June 30, 2016

Certainly we're hunting down some of the leadership around bin Laden, but Al Qaeda is not just one centralized organization..It's a revolutionary movement. If you're part of a revolutionary movement, you join others who feel part of the revolutionary movement. As your sincerity is tested and people start to trust you, you start to get into inner cells and as you prove yourself in carrying out attacks against the enemy, then gradually you get into more and more powerful positions and you get more expertise and you can carry out operations. It's true that Al Qaeda has been dismantled in part--and that there is a reaction by progressive Muslims to militant Islam. All these things are going on simultaneously. And I think it's crucial to understand that they are going on simultaneously, and that if the United States expands its operations in the Middle East, I think it's absolutely predictable that there will be groups that are going to rise up in opposition to that.

Do you think the U.S. government knows the medieval historical analogues you mentioned earlier? Or cares? Or do the analogues not even matter?

I'm puzzled by the fact that the government probably knows these analogues. I know that some of the governmental advisers have talked about them explicitly. For example, Bernard Lewis, who is very influential on the Bush administration, takes the view that the colonial constitution of Iraq should be reinstated-the one that the British helped draw up under the British colonial rule. And I would call these the "Let's be colonialists and do it right" faction.

Of course, the Administration never presents it in exactly that way, but certainly people are conscious of that [history]. And I don't think there are many people in areas where the United States is acting that doesn't see this as a very close form of colonialism, very similar to British rule. We're going to bring democracy, we're going to set up a Parliament, we're going to bring women's rights, we're going to bring development. This is exactly what occurred under the British and French--and it did bring some development and some Parliaments and some good things-but people also felt it brought occupation. My concern is if the United States is entering into this world without thinking it through.

I have no idea how long the United States is going to be in Iraq and [I know there are some advisers] who are urging the United States to now move on to Syria and Iran in the same way. I don't know whether the American people, when we come to our elections, will think about these issues in terms of, 'Do we want to become colonial occupiers and hunt down the terrorists and occupy countries?' Will we look back on the British and think about why the British got tired of that?

I'm also curious about the Muslim landscape here in the United States post-9/11 and also post-Iraq and now in light of the Spain bombing. Do you have any concerns about what's going on in the United States among radical Muslims?

I have concern that there's a war going on between radical militants and Western power and that radical militants are finding their best technique is to carry out these terror attacks. That's been a concern before and after the Madrid operation. But that's not an issue of Islamic society, or Islamic religious tendency generally--that's just an issue of a particular form of warfare that's going on.

As far as the American Muslim community is concerned, it's so vast, so diverse. One trend is for people to say, "We have to develop more of a sense of ownership of our own Islam." That is, we no longer can rely on sending students to Saudi Arabia, or bringing in imams trained in Saudi Arabia by Saudi Salafi leaders. Many of them have very little understanding of American culture, especially if they have been indoctrinated in this conflict-oriented militant Salafism taught in Saudi Arabia in some of these institutions. And that's not our Islam. It doesn't reflect our realities, it doesn't reflect our very multi-religious, pluralistic society. And I think there are very active, powerful and progressive movements, constructive movements, whose goal is to have more of a sense of indigenous American Islam here.

So you do think that movement is powerful? I've heard mixed news about it.

I think people don't want Islam controlled by this one group. And they do want ownership of their own Islam. They want a mosque and a teaching that relates to their culture, to their society, their neighbors, that teaches them a way of getting along in peaceful and constructive ways with their non-Muslim neighbors. But Muslims are also now harassed in airports and encounter extreme prejudice, which is almost inevitable in these states of war-so they also feel that the United States is an aggressor power and that Western powers are still aggressor powers and occupiers in the Middle East. So that's a powerful double set of feelings.