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Fresh start: Al Qaeda discussion


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(okay - let‘s see how long we can have an orderly discussion here, without insults and name-calling ...)

What exactly does al-Qaeda want?

As Islamist attackers threaten further carnage in Europe, terrorism expert Jason Burke looks at what motives unite the disparate militant groups

Sunday March 21, 2004 (The Observer)

As the shock of the Madrid bombings turns to a more profound sense of insecurity, one question is repeatedly asked of the militants behind the wave of terror: what do they want?
Modern Islamic militancy is varied and complex. Al-Qaeda is as much an ideology or a set of values as a single organisation led by a single leader. The values and ideas, the ‘wants‘, of militants are very varied.

Recent Islamic militants have shown many different motivations. Ramzi Yousef, who tried to destroy the World Trade Centre in 1993, was driven more by a lust for notoriety than religious fervour. He did not pray and flirted with female lawyers while on trial. Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 11 September hijackers, acted because he felt, with absolute certainty, that he had no option but to wage a jihad (holy war). He was obliged to fulfil his religious duty. One of the men who organised the bombing of a night club in Bali in October 2002 said he had been disgusted by the ‘dirty adulterous behaviour‘ of the ‘whites‘ there. Another said he was angered by the war in Afghanistan.

No two bombings are the same, either. The Madrid bombers chose not to kill themselves, unlike previous militants more closely linked to the ‘al-Qaeda hardcore‘ who see the deaths of bombers as an integral part of the message. Instead the Madrid attacks appear to be aimed at the practical, short-term objective of securing the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

Recent strikes by Islamic militants in Iraq, whether by suicide bombers or not, are different again. Though their aim is short-term tactical gain - impeding the formation of an Iraqi police force, for example - they also make a statement about the vulnerability of the West and America‘s inability to protect its allies while at the same time demonstrating the faith of the bombers themselves. The latter is important both to frighten ‘unbelievers‘ and to shame those Muslims who live their lives by values far removed from those of the fanatics into greater religious observance.

However, despite this variety, there are certain universal themes. To understand them we have to redraft our question. ‘What do they want?‘ implies a Western concept of acting to achieve specific goals. Instead we should be asking: ‘Why do they feel that they have to act in the way that they do?‘ The answer is that, from their twisted standpoint, they believe they have no choice.

In every militant statement you can see a mix of the general and the specific. Imam Samudra, the Bali bomber referred to above, saw the night clubs of Bali as part of a general cultural assault mounted by the West against the Islamic world. This is typical.

In Kashmir, locals speak of their repression as part of a global campaign against Muslims. In Chechnya, the war with Russia is seen as a manifestation of the same push to eliminate Islam.

Last week a previously unknown group threatened violence in France and listed the banning of the veil from schools alongside continuing American support for Israel, the war in Iraq and the killing of civilians in Afghanistan as evidence that the West never abandoned the Crusades.

This perception that a belligerent West is set on the humiliation, division and eventual conquest of the Islamic world is at the root of Muslim violence. The militants believe they are fighting a last-ditch battle for the survival of their society, culture, religion and way of life. They are fighting in self-defence and understand, as we in the West also believe, that self-defence can justify using tactics that might be frowned on in other circumstances.

In addition, an explanation for the parlous state of the Middle East must be found. If Islam is the perfect social system, the militants‘ logic runs, then something else must be to blame for the second-rate status, economically, militarily, politically, of their lands. They blame the West - and the failure of most Muslims to practise their religion with sufficient discipline and devotion. The bombs are designed to restore the pride of Muslims worldwide and, by weakening the ‘Crusaders‘ and their allies, hasten the eventual return to the golden age of a thousand years ago when the lands of Islam were the world‘s leading power.

The cosmic scale of the militants‘ aims make them very difficult to counter. But somehow we must halt the spread of their worldview, deny them political oxygen and strip away the legitimacy that allows them to operate. There is no silver bullet.

But there are things that can be done. Peace in Israel-Palestine, for example, might not end Islamic terrorism immediately but it would deny them a key piece of ‘evidence‘. So would forcing reform on the Saudi Arabian regime and other repressive governments.

The most powerful weapon in countering the radicals‘ violence is the goodwill and moderation of 95 per cent of the world‘s 1.3 billion Muslims. We must fight to keep it, and to use it, if we are, one day, to be free of fear and violence.

· Jason Burke is the author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror (IB Tauris, £13.60)


Know thine enemy

The first lesson in countering terrorists is political, not military: ensure their moderate compatriots have no reason to help them

Anthony Sampson
Sunday March 21, 2004 (The Observer)

As the fear of terror stalks the West, we have to keep it in perspective and frustrate the first objective of terrorists throughout the years - to provoke the enemy to behave badly and so widen the conflict.
Historically, the British know this better than anyone. In the late nineteenth century, anarchists and revolutionaries were causing panic throughout Europe, assassinating French and Spanish Prime Ministers and an Italian king. British governments maintained their phlegmatic calm and resisted provocation.

They did not outlaw anarchists, like most continental governments, but watched them closely and tried to use them for their own purposes, playing cat-and-mouse games. The subtle methods of the police were much admired by Joseph Conrad, whose superb novel, The Secret Agent, should be read by every counterterrorist.

Conrad describes how a sinister East European diplomat tries to provoke British reprisals by employing a spy, Verloc, to blow up the Greenwich Observatory (based on a real incident in 1894). When the British fail to be provoked, the diplomat angrily complains: ‘The general leniency of the judicial procedure here, and the utter absence of all repressive measures, are a scandal to Europe.‘

When the Fenians exploded dynamite at the Palace of Westminster in 1885, Gladstone calmly reconsidered the whole English relationship with Ireland and worried that the reaction to Irish violence could corrupt the British body politic.

After 1945, ‘terrorists‘ took on a new meaning and fear as they worked against the declining empire. The word had first been applied to state terror, as practised in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution, but by the 1940s it was being used to mean (said the Oxford English Dictionary ) ‘a member of a clandestine or expatriate organisation aiming to coerce an established government by acts of violence against it or its subjects‘.

The first instance recorded by the OED was in 1947: ‘The latest and worst of the outrages committed by the Jewish terrorists in Palestine - the blowing up of the King David hotel in Palestine.‘ But when the state of Israel was proclaimed the next year, the word soon became associated with Palestinians.

In other parts of the empire, the Army learnt the hard way that it could not oppose violence in purely military terms. In Cyprus, Lord Harding knew that there must be a political solution. In Malaya, Lord Templer pioneered the policy of capturing ‘hearts and minds‘ of the local population. In Kenya, the campaign against the Mau Mau was followed by the release and eventual presidency of its supporter, Jomo Kenyatta.

None of this experience suggested that the British should appease terror ists or evacuate countries which they threatened, only that they could not lose sight of the political forces which supported them, and that they should not allow terrorists to provoke them into the kind of counterterrorism which would stimulate still more terrorists.

The British methods faced their greatest tests from the IRA terrorists within Northern Ireland and Britain over the last three decades, coping with atrocities which were designed to provoke the fiercest reprisals. It was the refusal to respond - with some bloody exceptions - which prevented the IRA from widening its support and prepared the way for a settlement.

This long and painful experience of terrorism has made the British more aware than any major power, particularly the US, of the need to understand and outwit the perpetrators of terror. The danger today, after a traumatic week which has shown the extent of the enemy‘s organisation, is that the British lose their traditional cool.

It is more important than ever to comprehend the objectives of this enemy and his abilities. It was tragic to watch after 11 September 2001 how easily Americans underestimated Osama bin Laden - or whoever operates behind that brand name.

Bin Laden‘s expertise was well known to Washington: he had, after all, worked alongside the CIA in Afghanistan and his rich and powerful brothers had close links with American big business. The first investigations and arrests after 11 September revealed the extent of his networks in Europe as well as Africa.

Yet, in the traumatised mood of Washington, to suggest that he was a formidable enemy was thought to betray weakness and be unAmerican, so he was widely depicted as a crazy fanatic who would soon be caught.

The phrase ‘Know Your Enemy‘ had been part of traditional British thinking. In North Africa, Montgomery had a picture of his German opponent, Rommel, in front of his desk to help him understand his masterly tactics. Sherlock Holmes never ceased to analyse and respect the brilliance of his enemy, Moriarty, the ‘Napoleon of Crime‘. But while bin Laden was beginning to look as clever as Moriarty, there was not much evidence of a Sherlock.

Bin Laden‘s long-term masterplan was quite clear. He wanted, like previous arch-terrorists, to force his opponents to respond ruthlessly and, to achieve maximum publicity, to produce further recruits.

The primary purpose of the terrorists, wrote Bernard Lewis, Washington‘s favourite Middle East expert who was one of the brains behind the Iraq war, ‘is not to defeat or even to weaken the enemy militarily but to gain publicity - a psychological victory‘.

He wanted to provoke a holy war, a Western crusade which would set Christians against Muslims. And he wanted to get the Americans out of his own home country, Saudi Arabia, to bring back the puritan rule of the Wahabi sect.

In all these objectives, he soon succeeded. President Bush quickly declared a ‘crusade‘ against him and a war against terrorism, though it should never have been seen as a war, as British historian Sir Michael Howard soon pointed out. He sent the American fleet back to the Middle East, undermined the Saudi royal family and removed American troops. He gave bin Laden and al-Qaeda the maximum publicity. And he rapidly antagonised innocent Muslims outside and inside America, with ‘racial profiling‘, draconian legislation, mass arrests and detentions and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Some of the responses, including the swift war in Afghanistan, were unavoidable. But the crudeness and extent of the reaction against Muslims, much influenced by domestic political pressures, went against all the traditional rules of defeating terrorism: to isolate the enemy, to unify his opponents and not to allow him to widen his support.

And a year ago, Bush, with strong support from Blair, extended his front with a rash move which not even the masterminds of al-Qaeda could have planned, or hoped for, by invading Iraq: confusing a secular dictatorship with a religious movement and providing an open battleground for foreign terrorists.

Above all, the Iraq war provided al-Qaeda with the ideal distraction, making the Americans and British take their eye off the much bigger ball. Many critics, including Kenneth Clarke, had warned beforehand that a war in Iraq would increase the dangers of terrorism in Britain, but the risks were ignored and forgotten in the preoccupation with fighting in Iraq.

So it came as a total surprise when al-Qaeda or its allies, exactly two-and-a-half years after 11 September, showed that it still had a masterplan. The Spanish railway massacre achieved everything that din Laden could have hoped for: massive publicity, overreaction by governments and the dividing of Europeans from each other and from America.

In all these past mistakes, there was little sign of the influence of traditional British wisdom: the refusal to be provoked into rash actions; the concern about civil liberties; the need to befriend and reassure the population whom the terrorists purport to represent.

The growing number of Muslim citizens in Britain provide the key to much of the future security in the country and now have an unprecedented political importance. The great majority are moderate, peaceful and hard working and show little sign of being influenced by terrorist acts. (I live close to a largely Muslim street in London.) But they are inevitably worried about potential anti-Muslim feeling.

In the historic debate in Parliament before the Iraq war in February last year, the MPs from Muslim constituencies gave full warning of their concerns about a war. But since then, their worries have been largely forgotten and it is striking how little priority the Government has given to involving them in the problems of terrorism. The Government has expressed disappointment that moderate Muslims have not been more vocal in dissociating themselves from terrorism, but they have done little to bring Muslim leaders, including peers and MPs, into their counsels. And it is hardly surprising that, according to recent polls, Muslim voters have been turning against Labour in droves, and probably won‘t vote at all at the next election.

It was always the first rule in countering terrorists - to make sure that they would not gain support among their moderate countrymen. It would be the ultimate blunder if, in the panic over the horrors of terrorism in Europe, the British forget their historical lessons and allow themselves to be provoked into multiplying their enemies.
Frankly by this time, I‘m confused to what AQ wants anymore, except for some sort of total anarchy and/or Islamic fundamentalist govt in Muslim countries.
Finally some one gets the idea! Bossi shows good intelligence in this thread, you must know the enemy, you must know his motives, his beliefs. You desperately need to know more about him than he does about you. Every soldier needs to know this stuff, he who knows lives, he who don‘t won‘t. It is as important as your proficiency with weapons is!
The Jews bombings of the Brits military and others in the 1940‘s , was really the start of a new type of terrorism and it worked for Israel so it must work for others! Let Israel show the way!
Originally posted by tmbluesbflat:
[qb] The Jews bombings of the Brits military and others in the 1940‘s , was really the start of a new type of terrorism and it worked for Israel so it must work for others! Let Israel show the way! [/qb]
Aaah! the Saint David Hotel which was a P.M.Q.
The Irgune(Sp)hanging Squadies in orenge grove‘s.

So who‘s right and who‘s wrong?

Here we go again "One man‘s Terrorist. is another mans freedom fighter"

So where does it stop?