بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Brief non-Jihadi Period:
I was being recruited by the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, so I began to research them. This led me to a bunch of Neo-Salafi websites, and I became a bit influenced by them. At the same time a friend of mine was showing me the same kinds of things himself. I had also just gotten married and learned the FBI was investigating me.
There were many conversations, so it is hard to pinpoint just one, but basically I concluded that all scholars were against jihad. Also, other things I read here and there seemed to fit this notion.
The most effective thing was also the least effective thing, and that was the creation of the notion that there were no scholars who supported jihad anywhere. At first this was convincing, but eventually I learned that almost all scholars supported jihad in most locations including the ones like al-Albani, Ibn B’az, and Ibn ul-‘Uthaymin who are often quoted to prove the opposite. The first perception drove me to accept it, but learning it was false was very thorough in cementing my views.
Additionally, the Neo-salafis have very weak arguments for anyone who wishes to study them in the context of Islamic Jurisprudence. Their opinions are largely taken from specific rulings which they have applied generally. A lot of my posts pointed this out. Even a lot of Neo-Salafis understand this and distance themselves from it. They are the ones who will say: “There is jihad in such-and-such location, but do not go fight, because it is better to do this or that.”
However, these things only served to cement my views. What made me go back was the FBI raiding my house. I was very upset over that. I decided the FBI was more or less evil, that they had abused what I told them, and I resolved to basically just tick them off as much as I could from that day forward.
I actually did ask local leaders, but I disagreed with their responses usually. I did not look to al-Awlaki for approval very much either. He certainly influenced me in other matters, but in terms of approval I looked more to bigger scholars like Hamud al-‘Uqla, Ibn Jibrin, and others with and separate from the various groups. I found all of this online.
The word “blessed” in this context sounds very strange to a Muslim, because we do not believe people can bless things unless what you mean is “approve.” Similarly it is very strange to us when people portray Bin Ladin like he was waltzing around the globe looking for a “fatwah” to attack America.
I looked at numerous sources to determine how things were to be applied generally and I concluded that al-Shabaab fit the mould. Al-Awlaki simply put al-Shabaab on the radar for me.
My emails to al-Awlaki included the following subjects:
Are protests allowed in Islam?, Can I put up anti-war graffiti on government property? Some stories I heard about Afghanistan, and email in 2009 congratulating him if he was killed and saying we will be happier if he was not.
He only responded to the first one, and his conclusion was that if I thought it was beneficial, I should do it, and if not I should not.
There really is not much more to it than that.
████████████████████████ A Secret Service agent asked me some benign questions in the airport, but that does not really count.
Any outreach has to provide an avenue for a person to do something they think is beneficial. You are dealing with people who view their lives as trivial. There is a guy here who was pretty sure that he was in the midst of a sting operation, but he decided that Allah would only look at his heart, not whether or not he was successful, so he went through with it. Find something for them to do, and suggest it to them. Even things like charity work in some underdeveloped country might work.
A letter is not going to dissuade anyone from being generally supportive of anything, but it is a lot cheaper than sting operations. Also, it is good for PR and it does not alienate the Muslim community.
To address general support you are going to have to completely reverse your thinking (“you” referring to the United States). I really do not see a single policy which does not help al-Qa’idah as an idea. Maybe some of them are effective at stopping explosions in the United States, but even the non-lethal CT strategies tend to seem extremely ineffective to me.
In terms of the idea war America is just riding on the coattails of 9/11. Without 9/11 the Taliban would be in power, an Islamic state would exist in Somalia, Chechnya would be a much more conventional conflict, HAMAS would likely control all of Palestine, Ikhwan al-Muslimin would be running the favored candidate for the Egyptian presidency, and the LIFG would be the public face of the rebels in Libya. Are these all guarantees? No, but they are very easy to picture in world without 9/11.
9/11 essentially dealt a knockout punch to AQ as an idea, but it has gotten up and continued to grow since it was dealt that big blow. It took AQ a while after 9/11 to hit its bottom, but there is a certain indescribable point after Zarqawi’s death after which AQ as a concept has not suffered a single real setback. Despite this, I do not think AQ is damaged by future operational success. Its current image and America’s current image prevent this.
To create ideological deterrence the US needs to be much more creative and rethink its entire approach. This is a big part of what I am getting at with my first paragraph.
I did meet my wife on al-Awlaki’s site. I used to send out e-mails on Islam to all of my contacts, and she had previously e-mailed me about a protest I was working to organize, so she was on my list. Later she asked me to show her best friend’s husband around DC, and it turned out that I had already met him by pure chance and we had exchanged numbers. This guy’s wife decided to try and set us up, so that eventually led to us getting married. In Islam (all Islam, not just jihadis) marriage is a much shorter process than in typical American society. It is much more like the system of courting which was predominant until the 1920s when dating came about.
The transition from online to real-world came only a couple of weeks before we were married. This is not uncommon among Muslims. Muslim “dating” sites are actually marriage sites. I even had a friend who ran one.
If the forum was not just some CT experiment and it was an honest attempt at dialogue, then it would be almost certain to achieve things. If it is not truly honest, then it would almost certainly fail.
If you look for my posts on Islamic Awakening you will find a thread debating al-‘Awlaki. It was done by someone else in the CT field and I identified it as such essentially immediately. Maybe you do not have access to intel on the poster, but I am 100% sure it is some undercover individual. You are dealing with the most paranoid community in the world, so any efforts at deception are very likely to rapidly alienate your audience. The al-Mosul was abandoned very quickly over issues of trust. The more hardcore jihadis did not trust RM until I joined it (see my Ansar post).
Additionally, it would have to be limited to certain individuals. You would want to limit both sides to people of influence. Such people would carry progress back to those who listen to them. The forum could be completely private if it had to be.
I do not know who would join, but a lot of people would. Members of the Taliban have long expressed interest in dialogue. Members of other groups like LIFG, EIJ, and others would also likely be interested. From the West you would probably only have random success in getting people to join. However there are very few groups in the West which are organized, so random success is not really a problem. Of all the overseas organizations, the various branches of al-Qa’idah strike me as the least likely to participate.
You could even try to involve prisoners and detainees in the process. There are only a few people here whom I have doubts as to whether or not they would think of it as a good idea.
I regret to say this is one area which I cannot comment on. Both a concrete “yes” and a concrete “no” stand to harm me due to my case’s current status. That might sound odd, but I cannot elaborate on it.
Zachary Adam Chesser
P.S. They do not let me use the paper you send for some strange reason.