The Blog

Anwar al Awlaki’s License to Kill

Al Qaeda’s law vs. Western law.

7:28 AM, Nov 11, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

“Don’t consult with anyone in fighting the Americans; fighting the devil doesn’t require consultation or prayers or seeking divine guidance.”

Anwar al Awlaki’s License to Kill

So said Anwar al Awlaki in a video released online on Monday. Awlaki is, of course, the notorious al Qaeda cleric who openly claims Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan (aka the Fort Hood shooter) and Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab (who tried to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009) as his “students.”

Ironically, the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) were in court on Monday – the same day Awlaki’s video calling on Muslims to kill Americans at will appeared on the web – arguing that the U.S. government does not have the authority to kill Awlaki. The ACLU and CCR claim that since Awlaki is a U.S. citizen he is owed due process and should not be killed by the U.S. while he is plotting to kill Americans. 

The ACLU, CCR and their supporters have advanced many specious arguments in their attempt to win their suit. But let us focus on only one of them here: That Anwar al Awlaki’s father has standing as a “next friend.”

Anwar al Awlaki is busy plotting acts of terrorism in Yemen, so he could not be in the states to file a suit. He didn’t ask anyone to on his behalf either. The ACLU and CCR went ahead and enlisted his father as a “next friend” – that is, Anwar’s representative to the court – anyway.

The problem is that there is no evidence Anwar al Awlaki wanted such a suit filed in his name. And, as the U.S. government’s attorneys have pointed out, he could just surrender to authorities if he wanted the CIA’s drones to stop hunting him.

Judge John Bates, who is weighing the ACLU’s and CCR’s arguments, is reportedly skeptical that Anwar al Awlaki’s father has “next friend” standing in this instance. At the Lawfare Blog, Benjamin Wittes writes: “Judge Bates’s questions made fairly clear that he views skeptically the notion that Anwar Al Aulaqi is unable to assert his own claims. What’s more, he questioned whether Al Aulaqi’s father really has the same interests as his son, who, he pointed out, had spoken out against the U.S. justice system and had never intimated any interest in availing himself of its protection.”

Similarly, The New York Times quotes Judge Bates as asking, “What is it that should lead me to believe that he [Anwar al Awlaki] wants to bring this case?”

To answer Judge Bates’s question: Nothing. Anwar al Awlaki disdains Western law and believes that only sharia law is a valid form of law. Awlaki does not hide these views.

In a piece authored for the second edition of Inspire (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s publication), which was released on jihadist websites earlier this year, Awlaki rails against Western law. The al Qaeda cleric writes:

The civil states referred to [in a fatwa authored by more moderate clerics] have banned the niqab and fiercely defended the right to defame Muhammad. They allow a very restricted form of personal worship that does not truly accommodate for the comprehensiveness of Islamic practice. The civil state has more authority over the wife and children than the Muslim head of the household. The law of Allah is not recognized by this civil state and the Muslim is forced to accept rulings of courts of law that are contrary to the law of Allah. So, on the whole, the modern civil state of the West does not guarantee Islamic rights.

Awlaki’s argument is straightforward. He believes that Muslims should not be “forced to accept” the rulings of Western courts. Only the law of Allah as he defines it (sharia law) is acceptable for Muslims.

Awlaki’s piece is dripping with contempt for Western courts. It was written in response to the moderate Muslim clerics who authored “The New Mardin Declaration” earlier this year. Those same scholars called on Muslims, Christians and Jews to live in peaceful coexistence in the modern nation state. For Awlaki, this is simply unacceptable because it would mean that Muslims would have to accept Western law. Awlaki writes:

At a time when American expenditure on its army is anything but decreasing, these scholars are asking us to give up any form of resistance and live as law – Western law that is – abiding citizens. They are asking us to live as sheep, as pleasantly as a flock of tame, peaceful, and obedient sheep. One billion and a quarter Muslims with no say on the world stage, stripped from their right to live as Muslims under the law of Islam, directly and indirectly occupied by the West, are asked to live as sheep. Is that the role of scholars?

For Awlaki, then, living under Western law is a form of occupation.

Awlaki goes further, arguing that Muslims have the right to wage jihad in order to spread Allah’s law. As evidence for this proposition, he writes (emphasis added):

The first Caliph Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) fought against the apostates and against the two superpowers of his time, the Roman and Persian Empires. The war against the apostates was to reestablish the acceptance and submission of the tribes of Arabia to the law of Allah. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) said if they refuse to give even a bridle they used to give to the Messenger of Allah, he will fight them over it.

While the legal wrangling continues to play out, Judge Bates is clearly right to be skeptical that Anwar al Awlaki ever wanted the law suit filed on his behalf. And while the ACLU and CCR do not think the U.S. government has the legal authority to kill the al Qaeda cleric, Awlaki believes that Islamic law justifies the indiscriminate killing of Americans. He believes that this is so obvious that Muslims do not even need to consult “divine guidance.”

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.   

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers