|The Question||Since the attacks of 11th September 2001, we in the West have sought the answer to the question, "Why are terrorists, namely al-Qaeda, trying to kill us?" This is surely a fair question that requires an answer. It is also a very broad question.|
|There is a well-known anecdote about the infamous bank-robber, Willie Sutton, who, when asked by a journalist "Why do you rob banks?", answered "Because that's where the money is."1 The point of the anecdote is that the journalist meant "why do you rob?", but Sutton heard the question as "why banks?" In much the same way, the question "Why is al-Qaeda trying to kill us" is approached in many different ways.||1 This exchange never actually took place. The journalist made it up, and Willie Sutton played along because he thought it suited his style.|
|Blaming the Victims-|
|A common way this question is approached is "Why do 'they' hate us?" or "What did we (or America) do to deserve or invite attacks?"|
|The blame the victim approach comes in a number of forms. For example, some individuals interpreted 11 September as a punishment for our immoral lifestyles. Apparently, because we were giving women too much freedom, consuming the demon drink and not beheading shoplifters, God had sent an avenging angel in the unlikely guise of Usama bin Laden.|
|From the other end of the political spectrum, many have said that America or the West brought Muslim rage, or Third World rage, on itself through its dastardly policies in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because they invaded Iraq, created poverty or supported Israel's right to exist, Western countries are now reaping what they have sown. Those who ask the question "why do 'they' hate us" have already predicted the answer - once they have found a convenient Western provocation, they can stop investigating the terrorists themselves.|
|There are some important problems with the 'blame the victim' approach.|
|Aside from the moral problem inherent in blaming victims for the mass murder committed against them,2 the "blame the victim" approach implies that only we can act - "they" can only react. In other words, it assumes the terrorists (or indeed Muslims or people from non-Western countries in general) are stupid, unimaginative or completely lacking in initiative and enterprise. By assuming that the terrorists lack agency, we in the West nourish the delusion that we are all-powerful and the terrorists are powerless to direct world events. This places us at an enormous disadvantage in understanding and responding to terrorism, and bin Laden plays on this delusion in his propaganda.3||2 One wonders whether Chomsky, Pilger et al would apply the same approach to victims of rape, domestic violence or random assault.|
3 Such as the recent tape addressed to Europe.
|As often phrased, the "blame the victim" approach presents terrorism as a blanket response by mainstream Islam - as if these were people with so little moral fibre that any pressure by the West would turn ordinary Muslims into homicidal maniacs. Revenge becomes right for 'them' while remaining wrong for 'us'. This is a symptom of a subliminal, backhanded prejudice against a supposedly 'lesser' civilisation that doesn't know better. Aside from being insulting, it is incorrect, because terrorism is actually a symptom of a conflict within the Muslim world.|
|Poverty||Another variation on the "blame the victim" theme is "What made these people so desperate that they would kill themselves to get a message through to us?" Islamic terrorism is not borne of poverty. Usama bin Laden is a millionaire from one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia, and his family is close to the al-Sauds. Bin Laden enjoyed regular access to HM King Fahd and several senior Princes such as HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal. The man many recognise as the organisational brains behind al-Qaeda, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a pædiatrician from an elite, establishment family in Egypt. Many of the so-called footsoldiers for radical Islamic organisations are University educated - often Western educated - and are susceptible to radicalisation because they have lost touch with traditional Islam.|
|The elimination of poverty is a worthwhile goal in itself, and may also alleviate terrorism indirectly in the long term because generally less dysfunctional states will provide talented youth with more avenues to pursue a career within the system. However, the terrorists have no message for us. We are not the centre of their world. They are attacking us in order to achieve specific aims and good faith communication with westerners is not part of their plan.|
|One other type of question about the cause of Islamic terrorism is "Why is Islam trying to kill us?" Just as the "blame the victim" brigade asks a question that predicts a particular answer, the "Clash of Civilisations"4 brigade has already predicted that Islam itself is the problem - after all, the terrorists invoke Islam as their guide and proclaim themselves the "real Muslims".5 Thus many people open up the Quran and start leafing through for evidence - the expected passages in which Muslims are instructed to commit all nature of atrocities. The scriptures of Islam (as those of Christianity and Judaism) are like a reflecting pool, so the investigator finds what he is looking for, often quoting the same verses out of context as the terrorists misquote for their own purposes.||4 A reference to Samuel Huntington's famous book.|
5 For example, al-Qaeda's October 2003 video contained the words "the real Muslims, we mean what we say." But if they are the real Muslims, what are the other Muslims? This approach blames mainstream Muslims for the actions of people who consider them not to be of the true faith.
|By accepting radical Islam's tenuous claim to orthodoxy, 'clashers' become unwitting tools in the struggle within Islam, reinforcing radical Islam's propaganda line and preventing westerners from believing in and supporting anti-terrorist Muslims. The problem with this approach, as with the others, is that it denies that terrorism emerges from a radical movement that defines itself as a rival to traditional Islam, rejecting many elements of the mainstream interpretation. This struggle has only recently been turned outwards towards the West, for internal reasons.|
|Most attempts to explain the causes of Islamic terrorism against Western targets either blame the West, implying that we created Islamic terrorism and therefore we can only stop it by changing ourselves, or blame the whole of Islam and therefore issue unhelpful demands that mainstream Muslims fundamentally alter their religion. My approach when researching my thesis was to closely examine the actions and words of perpetrators of terrorism and their predecessors, in an attempt to get at their ideological model. I hope to communicate some of my findings in the remainder of this talk.|
|Salafism and Jihad||In the struggle for control of Islam, most Sunni terrorists, including al-Qaeda, fall into a category called Salafism. Salafism is a broad and complex intellectual and political movement that I talked about in the November talk. However, because it is of central importance to an understanding of al-Qaeda, a re-cap is in order.|
|Origins of conflict in Islam||The ancient Muslim world was vibrant, productive and expansive. However, by the 18th Century, when Europe was awakening to the industrial age and modernisation of politics, society and economy, the Muslim world was no longer vibrant, and noted with apprehension that the West was outstripping it in several spheres. As a consequence, a number of internal challenges were mounted to traditional Islam and the political status quo.|
|Wahhabi Revivalism||One example, Islamic Revivalism, stripped down Islam to a few austere principles, rejecting as 'innovation' many longstanding Islamic concepts including many that had made Sunni Islam quite tolerant of ethno-religious diversity. The most important 18th Century revivalist movement was Wahhabism, which survives today as the guiding ideology of Saudi Arabia. One might also think of the Taliban as a form of late, naive revivalism.6||6 Shah Wali-Allah in Pakistan was a contemporary of Ibn Abd-el Wahhab, and was also a revivalist.|
|Secular Modernism||Another way of challenging the old order was to simply co-opt the more successful Western secular models lock, stock and barrel, and attempt to apply them to local conditions. For example, secular liberal-democracy in Turkey after 1924, Ba'ath Socialism in Syria and Hussein's Iraq, and Pan-Arab nationalism in Egypt are all examples of fairly successful applications of secular modernist models for political change. The Palestinian terrorist organisations of the 1970s (the PFLP, Arafat's PLO, and so on) also followed a Western national liberation struggle model.|
|Where Salafism Fits In||Salafism was a school of thought developed by a number of figures (Abduh, Rashid Rida, al-Afghani, et al) at al-Azhar University in Cairo in the 19th Century. It was also known as Islamic Modernism or Islamic Reformism. The name Salafi comes from the Arabic al-Salaf al-Salih, the "pious predecessors".|
|7 A hadith (pl. ahadith) is a quote or anecdote from the lives of the early Muslims, particularly Muhammad.|
The scriptures of Islam (Quran and Ahadith) were written in Classical Arabic around 1400 years ago. By comparison, Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible were penned about 400 years ago.
|For example, traditionalists took ijtihaad (interpretation) to be the application of reason within strict bounds by qualified scholars, to apparent contradictions in the scriptures, or genuinely unprecedented questions.8 To many Salafis, ijtihaad was equivalent to the modernist idea of individual free thought and reasoning. They concluded that every Muslim ought to attempt to derive his own Islamic rulings from the texts.||8 For example, there were no traffic lights in Muhammad's day. When they appeared, Hanafi scholars reasoned that it is already known that a good Muslim obeys civil laws, so traffic lights should be obeyed.|
|Some relevant consequences of the Salafi theory are:
|The Caliphate and the 20th Century||In 1924, the Ottoman Caliphate (the Muslim Empire) was abolished by the Turks, who subsequently established a secular state. That there was no Caliphate was a crisis in Islam. The reconstitution of a pan-Islamic Caliphate ruled by 'pure', Salafist Sharia law, in place of the numerous secularised states of Muslim-majority countries, became the driving project for many or all Salafis.|
|Naturally, in working out how they would create the Caliphate, the Salafis looked to the story of the establishment of the first Caliphate by Muhammad in 630 AD (8AH to use the Muslim calendar).|
In the left-hand column is the story of the establishment of the Caliphate as a Salafi might tell it. For interest's sake, the right hand column gives examples of the appropriation of terms from this story by various Salafi groups since 1924.
|Antecedent Movements||I want to talk about some of the movements that the leaders of al-Qaeda grew up with, and learnt from.|
|Al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood||
In 1928, four years after the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood was established by Hassan al-Banna. It was a very successful organisation in the sense that it grew and spread around the Middle East, because of the organisational skills of its leader. However, it really didn't have a straightforward model for implementing the group's programme. What it did have was a number of underdeveloped ideas.
|After the Muslim Brotherhood was banned (1948) and al-Banna was assassinated (1949), the group eventually disintegrated into factions along the lines of these different models for seizing power. One particular stream prioritised Jihad as a necessary and early component of the model. Nonetheless, they still retained some role for a concept of da'wa, the call to faith.|
|Sayyid Qutb: Hijra and Jihad||While the members of the Muslim Brotherhood were in prison, their propaganda chief, Sayyid Qutb, who had been tortured for years, wrote a book called Ma'alim fi'l-Tariq, Milestones on the Road. He condemned not just non-Muslims, and not just the secular Muslim State, but the whole Egyptian society, claiming it had reverted back to the state of ignorance that had prevailed before Muhammad. He called Egypt's populace the "new jahiliyya"; the new ignorant pagans. He said the Muslim Brotherhood needed to separate itself from the jahili world, from secularism, and have a hijra. Having recorded these ideas in his pamphlet Ma'alim fi'l-Tariq, Qutb promptly died in 1966. There was a debate over whether to interpret his book literally or symbolically.|
|In the lead up to the 1967 Six Day War against Israel, the State tried to co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brothers in prison were pressured to endorse the State's war initiative as a jihad - after all, wasn't this a Muslim state attacking non-Muslim invaders? The mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood agreed. Although they didn't like the state, they thought they should support the war against Israel as a higher goal.|
|Those who interpreted Qutb literally asked what would be the point of supporting a state that was not even properly Muslim, but which they considered to be pagan. If Egypt defeated Israel, it would not help matters - it would simply mean a stronger pagan state. They said that the first priority was to replace the Egyptian Government with an Islamic one. This meant that for around twenty years, most Sunni Islamic radicals concentrated solely on attacking the regimes of their home countries. This was called the "Egypt first" policy.9 Terrorism was an internal issue.||9 As distinct from the "Egypt First" political party.|
|The Muslim Brotherhood was freed from prison in the 1970s after Anwar Sadat came to power. Sadat hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood would form a base of support for himself, and would neutralise communist influence in the Universities.|
|Shukri Mustafa and Takfir wa'l-Hijra||The first Qutbist Salafi terrorist group to emerge was Takfir wa'l-Hijra10, which was founded by Shukri Mustafa. Takfir wa'l-Hijra thought of themselves as a small group that knew what real Islam was, but was isolated in a sea of pagan ignorance. They were in a period of weakness, as Muhammad's jama'ah had experienced in Mecca. For that reason, it was necessary to separate themselves from society, and have a hijra. They interpreted hijra in a number of ways. In Egypt, cities are situated along the Nile, which is surrounded by inhospitable mountains and desert. Takfir wa'l-Hijra initially went to the caves in the mountains overlooking the Nile, but later they rented apartments, and would have half a dozen couples living together in an apartment separated by partitions. It was a naive attempt to re-establish an Islamic community. They thought it would be pointless to attack the state until they had rebuilt a large community - all in rented apartments.||10 Takfir wa'l-Hijra means Excommunication and Migration.|
See our definition of takfir.
|A lot of people, including educated people, joined the group. But in the end it was not effective. Once the group began to get out of hand and the Egyptian Government could not help but see what was happening, the group was simply rounded up. It had not passed the stage of hijra and achieved the stage of jihad, so it was not really capable of resisting.|
|Takfir wa'l-Hijra's model was discredited in the Salafi community, which concluded that Takfir wa'l-Hijra's interpretation of the scriptures must be incorrect.|
|Faraj and al-Jihad||The next idea came from Muhammad abd al-Salaam Faraj. He wrote a book called The Forgotten Obligation,11 in which he claimed that jihad was a pillar of Sunni Islam that had been forgotten or neglected. He argued that jihad had to be fought immediately. Any attempt to engage in hijra by hiding in the mountains or apartments was simply a cowardly attempt to evade the immediate obligation of jihad. Faraj's organisation, Jama'at al-Jihad (Jihad Group), was founded in 1981, grew to an impressive size in 1981, assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981, and was suppressed in 1981, with its membership being imprisoned. Jahili society did not collapse, and the organisation was not able to mount any more attacks. Faraj's model of immediate jihad was discredited. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Usama bin Laden's right hand man, was arrested at this time, and later became the leader of a successor group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (sometimes treated as the same organisation and called al-Jihad).||11 al-Farida al-Ghaibha, also called the Neglected Duty.|
|Synthesis: Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan||In 1978, a revolution in Afghanistan, called the "Saur Revolution" resulted in the replacement of the Government with a very hardline communist regime. In response to increasing resistance from the population, the Afghan communists invited the Soviet Union to invade. On Christmas Day, 1979, the Soviets invaded, and a state of complete civil war ensued.|
|Many foreign Muslims, particularly from the Arabian Peninsula, travelled to Afghanistan to take part in the Afghan Jihad. The foreign veterans of the Afghan war are known as the Afghan-Arabs. The influx of Muslims was organised and co-ordinated by Abdullah Azzam, Usama bin Laden and other Arabs who went on to be key members of al-Qaeda.|
|Azzam was a Professor of Islamic Law who was very influential in Salafi circles, and his slogan was "Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues." Usama bin Laden, as Azzam's partner and protege, provided funds, construction equipment and political and business connections.|
|The New Hijra||The founders of al-Qaeda tried to reconcile events in Afghanistan with their theoretical understanding of Egypt and the other Arab regimes they were working to overthrow. They observed that the Afghan Government was comprised of people who were originally Muslims but had now renounced the faith and invited foreign non-Muslims into the country. The Arab-Afghans saw this as analogous to the apostate, jahili Arab regimes. Because the Afghan people were rising up against their rulers, Afghanistan qualified as a destination for hijra - a community could be set up which would not be interfered with or polluted by secular, jahili society. As Azzam put it, this struggle would provide the solid base (al-Qaeda al-sulbah) for the future society.|
They rethought the idea of hijra as a period of time during which the nascent jama'a could gather strength. Hijra was reinterpreted as a geographical, physical action. This meant they could combine the idea of hijra with Faraj's idea of jihad as an immediate duty. For al-Qaeda's founders, the objective of the Afghan hijra was to defeat their home regimes, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. Practically, Afghanistan would provide the opportunity to learn new fighting skills, and its geography also made it ideal for hiding from the forces of secularism. Ayman al-Zawahiri recently wrote that his trip to Peshawar in 1980 was for the purpose of finding|
a secure base for jihad activity in Egypt
In other words, he went to Afghanistan in order to fight Egypt. Like Muhammad travelling to Medina in order to claim Mecca, the Afghan Arabs (according to al-Qaeda), were travelling to Afghanistan in order to conquer their home regimes. Al-Zawahiri continues:
[jihad was impractical in Egypt due to the activity of] the security forces and because of Egypt’s flat terrain, which made government control easy, for the River Nile runs in its narrow valley between two deserts that have no vegetation or water. Such a terrain made guerrilla warfare in Egypt impossible.12
|12 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, January 2002.|
|Afghanistan was of paramount importance for al-Qaeda, and bin Laden complained bitterly that the Muslim world allowed the Taliban to be defeated, because this destroyed or weakened the location for hijra from which they intended to organise the war against us.|
|International Jihad||Another new idea that distinguished al-Qaeda from its predecessors came from Abdullah Azzam. Previously, to be a pure pan-Islamist meant to place the overthrow of one's home regime as the exclusive first priority (the Egypt First policy). Azzam was a Palestinian Jordanian who had broken with the Palestinian struggle on the basis that it was polluted with a secular, national liberation ideology. For Azzam, although there could be no compromise with the secular home regimes, the migration of Muslims from around the world to Afghanistan demonstrated that a pan-Islamic struggle could - indeed should - ignore what he called "geographic[al] borders that have been drawn up for us by the Kuffar [unbelievers]" between Muslims. This led to the idea that the jihad was global - it could be everywhere that Salafis could be.|
|This theory was made plausible by the international cadre that resulted from the jihad in Afghanistan. People from around the world went to Afghanistan, passed through training camps run by Azzam, bin Laden and other organisers, then returned to their home countries around the globe, creating a ready-made network. Bin Laden, with his qualifications in business administration, kept records on every fighter that passed through Beit al-Ansar and other 'guest houses'. This didn't mean bin Laden had an organisation like Rotary Club or, say, the Comintern, it meant he had contacts with the leaders of groups around the world that had been inspired by ten years of warfare.|
|Myth of the Superpower||The third important development in jihadi Salafi ideology to result from the conflict in Afghanistan was also related to the story of Muhammad's establishment of the first Caliphate. During the Afghan jihad, the mujahideen directed 'raids' (ghazwah) against the Soviet forces. In 1988-1989, Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, followed in 1992 by the Communist regime in Afghanistan itself.|
|We know that there are many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but as far as al-Qaeda is concerned, there was only one explanation. By carrying out 'raids' against 'Mecca' (in the form of the Soviet Union), they had destroyed it, and only then had they been able to follow through on the destruction of the local regime. This led to the paradoxical doctrine of the "Destruction of the Myth of the Superpower", in which the problem of being unable to defeat weak, local regimes is solved by defeating their Superpower sponsors through Salafi raids. This is the model al-Qaeda is applying now in its terrorist attacks against the West, which it almost exclusively calls by the name ghazwah, raids. The goal of these raids is to destroy America and its judeo-christian allies, as a Superpower, by first eliminating foreign influence in Muslim countries, which will then be ripe for civil war and revolution.|
Allow me to read a quote of Usama bin Laden to illustrate this message:|
Allah has granted [us] the opportunity to fight the Russians and the Soviet Union. . . . They were defeated by Allah and were wiped out. There is a lesson here. The Soviet Union entered Afghanistan late in December of '79. The flag of the Soviet Union was folded once and for all on the 25th of December just 10 years later [ . . . ] Gone was the Soviet union forever. We are certain that we shall - with the grace of Allah - prevail over the Americans and over the Jews.13[Emphasis added].
One of the Bali bombers, walking out of court, told reporters that within ten years Australia will "cease to exist" and Indonesia will descend into civil war. Jamaah Islamiyya is applying al-Qaeda's model to Southeast Asia.
|13 John Miller interview with Bin Laden, question 15.|
|After twenty years of an "Egypt first" policy, meaning that jihadi Salafi terrorist attacks only targetted home regimes, the doctrines of the new hijra, international jihad and the Destruction of the Myth of the Superpower led to a new targetting policy - "America First". Note that when al-Qaeda refers to America, it means the non-Muslim world in general. It became anathema for al-Qaeda and its affiliates to attack supposedly apostate Muslim home regimes at this stage in the process. The home regimes were far more familiar with the jihadis than the Superpowers, and were therefore more capable of carrying out mass arrests and surveillance. On the other hand, al-Qaeda sees America and the West as weak - weaker than the Soviets. They point to other defeats, such as the withdrawal of American-French forces from Lebanon following a Hizbullah truck bombing in 1983, the withdrawal from Somalia after the death of eight servicemen, and also to Vietnam. Al-Qaeda's leaders constantly refer to the Vietnam Syndrome as evidence that the Americans can be eliminated as sponsors of Middle Eastern regimes.|
An al-Zawahiri quote related to the attack on the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan demonstrates how far the "America First" policy was taken:|
"We had to react to the Egyptian government's expansion of its campaign against Egyptian fundamentalists outside the country. So we decided to target a painful goal for all the parties of this evil alliance. After studying the situation we decided to assign a group to react to this and we assigned their targets, first bombing the American embassy in Islamabad and if that wasn't easy, then one of the American targets in Islamabad. If that didn’t work, then the target should be bombing a Western embassy famous for its historic hatred for Muslims, and if not that, then the Egyptian Embassy."
Al-Zawahiri treats Egyptian Government actions as the actions of the Superpower by proxy. In order to send a message to Egypt (America), al-Zawahiri instructed his raiders to attack an American or Western target, with the Egyptian target being the last resort.
|Al-Qaeda had learnt that it could only defeat jahili Muslim regimes by first destroying their Superpower sponsors. The global Salafi community had also witnessed a radical modification of jihadi Salafi doctrine bearing fruit in Afghanistan.|
|Iraq and the new Jihad||After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, international state sponsorship of the jihad dried up, and most of the Afghan-Arabs went home. Usama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, feeling somewhat betrayed at the withdrawal of funds while a Communist regime remained in power in Afghanistan.|
|In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and an invasion of Saudi Arabia was feared. Bin Laden approached King Fahd and offered to mount a defence of the kingdom, building fortifications with his construction equipment and manning them with his loyal mujahideen. King Fahd asked bin Laden what he intended to do about air defence and, receiving no satisfactory answer, requested assistance from America and other Western countries. Although bin Laden had not complained in 1978 when the Saudis invited French troops into Mecca to break a siege of the Holy Mosque,14 after a decade in Afghanistan he had a different outlook. In terms of his new theoretical framework, he saw the Sauds' invitation as equivalent to that of the Afghan government in 1978. Instead of having faith in Allah's ability to defend the kingdom from aircraft, Fadh had invited an infidel Superpower to 'invade' a Muslim country. In keeping with the theory, this meant al-Qaeda had to attack Western, especially American, targets in Saudi Arabia and around the world, while publicly calling for 'reform' of Saudi government, society and religion. Insofar as Western/American actions can be said to have caused terrorist attacks, they did so unwittingly, by helping a Muslim country defend itself from an aggressive neighbour at that country's invitation.||14 John Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, p72. Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, p7.|
|Another Hijra||As bin Laden and his men fell out with the Saudis, and sought to develop a network to attack the West, they 'migrated' again, spending 1992-1994 in the Sudan, which at the time was under the control of the jihadi Salafi Hassan al-Turabi. Then in 1994 al-Qaeda moved to Pakistan and finally to Taliban Afghanistan. In other words, since 1992 al-Qaeda's leadership has been at hijra, developing a global jihad movement in order to destroy Western hegemony; to kill us.|
|Training camps were set up in various areas of Afghanistan in addition to the operations planned from the Sudan. Al-Qaeda continued to cultivate a worldwide network of trained and loyal operatives for attacks against the West. As the da'wa component of its programme, al-Qaeda put a great deal of effort into the consolidation of jihadi organisations under its umbrella, produced recruitment videos of high production quality, and engaged in public works.15 In 1996, and again in 1998, bin Laden issued public declarations of war against the United States on behalf of al-Qaeda. Attacks such as the 7th August 1998 simultaneous bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (on the eighth anniversary of the entry of foreign troops onto Saudi soil) were increasingly common.||15 For example, bin Laden's company al-Hijra Constructions worked on roads and agricultural projects in the Sudan, and invested considerable funds in the impoverished country.|
|The plan for the defeat of the West can be summed up as follows:|
|Incidentally, this is the meaning behind the name of the British pro-al-Qaeda organisation al-Muhajiroun (the migrants, those who went on hijra) I mentioned earlier. The self-description al-Muhajiroun does not mean "we have migrated to Britain". It means "we have migrated from secular or pagan society to Afghanistan, where we learnt how to destroy you".|
|After September 11: Iraq, Madrid, Saudi Arabia||In the aftermath of September 11, America was left with a difficult decision on Iraq. Troops had been in Saudi Arabia for twelve years, protecting the kingdom from Iraq, essentially with a 'containment' policy. What would America do with those troops? There were three options.
|The question of the legitimacy of the invasion is now one of history, so I'll leave it at that. Suffice to say that a year on, Iraq is now undeniably relevant to the struggle between the West and al-Qaeda.|
|Salafi terrorists moved into Iraq in force during the invasion. Their plan is to render Iraq ungovernable, push out foreign forces, and create a new destination for hijra. Any attempt to establish order that is hostile to al-Qaeda will come under attack, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.|
|In the early stages, the bombing attacks were clearly aimed at knocking out the pillars of support necessary for the Coalition of the Willing to succeed in Iraq. The attacks on the United Nations and Red Cross offices were designed to push out major international non-Government organisations and humanitarian organisations. The attack on the Jordanian Embassy16 was designed to eliminate the support of Arab states. The attacks on Shi'ite and Kurdish targets were designed to prevent consensus amongst ethnic groups, and ultimately to foment a civil war. The purpose of the incessant attacks on oil and other infrastructure have a fairly obvious motivation. Iraqi police, members of the Coalition Provisional Authority and workers queueing to work on reconstruction projects are routinely attacked, in order to bring the country to a halt. What they are really trying to do is make a failed state, which will then become their new destination for hijra in the ongoing war against the Western Superpower.||16 On 7th August 2003, the 12th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia.|
|This plan is actually quite feasible. If all Coalition forces withdrew all support for Iraq at the moment and al-Qaeda-styled groups built bases in the deserts, the mountains - or even the cities - setting up extensive training camps and reconstituting the ricin factories that Ansar al-Islam had experimented with in Iraqi Kurdistan, what would we do? Having already invaded Iraq then withdrawn in ignominy, what possible response would we have to an Iraq riddled with terrorist training camps and chemical weapons factories? Would we re-invade?|
|It is in this context that the Madrid bombings should be seen. Before the bombings took place, a Norwegian research organisation discovered and archived what appeared to be a strategy document on an 'islamist' webpage. Immediately following the Madrid bombing, the document was analysed in more detail. The document discussed strategies for eliminating support for the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. It stated that the weak link in the Coalition was Europe, and that if one major European contributor could be made to withdraw, others would follow in a 'domino effect'. One particularly susceptible country identified was Spain, and over six pages, the document discussed Spanish electoral politics dating back to the 1980s. It concluded that attacks against Spanish targets in the lead up to the elections would be likely to see the defeat of the Aznar government and the withdrawal of Spain from Iraq. In the event, that is exactly what happened. Since then, a number of other countries have either declared their intention to withdraw their troops, or have publicly considered doing so.|
|The Norwegian analysts identified common references made in both the post-attack claims of responsibility and the strategy document. The attack was carried out by a Moroccan jihadi-Salafi group which identified itself as Salafiyya Jihadiyya.|
|There is an important point to make here. The strategy document did link the attacks to the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq. Many in Spain apparently believe that by taking part in the Coalition, they have caused terrorism, and that by simply reversing their actions they can turn the terrorism back off again. In other words, they think that they are in control, that their actions cause terrorist reactions. This is not what the strategy document says - quite the contrary. It discusses the subjective actions that jihadi-Salafis should take in order to cause a reaction by Spain. As the election result showed, the terrorists can turn Spanish actions on and off like a tap, not the other way around. Salafis around the world watched the al-Qaeda interpretation in action, and they saw it yield results. More will have been convinced by Zapatero's actions that al-Qaeda has discovered the model for political change supposedly contained in the scriptures of Islam.|
|Not long after the Madrid attacks, Usama bin Laden released a tape in which he offered Europe a hudna (truce), provided that it stopped "killing Muslims". Naturally, Europe rejected the offer. However, this was a propaganda victory for bin Laden, because it not only elevated him at the bargaining table with European leaders (albeit briefly), but it also gave bin Laden a propaganda coup. His statement very explicitly held a mirror up to European guilt, stating that the attacks were only in self-defence against relentless European and American tyranny, and calling for an international committee to look into Palestine. Any reply to this ultimatum would play into al-Qaeda's hands by confirming false premisses - that terrorist attacks against Europeans are caused directly by European actions, and that Europe really has been waging a relentless and bloody war against the Muslim world. By rejecting the ultimatum or 'refusing to negotiate', several world leaders allowed bin Laden to paint them as warmongers and himself as a peace-loving victim.|
|Recent Saudi Attacks||You've probably seen news reports about al-Qaeda attacks within Saudi Arabia. Until a few days ago, these attacks had always been directed against non-Saudi interests within Saudi Arabia. The recent attack against a large government adminstration building is a real wake-up call for Saudi Arabia, and represents a significant shift in targetting policy.|
|Looking back at al-Qaeda's model for political change, attacks against the home regime are not supposed to occur until Superpower support has been withdrawn. There is a division of opinion between major ideologues applying the al-Qaeda model. Within about a week of the Americans declaring that they would withdraw all forces from Saudi Arabia, there were co-ordinated attacks in Riyadh, Casablanca and Chechnya. The terror campaign in Saudi Arabia has continued since this time. Apparently, the al-Qaeda operatives see the declaration that the Americans will withdraw as a possible sign that their plan is working, and they are escalating the attacks in order to 'keep the ball rolling'. The most recent attack, against an important Saudi Administrative building, seems to be an early attempt to weaken the government and perhaps provoke a civil war as American support dries up. This is an ambitious interpretation, and one that has been publicly criticised by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Emir of terrorist operations in Iraq.|
|If al-Qaeda successfully overthrew the Saudi regime, this might serve as the kernel for a future Salafi Caliphate, because Mecca and Medina are within Saudi Arabia. One of the titles of the Caliph is the Guardian of the Two Holy Sites.|
|Nightmare scenario||We are now at a critical moment in the war between al-Qaeda and the West, and I think most people underestimate the risks we face. Allow me to paint a pessimistic, but feasible, nightmare scenario.|
|Throughout 2004, conditions worsen in Iraq - several countries have withdrawn prematurely from the Coalition of the Willing (including Australia if Mark Latham wins in 2004), and the smouldering embers of ethnic tension in Iraq, stoked by propaganda, terrorist attacks and perhaps Coalition blunders, erupts into open conflict. In November, John Kerry is elected President of the United States. Although Kerry is on the record as saying he will keep troops in Iraq, the deteriorating situation convinces him that he should withdraw all support from Iraq - after all, he built his career on opposing all support for South Vietnam. All other Coalition partners follow America out of Iraq.|
|The fledgeling interim Iraqi government loses control of one part of the country after another. Large tracts of Iraq fall to tribal fiefdoms and Islamic statelets. Training camps attract radical Muslims from around the world, whose training includes attacks on what remains of the central government. Trained muhajiroun return to other Arab countries, to Europe, to the Asia Pacific and to Afghanistan. Attacks against Western targets become as common as terrorist attacks in Israel have been in recent years.|
|Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, King Fahd dies. The pro-reformist Crown Prince Abdullah ascends the throne, but Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, continues with his soft touch on Islamic terror. Assassination attempts against Abdullah lead the kingdom into civil war between the elements of Saudi society that enjoy the patronage of rival Princes. Soon, the tribal areas of the Hijaz and the Najd blend with those of Iraq. The infection spreads to Yemen, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and further afield. As the revolution spreads, what can Western countries do? Not only would we not have the will to invade after having already withdrawn, but we would lack fuel because Arabian oil reserves would be locked up in failed states.|
|By the end of the decade, many poorer countries (such as parts of Asia and the former Eastern Bloc) would be unable to meet energy expenses and would be increasingly destabilised. By the end of the decade, living standards would be declining in the West as fuel shortages depressed the world economy.|
|I find it difficult to see why this is not a feasible scenario. In Monday's Australian, Tony Ellen-Mills wrote;
"If the House of Saud were to fall to a Taliban-like regime, one official noted last week, Saudi Arabia could become 'Afghanistan on steroids'".16
I was handed a copy of Time magazine earlier this evening, and found a letter to the editor which concluded,
"The premature withdrawal of US troops for political reasons in an election year would backfire and the whole region would be turned into an al-Qaeda stronghold."
That's what is at stake today.
|16 Tony Allen-Mills, Pressure builds on Saudi fault line, The Australian, 26th April 2004, p14.|
|There is a debate over whether Iraq is the new 'Vietnam'. In my opinion there is no doubt it is, but this time it is even more important that we win - that we stabilise Iraq, hand over to a legitimate government, and provide the country with all the financial and logistical support it needs. During the Cold War, the stalemate between liberal-democratic Capitalism and totalitarian Communism rarely broke out into a 'hot war'. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, has shown its willingness to attack anywhere, any time, with the most destructive of methods, against civilians and soldiers alike.|
|We must prevail.|