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In 1979 the world of Sunni Islam was in a state of drift and confusion. The Shia were enjoying a political triumph in Iran with the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini; Egypt had become the first Arab country to recognise Israel; and Islamist militants had seized Mecca's Grand Mosque, holding worshippers hostage for nearly two weeks during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

When the Soviet Union committed troops to Afghanistan later that year, the conflict offered Sunni Islamists salvation and a cause that was their own - often with the blessing of Arab governments. The man who did more than anyone to lead and inspire this Sunni resurgence was Azzam. It was he who led the initial trickle of Arabs who went to support the Afghans, and eventually paved the way for thousands more to join them. In the process he became both military and spiritual leader to a growing band of Arab jihadis.

Little has been written about Azzam, although an examination of his life as a leader during the '80s reveals that challenges to al-Qaeda from within have dogged it from the start, and that the organisation is well placed to withstand the kind of dissent which now threatens it.

Azzam was born in 1941 in what was then British Mandatory Palestine. He earned a degree in Shariah law from Damascus University and a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest institution of religious learning in the Islamic world. There he read books by Syed Qutb, the intellectual Godfather of modern Islamic fundamentalism, and met members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement he would later join. He also came into contact with both Ayman al-Zawahiri - the now de facto leader of al-Qaeda - and Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheikh convicted of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre.

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November 5th, 2008
9:11 PM
Jihad has many dimensions and fronts, not merely those of a military, terrorist nature. There is legal jihad (lawsuits in Western courts to prevent literature being published or disseminated which is critical of Islam); political jihad (the ongoing steamrollering through the United Nations and the EU by the Organisation of Islamic Conference's attempts to silence freedom of speech by presenting criticism of Islam as 'injurious to peace' and religious intolerance in societies because it occasions hurt feelings and violent protest from 'offended' Moslems); economic jihad (Sharia-compliant financial institutions, through which Sharia as the Moslem order of life becomes more pervasive and violent jihad is financed); educational jihad (everything from restricting the teaching of Islam at universities to Moslems-only to large-scale 'donations' to universities to set up Islamic study centres); religious jihad (da'wa with its false 'inter-faith' gatherings of Moslems using taqiyya against dhimmified non-Moslems) and, of course, social jihad (with its unceasing demands for acquiescence to and accommodation with Sharia by non-Moslems). If we continue to delude ourselves with the notion that jihad is simply a tactic of violence, rather than a means of wholesale dominance and destruction of other societies, jurisprudences and civilisations, we will wake up one day and find ourselves in full dhimmitude, paying the jizya, or quite dead.

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