Have the Jihadis Lost the Moral High Ground to the Rebels?

Tahrir-300x200 Mark Juergensmeyer in The Immanent Frame:

It has been a season of earthquakes, and the political ones in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East may have shifted the moral high ground within Islamic opposition movements. Put simply, Tahrir Square may have trumped jihad.

For the past thirty years, the jihadi movement has crested on a wave of popular unrest and been propelled by the moral legitimacy given by their violent interpretation of the Muslim notion of ethical struggle. Though jihadi activists such as those associated with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network have been regarded from outside the region simply as immoral terrorists, much of their popularity within the Islamic world has been their moral appeal.

The jihadi ideology has had two dimensions, political and ethical. The political attraction was the alleged necessity of violence to end despotic regimes. Before the protests at Tahrir Square that toppled the Mubarak regime last month, many Egyptian activists were convinced that bloodshed was the only strategy that would work against such a ruthless dictator. They imagined that their acts of terrorism—against the regime and against the “far enemy” of America that they assumed was propping up the Mubarak system—would eventually lead to a massive revolt that would bring the dictatorship to an end.

They also thought that only the jihadi ideology of cosmic warfare—based on Muslim history and Qur’anic verses—provided the moral legitimacy for the struggle. Ideologists such as Abd al-Salam Farad and Ayman al-Zawahiri have written as if violent struggle—including ruthless attacks of terrorism on civilian populations—was the only form of struggle that was advocated by Islam.

These assumptions have been proven wrong.