The Arab Governments are running “educational” program to de-radicalize Islamists. At first, this seemed designed to placate angry Westerners. But now, it is showing results.
Sayid Imam al-Sharif, one of the major ideological figures for al-Qaeda recently converted away from radical Islamism and now believes that violence will not achieve the goals of Muslims.
Sayid Imam al-Sharif was a the commander of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and was behind the assassination of Anwar Sadat.
Guardian reports that al-Sharif is writing a new book “Advice Regarding the Conduct of Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World”. He is grabbing attention because he was once prominant Jihadist and is now rejecting the political philosophy and strategies of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist organizations.
Sharif, a surgeon who is still known by his underground name of “Dr Fadl”, is famous as the author of the Salafi jihadists’ “bible” – Foundations of Preparation for Holy War. He worked with Ayman al-Zawahiri, another Egyptian doctor and now Bin Laden’s deputy, before being kidnapped in Yemen after 9/11, interrogated by the CIA and extradited to Egypt where has been serving a life sentence since 2004.
Sharif recently gave an electrifying foretaste of his conversion by condemning killings on the basis of nationality and colour of skin and the targeting of women and children, citing the Qur’anic injunction: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits; for God loveth not transgressors.” Armed operations were wrong, counterproductive and must cease, he declared sternly.
Zawahiri, evidently rattled, rounded sarcastically on him in a video message broadcast after Sharif’s statement – faxed from Torah prison to an Arabic newspaper – announced not only his change of heart but a book-length repudiation endorsed by hundreds of other former militants, and which is due to be published soon.
Many others are leaving the re-education programs and are condemning radicalism. Converts no longer declare other Muslims to be “takfir” and legal to kill if they do not agree with the aims of Islamism. They reject the murder of civilians and women in warfare.
This program is not brainwashing. It involves prisoners debating Muslim scholars about Sharia law and the principles of Islam. The imams convert radicals to the traditional beliefs of Islam.
Egypt’s counter-radicalisation programmes are the most extensive of any Arab country, but jihadists are also rehabilitated in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan. The Saudi effort, involving 2,800 “deviants”, is lenient with those who fought in Afghanistan but less so with returnees from Iraq or anyone attacking the Saudi state – which insists it has the sole authority to authorise jihad. Saudis in al-Qaida are still more likely to be killed than undergo psychological profiling, “revise” their views or debate sharia law with approved clerics.
Here is another convert from Iraq.
Ahmed Al Shayea is a young man who went to fight in Iraq, survived a suicide car bomb, and is now disillusioned with the fantasy ideology of Islamism.
Today, he says, he has changed his mind about waging jihad, or holy war, and wants other young Muslims to know it. He wants them to see his disfigured face and fingerless hands, to hear how he was tricked into driving the truck on a fatal mission, to believe his contrition over having put his family through the agony of believing he was dead.
At 22, the new Ahmed Al Shayea is the product of a concerted Saudi government effort to counter the ideology that nurtured the 9/11 hijackers and that has lured Saudis in droves to the Iraq insurgency. The deprogramming, similar to efforts carried out in Egypt and Yemen, is built on reason, enticements and lengthy talks with psychiatrists, Muslim clerics and sociologists.
The Saudis did not take radical Islamism or Jihadi beliefs seriously until terrorists attacked on their own soil. Since then, they are removing the militarism from Islamism. The Saudis continue to support Salafism, so long as its believers do not participate in revolutionary activities, terrorism, or militarism. This is fine, as far as it goes. The minimal goal is to cut off the supply of militants – not to ambitiously reform Salafism.
These conversions are good news. They represent the declining influence of Islamism and the victory of traditional Islam.