Al Qaeda: the Brand
April 29, 2004 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Think Again: Al Qaeda - "The mere mention of al Qaeda conjures images of an efficient terrorist network guided by a powerful criminal mastermind. Yet al Qaeda is more lethal as an ideology than as an organization. 'Al Qaedaism' will continue to attract supporters in the years to come—whether Osama bin Laden is around to lead them or not." Foreign Policy, May/June 2004.
posted by pitchblende (10 comments total)
Well, we knew that.

The simplistic among us--and unfortunately, that includes lots of people in the media--would rather cast the struggle in terms of Superheroes vs. Supervillains, with Osama bin Laden / Lex Luthor in his secret headquarters controlling the actions of his dimwitted but evil henchmen.

We like that story. It has a clear and definite arc--you hunt down all the "bad guys" and then the problem goes away. It's much more comforting to believe in that than in a complex set of social, political, and religious factors that inspire lots of people who don't know each other and are connected in only the flimsiest of ways--if at all--to wage a war of violence against the people and cultures they see as their enemy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:57 AM on April 29, 2004

Which is absolutely not to criticize your FPP, pitchblende. I'm glad of the link. It just seems that the pundits are a little late to the party.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:58 AM on April 29, 2004

I do quite get a dark chuckle over those who seem to think that al Qaeda is the type of organization where minutes are kept, Roberts Rules of order in effect and a deputy treasurer elected. The reality, of course, makes it all the more insidious, but Americans prefer to think of their struggle in apocalyptic terms, clash of the titans, all that.
posted by kgasmart at 8:25 AM on April 29, 2004

I have long harbored suspicions about bin Laden. First of all, his family has long been very tight with the Bush family, and very western-educated savvy about international politics and secularist values.

What I am saying is that it is not unreasonable to follow a line of logic: years ago, at least according to PNAC, the Islamic world was identified as having immense potential for trouble, in just the way it has proven to be; less sponsored by a government then by religious factions with philosophies and disordered, unhierarchical followers. A very tough nut to crack, assuming you prefer a 100-years war over being converted to Islam yourselves, at the point of a sword.

Why not set up a false Mahdi? A great leader with immense resources, say multi-millions of dollars of oil revenue. Someone who is really intensely secular, who even hates or despises popular Islam and his own native culture--seeing it as destroying his people and his nation. Who would love nothing better than to see fanatics die by the tens of thousands.

Cultivated and prepared for years, assisted in setting up his operations under the close supervision of his western strategist allies, a great general who wishes to destroy his own army and anyone who would align with it.

And finally, just before the "war" is to begin, he has one last meeting for final "until we meet agains", and last minute coordinations. After that, the only thing to insure is that he always gets away to fight another day.

Sounds absurd, granted, unless you see the alternatives as a hundred year war with millions of dead, WMDs used, horror and destruction over the world many times worse.

Is it really such a bad idea?
posted by kablam at 8:35 AM on April 29, 2004

That's a really nice lunatic conspiracy theory kablam. Interestingly enough it makes exactly the error understanding that everyone else seems to be making, and that htis article tries to correct. This notion of "Osama as Cobra Commander", he's not the skilled leader of a hirearchecal organization, he's a propagandist, advisor and inverstor of terror.

[Al Qaeda] is less an organization than an ideology. The Arabic word qaeda can be translated as a “base of operation” or “foundation,” or alternatively as a “precept” or “method.” Islamic militants always understood the term in the latter sense.

It doesn't matter wether Osama is a quisling at this point because the people he trained, inspired and funded *aren't* and they're disperesed throught the world, functioning laregely independantly.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:11 PM on April 29, 2004

Great article, but I disagree somewhat with these items:

"Islamic militants' main objective is not conquest, but to beat back what they perceive as an aggressive West that is supposedly trying to complete the project begun during the Crusades and colonial periods of denigrating, dividing, and humiliating Islam. The militants' secondary goal is the establishment of the caliphate, or single Islamic state, in the lands roughly corresponding to the furthest extent of the Islamic empire of the late first and early second centuries. "

While I agree that bin Laden and al Qaeda are not going for WORLD DOMINATION! as such, I think it's unrealistic to think that, even if they were able to reestablish the Caliphate, they would leave us alone, given the inherently expansionist nature of Islam.

Also, the author makes no reference to the fact that there was a dominant Islamic Ottoman Empire between the Crusader and colonial periods.

"...although a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would help alleviate political tensions in the region, it would not end the threat of militant Islam.

Moreover, considerable support for the Islamic cause stems from Muslims' sense of humiliation. A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would still leave the “Zionist entity” intact, would therefore offer little succor to the wounded pride of any committed militant or, more crucial, to the pride of those in the wider community who support and legitimize extremism and violence. "

It's true that a settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict would not deter the more radical extremists, but it would strengthen and legitimize political moderates in both Palestine and the wider Arab world, who would then have a much better platform for challenging the extremists.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:51 PM on April 29, 2004

given the inherently expansionist nature of Islam.

CLARIFICATION: Given the inherently expansionist nature of bin Laden's brand of Islam.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:55 PM on April 29, 2004

Grimgrin, I don't think you meant to say that kablam characterized Osama bin Laden as a "quisling", exactly--a quisling is an open collaborator with the enemy.

In kablam's theory, Osama would be more of a combination "Benedict Arnold" and "Manchurian Candidate".
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:34 PM on April 29, 2004

I was under the imression that Quisling was an open collaborator, but that a quisling was just a collaborator.

Thanks for correcting me.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:34 PM on April 29, 2004

I once got lectured by a Norwegian professor for using "quisling" as a synonym for "saboteur" in a term paper, so I am perhaps hypersensitive to the distinction.

But I already think the world of you for even using the word "quisling", Grimgrin. Just so you know. ;)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2004

« Older Social outcasts aren't who you think   |   My Marvel Years Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments