Posted on 26-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Juan Cole has a fascinating analysis of the latest Bin Laden audio tape and why he is not convinced it is genuine.  See link.  As Cole notes Bin Laden has not been seen on video since October 2004 and the new tape has generally been ignored in the Arab world.  If Cole’s analysis is correct, Bin Laden’s decline also serves as a lesson on why terrorists with no practical positive plan struggle to maintain support.

Bin Laden at one point attracted genuine sympathy and support in the Arab world.  He was the rich kid who abandoned his wealth to fight a jihad against two superpowers back to back.  The perceived impotence of their regimes against Israel and frustration at the lack of political and economic opportunities contributed to his support.  But Al Qaeda never had a serious or practical program to offer.  Unlike Hamas and Hezbollah whose goals are narrower and nationalistic, Al Qaeda has the unrealistic goals of restoring the  pan-Islamic Caliphate.  The entity Al Qaeda wanted existed only in its imagination.  Of the first four caliphs, three were assassinated.  The distance from the capital of Damascus (and later Baghdad) to the extremities of the Empire (Spain and Morocco in the West and the Indus River in the East) meant that provincial governors would always have a lot of local autonomy.  The “golden age” of the famous Harun al-Rashid also marked the disintegration of the empire as Baghdad could not hold effective sway over such a vast region.

Far less ambitious projects like the union of Egypt and Syria (which barely lasted 3 years) crumbled in the 20th century.  Needless to say, no Arab state took Al Qaeda’s goals seriously.  Ultimately, all Al Qaeda offered was terrorism against its presumed enemies with involuntary martyrdom offered to any Muslims who happened to be in the way.  The terror attacks in Jordan, Zarqawi’s blood lust in Iraq that helped give rise to the Sunni Awakening and the terror attacks in Pakistan last year that forced the Pakistani army to respond with lethal force, all have dimmed the rosy glow some had for this band of thugs.

While vigilance must be maintained and bands of murderous fanatics are still out there, such groups do not present and existential threat to the American way of life (unless we do the job for them).  As Fareed Zakaria noted a few weeks back overreaction plays into their hands (see link).  Meanwhile, the location of the chief evildoer (as George W. Bush once named him) is somewhat of a mystery.  As Cole notes he increasingly appears to be an irrelevancy.

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