By means of the production of four of its most representative figures ‘the result of which produces al-Qaeda’, Osama Bin Laden, Abdallah ‘Azzam, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Mus‘ab al Zarqawi, the ideological profile of the movement is reconstructed that was born to counter the Red Army in Afghanistan and then directed at the fight against ‘corrupt’ Islamic regimes and their western allies. Every piece of writing is prefaced by a biographical profile of its author, and all the texts have a useful system of footnotes that help above all the non-specialists to manage the many references to history and Islamic tradition, from the achievements of the companions of Mohammed to the medieval treaties of jurisprudence.
Apart from the differences between its different protagonists, the nucleus of the al-Qaeda identity clearly emerges: this is the jihad in its meaning of armed struggle, as the modality of the affirmation of Islam. The ‘forgotten duty’, as another instigator of radical Islam, Abd el-Salam Faraj, defined it, is the duty that Muslims can no longer shirk. The tactical objectives may vary (according to some the neighbouring enemy, that is, the corrupt Islamic regimes, and according to others the distant enemy, that is the United States), or the method of action (the jihad led by a vanguard or immediately extended to all Muslims), but the essence of the preaching does not change. The jihad is not an option, but a real need of Islam insofar as being the only suitable method for the building of an Islamic society and a world caliphate. As ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam wrote: ‘The jihad and exile for the purpose of the jihad constitute a fundamental aspect of this religion, because a religion without jihad cannot establish itself in any land […]. The authenticity of the jihad, an integral part of this religion weighing completely on the scales of the Lord of the worlds, is not a chance circumstance of the period in which the Koran was revealed, but a need that accompanies the caravan accompanying this religion’. We evidently finds ourselves before an acute case of interweaving between politics and religion. But if it is true that such interweaving is inevitably part of Islamic history, the jihadist variant is not the only one possible.
According to the classical theory of Islam, well summed up by the words of the medieval scholar al-Ghazali, the task of politics was the creation of the conditions necessary to let the religious order rule: ‘the right order of religion – maintained al-Gahazali – is obtained through knowledge and faith, for which are necessary a healthy body, the preservation of life and the satisfaction of needs coming from thirst, hunger, the need to have a home and from insecurity, the worst evil […] Religion cannot be suitably set in order if not by means of the satisfaction of these essential needs’.
On the contrary, in the jihadist version politics loses sight of all concrete objectives to become, above all in the form incarnated by Osama Bin Laden, a pure representation subject ‘to the imperative of the effectiveness and impact of the media’, ‘in which everything happens live in real time’.
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