Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The biggest misconception about Al-Qaeda is that its members are politically motivated. Of course, political Islam plays a role (especially in radicalizing future members). But Al-Qaeda is very much a medieval Doomsday cult with surprisingly little politics in it.

If you really want to understand what Al-Qaeda is all about, you have to step away from politics, away from life in the 21st century. Al-Qaeda is all about religion (rigidly imitating the Prophet Muhammad), cultural elements (keeping the Arab world and muslim South Asia as backward as possible) and an immense fear factor (for Western-led globalisation and its effects on the muslim mind).

It may sound a little cheap or simple, but basically Al-Qaeda consists of a bunch of madmen. Please read the follwing article I wrote on Al-Qaeda. It is based on a long article I wrote in 2004 for a Dutch magazine. I've added some new material. Due to its length, I will publish the text in four or five parts (otherwise it gets all too long - nobody will read it). Please find below, part one of:


It may sound strange, but I can visit Al-Qaeda on foot.

Whenever I leave my street in the F-8 sector of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, I can either take a right or left turn. Going right leads me, within 500 meters, to the house of Sultan Bashir Uddin Mahmood, a nuclear scientist who once headed Pakistan’s nuclear programme but started freelancing for Osama bin Laden. Taking a left gets you, within 300 meters, to the apartment of Khalid Khawaja, a personal friend of Bin Laden and a suspect in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Left or right - a former head of Al-Qaeda’s nuclear unit or a personal friend of Bin Laden? Not an easy choice.

Many times I have taken the right turn and visited Bashir Uddin’s house. But he, a friendly looking elderly man, isn’t the most talkative person in the world. Because not long after 9/11 he was picked up by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, after the Americans found out that this nuclear scientist had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (In the meeting Bin Laden had asked Bashir Uddin to build a nuclear device). During weeks of interrogation the ISI made it very, very clear Bashir Uddin should refrain from contact with the outside world. Since his release, he has, more or less, been placed under a light form of house arrest.

But I kept trying to interview him. I would knock on the gate of Bashir Udin’s property, but every time his servants told me to leave. Or I would approach him while Basir Uddin drove his car in or out of his compound. Again to no avail. He never said a word.

Basir Uddin was not only Al-Qaeda’s main nuclear specialist (it kind of helped that he had been the director of a nuclear power plant in Pakistan), but he was a writer too.

Mainly, his topics dealt with three things: God, the sun and pseudo-science. God – because Bashir Uddin was obsessed with God and seemed in love with the prophet Muhammad (He of course had written a book about the prophet). The sun – because, fascinatingly, the bringer of life was basically a star where thousands of hydrogen bombs exploded every second. Bashir Uddin had written a book about his theory that increased sunspots create war and violence in this world. And pseudo-science – because Bashir Uddin strongly believed in a combination of Islam and science, also called Koranic science. For instance, he suggested that energy could be extracted from Jinns (ghosts). This because, according to the Quran, Jinns might appear in the form of fire. And since fire is energy, Bashir Uddin was convinced that Jinns could be used to solve Pakistan’s energy problem. The Jinns, using special energy tapping machines, could as well fight along the Pakistan Army in a war against India.

His theories, especially the one with the Jinns, let other Pakistani scientists to the conclusion that religion had made Bashir Uddin barking mad. They called him professor crackpot.

At one afternoon though, a car stopped in front of my house and somebody stepped out carrying a couple of books. This person approached me and said: “Please take this as a gift from Mr. Bashir Uddin.”

I was given three books, all written in English by Bashir Uddin. One of them was called: Doomsday and life after death. According to the preface, the book is "A systematic study of the complex realities of life, life-after death and Doomsday; the ultimate faith of mankind and of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe, in the light of the Holy Quran and the latest scientific findings; pointing out new horizons of thought for science; and developing a conprehensive understanding of the future, for believers and non-believers alike."

In the book, Bashir Uddin had written a message for me: “May Allah guide us on the right path”. Below the text, he had placed his signature.

After I received his books, I took a right turn, and visited – again – his house. He just had visited the mosque (something he very frequentely did) and I thanked him for his books. He never said a word. He only smiled and nodded.

Tomorrow part 2

Harald Doornbos


Anonymous said...

Interesting, looking forward to the remaining parts. By the way, how is your book on AQK coming along?


Harald Doornbos said...

leading nowhere!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that.


ella said...


I don't know. I would think that they are not a bunch of madmen but a bunch of fanatics.
I am not sure if you know but there are serious conferences where muslim scholars discuss "Scientific Signs in the Qur’an and Sunnah".
Many people also believe that Quran already explained majority of things which are known to science today, from quarks to galaxies and can "prove" these "miracles of Quran".
There are also many entirely normal people in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who do believe in jins and magic.
As for being obsessed with Muhammed and God, how would you describe recent protests in Afghanistan dealing with blasphemous football, and other protests about blasphemous cartoons, blasphemous books and so on?
So you may be right, some of these people in al qaeda may be madmen but they are not so different in their beliefs from many of their co-believers.

Harald Doornbos said...

@ ella,

I for sure see what you are hinting at.

Don't know if you speak Dutch (small possibility I guess) but this is a very interesing article, called "Moderate Islam doesn't exist": http://www.ravagedigitaal.org/index.htm?2006/augustus/islam/islam.php~mainFrame

I will try to find for you the text of this article in English, or French. The author is Anne-Marie Delcambre, she teaches Arabic at the lycée Louis le Grand in Paris.

Thanks for comment!

Mariano Slutzky said...

and did you know that leftwing ignorants in Latin America consider these idiots like Laden as freedom fighters?

yo said...

it might be, mariano, that this is because they are as much barbarians as the radicals on the other side of the globe.

the existance of an empire is shown also by the existance of those others outside it, the barbarians. and observing that usually one american life is worth about 50 vietnamese, 100 african or 10 european ones, the position of a barbarian who knows he will always be a barbarian to the empire is one that makes the barbarian angry.

he might realise on which side of the divide he stands, and link up with others of the same condition, regardless of what these others do or if he would like to live with, or in this case under them.

in idealistic terms, he does wrong. but reality has the tendency to be less idealistic than we'd wish. it is indeed quiet barbaric.

it is not much about ignorance but about anger. which might explain why al-qaeda does not primarily draw recruits among the poor, but to a large extend among well-fed middle classers.

ella said...


It is funny. It is not americans who price the worth of human life, be it americans or others, the price on human life is put by others, themselves.
BTW Is it your estimation that 10 european lives are worth 1 american life, or do you have some backing for that statement?

it is not much about ignorance but about anger. which might explain why al-qaeda does not primarily draw recruits among the poor, but to a large extend among well-fed middle classers.
Is it anger? If it is, it is for lost empires, by people whose religion is the last and the only true one, who should rule over others, but........... they do not. The people who finish universities and colleges know that they are better but some of them have to live in the countries whose religion is not theirs, because their own countries are pale shadow of former glory. There is no more caliphate, there is no more empire, there is no more power. How they could not be angry knowing what they know and believing what they believe?