Muslims”.

Hardly a tribute given to a martyr.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer in politics at Macquarie University. This article was first published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail on 12 June 2006.)