Clerical Error

In 2002, Andrew Marshall interviewed a 40-year-old Muslim cleric named Jaffar Umar Thalib. Jaffar, "tall and certainly plumper than his reputation as an ascetic would suggest," was wearing a white skullcap; a crisp, checked sarong; a long, diaphanous cream shirt with embroidered pink trim; and, beneath it, a white T-shirt bearing what looked like Laskar Jihad's clashing scimitars logo.

Jaffar was then the commander of Laskar Jihad, a Muslim paramilitary group renowned for its fanaticism and brutality. "Jaffar's followers, who number between 3,000 and 10,000, are well drilled, heavily armed and ferociously loyal," Marshall explained. Indeed, not only had Jaffar publicly cheered the 9/11 attacks and threatened to declare war on all American facilities in Indonesia -- he had openly scorned Osama bin Laden (whom he met in Pakistan while fighting alongside the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the late 1980s) -- as a misguided lightweight!

Yet, for all his talk about America's 'parasitic' Jewish lobby and Washington's support of 'Zionist terrorism' and his labeling of Americans as 'belligerent infidels' whose deaths are justified by divine imperative, Marshall suspected that Jaffar was not quite the threat he cracked himself up to be:

Though Laskar Jihad was certainly anti-American, that was the rhetoric of all radical Muslim groups. Moreover, despite Jaffar's avowed goal to establish an Islamic government in Indonesia (he was said to be training about 100 fighters in Papua), he had no real international presence. Finally, though his publication banned pictures of humans and animals (considering the creation of images of living beings a blasphemy against God), Marshall noticed something curious about Jaffar:

At the conclusion of the interview, the cleric glanced at his gold wristwatch and made apologies. It was almost time for prayers at the compound's mosque, and Jaffar planned to deliver the sermon. The amplified drone of a muezzin's call soon filled the room.

"I don't want to get carried away with this issue of anti-Americanism," he said, almost as an afterthought. "That would be wrong. We oppose the policies of the U.S. government, not the people themselves. Because some Americans are Muslims, too..."

Then he stood up and stretched, and for the first time, Marshall had a clear view of the logo on his undershirt. It was not, as Marshall had initially supposed, the clashing sabers of Laskar Jihad. It was in fact... the Playboy bunny!

[In 2000, Jaffar, named for the evil sorcerer who deceived Aladdin, presided over a makeshift Islamic court in Maluku which passed judgment on an adulterer. The 30-year-old man was buried up to his waist in the ground and stoned to death by an angry mob. Jaffar also oversaw a network of pesantren (Koranic schools which, like the madrassas of Pakistan, produce countless young militants schooled in jihad) and preached that democracy is "incompatible with Islam" and that Indonesia should be governed under strict Islamic law (Sharia).]

[Given Islam's prohibition against the creation of images of living beings, Christopher Hitchens (among others) often pointed out the hypocrisy of Muslims selling Osama Bin Laden T-shirts and other merchandise, often right outside their local mosques.]

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