September 10, 2004


Why al-Qaeda is winning (Pepe Escobar , 9/11/04, Asia Times)

The members of al-Qaeda's new elite were either born in Western Europe - many hold a legitimate European Union passport - or came to the West while still very young and then became radicalized. As Bush is a born-again Christian, they are sort of born-again Islamists. The most important fact is that this "return of the repressed" (Islam) is above all a political radicalization. The new breed's brand of political Islam is much more "political" than "Islam". [...]

"Al-Qaeda" the brand has now embarked on an inexorable logic of expansion - in flagrant contradiction to Bush's assertion that the world is safer. Al-Qaeda will keep deepening its alliances with ethnic and nationalist movements - with Shamil Basayev, the emir of the mujahideen in Chechnya and trainer of the Black Widow squadrons of female suicide bombers, or with sectors of the Iraqi resistance in the Sunni triangle. "Global" al-Qaeda in all these cases works and will continue to work as a sort of "Foreign Legion", as French scholar Olivier Roy puts it, a capable military vanguard that is useful for local purposes for a determined period of time.

"Global" al-Qaeda may also even profit from the fact that national liberation movements, in desperation, decide to go on an all-out offensive, improving their alliances of circumstance with al-Qaeda. The al-Qaeda brand is also becoming attractive to scattered sectors of the extreme left, because more than appealing to radical Islam, al-Qaeda has succeeded in branding its image as the revolutionary vanguard in the fight against American imperialism. The cross-fertilization between radical Islam and disfranchised Muslim youth born and raised in the West is also performing wonders: when young people convert to Islam in a dreary suburb of Brussels, Paris, Hamburg or Madrid, it all has to do with political anger rather than discovering a direct line to Allah.

At the Republican convention, while the Republicans were harping on September 11, Bush said the Iraq war was "his" war, part of a mission from God to bring freedom to the repressed. "Terrorists hate America because they hate freedom." Wrong: "terrorists" (in fact national resistance movements) hate America because America's imperial policies are the antithesis of freedom.

As nihilistic as it may be, al-Qaeda, from a business point of view, is a major success: three years after September 11, it is a global brand and a global movement. The Middle East, in this scenario, is just a regional base station. This global brand does not have much to do with Islam. But it has everything to do with the globalization of anti-imperialism. And the empire, whatever its definition, has its center in Washington. Bin Laden is laughing: Bush's crusade has legitimized an obscure sect as a worldwide symbol of political revolt. How could bin Laden not vote for Bush?

This couldn't make any less sense. We want the Islamic world to become more nationalistic and to make their own nation states their central concern. By giving the Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians and Chechens control of their own countries we make domestic affairs their priority. The Third Intifada, after all, is being directed against the PLO, not Israel. Al-Qaeda is being used to advance a cause that is antithetical to its supposed pan-Islamic purposes. They're dang near helping us with nation-building.

Jihadists Failing to Win Muslim Minds (Gilles Kepel, September 8, 2004, LA Times)

Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the hostage-taking in North Ossetia and its horrendous outcome and the capture of two French journalists in Iraq have shed new light on the challenges facing Islamist terrorism.

In his 2001 pamphlet, "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner," Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's chief ideologue, reminded his readers that the "jihadist vanguard" was always at risk of being isolated from the "Muslim masses." He wrote that the jihadists needed to find ways of mobilizing those masses toward the supreme political goal: the triumph of the Islamic state and the implementation of Islamic law worldwide.

Zawahiri considered the 1990s a decade of failed opportunities. Jihad had been unsuccessful in Algeria, Bosnia, Egypt and Kashmir because militants had proved unable to galvanize civil society. To reverse this trend, he came up with the idea of using spectacular terrorism to shock the enemy and make the Muslim masses see the jihadists as knights. The Sept. 11 attacks were conceived by Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden as a way of "magnifying" jihad against Israel and "burning the hands of the U.S.," Islam's "faraway enemy" and ally of the Jewish state.

But three years on, this ideology has not achieved its goal. Although Al Qaeda has resisted Cold War-inspired U.S. military strategy (Bin Laden and Zawahiri remain on the run) and directed a succession of bloody terrorist attacks from Bali to Madrid, jihad activists have not seized power anywhere. They have lost their Afghan stronghold, and U.S.-led coalition troops have pursued the war on terror to Iraq, occupying Baghdad, erstwhile capital of the Muslim caliphate.

For the ulema, the Islamic scholars, this is a catastrophe. Instead of making inroads into enemy territory, jihad has backfired and led to what they call fitna — a war within Islam, pitting Shiite against Sunni, Arab against Kurd, Muslim against Muslim — and brought nothing but chaos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2004 10:49 AM

Ah, Pepe, Henry, Jim... Does anyone have a handle on where the Asia Times comes from and who reads it? Everybody wants to read Spengler, but these other loonies are something else. I get the feeling they are all Charles Reich-like characters from some futuristic thinktank where you get to spout off profundities with no factual basis once you have mastered the gobbledegook. In fact, at least one of the regular "guests" apparently does just that. I assume his buddy Henry Liu slips away from his New York business office to join him for a daily fix of abstract thought.

Just about every article starts with something like "As thanks to George Bush America is clearly in political, economic and military decline...". These guys make the Guardian look good.

Posted by: Peter B at September 10, 2004 1:02 PM

The Asia Times can be guaranteed to spout the latest nostrums from the puny brain of Mahathir Mohammed, the former dictator,(ahem President) of Malaysia. My understanding is that the Sultan of Brunei, when he isn't kidnapping blond American swimsuit models, is also involved.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 6:36 AM