Monday, April 16, 2007

# Posted 9:32 AM by Patrick Porter  

AN IMPERIALIST FORCE ALIENATING IRAQI OPINION: is what Al Qaeda are in danger of becoming. A story in Monday's Washington Post provides more evidence of this.

As Taylor would say, here's the money quote:
"We do not want to kill the Sunni people nor displace the innocent Shia, and what the al-Qaeda organization is doing is contradictory to Islam," said Abu Marwan, a religious leader of the Mujaheddin Army in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. "We will strike whoever violates the boundaries of God, whether al-Qaeda or the Americans."

Plenty of the Sunni insurgent activities probably also violate Islam. But the point is, Al Qaeda like many other extremist movements seems to be ultimately self-destructive. Its campaigns of beheadings, indiscriminate murder and its death cult repel opinion.

This was also suggested by widespread demonstrations against Al Qaeda's attack on a Palestinian wedding in Jordan last year, and in an international opinion poll in which Bin Ladenism was increasingly unpopular amongst Muslims.

Furthermore, because AQ is both zealous ideologically and very loose and decentralised in its operations as a network, it may well implode as its members start fighting each other. To coin a phrase, it will fall victim to its own internal contradictions.

The war against AQ has been marked by strategic errors and incompetence. Nevertheless, I am still quietly confident that it is unviable as a movement and as a set of ideas, and it will ultimately isolate and destroy itself.
(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

Its campaigns of beheadings, indiscriminate murder and its death cult repel opinion.

Patrick, why do you think this is the case? Factually, I might disagree with you, but in any case I think it's important to understand this on their terms, not ours.

Certainly it repels Western opinion. And it probably repels a large portion of Iraqi opinion. But the very extreme nature of it also attracts in a Scarface sort of way and the fifty virgins always helps. Clearly they've been gaining adherents and Saudi funding so they must be doing something right.

The war against AQ has been marked by strategic errors and incompetence.

I'm with you there. And I think that bin Laden even foresaw this happening. His plan was to get us to overreact, which we have. This should never have been seen as an existential conflict.
gaining adherents isn't enough - they need the tactit support, or at least quiet acquiescence, of large numbers of people. they need the space and freedom to operate. above all, they need the Islamic world to allow it to do so.

the more they isolate themselves from mainstream opinion across cultures and are seen as a hateful force, the harder it will be for them to operate. the more they murder, kidnap and terrorise Muslims, the harder it will be for them to pose as representatives of global Islam. the more opposition they generate, the more people will be willing to cooperate in combating them.

bin Laden may have counted on our over-reaction (although he also assured everyone in other rhetoric that we are weak and would under-react, so he isn't always consistent). But he may not have counted on the possibility that his movement, its ideology and methods, is unviable in the long term. Snuff films as televised beheadings is not the stuff of a long-term alternative to plural, civil society.

this isn't to say that there aren't other problems with the relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic world, or within Islam itself. My argument is simply about AQ itself.

I think 'our terms' actually can be quite valuable: in the same way that Marxism-Leninism was seen to be ultimately unviable by Kennan in his telegram, so too might Islamic fascism fail, in its own time and in its own way.

this isn't to say that our own responses don't matter - they do. containment of the threat remains important.
Patrick, I'm ambivalent -- as usual. I believe you're arguing that Muslims (a lot? a majority? almost all? I'm not sure) are losing enthusiasm for A-Q because they are repelled by beheadings, indiscriminate murder and/or death cults.
I would like to believe this, too, but look at your "money quote", as well as the demonstrations and opinion poll you mention: all of these have to do with a dislike of A-Q because they kill Muslims. Your comment seems to reflect the same thing, so I'm not sure I'm disagreeing with you. If A-Q were replaced by some group which only killed infidels like you and me, such resistance might well disappear. It seems to me that the Palestinian situation is somewhat similar; as long as the various groups focus on killing Jews, few Palestinians object. When they kill each other, there's a problem.

Now, okay, you're quietly confident that they're intrinsically unviable in the Long Run. Well, sure -- most things are, and even if they won (i.e., if they achieved a global Caliphate) then they would lose. Yeah. But I don't think that's why they're losing support; I think they're losing support because they're killing Muslims, as a strategy to prevent democracy from taking hold.

I'm not trying to make a political point here; I don't know what direction this is going in. I guess maybe it's just that I think, as Anon seems to, that beheadings are to be evaluated in their culture, not ours; there may not be anything intrinsically offensive about beheadings as such. (So far as I know, the last of my ancestors to be beheaded was
John Nutting
, in Groton, MA, and that was a while back.) But maybe there's a strategic point: Bush may have been right to put the war into territory divided between Sunni and Shia forces, territory where no one force could actually represent Islam because the divisions are too deep. It may have been intentional; he or his advisors may have planned exactly that.

Nah, I don't think so. I think this is an inadvertent plus to a non-strategy very big on minuses, a non-strategy which I now mostly attribute to optimistic idealism but I might change my mind again. Still, I agree that there is evidence that A-Q is losing "hearts and minds"...at the moment, I think that you're attributing this to a cause which would appear at a later stage in a process that I hope won't happen. (I also attribute your theory to optimistic idealism. :-) )
''To coin a phrase, it will fall victim to its own internal contradictions.''

Patrick = Wrong

''Now, okay, you're quietly confident that they're intrinsically unviable in the Long Run. Well, sure -- most things are, and even if they won (i.e., if they achieved a global Caliphate) then they would lose. Yeah. But I don't think that's why they're losing support; I think they're losing support because they're killing Muslims, as a strategy to prevent democracy from taking hold.''

Tom = Correct.
It's not so simple to talk about how ineffective Al-Qaeda will be in the future when it's ideologies like that of our current administration that give value and credibility to terrorist groups. Our ongoing $340 billion+ Iraq war has failed to generate support from the middle east and the rest of the world and is definitely not going to end well on this current path.

The only way to discredit the claims of terrorist campaigns is to reverse our foreign policy by aiding in the development of world populations in a multilateral effort. The US alone can fund the UN Millennium Development Goals to end poverty if we wanted to. According to the Borgen Project, just $19 billion annually can end starvation and $12 billion can provide education for every child on earth. Is an educated and healthy child or an impoverished and uneducated child more likely to adopt anti-western ideology?
Anna K,

you do have a point that our responses are also an important part of the picture. You also have a point that there might be much much more we can do to promote stability and prosperity.

Now, where we disagree:
you say it is simplistic to talk about the inherent unviability of AQ. But neither is it so simple to propose that the solution to radical jihadism, and indeed all problems, is to increase third world aid.

Terrorist leaders often come from affluent backgrounds; some of the poorest folk on earth (eg Bolivians) are not rushing to join AQ, regardless of how inept the Bush administration is. I would argue that it is the lack of political freedom, and a political culture of hatred, rather than simple economic inequalities, that is the driving force of Islamist movements.

After all, AQ spends a lot of its time killing poor Muslims, not trying to emancipate them from poverty. And I provided evidence in my post that the impoverished Muslims are realising this and beginning to reject it.

We may just have to agree to differ, however.

I remain confident that a liberal democratic worldview, in which girls can go to school, people can criticise their governments, and women are not stoned for adultery, will win the war of ideas against militant Islam. But maybe that's just me.
"Is an educated and healthy child or an impoverished and uneducated child more likely to adopt anti-western ideology?"
It's striking how often I hear that argument from educated and healthy people who have adopted elements of anti-American ideologies.

You think spending a few billion is going to educate the world? Schoolteachers are being murdered in Iraq right now, and you want us to leave their killers in peace. If Borgen Project teachers get killed like teachers in Iraq, or Beslan, or Thailand, how long until Borgen gives up - or demands the US military come in and do something?

What makes you think the world wants you educating it anyway? Parts of the world throw away polio vaccine because they hate the west, and you think they will let you instruct their children? You hope to go to Pakistan, land of the honor killing, preaching women's rights, and not get strung up?

Saudi Arabia is literally sitting on top of vast wealth, yet much of the kingdom is poor, because the royal family won't allow the public to have wealth. What makes you think your anti-poverty aid won't be stolen as well? If groups of armed men demand a cut, or all, of the aid you're bringing to Congo, what are you going to do about it?

And what good has foreign aid done in the past? Hundreds of millions in tsunami relief was forgotten pretty quickly. France has never forgiven the US for all the help we gave them. Anti-Americanism isn't caused by poverty, and ending poverty - while a good thing, albeit one neither of us can do - won't end anti-Americanism.
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