Sunday, November 23, 2003
Al-Qaeda: Conspiracy, Network or Ideology?

Al-Qaeda, to repeat the contributions of many analysts and academics, has become an amorphous beast that is no longer open to strict definition. The original terrorist grouping, with its training facilities and affiliation to the Taliban, has long been dispersed. Now, the term is applied to a large number of terrorist atrocities that are motivated by the ideology of Bin Laden, his cohorts and his trained followers. However, these atrocities are the separate manifestations of groups or franchise operations that achieve success with frightening regularity.

The argument that an upsurge in terrorism has accompanied the aftermath of the conflict in Iraq is sound. However, this upsurge has concentrated on Iraq and has been encouraged by the neighbouring states in order to destabilise the continuing development of the postwar settlement. Disaffected Muslims who adopt the ideology of al-Qaeda provide a strong supply of troops and terrorists for an organised insurgency that has wedded disaffected Sunnis, Ba'athist stalwarts and foreign jihadis into a strong opponent for the Iraqi Provisional Authority.

Al-Qaeda's ideology is based upon fomenting chaos and bloodshed, since these conditions appear to be necessary for the establishment of their khalifah. Their ideological underpinnings have been strengthened by the war in Iraq and the continued western presence in the Middle East. Yet, there may be a case for stating that their support has plateaued and that there is unlikely to be a further radicalisation of existing groups or populations within the Muslim world.

The last two years have seen the creation of a "generation of terrorists". They are buoyed up and renewed by the madressehs that educate their successors but they have not proven adept at extending their political base or converting Muslim states to their particular views (with the possible exception of the Northwest frontier in Pakistan).

Whilst the conditions in Iraq have proved a bloody lesson for Britain and the United States in the capability of Arabs in wedding insurgency and terrorism, this conflict has also, in the longer term, demonstrated the limitations of al-Qaeda's reach.

As Paul Wilkinson of St. Andrews University points out,

It has not been lost on the Muslim world that the majority of those killed by al-Qaeda in so many of their brutal suicide bombings have been fellow Muslims.

It is the Muslim states that view Al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to their semi-westernised existence. The terrorists pose a grave threat to any progress made in the Muslim world over the past few years.

The fact that Muslim governments and their citizens increasingly recognise that al-Qaeda’s savage violence endangers their own human rights and their own chances of economic wellbeing and stability just as much as it threatens Western citizens will make them more determined not to give in to this intimidation and to crack down on those responsible for terrorist atrocities and who libel the name of Islam by pretending that they have a religious justification for their crimes.

Authoritarian regimes are beginning to address the social and economic stagnation that provides the fuel for Islamic jihad. However, their culture and their ideological resentment of the West will remain an engine for terrorists in months and years to come. Only by solving the structural impetus of Al-Qaeda can the terrorism be prevented from transmitting its goals and methods to another generation.

(23.41, 23rd November 2003)


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