Great Seal of the United States National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Third public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Statement of Mamoun Fandy to the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
July 9, 2003

Avoiding the Next Generation of Al-Qaeda?

Since September 11th, on balance, I can say that we won the war against the formal structure of al-Qaeda, its organization, its army, and its finances. We were also helped by Al-Qaeda's attacks on Riyadh on May 12. If al-Qaeda shot itself in the foot on September 11th,on May 12 it shot itself in the head. The attacks in Saudi Arabia pushed the Saudi's to finally launch an all-out attack on the financial network of al-Qaeda. But this not the whole story.

Although we are winning the war against the organization called al-Qaeda, we seem to be losing the cultural war. This means that in the Arab and the Muslim World, al-Qaeda and its affiliate organizations continue to draw on a new pool of recruits. The Arab and the Muslim media is the nebulous area where secret relations amongst states and terrorist organizations are forged. This culture of terrorism in not a sentiment; it is an industry. Their people and governments who finance these newspapers and TV stations that promote al-Qaeda and its ideas. Many leaders of states and industries in the Arab and the Muslim world - even America's friends - have failed to take a clear stand in terms of their relationship with al-Qaeda and the extremist ideas they promote and the money these states spend of their TV and newspapers. In many Arab newspapers and TV programs, Ben Laden can appear as a hero- and even if al-Qaeda is not named, its ideas and "victory" over America are implicitly applauded. This peaks in Qatar's al-Jazeera and the Lebanese channels and El-Osboa newspaer in Cairo which recently praised "any one who put a bullet in the heart of any American."

Currently many governments in the Arab and Muslim world are happy with a new division of labor where the media is for bin Laden and his affiliate organization and state power is at the hands of the traditional elite. Thus, president Bush's question after September eleventh about whether you are with us or with the terrorists has not been answered in the Muslim world. Key to the success of any American policy is a balance sheet focusing on a clear answer to president Bush's question. This should be followed by a question of what have you done for me lately on the issue of terrorism. America should not accept ambiguous answers about this clear-cut question.

We have to realize that terrorism in the Arab World, al-Qaeda and even Saddam Hussein did not descend to the Arab world from Mars. They are byproducts of an Arab civil war that has been raging for the last 40 years. This spectrum of civil war has its apex in the current Algerian civil war between radical Islamists and secular forces to the temporary cease fire in Egypt. Make no mistake it is a rooted war that starts from the family level between two sisters or brothers over Hijab and jihad to the level of state and societies. The question that remains is what is our position on that civil war and how to minimize damage to America and American interests.

Terrorism in the Muslim world can be drawn as a triangle between three points: states that harbor the terrorists, the terrorists themselves; and finally the Islamic movements that provide the pool of recruits and the intellectual drive and justification for acts of terrorism. Our current policy addresses two elements of this triangle, terrorist organizations and states that harbor terrorists. We have failed however to adequately understand the nature of the third component of the triangle of terror and its importance. That third component is the role played by broad anti-American movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in making terrorism appear legitimate in the eyes of ordinary Arabs and Muslims. In fact, movements are becoming more powerful than states. One can only look at Lebanon to see who wields more power, the Lebanese state or the radical Hibzbullah? After driving Israel out of southern Lebanon, Hizbullah gained more influence in Lebanese politics. Many Arab leaders went to Lebanon to congratulate them for liberating southern Lebenon. These leaders did not visit with Hareiri, the prime minister, instead they visited with sheikh Nasralla, the leader of Hizbullah. The Lebanese model boosted the role of movements in Arab society over the role of the state. This is why I say that movements matter most. This should come before states as we consider the significant pieces in phase two of the war on terrorism.

The threat represented by these movements causes a loss of focus in the fight against terrorism for the US and for governments in the Arab and Muslim world. It's clear that the US and its allies are determined to attack terrorism from above by searching out the planners and perpetrators of terrorist actions and drying up their financial resources. But we have to keep in mind that these movements are part and parell of broad social tendencies. These represent major obstacles for any long-term strategy to simply attack terrorism from above. If the incubators of terrorist organizations are to be done away with, we have to allow and encourage alternative movements to take root. More civicly and democratically minded ideas have to show that they can have a broad appeal. This requires the cooperation of Muslim and Arab governments, but also attention to a broad spectrum of social issues.

Currently, governments and societies in the Muslim world are under attack. Governments in particular are alarmed by the magnitude of this threat, but they are not always sure whether compromise or confrontation is the best strategy. Because we have not studied the complex history of Islamism, nor paid enough attention to how ideas and ideologies have spread over the years, it makes it difficult to coordinate our efforts to fight the influence of such movements in key countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. Because the third aspect of the terror triangle is not well understood, it is addressed in a piecemeal fashion that plays down the regional reach and intense appeal that these organizations have to significant numbers of people throughout the Muslim world. It is impossible to explain the rise of these movements by simply observing that certain Muslims or Arabs "hate America". We have to study the origins of these transnational movements, their messages and their modes of recruitment and operation, or kiss the war on terrorism goodbye.

Some governments in the region began to understand the problem, though in later stage in the game. Recently, Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia made an unprecedented statement accusing the Muslim brotherhood of being the mother of all terror. He said that the "ikhwan", or Muslim brotherhood, is "the mother of all problems in the Arab world." The significance of such declaration might be missed by someone who is unaware of the key influence of the "brothers" in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Muslim world. The main ideas and ways of thinking that drove men to carry out the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the name of Islam can only be understood by tracing them back to the writings of the Egyptian, Sayid Qutob and the Pakastani Abu Al-Ala Al-Maudoudi. Although both men died in the past century, their continuing influence can hardly be exaggerated. All Islamic radicalism today springs from their teachings. The organizational methods and political attitudes of a host of different groups were inspired by their methods of organization as well as their positions on religion, politics and personal life. Their influence is an important element in what some specialists of the Middle East call the "reislamization" of Muslim societies.

The Muslim brotherhood movement was born in the Egyptian coastal city of Ismaeliya in 1928. After they were thrown out of Egypt during the Arab cold war between Nasser and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, (1960-1970), the Muslim Brothers went to Saudi Arabia. There they worked in the field of education. They were responsible for radicalizing Saudi students who were raised in the strict but quietist Wahabi tradition. Although many people in America have come to see Wahabyia as the source of all evil in Islam, in fact the Wahabi doctrine developed over the years in Saudi Arabia has been status quo oriented rather than radical. When the Saudis welcomed the members of the Muslim brotherhood they did so naively- not thinking that they were giving them a chance to influence young Saudis. It is the "brothers" who were responsible for development of certain radical teachings in the Saudi education system and for the spread of the radical madrasas (religious schools) throughout the Middle East and south Asia. And while some Saudi's influenced by the teachings of the Muslim brothers remained faithful to that organization, others developed even more radical versions of its doctrines, creating the new organizations that gave us Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This was in part because many Saudis felt that this originally Egyptian organization was trying to steal the mantle of Islam from Saudi Arabia. Saudis felt that to compete with a global organization such as the brotherhood, they too would have to establish similarly wide reaching networks of influence. This is what led to the rise of the Muslim league and the Muslim youth organization and many other charities that we know now have been directly or indirectly are linked to terrorism.

The Muslim brotherhood was the first Islamic organization with global reach. It currently has offices in Germany, France, Malaysia, and throughout the Arab world. Offices in the US can be found in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The record of destruction of the Muslim brotherhood leaves no doubt about their intentions. Their man in Algeria, Abbasi Madani, sowed the seeds of the civil war there. Members of FIS (the Islamic Salvation Front) and its offshoots like the GIA provided bin Laden with his core fighters. In Sudan, the leader of the Muslim brotherhood International, Hassan al-Turabi, brought Sudan to its current state of infamy. Another brotherhood leader, the Tunisian Rachid al Ghanoushi lives in London, where he leads the organization's European branch. Sheikh Yaseen, the head of Hamas in Gaza is another Brotherhood member. Yousef al-Qaradwi in Qatar created the TV channel known as al-Jazeera that has amongst its reporters and correspondents who is who in the rank and file of the brotherhood. This is of course in addition to Sheikh Abdullah al-al Mutawai' of Kuwait whose school gave us the spokesperson for al-Qaeda, Soleiman Abu Gheith as well as financing radical movements from Bosnia to Africa to Chechnya.

Currently, intellectuals of the Muslim brotherhood champion the Arab campaign of denial of responsibility for the September 11th attacks. Their writings in the Arab world and even in this country have always argued that this is a proper response to US actions in the world. The most recent of the declarations signed by many of the Muslim brothers condemned America and its policies and amounted to what many now in the Arab world call a blatant support for Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. And yet instead of seeing this organization for what it is, a source of instability and terror, America has often courted the Muslim brotherhood and its allies, for instance, the mujahidine of Afghanistan in the 1980's.

Although the 2001 attack on America was spectacular and deadly, it was not the first act of terrorism. It is especially instructive to study attacks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two countries that gave us Usama bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri the two top leaders of Al-Qaeda. Since the Sadat Assassination in 1981, Egypt has been battling terrorism and terrorists. Some of the men who executed the plot were members of the Islamic Jihad (Abood al Zumor, Ayman al Zawaheri, and Fouad Dwalibi and many others). But many were also part of the Islamic group (Nail Abraham and Asim Abdul Majid etc). These men were nursed in jihadism in the schools of the Muslim brotherhood. Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahaman, currently imprisoned in New York and the chief leader of the Islamic groups was also a product of the Brotherhood's branch at Al-Azhar University. And yet, some people in various American administrations saw them as a viable alternative to Mubarak's regime in Egypt. Such an approach is inconsistent, for instance. With the American targeting of the Hamas organization, which is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while considering Hamas, the Brotherhood Gaza branch, a terrorist organization? Wouldn't a globally critical manner of addressing such movements be the best way to go if America's true aim in the region is to fight terror and promote the practice of democracy?

Bush's policy toward terrorism and terrorists cannot be seen as robust and realistic until includes serious reflections on the third component of the triangle, the social movements that breeds and legitimates terrorism. It is not possible to go on targeting some Muslim brotherhood organizations, like those in the occupied territories, while seeing those in other places as "moderates", and leaving them intact. It is perturbing that the only part of the brotherhood that is being targeted is the one involved in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The US should coordinate with its partners in the region to design strategies to deal with such movements that represent the incubators of terror. How to do this requires a great deal of debate. States in the region could deal with this either politically or in terms of security measures. Politically, countries like Egypt could be encouraged to allow the younger generation of the brotherhood such as Isam al-'aryan and Abul 'ila Madi to form their Wasat party and break free from the stranglehold of the old generation that grew in the secret world of terror. Restricted political pluralism could be an initial aim for the Arab world. Groups that advocate terrorism and violence should be excluded from the political process. But to achieve long-term results, the reasons for their emergence must also be addressed. In terms of security measures, the US should assist these countries to the extent that it can to deal effectively with this threat. But in general they are likely to do a better job if the US is not a direct participant in security or political initiatives.

Some Americans might see targeting the Muslim brotherhood and related organizations as a way of engendering conflict between the US and Muslims- something that tolerant people would take great pains to avoid. But one should keep in mind that there are many voices to be heard and faces to be seen in the Muslim world. The Muslim brotherhoods and those extremists who have emulated them have very specific criteria for inclusion and exclusion. As the Saudi story shows, even conservative Muslim movements are not all allied to the "ikhwan". Opinions about religion and its correct practice, as well as its relationship to politics are extremely diverse in different places and social milieu around the Arab and Muslim world. There are many more faces of Islam than those of the bearded Islamist brother and the veiled woman. Every guy named Mohammed is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood and its network. Part of what has to be understood is how the "ikhwan" has seemingly been able to dominant how many people in America envisage Islam- an issue not unrelated to the very real social difficulties the administration tends to simply write off as the "contradictions" of a traditional religious culture at odds with the modern world.

Without addressing the third component of the terror triangle the war on terrorism will loose its momentum. The US and the world cannot afford this. A consistent stand on the brotherhoods and on all movements that provide support for al-Qaeda-like activities, is key to developing an effective way of addressing the rise of terrorism in the Muslim world. To stand as bystander on the civil war in the Muslim world is to expect a next generation of al-Qaeda with deadlier weapons and devastating consequences for America.

Mamoun Fandy
Incoming Senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace
Professor Fandy is also the author of "Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent,"

Current News

The Commission has released its final report. [more]

The Chair and Vice Chair have released a statement regarding the Commission's closing. [more]

The Commission closed August 21, 2004. [more]

Commission Members

Thomas H. Kean

Lee H. Hamilton
Vice Chair

Richard Ben-Veniste
Fred F. Fielding
Jamie S. Gorelick
Slade Gorton
Bob Kerrey
John F. Lehman
Timothy J. Roemer
James R. Thompson

Commission Staff

Philip D. Zelikow
Executive Director

Chris Kojm
Deputy Executive Director

Daniel Marcus
General Counsel