Last week, Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni was abducted by Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad members in Gaza. They posted a video online saying he'd be killed unless their rival Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, released Salafis in prison. Within hours, though, he was dead. The group, sometimes called Tawhid and Jihad, later denied kidnapping and killing Arrigoni, who was originally from Italy. The Associated Press explained that "Hamas itself is a fundamentalist Islamic group, but it faces challenges from even more extremist offshoots of Islam." They later changed it. I'm not sure what, exactly, is meant by "fundamentalist" or how the two groups differ, exactly. The New York Times wrote that "after years of championing the Palestinian cause, the 36-year-old Mr. Arrigoni apparently died at the hands of a fringe group of Palestinians, inspired by Al Qaeda, that was seeking the release of a local Islamist leader."
So what do we know about these Salafis? Here's some info from Voice of America:
Gaza journalist Mohamed Dawas, reporting for VOA, says Hamas condemned the killing and made arrests.
"They described it to be a terrible crime that is against our religion, against our morals," said Dawas. "This crime, they said, does not reflect the reality of what's on the ground in Gaza [regarding] security and order."
Hamas has been battling the Salafists in Gaza for months. The Salafists accuse Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, of being too moderate for failing to impose strict Islamic law and not using more force against Israel.
Beverley Milton-Edwards is a specialist in Palestinian Islamist groups at Queens University Belfast. She says the Salafist groups present the biggest domestic threat to Hamas.
"They have engaged in such kidnapping attacks on foreigners," said Milton-Edwards. "What they want the Hamas government to do is to become a very fundamentalist form of government, and that means that the Hamas government should become more like al-Qaida and should have nothing to in terms of temporal matters such as cease-fires with a group or a nation that's regarded as an enemy such as Israel and the Jewish people."
Salafists have been accused of attacking Internet cafes and calling for the expulsion of Christians.
I would love to learn more about what all this means. I mean, if Fatah isn't radical enough for Hamas. And Hamas isn't radical enough for Tawhid and Jihad, what's happening to the Palestinians who find all of them too radical?
Salafis are also on the rise in Egypt. The New York Times had a captivating, and somewhat terrifying, story and slide show about the group's growing influence. The Times writes that Salafis are embracing democratic votes as a way to further inculcate Islamic practices. First and foremost, we learn, they want to strengthen the second amendment of Egypt's Constitution "which enshrines Shariah, or Islamic law, as the main source of Egyptian law."
But mostly I wanted to highlight this coverage to get back to an article that's been in my guilt file for a few weeks. The New York Times' Andrea Elliott wrote a profile of Yasir Qadhi, a Salafi in America who -- after having more than a few students and associates become terrorists -- says he's seen the light and is moderating. Now neither side of the "should jihad include terrorism" divide seem terribly happy. One's suspicious and the other thinks he's a sell out. The article is long and interesting -- too long to excerpt meaningfully here -- and shows why Salafiya is so attractive to some young radicals. If you're interested in the topic, and the doctrines that drive Salafis, you definitely want to check it out.