Wednesday, January 23, 2008

COMMENT: Lessons from the Madrid bombing ...

Last night, SBSTV’s Cutting Edge documentary series featured the story of the two prime members of the terror cell responsible for the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004.

Jamal was a drug dealer and hit man who escaped Morocco after being accused of murder by stabbing. He entered Spain using a false name and soon became involved in drug dealing and violent crime. He entered into a relationship with another drug user, a Spanish woman of nominally Catholic background. He went to prison and soon became addicted to heroin. His girlfriend meanwhile gave birth to their (illegitimate) child.

Sarhane was a middle class Tunisian who won a scholarship to study in Spain. His family in Tunis weren’t terribly religious, and Sarhane had little exposure to Islamic teaching. In Spain, Sarhane began to frequent the M30 mosque in Madrid. The imam (resident religious jurist) was Jordanian. Sarhane came under the influence of self-taught radicals who attacked the imam for refusing to sanction their violent paranoid heterodoxy that regarded anyone (Muslim or otherwise) who disagreed with them as infidels and legitimate targets.

Somehow Sarhane met with Jamal. It was also a meeting of an extreme fringe politicised Islam (free of the strictures of classical juristic authority and Sufi spiritual orthodoxy) with a violent underworld. The combination was toxic. Over 190 people died in the process.

Some days later, a package containing a video cassette was left near the M30 mosque entrance. It featured 3 men with heads covered with black cloth sacks claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings on behalf of a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Europe (though the trial judges found no direct link between the cell and al-Qaeda). The men also had a message for the mosque parishioners: Anyone who refused to join this wacky pseudo-jihad was an infidel who could also be legitimately killed.

Could Sarhane’s tiny cell of outcasts from the M30 mosque have carried out this attack without the help of Jamal and his underworld thugs (including a fair few gangsters with no relation to any religion)? Who knows? What we do know from this is that al-Qaeda style ideology has only a tenuous relation with any religious orthodoxy.

Little wonder al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers are happy to shed blood even in mosques and shrines and even on the holiest Islamic religious days. And even threaten entire nations.

But it isn’t enough just to recognise all this. Imams and religious leaders must ensure their mosques don’t become havens for jihadist heterodoxy. And that those embracing or returning to the faith aren’t misled by the rhetoric of hate-mongers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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pepe said...

for once i agree with you.

dawood said...

Hey Irf! Check out this presentation by Scott Atran, which uses the Madrid bombing as a sample case. It is very interesting and well worth looking at.