Jihad Backfire (Yemen Edition)

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According to the CSM, a young Yemeni judge named Hamoud al-Hitar has had resounding success in his encounters with the country's Al Qaeda prisoners as a result of challenging them to theological debate.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Judge al-Hitar tells militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence." According to the story, Al-Hitar "invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians and when they cannot, he shows them numerous passages commanding Muslims not to attack civilians, to respect other religions, and fight only in self-defense." The exchanges may last for weeks. If prisoners renounce their Islamist views, they are released.

The judge himself notes that, "Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital. Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."

Reporter James Brandon adds that, "Some freed militants were so transformed that they led the army to hidden weapons caches and offered the Yemeni security services advice on tackling Islamic militancy. A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda's top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar's reformed militants."

"If you study terrorism in the world, you will see that it has an intellectual theory behind it," the judge told reporter Brandon. "And any kind of intellectual idea can be defeated by intellect."

Efforts by moderate Muslims in Egypt to challenge Islamist interpretations of the Koran were noted here.

Thanks to: Former reason staffer Jeremy Lott at GetReligion.

NEXT: They'll Never Look There!

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  1. "If you study terrorism in the world, you will see that it has an intellectual theory behind it," the judge told reporter Brandon. "And any kind of intellectual idea can be defeated by intellect."

    I'm always happy when that sort of approach works. All too often it doesn't. It's obvious to me that this Yemeni judge has considerable skill in dealing with these guys, and I wish his skills were more ubiquitous.

  2. But... but... Rush Limbaugh says the only way to stop terrorists is to kill them.... DOES NOT COMPUTE...

  3. Of course what will be decisively ignored by the neocons and warheads, whom I am sure are already gleefully posting this to their blogs, is that this strongly demonstrates that jihadis aren't mindless automatons who can (and should) only be dealt with through force, but rather are functioning human beings who are capable of reason and logical persuasion.

  4. Great minds apparently think alike, Franklin. (Your comment wasn't posted yet when I started drafting mine.)

  5. Charlie Manson goes to Boys Town.

  6. Well, it's not utterly stunning that some religious fanatics can be manipulated by someone who know the religion better than them. I wonder how many turned of how many attempted, but we have no data points besides a claim of "really, we've had no terrorism in Yemen since we started this, honest".

    (A more cynical man might suggest something other dynamics at work about a government releasing arrested terrorists after a few weeks and that government not being attacked by said terrorists, for that matter.)

    To be sure, the prisoner-release program is not solely responsible for the absence of attacks in Yemen. The government has undertaken a range of measures to combat terrorism from closing down extreme madrassahs, the Islamic schools sometimes accused of breeding hate, to deporting foreign militants.

    In any case, the Yemeni government claims to use more than dialogue to shut down terrorism.

    Personally, I wonder how many folks who are rather entrenched in their own points of view will leap on these claimed conversions as evidence of the power of argument - because, heaven knows, so many opinions get changed in these comments.

  7. because, heaven knows, so many opinions get changed in these comments

    YOU'RE WRONG!

    😉

  8. *snicker*

  9. Gee, Eric, did I say that force should *never* be used?

  10. Better fess up before someone points out - my brain elided over "three hundred and sixty-four young men". I'll feel embarrassed about that upon some plausible assurance that these guys haven't merrily run off to rejoin their comrades. 🙂

  11. Gee, SR, did I say you had?

  12. Like this isn't directed at me?

    "Personally, I wonder how many folks who are rather entrenched in their own points of view will leap on these claimed conversions as evidence of the power of argument"

  13. SR: Hmm, well, considering I don't offhand remember ever arguing with you at any length in any of these comment threads, not really.

    But if you're very resistant to being argued out of your opinion on even the slightest issue, but are crowing about the Yemeni government's claim that they've argued terrorists out of their terrorism on the basis that it lets you posture that people who disagree with you don't respect the power of argument...Yes, you're yet another person this can apply to.

  14. This story would seem to indicate that, contra Daniel Pipes, jihadist terrorism is not the inevitable outcome of Arab and Muslim culture.

    Next thing you know, some hippie will be arguing that humiliating Arabs with a military victory isn't the best way to further our security.

  15. Next thing you know, some hippie will be arguing that humiliating Arabs with a military victory isn't the best way to further our security.

    Joe, I thought you were an LP "fan" (in the sense that people are fans of reality show contestants). Some "hippies" there were saying that as of the first forces landing in Afghanistan.

  16. (Landing, walking, sneaking in...however special forces types make entrances.)

  17. If prisoners renounce their Islamist views, they are released.

    Am I the only one who sees nothing to be skeptical about here? If you were to promise freedom to your average American B & E artist if he renounces his former profession, don't you think you'd get a few takers?

    "Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital.

    There are few to no terror attacks in Iran or Syria either, and when "Saudi" Arabia was a reliable supporter of terrorism, there weren't any attacks there. Lack of attacks proves nothing.

    "Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."

    That is interesting, but it is also a very limited measure. How many Yemenis of any stripe leave the country to be terrorists abroad? Have these terrorists kept their hands clean at home? The article doesn't say.

    Still, that must be one charismatic and persuasive judge. I just wouldn't read too much into it, or believe that his tactical success is scalable to a winning strategy in this war.

  18. Sorry, RC. You have to be a crazy Dittohead to have any skepticism towards the Yemeni government.

  19. But... but... if the article is to be believed, these terrorists were dissuaded from violence even while the "root causes," like the occupation of Palestine, or America's overweening presence in the world, go unaddressed!!

    DOES NOT COMPUTE!

  20. RC, good point, but the jihadi/robber simile breaks down at a certain point.

    A jihadi terrorist is, by definition, so committed to his criminal motive that he'd be willing to kill and die for it. These are people with very strong beliefs, and renouncing those beliefs is something they can be expected to very honestly resists.

    B&E guys, not so much.

  21. These are people with very strong beliefs, and renouncing those beliefs is something they can be expected to very honestly resists.

    They may honestly resist honest renunciations, but what harm would they find in a wink-and-a-nod promise to a hypothetical friendly judge who "talked them out of terrorism"?

  22. "renouncing those beliefs is something they can be expected to very honestly resists."

    Unless there just happened to be a clerically-endorsed escape clause allowing the believer to, in actions and words, violate or renounce his beliefs in either self-defense (as the concept originally came about) or in pursuit of an offensive mission (as is currently in style).

  23. Eric and Matt F, there is obviously that risk. But it seems that the judge's method (to actively engage the defendants in Koran study) and experience with the culture and religion would put him in a good position to distinguish honest conversions from dishonest.

  24. It might have some bearing, with the assumption that that the judge is not simply sympathetic and trying to get the back out in circulation.

  25. R.C. Dean,

    Lack of attacks proves nothing.

    Yet we know that you've stated in the past that lack of attacks in the U.S. means that the Bush policies are working.

  26. R.C. Dean,

    Note that in Saudi Arabia similar tactics have been tried and they have turned a number of Jihadis away from terrorism. A number of these men have been interviewed and they have described their conversion process as being something like found in the article.

  27. Shouldn't this post be titled, "Hit & Run; Yemeny Prison Edition"?

  28. Eric, "It might have some bearing, with the assumption that that the judge is not simply sympathetic and trying to get the back out in circulation."

    I think the sympathy that matters is the judge's sympathy with devout Muslims trying to live pious lives and pursue justice according to the Koran. Without that sympathy, there would be no way he could bring them around.

    Which serves to underscore the importance of dismissing the Daniel Pipes view of the situation, and recognizing that a humane, tolerant, decent politics is not a western invention, but can arise organically within the Muslim world. Which really shouldn't be surprising, since such a thing first arose organically within the Muslim world.

  29. Joe, I don't know if it's because you're under the weird belief that I'm a Pipes follower (as opposed to one of the "yes, if you think Arab Muslims can't live in a liberal democracy you're a racist bastard" group), but you're having an amazing amount of trouble even rhetorically allowing for any skepticism of a Yemeni judge's claim.

    Why do I have the suspicion you'd grow some doubts about the matter if this could be obviously spun pro-Bush?

  30. Man, I love going to a libertarian web site where most of the posters take a Yemeni government official's claim on faith.

  31. R C Dean at February 8, 2005 03:16 PM
    Lack of attacks proves nothing.
    but when bush asserts that lack of attacks on american soil are because of the new laws and policy/initiatives etc., what ever the f@@k he mutters, i do not sense that same degree of cynism from the right. Again two seperate sets of qualifing criteria applied to like scenarios.

    joe at February 8, 2005 03:33 PM
    A jihadi terrorist is, by definition, so committed to his criminal motive that he'd be willing to kill and die for it. These are people with very strong beliefs, and renouncing those beliefs is something they can be expected to very honestly resists.

    i would bet these individuals have a different definition/perception as to who the criminals are, and what constitutes criminal behavior

    people with very strong beliefs, yeah and there probably young and impressionalbe, probably like yourself in your late teens and early 20s, i was. most religious behavior and passions are passed from family, or some other charasmatic elder. not learned, that is, researched and reproved to oneself.

    once that research and reproof is provided its not a leap to believe these individuals could change.

    the judge was not asking them to renounce islam, he was presenting to them what the koran actually says about subjects in contrast to the doctrine there currently following. not reaching, it is not only possible but quite probable their views could be modified. something like the truth will set you free or some other hubba, hubba like that.

    except for Republicans, who simply can not handle the truth

  32. I think this is a good reason to dismiss the "joe" view that Arab/Moslems are incapable of managing tolerant liberal democracies.

  33. Well it would be great if this works so well, but the fact that there haven't been a lot of attacks in Yemen means nothing if these guys are running to Zarqawi in Baghdad or Al qaeda in Pakistan as soon as they get out of jail. I'll need to see a lot more info to believe that this is a good approach. Hate to bring up the old Hitler argument again, but since he's pretty much the only person left we're all allowed to call a bad guy, here goes: Nazism had an intellectual basis too. So did Imperial Japan. So did Southern slavery. So did EVERYTHING that anybody ever fought against. I don't remember anyone announcing war "beacause I feel like it". There's always some argument behind it. That doesn't mean we can talk our way to peace 100% of the time. Good luck to this judge if he's really doing it, but I don't know how universal the tactic can be.

  34. "A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda's top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar's reformed militants."

    Don't get me wrong--I think it's great when we kill al Qaeda members!

    ...but it is ironic that a former militant once convinced that he should "fight only in self-defense" effectively participated in an assassination.

  35. And I thought it was poverty...

  36. there was a similar article in thw wall street journal a couple years ago...

    http://www.hatefreeamerica.com/122303.htm

    ...A year later, after attending a young Muslims conference, Mr. Saied and Mr. Billoo joined a discussion in the book-lined basement of a Chicago house. Over coffee, tea and fresh fruit, Mr. Saied launched into a tirade against non-Muslims and Americans. Assim Mohammed, who was hosting the gathering at his parents' home, had encountered the same attitudes in Muslim circles as a student at the University of Illinois.

    Mr. Mohammed, now 27, says he and another young man launched a counterattack, arguing that "the basic foundations of American values are very Islamic -- freedom of religion, freedom of speech, toleration." The battle raged for four hours, as several other people listened avidly. Mr. Mohammed and his ally deployed Quranic verses that suggest an embrace of pluralism. One he quoted states, "O humankind, God has created you from male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other."

    Late that night, Mr. Saied says he realized that he and Mr. Billoo "were out of arguments." Mentally exhausted, he says he thought, "Oh my God, what have I been doing?" Mr. Billoo, now attending Nova Southeastern University 's law school in Fort Lauderdale, describes a similar "deprogramming experience."

    In the following months, both say they gravitated back toward the more moderate values they had learned growing up.

  37. Hurrah, this is great news ! Now if only the good Judge had been on the case for, oh, the last 50 years or so. Still, better late than never.

  38. Maybe this judge is telling the truth. And maybe some few Muslims have been talked out of extremist views. But I'm a major skeptic. Think about the mindset of a terrorist, for just 60 seconds.

    At minimum, I don't believe this judge, and people like him, could possibly win the war against terrorism. I'll believe this tactic is a universal terrorism bomb, when I see it happen. And if people have been talking about these kinds of "experiences" for years, then why hasn't terrorism been wiped out? Oh, I know! There aren't enough JUDGES!

    The Republicans can't handle the truth. And neither can the Democrats.

    I'm sure that if we hadn't invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the Arabs would love us. Or, maybe, if we didn't also support Isreal. Or, maybe, if we also didn't buy Mid East oil, and if we weren't so stinking rich and influential, because you know, we Westerners have been corrupting the Islamic World for centuries now.

    We've done some dirt in the Middle East. But the truth is, the Muslim "extremists" would have come out hating the U.S. anyway. Just for being what we are.

  39. I guess it is a good thing for a Koranic judge to talk young militants into a milder version of that faith, but it still sounds like two people arguing about whether faeries are pink or blue. As long as law is based on special revelation, someone else can come along with a more convincing interpretation of the relevant holy book, and new murderous recruits will come out of the woodwork. This is as true for Christendom as it is for Dar-al-Islam.

    Kevin

  40. Hmmm... Since when has deprogramming been news? Or conversion? Isn't the Middle East where much of this stuff started in the first place? Even prior to Christianity and Islam?

    Deprogramming is nothing more, really, than replacing a less-accepted system of irrational beliefs with a somewhat more acceptable form.

    Looks like this judge is just a bit better at proving his imaginary friend can beat up their imaginary friend - or that they just have the wrong idead about their mutual imaginary friend.

  41. "I think this is a good reason to dismiss the "joe" view that Arab/Moslems are incapable of managing tolerant liberal democracies."

    Wow, the guy you argue with on a website, and the part of your brain that makes easily-refutable arguments that you assign to those you disagree, share the same name! What are the chances?

  42. Actually, the joe view is that Arab democracy has to spring from indigineous roots, and grow from the local to the national level over time (as it did in our own experience). But since such concepts are both pro-democracy and anti-Iraq War, exposure to them makes smoke and sparks come out of the warbots' ears, causing them to reset to "You love Saddam and hate democracy" mode.

  43. "But since such concepts are both pro-democracy and anti-Iraq War, exposure to them makes smoke and sparks come out of the warbots' ears, causing them to reset to "You love Saddam and hate democracy" mode."

    ...Maybe we can get this judge to reason with warbots, burger eating attack monkeys and Republican propaganda victims?

  44. "Arab democracy has to spring from indigineous roots"

    joe, I await your generous assessment of Iraq's new constitution - whatever that constitution says, and however much it may deviate from a model drawn up by John Stuart Mill.

  45. Actually, the joe view is that Arab democracy has to spring from indigineous roots, and grow from the local to the national level over time (as it did in our own experience).

    Really? And how was that going, pre-Iraq war? Care to fill us in?

  46. "Really? And how was that going, pre-Iraq war? Care to fill us in?"

    Pretty well in the North--especially if you gauge progress by cost in American lives.

  47. Well, parliamentary elections were held in Barhain and had been held for several cycles in Iran. The liberalizing, anti-clerical popular movements in Iran were much stronger. (Not Arab, I realize, but Middle Eastern).

    On the other hand, Algeria tried to hold elections modelled on those of the Western Democracies among a population that had no experience with voting or liberal politics, and jumped right to national-level elections. It didn't work out so well.

  48. "...much stonger than they are since the invasion..." is how that should have read.

  49. "Well, parliamentary elections were held in Barhain and had been held for several cycles in Iran. The liberalizing, anti-clerical popular movements in Iran were much stronger. (Not Arab, I realize, but Middle Eastern)."

    Wow. So your answer is, "pretty well, at least in Iran and Bahrain?"

    That's amazing, really. I admire your, er, candor.

  50. My answer, Matt, is, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    The least effective ways will actually put the pelt back on the half-plucked creature - such as the Iranian example.

  51. gee joe,

    Iran, huh? Your big hope for an indigenous model in the region is an insular and poisonously anti-Western regime, sposoring terror and on the fast-track to obtaining nuclear weapons...but with several cycles of controlled and meaningless parliamentary ballots?

    I see.

  52. No, Andrew, my big model was the popular Iranian liberal movement that (once upon a time, before the Iraq War) was growing in power, threatening the regime's authority, and demonstrating to their country and those beyond them that resisting jihadist tyranny was in no way selling out to a foreign power or religion. It was starting to look like 1989 for a little while there.

    These days, not so much with the marching freedom thing.

    But yes, the Iranian parliamentary elections (which used to be much more free than they are now) do represent progress towards liberal democracy, in comparison to the absolute monarchy that preceded them.

    As for the "several cycles of controlled and meaningless parliamentary ballots," this is different from what is going on in Iraq - how? Oh, right - not nearly as many dead people.

  53. The only reform that will come in Iran is when they hang the mullahs from the street lamps. That's just the kind of guys they are.

  54. How is it different. They are going to write a constitution...did you notice? Whereas Katami (and none of HIS like are going to be allowed to run again) gets to tos hia turban in the PM's office.

    Apart from having a Supreme Council that ignores whatever elected officials propose - and I am assuming this is an "indigenous" feature you don't find admirable...right? - what about Iran's "model" is supposed to be uniquely non-Western?

    Show me an example of anything you would care to qualify as a democracy, on any continent, that has any non-Western features. The Iroquois nation, or somesuch crap?

  55. joe

    I know you haven't seen Iranian freedom marches in the last four or five days of the news cycle - and this is your time-frame for measuring events - but be patient, the Iraqi elections are due to have a big impact in Iran.

  56. This judge reminds me of the Israeli interrogater who used to study his targets before interrogating them. He even studied the Koran so he could debate them on an even footing.

  57. The thing about it is this: If this is one more method for attempting to deal with these Nazis, then by all means, give it a try. Also let them know that we (meaning everyone throughout the world who prefers not to be dictated to by people with a misogynist, 12th Century mindset)will reserve the right to fight them aggressively, and root them out of whatever rat-hole they infest. It is correct though, to give them a choice: continue to fight a losing battle (one they cannot win as long as we are committed to resist), or engage in a dialogue of the type described in the post, whereby the jihadists can learn the error of their ways. Personally, I don't hold out too much hope for fascists being reasoned out of their fascism, but why not give it a try?

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