August 29, 2006


Threat Assessment: Two new books shed light on the ideological and organizational roots of al-Qaeda. (Aziz Huq, 08.28.06, American Prospect)

For all the cheap talk of civilizations clashing, few have examined Osama bin Laden’s particular ideological concoction. Mary Habeck, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s international affairs school, takes it seriously. Her Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and War on Terror is one of the clearest and most concise introductions to the peculiar blend of eschatological egomania and Islam that al-Qaeda proposes. Like Christian theology and exegeses, Quranic readings have run in various directions. Habeck sketches one discrete tradition, running from 14th-century jurist Ibn Taymiyya to 20th-century Egyptian radicals Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Her focus then turns to Islamist ideas of political theory, from its wide-eyed embrace of Samuel Huntingdon’s thesis to an erosion of strict religious rules for war.

Echoing Peter Bergen, Habeck argues that al-Qaeda’s failed to achieve the principle ideological goal on 9-11 -- catalyzing a global war between Islam and Christianity. Only thanks to the ill-conceived and recklessly executed Iraq War, among other things, did bin Laden’s vision gain fresh currency.

So OBL was trying to start a war between Christianity and Islam, but instead the Christians liberated the Shi'a and started a civil war within Islam and that's just what he wanted?

Al-Qaeda (and US) eclipsed by rise of Iran (Mahan Abedin, 8/30/06, Asia Times)

One of the more interesting results of the Israel-Hezbollah War has been the sidelining of the global jihadi movement and the broader Salafi currents that sustain it. Despite all its rhetoric of a global jihad against the enemies of Islam, al-Qaeda and the broader Salafi-jihadi movement were reduced to mere spectators as Hezbollah, once again, dealt a serious blow to Israeli prestige.

While some analysts interpreted Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest message as an olive branch to Iran, Hezbollah and Shi'ite militants more broadly, it in fact was not a departure from the terror network's stance on sectarian relations in Islam. In any case, al-Qaeda is increasingly a marginal component of the Salafi-jihadi movement, and its ideological influence on the new generation of radicals is nowhere near as strong as is often assumed. [...]

Simply put, al-Qaeda views the struggle against the West in general and the United States in particular as of primary importance. Sectarian squabbles within Islam can only be addressed once the external enemy has been forced to withdraw from the Muslim world. This is not too dissimilar from the geopolitical aspirations of the followers of so-called "Mohammadean Islam" who have been striving for the withdrawal of the West from the Middle East and other Islamic lands long before the emergence of bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

In fact, al-Qaeda is a secret admirer of the discourse of Islamic Iran and has rarely (if ever) attacked the leaders of the Islamic Republic. However, the Iranians have always maintained their distance not only because of the extreme Sunnism (as opposed to Salafism) of bin Laden and Zawahiri but also because of genuine contempt for the terror network.

Iranian leaders regard their "Islamic revolution" as the vanguard of the global Islamic movement and any competitor (especially one as pretentious as al-Qaeda) is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. Moreover, there is genuine revulsion of al-Qaeda tactics. This is not only because al-Qaeda targets innocent civilians, but because the Iranians fear that terror attacks against US interests consolidate American hegemony in the region and beyond. These fundamental divisions between Iran and al-Qaeda are likely to deepen as the geopolitical weight of the Islamic Republic continues to grow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2006 11:15 PM

Ahmadinejad is coming off more and more each day like the Iranian Nikita Khrushchev, alternately threating the west with nukes and then demanding to debate the leader of the U.S. (what's next, banging his shoe on the table at this fall's U.N. meeting?). Bin Laden, on the other hand, is more like Mao, with the cult followers and his willingness to sacrifice millions of even his own people in quest of the goal of an Islam as pure as the Chairman wanted his communism to be. Osama gets the groupies, even if he's no longer alive, but once confronted and rebuffed (as the U.S. did to Mao in Korea), he and/or his followers are more of a danger to those closest to him, as long as America doesn't get stuck on stupid and decide to let its guard down.

Posted by: John at August 30, 2006 12:51 AM

Wherefore, ". . .ill-conceived and recklessly executed Iraq war?"

OTC, most brilliantly planned and accomplished. In the first instance, the cavalier brushing aside and taking down of the Baathist regime, laid bare the essential weaknesses of the spiritual jailhouse. The ensuing chaos was most foreseeable, and certainly foreseen.

Who, being familiar with the history of the former Ottoman Empire, did not predict that when the dictatorship were removed the weakness of that failed system would not come through. Just as artificial monstrosities as THE FORMER SOVIET UNION or the former Yugoslavia fell to pieces, so Iraq dissolved into factional chaos.

Of course, the language of diplomacy does not now publically boast of this, for to do so is only to rouse the cooking frog.

As to the brilliancy of the execution, it should be obvious to any but the BDS-afflicted that the didactic effect of the roll on Baghdad was heightened by having been accomplished with minimal ground forces. All those attacker-defender force ratios which obsolete military science used to say were needed for the offense were brushed aside as easily as the entire Iraqi military. Baathist Iraq used to be the premier regional power, thoroughly besotted with delusions of adequacy. It had fought Iran to a painful bloody draw for a decade. In the end, nothing could save it, not Turkey, not the axis of European weasels, not the Democrat party.

Keep in mind that there is a fair possibliity that had we waited, the war might never have gotten off. There were weather considerations, but more important was that time would have given the foreign and domestic weasels a chance to undermine the entire operation.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 30, 2006 6:03 AM

Knowing the enemy is indeed the first strategic act of any good warrior. In her book, Knowing the Enemy, Mary Habeck gets to know part of the enemy and then wills away the other more frightening part. We examine the whole. See it here:

Posted by: Brad Carroll at September 6, 2006 7:02 PM