May 24, 2008


The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism (Lawrence Wright June 2, 2008, The New Yorker)

Last May, a fax arrived at the London office of the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat from a shadowy figure in the radical Islamist movement who went by many names. Born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, he was the former leader of the Egyptian terrorist group Al Jihad, and known to those in the underground mainly as Dr. Fadl. Members of Al Jihad became part of the original core of Al Qaeda; among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant. Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Fadl’s fax confirmed rumors that imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad were part of a trend in which former terrorists renounced violence. His defection posed a terrible threat to the radical Islamists, because he directly challenged their authority. “There is a form of obedience that is greater than the obedience accorded to any leader, namely, obedience to God and His Messenger,” Fadl wrote, claiming that hundreds of Egyptian jihadists from various factions had endorsed his position.

Two months after Fadl’s fax appeared, Zawahiri issued a handsomely produced video on behalf of Al Qaeda. “Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells?” he asked. “I wonder if they’re connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines.” This sarcastic dismissal was perhaps intended to dampen anxiety about Fadl’s manifesto—which was to be published serially, in newspapers in Egypt and Kuwait—among Al Qaeda insiders. Fadl’s previous work, after all, had laid the intellectual foundation for Al Qaeda’s murderous acts. On a recent trip to Cairo, I met with Gamal Sultan, an Islamist writer and a publisher there. He said of Fadl, “Nobody can challenge the legitimacy of this person. His writings could have far-reaching effects not only in Egypt but on leaders outside it.” Usama Ayub, a former member of Egypt’s Islamist community, who is now the director of the Islamic Center in Münster, Germany, told me, “A lot of people base their work on Fadl’s writings, so he’s very important. When Dr. Fadl speaks, everyone should listen.”

Although the debate between Fadl and Zawahiri was esoteric and bitterly personal, its ramifications for the West were potentially enormous. Other Islamist organizations had gone through violent phases before deciding that such actions led to a dead end. Was this happening to Al Jihad? Could it happen even to Al Qaeda? [...]

In Peshawar, Fadl devoted himself to formalizing the rules of holy war. The jihadis needed a text that would school them in the proper way to fight battles whose real objective was not victory over the Soviets but martyrdom and eternal salvation. “The Essential Guide for Preparation” appeared in 1988, as the Afghan jihad was winding down. It quickly became one of the most important texts in the jihadis’ training.

The “Guide” begins with the premise that jihad is the natural state of Islam. Muslims must always be in conflict with nonbelievers, Fadl asserts, resorting to peace only in moments of abject weakness. Because jihad is, above all, a religious exercise, there are divine rewards to be gained. He who gives money for jihad will be compensated in Heaven, but not as much as the person who acts. The greatest prize goes to the martyr. Every able-bodied believer is obligated to engage in jihad, since most Muslim countries are ruled by infidels who must be forcibly removed, in order to bring about an Islamic state. “The way to bring an end to the rulers’ unbelief is armed rebellion,” the “Guide” states. Some Arab governments regarded the book as so dangerous that anyone caught with a copy was subject to arrest. [...]

In 1994, Fadl moved to Yemen, where he resumed his medical practice and tried to put the work of jihad behind him. Before he left, however, he gave a copy of his finished manuscript to Zawahiri, saying that it could be used to raise money. Few books in recent history have done as much damage.

Fadl wrote the book under yet another pseudonym, Abdul Qader bin Abdul Aziz, in part because the name was not Egyptian and would further mask his identity. But his continual use of aliases also allowed him to adopt positions that were somewhat in conflict with his stated personal views. Given Fadl’s critique of Al Jihad’s violent operations as “senseless,” the intransigent and bloodthirsty document that Fadl gave to Zawahiri must have come as a surprise.

“The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge,” which is more than a thousand pages long, starts with the assertion that salvation is available only to the perfect Muslim. Even an exemplary believer can wander off the path to Paradise with a single misstep. Fadl contends that the rulers of Egypt and other Arab countries are apostates of Islam. “The infidel’s rule, his prayers, and the prayers of those who pray behind him are invalid,” Fadl decrees. “His blood is legal.” He declares that Muslims have a duty to wage jihad against such leaders; those who submit to an infidel ruler are themselves infidels, and doomed to damnation. The same punishment awaits those who participate in democratic elections. “I say to Muslims in all candor that secular, nationalist democracy opposes your religion and your doctrine, and in submitting to it you leave God’s book behind,” he writes. Those who labor in government, the police, and the courts are infidels, as is anyone who works for peaceful change; religious war, not political reform, is the sole mandate. Even devout believers walk a tightrope over the abyss. “A man may enter the faith in many ways, yet be expelled from it by just one deed,” Fadl cautions. Anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic and deserves to be slaughtered.

In writing this book, Fadl also expands upon the heresy of takfir—the excommunication of one Muslim by another. To deny the faith of a believer—without persuasive evidence—is a grievous injustice. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have remarked, “When a man calls his brother an infidel, we can be sure that one of them is indeed an infidel.” Fadl defines Islam so narrowly, however, that nearly everyone falls outside the sacred boundaries. Muslims who follow his thinking believe that they have a divine right to kill anyone who disagrees with their straitened view of what constitutes a Muslim. The “Compendium” gave Al Qaeda and its allies a warrant to murder all who stood in their way. Zawahiri was ecstatic. According to Fadl, Zawahiri told him, “This book is a victory from Almighty God.” And yet, even for Zawahiri, the book went too far.

When Fadl moved to Yemen, he considered his work in revolutionary Islam to be complete. [...]

Meanwhile, a furtive conversation was taking place among the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Group. Karam Zuhdy remained incarcerated, along with more than twenty thousand Islamists. “We started growing older,” he says. “We started examining the evidence. We began to read books and reconsider.” The prisoners came to feel that they had been manipulated into pursuing a violent path. Just opening the subject for discussion was extremely threatening, not only for members of the organization but for groups that had an interest in prolonging the clash with Egypt’s government. Zuhdy points in particular to the Muslim Brotherhood. “These people, when we launched an initiative against violence, accused us of being weak,” he says. “Instead of supporting us, they wanted us to continue the violence. We faced very strong opposition inside prison, outside prison, and outside Egypt.”

In 1997, rumors of a possible deal between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government reached Zawahiri, who was then hiding in an Al Qaeda safe house in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Montasser al-Zayyat, the Islamist lawyer, was brokering talks between the parties. Zayyat has often served as an emissary between the Islamists and the security apparatus, a role that makes him both universally distrusted and invaluable. In his biography of Zawahiri, “The Road to Al-Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man,” Zayyat reports that Zawahiri called him in March of that year, when Zayyat arrived in London on business. “Why are you making the brothers angry?” Zawahiri asked him. Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach. Zawahiri urged Zayyat to change his mind, even promising that he could secure political asylum for him in London. “I politely rejected his offer,” Zayyat writes.

The talks between the Islamic Group and the government remained secret until July, when one of the imprisoned leaders, who was on trial in a military court, stood up and announced to stunned observers the organization’s intention to cease all violent activity. Incensed, Zawahiri wrote a letter addressed to the group’s imprisoned leaders. “God only knows the grief I felt when I heard about this initiative and the negative impact it has caused,” he wrote. “If we are going to stop now, why did we start in the first place?” In his opinion, the initiative was a surrender, “a massive loss for the jihadist movement as a whole.”

To Zawahiri’s annoyance, imprisoned members of Al Jihad also began to express an interest in joining the nonviolence initiative. “The leadership started to change its views,” said Abdel Moneim Moneeb, who, in 1993, was charged with being a member of Al Jihad. Although Moneeb was never convicted, he spent fourteen years in an Egyptian prison. “At one point, you might mention this idea, and all the voices would drown you out. Later, it became possible.” Independent thinking on the subject of violence was not easy when as many as thirty men were crammed into cells that were about nine feet by fifteen. Except for a few smuggled radios, the prisoners were largely deprived of sources of outside information. They occupied themselves with endless theological debates and glum speculation about where they had gone wrong. Eventually, though, these discussions prompted the imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad to open their own secret channel with the government.

Zawahiri became increasingly isolated. He understood that violence was the fuel that kept the radical Islamist organizations running; they had no future without terror. Together with several leaders of the Islamic Group who were living outside Egypt, he plotted a way to raise the stakes and permanently wreck the Islamic Group’s attempt to reform itself. On November 17, 1997, just four months after the announcement of the nonviolence initiative, six young men entered the magnificent ruins of Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, near Luxor. Hundreds of tourists were strolling through the grounds. For forty-five minutes, the killers shot randomly. A flyer was stuffed inside a mutilated body, identifying them as members of the Islamic Group. Sixty-two people died, not counting the killers, whose bodies were later found in a desert cave. They had apparently committed suicide. It was the worst terrorist incident in Egypt’s bloody political history.

If Zawahiri and the exiled members of the Islamic Group hoped that this action would undermine the nonviolence initiative, they miscalculated. Zuhdy said, “We issued a statement in the newspaper that this action is a knife in our back.” More important, the Egyptian people definitively turned against the violence that characterized the radical Islamist movement. The Islamic Group’s imprisoned leaders wrote a series of books and pamphlets, collectively known as “the revisions,” in which they formally explained their new thinking. “We wanted to relay our experience to young people to protect them from falling into the same mistakes we did,” Zuhdy told me. [...]

I went to the office of the Brotherhood to talk to Essam el-Erian, a prominent member of the movement. He is a small, defiant man with a large prayer mark on his forehead. I reminded him that when we last spoke, in April, 2002, he had just got out of prison. He laughed and said, “I’ve been back in prison twice more since then!” We sat in our stocking feet in the dim reception room. “From the start until now, the Muslim Brotherhood has been peaceful,” he maintained. “We have only three or four instances of violence in our history, mainly assassinations.” He added, “Those were individual instances and we condemned them as a group.” But, in addition to the killings of political figures, terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in Cairo, and the attempted murder of Nasser, members of the Muslim Brotherhood took part in arson that destroyed some seven hundred and fifty buildings—mainly night clubs, theatres, hotels, and restaurants—in downtown Cairo in 1952, an attack that marked the end of the liberal, progressive, cosmopolitan direction that Egypt might have chosen. (The Muslim Brotherhood also created Hamas, which employs many of the same tactics now condemned by the Islamic Group.) And yet, unlike other radical movements, the Brotherhood has embraced political change as the only legitimate means to the goal of achieving an Islamic state. “We welcome these revisions, because we have called for many years to stop violence,” Erian continued. “But these revisions are incomplete. They reject violence, but they don’t offer a new strategy for reform and change.” He pointed out that radical Islamists have long condemned the Muslim Brotherhood because of its willingness to compromise with the government and even to run candidates for office. “Now they are under pressure, because if they accept democratic change by democratic means they will be asked, ‘What is the difference between you and the Muslim Brothers?’ ”

According to Zuhdy, the Egyptian government responded to the nonviolence initiative by releasing twelve thousand five hundred members of the Islamic Group. Many of them had never been charged with a crime, much less tried and sentenced. Some were shattered by their confinement. “Imagine what twenty years of prison can do,” Zuhdy said.

The prisoners returned to a society that was far more religious than the one they left. They must have been heartened to see most Egyptian women, who once enjoyed Western fashions, now wearing hijab, or completely hidden behind veils, like Saudis. Many more Egyptian men had prayer marks on their foreheads. Imams had become celebrities, their sermons blaring from televisions and radios. These newly released men might fairly have believed that they had achieved a great social victory through their actions and their sacrifice.

And yet the brutal indifference of the Egyptian government toward its people was unchanged. As the Islamists emerged from prison, new detainees took their place—protesters, liberals, bloggers, potential candidates for political office. The economy was growing, but the money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the already wealthy; meanwhile, the price of food was shooting up so quickly that people were going hungry. Within a few months of being released, hundreds of the Islamists petitioned, unsuccessfully, to be let back into prison.

From the Egyptian government’s point of view, the deal with the Islamic Group has proved to be an unparalleled success. According to Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the former editor of Al Mussawar, who witnessed the prison debates, there have been only two instances where members showed signs of returning to their former violent ways, and in both cases they were betrayed by informers in their own group. “Prison or time may have defeated them,” Montasser al-Zayyat, the lawyer, says of the Islamic Group. “Some would call it a collapse.” [...]

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation. [...]

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians—including Christians and Jews—unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing—“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”—is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. “If vice is mixed with virtue, all becomes sinful,” he writes. “There is no legal reason for harming people in any way.” The prohibition against killing applies even to foreigners inside Muslim countries, since many of them may be Muslims. “You cannot decide who is a Muslim or who is an unbeliever or who should be killed based on the color of his skin or hair or the language he speaks or because he wears Western fashion,” Fadl writes. “These are not proper indications for who is a Muslim and who is not.” As for foreigners who are non-Muslims, they may have been invited into the country for work, which is a kind of treaty. What’s more, there are many Muslims living in foreign lands considered inimical to Islam, and yet those Muslims are treated fairly; therefore, Muslims should reciprocate in their own countries. To Muslims living in non-Islamic countries, Fadl sternly writes, “I say it is not honorable to reside with people—even if they were nonbelievers and not part of a treaty, if they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum with a decent life and other acts of kindness—and then betray them, through killing and destruction. This was not in the manners and practices of the Prophet.” [...]

Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare. If the security services in Egypt, in tandem with the Al Azhar scholars, had undertaken to write a refutation of Al Qaeda’s doctrine, it would likely have resembled the book that Dr. Fadl produced; and, indeed, that may have been exactly what occurred. And yet, with so many leaders of Al Jihad endorsing the book, it seemed clear that the organization itself was now dead. Terrorism in Egypt might continue in some form, but the violent factions were finished, departing amid public exclamations of repentance for the futility and sinfulness of their actions.

As the Muslim world awaited Zawahiri’s inevitable response, the press and the clergy were surprisingly muted. One reason was that Fadl’s revisions raised doubts about political activity that many Muslims do not regard as terror—for instance, the resistance movements, in Palestine and elsewhere, that oppose Israel and the presence of American troops in Muslim countries. “In this region, we must distinguish between violence against national governments and that of the resistance—in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine,” Essam el-Erian, of the Muslim Brotherhood, told me. “We cannot call this resistance ‘violence.’ ” Nevertheless, such movements were inevitably drawn into the debate surrounding Fadl’s book.

A number of Muslim clerics struggled to answer Dr. Fadl’s broad critique of political bloodshed. Many had issued fatwas endorsing the very actions that Fadl now declared to be unjustified. Their responses were often surprising. For instance, Sheikh Hamid al-Ali, an influential Salafi cleric in Kuwait, whom the U.S. Treasury has described as an Al Qaeda facilitator and fundraiser, declared on a Web site that he welcomed the rejection of violence as a means of fostering change in the Arab world. Sheikh Ali’s fatwas have sometimes been linked to Al Qaeda actions. (Notoriously, months before 9/11, he authorized flying aircraft into targets during suicide operations.) He observed that although the Arab regimes have a natural self-interest in encouraging nonviolence, that shouldn’t cause readers to spurn Fadl’s argument. “I believe it is a big mistake to let this important intellectual transformation be nullified by political suspicion,” Ali said. The decision of radical Islamist groups to adopt a peaceful path does not necessarily mean, however, that they can evolve into political parties. “We have to admit that we do not have in our land a true political process worthy of the name,” Ali argued. “What we have are regimes that play a game in which they use whatever will guarantee their continued existence.” [...]

Zawahiri’s main problem in countering Fadl was his own lack of standing as a religious scholar. “Al Qaeda has no one who is qualified from a Sharia perspective to make a response,” Fadl boasted to Al Hayat. “All of them—bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others—are not religious scholars on whose opinion you can count. They are ordinary persons.” Of course, Fadl himself had no formal religious training, either.

In February of this year, Zawahiri announced in a video that he had finished a “letter” responding to Fadl’s book. “The Islam presented by that document is the one that America and the West wants and is pleased with: an Islam without jihad,” Zawahiri said. “Because I consider this document to be an insult to the Muslim nation, I chose for the rebuttal the name ‘The Exoneration,’ in order to express the nation’s innocence of this insult.” This announcement, by itself, was unprecedented. “It’s the first time in history that bin Laden and Zawahiri have responded in this way to internal dissent,” Diaa Rashwan, an analyst for the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, in Cairo, told me.

The “letter,” which finally appeared on the Internet in March, was nearly two hundred pages long. “This message I present to the reader today is among the most difficult I have ever written in my life,” Zawahiri admits in his introduction. Although the text is laden with footnotes and lengthy citations from Islamic scholars, Zawahiri’s strategy is apparent from the beginning. Whereas Fadl’s book is a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology, Zawahiri navigates his argument toward the familiar shores of the “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy. [...]

Zawahiri has watched Al Qaeda’s popularity decline in places where it formerly enjoyed great support. In Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed recently by Al Qaeda suicide bombers—including, perhaps, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—public opinion has turned against bin Laden and his companions. An Algerian terror organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, formally affiliated itself with Al Qaeda in September, 2006, and began a series of suicide bombings that have alienated the Algerian people, long weary of the horrors that Islamist radicals have inflicted on their country. Even members of Al Qaeda admit that their cause has been harmed by indiscriminate violence. In February of this year, Abu Turab al-Jazairi, an Al Qaeda commander in northern Iraq, whose nom de guerre suggests that he is Algerian, gave an interview to Al Arab, a Qatari daily. “The attacks in Algeria sparked animated debate here in Iraq,” he said. “By God, had they told me they were planning to harm the Algerian President and his family, I would say, ‘Blessings be upon them!’ But explosions in the street, blood knee-deep, the killing of soldiers whose wages are not even enough for them to eat at third-rate restaurants . . . and calling this jihad? By God, it’s sheer idiocy!” Abu Turab admitted that he and his colleagues were suffering a similar public-relations problem in Iraq, because “Al Qaeda has been infiltrated by people who have harmed its reputation.” He said that only about a third of the nine thousand fighters who call themselves members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia can be relied upon. “The rest are unreliable, since they keep harming the good name of Al Qaeda.” He concludes, “Our position is very difficult.”

In Saudi Arabia, where the government has been trying to tame its radical clerics, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti, issued a fatwa in October, 2007, forbidding Saudi youth to join the jihad outside the country. Two months later, Saudi authorities arrested members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell who allegedly planned to assassinate the Grand Mufti. That same fall, Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, a cleric whom bin Laden has praised in the past, appeared on an Arabic television network and read an open letter to the Al Qaeda leader. He asked, “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent children, women, and old people have been killed, maimed, and expelled from their homes in the name of Al Qaeda?” These critiques echoed some of the concerns of the Palestinian cleric Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is considered by some to be the most influential jihadi theorist. In 2004, Maqdisi, then in a Jordanian prison, castigated his former protégé Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now dead leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for his unproductive violence, particularly the wholesale slaughter of Shiites and the use of suicide bombers. “Mujahideen should refrain from acts that target civilians, churches, or other places of worship, including Shiite sites,” Maqdisi wrote. “The hands of the jihad warriors must remain clean.”

In December, in order to stanch the flow of criticism, Zawahiri boldly initiated a virtual town-hall meeting, soliciting questions in an online forum. This spring, he released two lengthy audio responses to nearly a hundred of the nine hundred often testy queries that were posed. The first one came from a man who identified himself sardonically as the Geography Teacher. “Excuse me, Mr. Zawahiri, but who is it who is killing, with Your Excellency’s permission, the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco, and Algeria? Do you consider the killing of women and children to be jihad?” Then he demanded, “Why have you not—to this day—carried out any strike in Israel? Or is it easier to kill Muslims in the markets? Maybe you should study geography, because your maps show only the Muslim states.” Zawahiri protested that Al Qaeda had not killed innocents. “In fact, we fight those who kill innocents. Those who kill innocents are the Americans, the Jews, the Russians, and the French and their agents.” As for Al Qaeda’s failure to attack Israel, despite bin Laden’s constant exploitation of the issue, Zawahiri asks, “Why does the questioner focus on how Al Qaeda in particular must strike Israel, while he didn’t request that jihadist organizations in Palestine come to the aid of their brothers in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq?”

The murder of innocents emerged as the most prominent issue in the exchanges. An Algerian university student sarcastically congratulated Zawahiri for killing sixty Muslims in Algeria on a holy feast day. What was their sin? the student wanted to know. “Those who were killed on the eleventh of December in Algeria are not from the innocents,” Zawahiri claimed. “They are from the Crusader unbelievers and the government troops who defend them. Our brothers in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”—North Africa—“are more truthful, more just, and more righteous than the lying sons of France.” A Saudi wondered how Muslims could justify supporting Al Qaeda, given its long history of indiscriminate murder. “Are there other ways and means in which the objectives of jihad can be achieved without killing people?” he asked. “Please do not use as a pretext what the Americans or others are doing. Muslims are supposed to be an example to the world in tolerance and lofty goals, not to become a gang whose only concern is revenge.” But Zawahiri was unable to rise to the questioner’s ethical challenge. He replied, “If a criminal were to storm into your house, attack your family and kill them, steal your property, and burn down your house, then turns to attack the homes of your neighbors, will you treat him tolerantly so that you will not become a gang whose only concern is revenge?”

Zawahiri even had to defend himself for helping to spread the myth that the Israelis carried out the attacks of 9/11. [...]

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 24, 2008 12:00 AM

Wait, but the Democrats keep telling us that Boosh's illegal Iraq War is creating terrorists?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 23, 2008 11:11 PM

Could it happen even to Al Qaeda?


Let me explain in terms of the most immutable Law: the Law of Supply and Demand. Demand of virgins increase faster than can be met by supply. Consider they go by a lot of 72 and they cannot be sold used, the cost of each lot is fixed, supply runs low. Demand must wait for new supply. Jihadists must wait to claim their share of virgins. Thus, a lull in violence.

Posted by: ic at May 23, 2008 11:54 PM

Good news, but the cynic in me says this is in the New Yorker because the subtext is: "No need to worry about that terrorism/national security stuff any more! Elect Obama so we can get on with the real business of socializing more of the US economy."

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 24, 2008 1:12 AM

Al Qaeda was never as 'powerful' as it was made out to be (Wright's book "The Looming Tower" is clear on that point). They were determined, lucky, and efficient - and they were able to operate in the dark, which was their best asset.

Now, they are in the spotlight. They have no hiding places, no sanctuary, and they cannot cluster (as OJ says). Their mindless hatred (and grievance-mongering, I would say) has been exposed for all to see. They might be able to recruit ignorant urchins, screaming madrassa graduates, and retarded offcasts for their plans, but that is about it. Plus, Osama has been proven to be a miniature pony.

Posted by: ratbert at May 24, 2008 10:00 AM