October 13, 2004


Inside the mind of Al Qaeda: The group's key goals are aimed at cultivating new members and a militant spirit. But Islamic reaction has been lukewarm. (Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, 10/13/04, The Christian Science Monitor)

During the cold war, the US national security establishment tried to understand the world as the Soviet Union might see it. This "red team" approach aimed to predict how Soviet leaders would react to US arms development, treaty proposals, and other geostrategic moves.

Now the US is increasingly focused on "red teaming" Al Qaeda. One prominent effort is an unclassified one undertaken at the Pentagon's behest by RAND terrorist analyst Brian Jenkins.

The "State of Jihad" summary above was drawn from Mr. Jenkins's work. Among his points: Al Qaeda's objectives are broad - to Western eyes, so broad as to seem almost fantastical: The group wants to drive infidels from the Middle East, topple what they see as apostate regimes in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations, and foster an Islamic religious revival. The goal is to build a following, not to take ground. The group is vague on when its goals might be reached. It has no road map for victory.

"We regard war as a finite process, with a beginning, middle, and end. For our jihadist foes, it is a perpetual condition," said Jenkins at a recent RAND terrorism conference in Washington.

The code of jihadism emphasizes process, not progress. Their objective is action - the more spectacular the better. A continuing terror campaign boosts their self-image as jihad's cutting edge, notes Jenkins. And action purifies jihadists, focusing them on a spiritual purpose and shielding them from the temptations of materialism. To Al Qaeda, the individual heroism can be more important than an operation's outcome.

The last three years have certainly challenged Al Qaeda. Afghan training camps have been dismantled, and many top leaders killed or arrested. Cash flow is dwindling and the operational environment is squeezed.

What's worse, to Al Qaeda, may be what the leaders see as a lukewarm reaction on the part of Islam. Jenkins notes that a lengthy January message attributed to bin Laden deliberately portrayed Muslims as "guilty of substandard zealotry," and therefore needing to be aroused to action.

Interesting that Osama and Islamophobes share such hatred of Muslims that they think suicidal nihilism will appeal to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 13, 2004 2:31 PM

What is it that causes otherwise reasonable young Japanese males to become kamikazes? Islam divides the world into the Dar al-Islam, where Islam rules and the Dar al-Harb which is to be conquered in the name of Islam. These people are taught from childhood that their duty is to die in battle to further their faith. There isn't a whole lot of room for negotiation.

Posted by: Bart at October 13, 2004 5:13 PM



Posted by: oj at October 13, 2004 5:23 PM

Just because it wouldn't appeal to you, that doesn't mean it isn't appealing to them.

What's the fundamental difference between that and, say, storming the redoubt at Cold Harbor?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 13, 2004 11:11 PM

The quality of the cause.

Posted by: oj at October 14, 2004 8:29 AM

Well, to you or me.

But they presumably judge their cause as highly as the Yankees did theirs at Cold Harbor.

In the West, suicide bombers would be a wasting asset. It is not so elsewhere.

Islamophobes recognize that as a fact, whether we can explain it or not. Pretending it is not a fact is a deadly (to us) error

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 14, 2004 5:26 PM

The Yankeees could win--the Islamicists can't.

Posted by: oj at October 14, 2004 6:10 PM

Deadly to us as individuals. I'm an individualist

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 16, 2004 3:18 PM

Yes, so only you care about you, and you only care about you. You're in no danger.

Posted by: oj at October 16, 2004 3:22 PM