Associated Press

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Anwar al-Awlaki: The Posthumous Jihadi or a Martyr?

Are you sure that dead men cannot talk? Learning about Anwar al-Awlaki will make you think twice before answering that question. Anwar was the first American citizen to be hunted down and killed without a trial since the American Civil War. He was killed in Yemen on presidential orders on September 30t, 2011. The Obama administration thought that using Hellfire (the name of the drone used) to kill this violent man who posed a direct risk to American security would bring an end to his influence. How wrong they were! Anwar has continued to spread hate and extremist beliefs from the grave, thanks to the availability of his videos and lectures online.

Today, a YouTube search of his name is likely to produce over 60,000 references which is close to double the number in 2011. Anwar’s voice from the grave continues to reach out to young vulnerable people inciting them to extremist religious teachings. His death at the hands of the west has only earned him the coveted role of a martyr making him larger in death than he ever was in life. The obsession with martyrdom amongst extremists explains his increased posthumous popularity. Dying for one’s religion is a prevalent issue in radical Islam and young Muslims are urged to sacrifice themselves for the sake of Islam. In return, they are promised a place in Jannah (paradise) and forgiveness for their sins. His followers believe that the use of a Hellfire missile achieved this for Anwar!

Warsame – a young man radicalized by Anwar’s work – told a judge that the cleric had persuaded him that he had a religious duty to take up arms in defense of Islam. It is the duty of each Muslim cleric to debunk such myths and teach the truth that Islam is a religion of peace not war. Numerous attacks have been mounted using weapons made using Anwar’s instructions which remain easily available online. Women, who are primary care givers in many societies as mothers and early development educators can be taught to read between the lines so that they can see red flags of early signs of radicalization amongst the youth and men in their society.

Failure by the west to assimilate immigrants from Islamic states has resulted in many young people from Muslim backgrounds hating anything “western.” Identity crisis, islamophobia and what seems to be attacks on Islam serve to frustrate young people who are still trying to find a noble cause to fight for. Anwar tapped into this void when he preached that young Muslims must, “never, ever trust the kuffar,” or those not of the Muslim religion. He went as far as calling for young American Muslims to fly to jihadist war fields in the Middle East or mount attacks on American soil. This call echoes that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he said that, “For patriotism is another name for paganism I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” States must find ways to make patriots out of all their citizens whether they were born or naturalized to avoid attacks by homegrown terrorists or foreign fighters who work with their own citizens to carry out attacks.

After interviewing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the end of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist, concluded that, “The art of invading and conquering and subjugating is the only art at which the sons of Allah have always excelled…Islam is the new Nazi- Fascism. With Nazi- Fascism, no compromise is possible. No hypocritical tolerance…the western world is in danger of being engulfed by radical Islam.”

Anwar al-Awlaki’s earlier teachings were good. However over time, he became an extremist that incited people to take part in indiscriminate attacks. As a result, it is hard to listen to him and only pick the good teachings. The American government made it clear that Anwar al-Awlaki was being sought. Failure to turn himself in (as he was considered a threat to national security) prompted the strike which contravened American rules on the killing of American citizens without due process. Many of his followers do not know why Awlaki fled the US. He left when he learned that the American authorities were aware of his relations with extremist groups.

The FBI documents say that Anwar al-Awlaki visited prostitutes and paid $2,320 for the visits. If indeed he did so, this goes against Islamic teachings. Yet this is the same man many look up to as a model Islamic leader. What a hypocrite he was and continues to be in death if he preached water while taking wine!

More than five years after his death, Anwar al-Awlaki’s ever hovering presence on the Internet continues to pose a threat to the security of the lives of vulnerable young people, the west and their allies. Removing his videos and lectures from sites such as YouTube might not entirely erase his presence since his ardent followers are likely to keep reposting his videos and figuring out ways to circumvent surveillance by law enforcement but it will be more difficult to find the material. Muslim clerics must publicly dissociate themselves and Islam from the radical’s teachings and call him out for what he really is: a terrorist and not a martyr! Some clerics are already doing this but more should join them and condemn wayward clerics that preach hatred. Only then, will his tight grip on young people’s hearts and minds start to diminish and eventually die.