Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Abu Walid met Leah Farrall

Steve Coll recently apologized to Leah Farrall, a former intelligence analyst for the Australian federal police and current Ph.D. student, for his response to a series of exchanges between Farrall and jihadist journalist Abu Walid al Masri. Abu Walid is "a legendary figure in mujaheddin circles" according to Farrall, and also a prolific author who wrote for Taliban magazines when the group was in power.

Coll apologized because Farrall complained on her blog that he highlighted the flirtatious tone that Abu Walid adopted in taking up Farrall's invitation to correspond. Coll had noted Farrall's blond portrait photo and Abu Walid's apparent interest in her appearance -- or at least, his rhetorical exploitation of it.

While it's gracious to apologize to a perfect stranger who takes offense at one's first notice, Coll need not have done so. For whatever complex of reasons, Abu Walid quite loudly and obviously sexualized the correspondence from the outset, and that's not insignificant.  Here's the passage from his first response to Farrall that Coll cites:

In our minds are the horrible images of the beautiful female solders and their exercise on our brothers of a torture sport in Abu Ghraib. We don’t forget the image of the beautiful American, as she draws one of our brothers from his neck with a rope like a dog while he was naked and lying on the floor.

And another image of the same beauty with a sweet smile as she indicated with her finger a pile of our naked brothers’ bodies, while the beauty records a souvenir photo to show it to her grandchildren and feel proud of it.

Anyway, that won’t last long and a day will come in which the scales are turned and justice takes it course and the criminals are subjected to punishment[.]

Today another beauty is researching on a living person and they are a candidate to become the next victim. Therefore she gives to him advantages and talents that not even he or any of his grandparents possessed. He is a terrorist and strategist in everything…From war to the media and politics. What a introduction for a comfortable sitting on an electric chair.
This sexual imagery bears scrutiny as a rhetorical strategy. Abu Walid has a sense of humor and is a skilled propagandist (two facilities that mesh well together), and he is using the Western temptress trope both to flirt with Farrall and to exploit one of the most potent propaganda themes that the Bush Administration handed the jihadists -- that a sexually perverted hegemonic culture is using satanic sexuality to attack Islam.

Mockingly or no, Abu Walid's Muslim imagery expresses the eroticism in Jihadist puritanism. The Bush Administration's toxic sexually-themed torture tactics sent this eroticism into overdrive, handing anti-American jihadists of all stripes the most potent of recruiting tools, which Abu Walid exploits.

The eroticism serves as a foil for the central theme of Abu Walid's first response to Farrall: a contrast between the West's manipulative, exploitive, destructive modes of relationship and the brotherhood of the Mujahideen, which the twisted Western perspective perpetually misconstrues. The contrast is framed in a bit of gallantry offered to "the Australian beauty":
In the writings of Mrs Farrall are numerous examples of the use of conspiracy theories as a means of condemning we people who suffer from injustice.

It is okay because whatever comes from the beauty is beautiful even if it is interrogation techniques approved by the ugly Rumsfeld.
Abu Walid seeks to dispell what he presents as two Western misprisions about himself: first, that he is formally tied into the Taliban and al Qaeda, and second, that his criticisms of al Qaeda suggest a rift, betrayal, enmity. He offsets the alleged conspiratorial mode of Western counterterrorist thinking with a portrait of jihadist friendship that entails freely offered, informal consultation in matters public and private, misconstrued by western observers as formal and hierarchical command chains, alliances, and financial contracts.

Here's the Western interpretation of Mujahideen dealings as portrayed by Abu Walid:

In general, the security services always deliberately inflate the risks and invent things from scratch. So we can see them exaggerate the ability of people who are against the law so the efforts of their departments will be admired and valued so they will get the awards and admiration. More importantly, they will get more authority and power so they can fully put society and the country under their control, if that is possible. This has actually happened in many countries, whether big or small.
Western observers (and their tools in the Arab media, for whom Abu Walid saves his fiercest contempt) portray a set of relationships between individual Mujihadeen and between the Taliban and al Qaeda that are figments of their "conspiratorial" imaginations:  They mistake disagreement for enmity:
The beauty “Leah Farrall” ( the fitna is worse than murder) she said that I spread their dirty laundry and she means of course al Qaeda, like no one ever did before and in public. This is also not right. Despite my strong friendship with the al Qaeda leadership, I always have been directing to them frank and clear advice. If the mistakes were big it is natural that the advice makes the sound of loud bombs.
And they mistake friendship and informal consultation for formal, contractual relationships:
Lately they have been saying that al Masri works (consultant) for the al Qaeda organisation. And then they made me an advisor to the Taliban.

And Mullah Mohammad Omar, and then to jihadist movements in the Greater Khorosan.

If this was the case I would have opened an office for consulting and terrorism and become very rich.The truth is that I was not a counselor to anyone, but I gave my advice to all who request it of me if I was able to give my opinion, except for religious matters. I do not issue fatwas except for myself, and I go to the trusted scientists when I find them.

And if necessary I go myself to some important people with my consultation or advice if I think that keeping quiet and not doing that would result in significant harm to others. I have done so several times. Some of which was useful and most was not, and it caused me personal damage and I got used to enduring it and I am still suffering the consequences of some until today.
In a second response to Farrall -- much meatier in its discussion of the interests and relationships between the Taliban and al Qaeda -- Abu Walid elaborates on the nature of the Mujihadeen relationships misconstrued by Westerners:
The consultations thing is not an organised job. And if this consultation or advice occurs, it can be accepted or rejected very freely and with a sporting spirit. When I see a mistake that may cause damage I go directly to the party responsible and I speak quietly or not quietly, and it may come to a result or it may not, but we don’t leave the sites of friendship and love at all.

It doesn’t mean that my job was (an extraordinary consultant of the international terrorism) as you the security people want to exaggerate and make it very big. We were friends and we sit and confer on almost everything, family and personal subjects. We discus everything because we were all a single society living in the same circumstances and hardship of the migration and these circumstances can came from directly from external dangers on our borders, and terrible psychological wars which damage our reputation and even our families back home abandoned us.

Each of us was requesting from the others advice on big and small subjects in general and special advice. That is also correct for me, I requested advice from my brothers many times on many things. I consulted them for example about my acceptance of a position to work with al Jazeera Channel and some supported and some opposed this, and consulted them about my marrying for the second time and some of them nominated to me my Australian wife.
Interesting that Abu Walid has an Australian wife -- along with an alluring Australian anatagonist. Perhaps this accidental pairing will resurface at other points in the correspondence.

All that said, this charged undercurrent is incidental to Abu Walid's fascinating accounts of Taliban and al Qaeda interests, limitations and relations. Among his claims:  far from being symbiotic as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asserted, al Qaeda and the Taliban have divergent interests. The Taliban, should it return to power, will distance itself from the al Qaeda; and it is in al Qaeda's interests - though not the Taliban's -- to keep the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan. These theses are advanced here and here;  Farrall interprets here and here.  One must keep in mind that this man is an avowed blood enemy of the U.S. and its allies. But his claims still deserve careful scrutiny.

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