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al-Qa'ida's criticism of the UN is based on two themes: its association with the Westphalian system, viewed as an illegitimate order and the "true nature" of the United Nations as a tool designed to solidify and reproduce Western domination.

Together, these lines of attack would suggest al-Qa'ida sees faults beyond the organization's alleged unjust practices. Its position toward the order embodied by the UN system is therefore quite polarising dismissing the organization's ability, even if it were to be reformed, to promote a peaceful and just world order, let alone serve as a foundation for a new era of global-governance. It has systemic problems that mean there is an insititutional failure here which requires a total redesign.

At first look, the rhetoric of al-Qa'ida's critique of international organizations in general and the UN in particular, seems pretty familiar to those studying and researching international politics. It views the dynamic within such organizations as a reflection of power relations: International organizations are sites not for collective governance but, rather, for power abuse by the major states that design and navigate such organizations in a self-serving manner. Criticism coming from this perspective is not unusual; if the UN's proclaimed ideas simply mask interests of the powerful, many of the specific practices of the organization would naturally reflect abuse of structural power inequalities and pervasive double standards in the pursuit of the organization's objectives.

However there is a twist in al-Qa'ida's critique that makes it unique. They claim not all of the weak are equal victims and power abuses are more selective. Moreover, the abusers are not motivated solely by a desire to promote their material interests. Their actions are as much about identity and a struggle to prevent the rise of one particular alternative order, one that is based on Islam. al-Qa'ida depicts Muslims as the main victims and denounces the UN as "an instrument of crime" against them.

The UN is thus treated as a corrupt institution and an instrument controlled and used by the powerful, especially the US. Al-Qa'ida argues the UN with cooperation from the aggressors, the leading powers, are involved in suppressing the weak who currently comprise mainly Muslims, ignoring the aggressors' deeds but hastening to convict the weak, who try only to defend themselves. The UN ignores the torture and killings of Muslims in Kashmir and Chechnya, while supporting the Western military campaign against the people of Afghanistan. Among the evidence provided to confirm al-Qa'ida's thesis is the UN weapons embargo on the parties to the war in Bosnia, viewed as an attempt to prevent Muslims under attack from obtaining weapons for their defense and the forced separation of East Timor-a part of the Islamic world-from Indonesia. In what al-Qa'ida sees as the greatest injustice, it blames the United Nations for its 1947 decision on the division of Palestine, in which the organization "surrendered the land of Islam to Jews."

The depiction of the UN as representative of an international order alien to what can be acceptable for Muslims, is a departure from the more common accusations directed at the practices guiding UN action, reflecting a deeper, more fundamental hostility. This rejection does not allow for remedy within the framework of the state-based order, not even if Muslim states were its leading powers. According to Bin Laden, the UN is an element in a broader scheme designed with other international institutions and laws, to maintain the supremacy of the white West over the "colored slaves." The West is incapable of recognizing the rights of others, or respecting their beliefs, because it holds the racist view that it is superior to the rest of humanity. Thus, the UN is not an organization that has lost its way and could be reformed if states remained loyal to the principles upon which it was founded. Instead, it is another manifestation of an agenda to perpetuate a world order serving the wishes of the "infidels" and preserving the alleged submission of Muslims to the US-led Crusaders' alliance.

But the UN (alongside other international organizations, international law and all international conventions) is flawed in a deeper sense because it is shaped by non-Muslim states and reflects Western norms that are antithetical to Islam. It is essentially a hegemonic organization of universal infidelity. Muslims are not allowed to join it or turn to it. It is designed to relegate Muslims and Islam to submissiveness and to drive them away from God and his religion.

The foundations of the UN fundamentally conflict with al-Qa'ida's view of what kind of international authority is permissible under Islamic law and what kind of actions Muslim states are allowed to take. The starting point is the illegitimacy of an organization that is founded on the primacy of states. al-Qa'ida's worldview is divinely centered, viewing Allah, rather than people or states, as the sole source of authority. It does not accept the anchoring of political life in a secular institution such as the state, or the division of the global terrain into independent separate states bounded by rules and norms that are set through practice or manmade decisions. In al-Qa'ida's view, the state-based order is not only illegitimate-it is the embodiment of an anti-Islamic conspiracy designed to break the Muslim world into numerous entities in order to weaken the unity of the Muslim community.


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