September 27, 2009

ALL ABOUT PROXIMITY:

Rethinking Which Terror Groups to Fear (SCOTT SHANE, 9/27/09, NY Times)

[M]any students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

“Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians,” said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. “They’re finding it harder to recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money.” [...]

[S]ome government officials do take quiet, if wary, satisfaction in two developments that they say underlie the broad belief that Al Qaeda is on a downhill slope. One is the success of military Special Operations units, the C.I.A. and allies in killing prominent terrorists.

Three days apart in mid-September, American special forces in Somalia firing from helicopters killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a leader of a Somalian organization, Al Shabab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, and the police in Indonesia killed the most-wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, Noordin Muhammad Top, in an assault on a house in Java.

In Pakistan, missile strikes from C.I.A. drone aircraft have taken a steady toll on Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies since the Bush administration accelerated these attacks last year, a policy reinforced by President Obama. A count of such strikes, compiled by the Center for American Progress in Washington, found a handful in 2006 and 2007, rising rapidly to 36 in 2008, and another 36 so far in 2009, nearly all in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In addition to thinning the ranks of potential plotters, the constant threat of attack from the air makes it far harder for terrorists to move, communicate, and plan, counterterrorism officials say. And while the officials say they worry about a public backlash in response to the civilians killed during the air attacks, those officials also say the strikes may be frightening away potential recruits for terrorism.

The second trend is older and probably more critical. The celebration in many Muslim countries that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has given way to broad disillusionment with mass killing and the ideology behind it, according to a number of polls.

Between 2002 and 2009, the view that suicide bombings are “often or sometimes justified” has declined, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, from 43 percent to 12 percent in Jordan; from 26 percent to 13 percent in Indonesia; and from 33 percent to 5 percent in Pakistan (excluding some sparsely populated, embattled areas). Positive ratings for Osama bin Laden have fallen by half or more in most of the countries Pew polled.

Peter Mandaville, a professor of government and Islamic studies at George Mason University, says a series of public recantations” by prominent Islamist scholars and militants in recent years have had an effect. But the biggest catalyst has been bombings close to home.

“Right after 9/11, people thought, wow, America is not invincible,” Mr. Mandaville said. “It was a strike against the U.S., and they were for it.” But when large numbers of innocent Muslims fell victim to attacks, “it became more and more difficult to romanticize Al Qaeda as fighting the global hegemons — basically, ‘sticking it to the man.’ ”


It turns out, the Far Enemy was much closer than they thought and fellow Arabs don't actually think of themselves as the Near Enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 27, 2009 7:03 AM
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