Analysis | Osama bin Laden and 'the impossible state'

Analysis | Osama bin Laden and 'the impossible state'

"Bin Laden is of the opinion that the 'modern' system must first be eliminated, and for this purpose, the power of the USA must be eliminated."

Analysis | Mepa News

In both Islamic movements and jihadi groups, the goal at the extreme end of the military, political and social perspective is generally clear: To establish an Islamic state and to keep it alive.

In the period since the collapse of the Ottoman State, many Islamic movements have approached this goal to a certain extent, and various experiences have been put forward in this direction. Similar processes have been experienced in many different theatres such as Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Algeria and Palestine. In this period called the 'modern era', the establishment of an Islamic state, just like in the past, and the challenge of this state to other non-Islamic powers in the region and the world has been one of the important agendas of Islamic movements.

Whether or not such a state is possible on a world where the norms of the modern age prevail has been the subject of theoretical and practical debates, and many works have been written on this issue. Indeed, the current global set of values called 'modernity' contradicts the basic dynamics of Islam in many aspects, especially in its political, social and economic aspects. For this reason, as long as the set of values of modernity is on effect and imposed on the world, questions arise as to whether a truly Islamic state can be established. Although various movements have emerged trying to unite modernity and Islam, it is seen that these movements have failed ideologically and politically.

Wael Hallaq and 'the Impossible State'

One of the most popular works in this direction is Wael Hallaq's book titled 'The Impossible State'. Hallaq makes the following statements in the introduction of his book:

"The argument of this book is fairly simple: The 'Islamic state,' judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both an impossibility and a contradiction in terms."

Hallaq emphasises that the socio-economic and political system designed by Islamic Sharia was abolished following the invasions of European colonial powers at the beginning of the 19th century. He states that after this date, the Islamic Sharia was eviscerated and reduced to regulating personal status within the modern world.

Stating that Muslims in the current era live within the concepts of modernity, and thus their way of thinking is formed on this direction, Hallaq expresses the current dilemma as follows:

"Modern Muslims are therefore faced with the challenge of reconciling two facts: First, the ontological fact of the state and its undeniably powerful presence, and, second, the deontological fact of the necessity to bring about a form of Sharīʿa governance. This challenge is further complicated by the recognition that the state in Muslim countries has not done much to rehabilitate any acceptable form of genuine Sharīʿa governance. The constitutional battles of the Islamists in Egypt and Pakistan, the failures of the Iranian Revolution as an Islamic political and legal project, and other similar disappointments amply testify to this proposition. Yet the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama."

To summarise, Hallaq's premise in his book is not that "an Islamic state is not possible" but that "a modern Islamic state is not possible". In this respect, the issue is not the 'problems' of modernity or Islam, but the points where these two contradict each other. The fact that Wael Hallaq himself has repeatedly emphasised that he would "prefer to live as a Christian under a Umayyad or Abbasid state than in a modern state" is indicative of the reality of the situation.

From this point of view, the focus of Islamic movements and jihadi groups has shifted over time to the idea of abolishing the current 'modern' age and its values and enabling humanity to move to a new and more morally viable age.

In other words, at the point where Islam and modernity contradict, trying to apply the requirements of Islam to modernity through 'ta'wil' (interpretation) was not seen as an acceptable method. This actually contradicts the fact that human thought and life are in constant motion. Modernity has not been seen as 'the furthest point that human beings can reach', but as one of the periods of human life. The message that emerges with such a view of modernity is clear: Islam contradicts modernity, not human life itself. Islam does not envisage an understanding that cannot be practised or cannot design life. On the contrary, it's the modern world that creates a reality that cannot be lived and is incompatible with the human's spirituality.

In the end, the conclusion is clear: Modernity must be abolished in order for Islam to prevail, i.e. for the establishment of an Islamic state.

Osama bin Laden and 'the impossible state'

The first name that comes to mind when it comes to jihadi movements is undoubtedly Osama bin Laden, who is seen as the most important architect of this movement.

Osama bin Laden's views on modernity and the state are also manifested in the jihadi understanding he constructed.

Accordingly, the destruction of modernity, the modern age and the understandings brought by it is only possible through the destruction of the military, economic and political will that sustains modernity. Osama bin Laden believes that the main target in this regard is the United States of America. According to him, the power of modernity will not disappear as long as the US is not destroyed, its military power does not disappear, and the Anglo-Jewish capital power within it does not become inoperable. In this axis, social, cultural and educational institutions and understandings that nourish the value judgements of the global system are also spread in the world thanks to American power. For instance, secular movements, homosexual structures and similar movements with 'modern' perceptions can exist in many parts of the world thanks to American political power and capital.

For this reason, Bin Laden believes that before establishing a state, Muslims must bring American power to its knees, destroy modernity and gain a space for themselves. According to him, if the US is destroyed or weakened to the extent that it cannot intervene in the world, it will be possible for Muslims to build institutional powers, including the state. Bin Laden cites the Soviet Union as an example in this regard. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, communist regimes from Eastern Europe to Yemen and Afghanistan have been on the verge of collapse. Systems that had adopted communist-socialist ideas either abandoned them or made major changes and concessions. Osama bin Laden believes that after the collapse of American power, the same fate awaits all institutions, states and other structures that have survived with the US and Western support.

On the other hand, Osama bin Laden favours the destruction of the existing global system rather than the direct establishment of a state. He is of the opinion that if an 'Islamic state' is established under the current conditions, this state can be easily targeted and destroyed by the global system in military, political, social, economic and other aspects, and thus the efforts of Muslims will be doomed to failure.

Osama bin Laden's point of view can be clearly seen in his letters to Nasser al Wuhayshi, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in Yemen, which were revealed with the publication of the Abbotabad Papers. Here, Bin Laden, addressing the jihadists in Yemen, argues that it is not a strategic approach to directly establish a state there, but rather to focus on the destruction of American power.

In order to better understand Bin Laden's views on this issue, some excerpts from the letters of 2009-2010 will be given:

"Enemies are powerful enough to topple any state we establish"

"We want San'a to establish an Islamic state, but first, we want to make sure that we have the capability to gain control of it. Even though we were able to militarily and economically exhaust and weaken our greatest enemy before and after the 9/11, the enemy continues to possess the ability to topple any state we establish."

"At the same time, we have to remember that the enemy toppled the Taliban and Saddam's regime. Additionally, you know the experiences in (Syria, Egypt, and Libya) and the enemies' alert in Yemen can‟t be compared with the enemies' state of alert in Afghanistan. The enemies considered Yemen as one of its own because of its geographical location, which is in the heart of the Gulf where the largest store of oil is in the world. We do not want to trouble ourselves and our families in Yemen concerning this matter at this time. Things needed to be prepared and will organize for it to be successful because if we fail, people will not help us the second time."

"America is the head of the nonbelievers. If Allah cut it off, the wings would be weakened."

"We should concentrate on sawing the trunk of the tree"

"The enemies of the Ummah, is a malicious tree with a huge trunk and has many different sizes of branches, including the countries of NATO and other regimes in the regions. We want to cut this tree at the root. The problem is that our strength is limited, so our best way to cut the tree is to concentrate on sawing the trunk of the tree. We need to concentrate on cutting around the bottom of America's trunk. Even though we have the chance to attack the British, we should not waste our effort to do so but concentrate on defeating America, which will lead to defeating the others, Allah willing."

"Here is an example for you, the mujahidin were able to cut the root of the Russian tree, and after that, all the branches fell one after the other, from the south of Yemen to Eastern Europe, without spending any effort on these branches at that time. Therefore, any arrow and mine we have should be directed against Americans, disregarding all other enemies, including NATO, and concentrating on Americans only."

"We will continue to pressure the Americans until there is a balance, where the expense of war, occupation, and influence on our countries becomes a disadvantage for them and they become tired of it, and finally withdraw from our countries and stop supporting the Jews.

It is very important to remember that timing is very important, as the present history confirms. We should realize by now that in order to establish an Islamic state, we should destroy the international infidels because they are against an Islamic state no matter how little it is, as happened in Morocco. Shaykh Khattabi established an Islamic emirate in Morocco, but the Crusaders blockaded and terminated the emirate.

Today, the head of the infidels is controlling and supporting the countries in the region. Additionally, it has the ability to topple the Islamic state in Afghanistan and the Iraqi regime. Even though it is exhausted, its strength to destroy an Islamic state in the region remains high during this time. The most important thing is that local and international professional adversaries are planning to destroy the Islamic movements; therefore, we need to be proactive and face all of their plans and continue to deplete and exhaust it throughout the open battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq to get it to a weaken point, which will stop it from destroying the country that we want to establish."

"America is in decline"

"Many American reports, aside from stating the obvious, are talking about a decline in America's economic, military, and political powers. The decline of the United States, and the advance of the mujahidin, Allah willing, will lead us to reach an equilibrium point with the enemy, during which time we could build and defend our state. Based on the above, it is clear that the time to build the Muslim state is not here yet, because we still have other greater duties to complete, which include making suitable preparations for that future state. God willing, the state will be the nucleus for the Caliphate ruler-ship model."

"There was also the Libyan experience (in 1990s). The brothers in Libya failed because, firstly, they did not listen to any of the advice they were offered. The al-Qa'ida advised them to wait, so did the Jihad Group and the Islamic Group. All the brothers advised the Libyan mujahidin that they did not have the basic resources to topple the Libyan regime. Not to mention, the timing did not add up. As you know, jihad is a duty, but it does not require Muslims to launch jihad battles everywhere and anytime. Also, jihad does not require Muslims to fight in areas where the conditions are obviously not in their favor.

The excessive enthusiasm among the Libyan brothers about creating a Muslim state in Libya made them lose focus. Then, the Libyan brothers suffered tremendously as they entered into a conflict with the Libyan regime. Thousands of our Libyan brothers went to jail. Many of them were tortured and persecuted. May Allah grant our Libyan brothers a speedy release from prison."


The fact that Osama bin Laden's thoughts on the establishment of an 'Islamic state' focus primarily on the need to abolish the existing system is evident in his writings.

In addition, bin Laden does not take a position against the fact that states or statelets have been established in the Islamic world, including Afghanistan, as a result of victories in wars. One hand, Bin Laden advocated targeting the power of the United States in line with his ideas and creating gaps in modernity for the work of Muslim groups. On the other hand, he co-operated with groups focusing on more localised activities. These include Al-Ittihad al-Islami in Ethiopia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and jihadi groups in Southeast Asia.

Analysing the practical perspective advocated by Bin Laden in the light of the 'impossible state' point of view presented by Wael Hallaq in his book, it is possible to see a common approach to the modernity-Islam contradiction. On both sides, it is recognised that modernity is an obstacle to the establishment of an Islamic state. Bin Laden is of the opinion that the 'modern' system must first be eliminated, and for this purpose, the power of the USA must be eliminated.

Source: Mepa News


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