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Old Friend Challenges Bin Laden

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On the anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks in the United States, a former associate of Osama bin Laden has written a lengthy open letter to the Al Qaeda leader, highly critical of the organization’s actions, and laying out all the negative repercussions of them, on the entire world, both Muslim and non-Muslim.


Noman Benotman, a former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group commander, who fought in the Afghan war against the Soviets alongside Osama bin Laden, writes to the Al Qaeda number one:


“I write to you as a former comrade-in-arms. We fought together. We were ready to die together. Under the banner of Islam, we came to the aid of fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. To this day, I take pride in having fought against the Soviets and the Communists. We were in the right and no enemy could have stood in our way. This is no longer the case. After our victory, we became a curse for the very people we sought to help.”


Ed Husain, Co-Director of the Quilliam Foundation, a well-known counter-extremism think tank in London, says this letter is highly significant.


“This letter has been written by someone who was once a personal guest of Osama bin Laden. In personal and political terms, this document will trouble bin Laden because the letter asks questions that will embarrass al Qaeda and expose its failures. Will bin Laden respond. Time will tell.”


Benotman argues that bin Laden’s actions have brought disrepute upon Muslims. He sees no benefit to the people of Afghanistan—basically that nothing good has come from its being the training ground for the 9-11 attacks.


Bentoman now lives in London. He and his group never embraced the ethic of global jihad, rather they turned to trying to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, and replace it with an Islamic state. Subsequently, the group renounced violence altogether and has been granted amnesty for that by the Libyan government.


Benotman warned bin Laden in Kandahar in 2000 against using violence and attacks outside Afghanistan. In his letter he points out that Taliban leader Mullah Omar asked Bin Laden on several occasions to stop provoking and inviting American attacks on his country, but that bin Laden ignored him.


Benotman, in his letter, asks, “What has the 11th of September brought to the world except mass killings, occupations, destruction, hatred of Muslims, humiliation of Islam, and a tighter grip on the lives of ordinary Muslims by the authoritarian regimes that control Arab and Muslim states? “


He goes on. “Your actions have harmed millions of innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. How is this Islam or jihad? For how much longer will al-Qaeda continue to bring shame on Islam, disrupt ordinary Muslims’ lives, and be the cause of global unrest?”


Many people have asked since September 11, 2001, why there haven’t been more credible voices from the Muslim world speaking out against Al Qaeda. Benotman firmly does that in this letter.


“Muslims across the world have rejected your calls for wrongful jihad and the establishment of your so-called ‘Islamic state’ when they witnessed the form this has taken in Iraq. Even the Palestinians consider your ‘help’ to have had negative repercussions on their cause.”


Finally, Benotman brings consequences of the 9-11 attacks right up to the current moment.


“In New York, your un-Islamic actions have caused hurt, loss, pain and anguish to thousands of innocent people and their families. One consequence is that those Muslims seeking to build a House of God in New York are today being compared to Nazis. And now we hear that on the anniversary of your attack, an American preacher is even planning to burn the Koran in revenge!”


Benotman thinks it is time to engage in a debate with bin Laden himself as military interventions have not stopped Al Qaeda in its tracks. He is calling for Al Qaeda to stop its operations for six months to take a good look at itself, to find out really how the rest of the Muslim world sees it, and to seek counsel and guidance from Islamic scholars. Clearly these words are not going to get Al Qaeda fighters to drop their guns on the spot. But there is no apparent harm in an old friend laying out a whole list of informed arguments to Bin Laden. It’s not clear he is listening. But he has been challenged to answer to someone who once fought with him in the trenches.



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I applaud his effort, and maybe it will have some impact. But if you are Bin Laden and hate the West, why are you going to care about what anyone thinks when you are certain that you are fighting Satan for Allah. It is refreshing to see someone with his background express such a level-headed point of view. Though, like Anwar El Sadat, it seems he arrived at this viewpoint through military defeat. There have been plenty of Muslim moderates transformed into terrorist extremists, but this is the only time I have seen one of the extremists transition to being a peace-seeking moderate. Even if his letter has little impact, his own transition gives me hope that this doesn't have to be an endless war the way Israel and the Arabs have been fighting for centuries. Maybe one day in the not so distant future, the extremists will become like Nazis: small fringe groups that don't have the money or power to do much more than fight amongst themselves and seen as unacceptable embarrassments by everyone else in the world.

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