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March 21, 2007

Book Review - "Future Jihad" - Part 6: al Qaeda

Scroll to bottom for links to previous parts of this review

It will seem odd to the uninitiated that a discussion of al Qaeda has not appeared until Part 6 of a book review on jihadism. To most people, I think, al Qaeda is the jihad. They've heard our president and leaders talk about a "War on Terror", and it was al Qaeda who attacked us on Sept 11. Most people by this point are suspicious about Islam as a "religion of peace", but they still see al Qaeda as the primary, if not the only, enemy.

And I am not trying to downplay the threat from al Qaeda. If they had the capability they would set off nuclear devices in all major American cities.

But as Walid Phares patiently explains in Future Jihad, the threat is far more extensive than that of a single terrorist organization, no matter how dangerous it might be. In the first five parts of my review of his book, I laid out the historical background and logic of jihad, and discussed the three parts of the jihad; the Wahabists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Khumeinists as explained by Phares.

In this part of the review I'll explain the origins of al Qaeda, why Phares describes it as a "neo-Wahabist" organization, why Osama bin Laden decided to directly attack America, and what he thought would happen after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Origins of al Qaeda

As Phares tells it, "Osama bin Laden did not create al Qaeda. It created him." By this he means that it was the culture of jihad the permeates the Middle East that "sculpted" him for the roll. Comparing it to the Lord of the Rings series, Phares says that in the case of al Qaeda and OBL it was the "rings" that found the lord.

al Qaeda ("base" in Arabic) is described by Phares as "an advanced form of neo-Wahabi jihadism." He also calls them the "SS of the jihad" because they have taken Saudi-based Wahabist teachings and carried them to their logical conclusion. This is why during the 90s Saudi leaders did not reveal in any detail to American policy-makers the philosophy of al Qaeda, because to do so would have exposed them as having the same goals of al Qaeda minus the terrorism.

Once the Ottoman caliphate fell in 1924, and the ability to call for a jihad went private, al Qaeda was inevitable. As mentioned earlier, it is simply the logical conclusion of Sunni Salafi Wahabist Islam (think of it as concentric circles; Islam is the largest circle, them Salafism, then Wahabism, and finally al Qaeda).

Bin Laden's three causes were Beirut, Kabul, and Baghdad. He was in Beirut in the summer of 1982, and was incensed at the sight of Israeli jets rocketing downtown buildings. The invasion of Afghanistan by the athiest Soviets was the second outrage. The third trigger was the presence of American troops in Muslim lands, particularly Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and Medina.

The Importance of Afghanistan

Between the fall of the caliphate and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1979, there were few opportunities to put the jihad into action. The Wahabists and Muslim Brotherhood could infiltrate their targets, but there was no place for those inclined to direct action to participlate. Even the fight against "the Zionist entity" was carried out by secular Arab regimes.

Afghanistan provided "the perfect war and a huge opportunity for the jihadists worldwide." The Saudis provided most of the support for the jihad, believing that they could achieve two objectives; the first to mobilize all Salafis under their banner, and secondly to get in the good graces of the West by showing that they were good allies in the fight against Soviet communism. The purpose of the first was so that the Saudis would be in control of the worldwide jihad, the second that it is simply easier to infiltrate a society that thinks you're their friend.

The war in Afghanistan drew jihadists from around the world. All those of the Salafist tradition, whether Wahabist, Muslim Brotherhood, or other factions, eagerly participated. Best of all from their standpoint, much of it was funded by the United States. Even those monies that came from Saudi Arabia came by way of oil revenues from the West. Painful as it is to admit it, our money jump-started the very jihadists we are fighting today.

Me: As commenter "jason" pointed out in the previous segment of this review, all jihadists are not allied in some sort of united movement. While they all share the same general goals, they spend considerable time fighting among themselves. In Afghanistan, for example, there was never a united front against the Soviets.

Me again: So was it right for us to support the Afghan resistance? Yes, even if we had known that we were creating jihadists. The reason is that Soviet communism was the greatest single threat to the planet in the latter part of the 20th century, and we had to do everything we could to defeat it. It was not knowable at the time whether the Soviet Union would fall, or what would be the straw that breaks the camels back. Some today say that the Soviet Union would have fallen anyway, even if we had not supported the Afghan resistance. But such things are unknowable. Our fault was not in supporting the Afghan resistance, or even in shipping them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, it was in ignoring the country once the Soviets had left.

Why Attack America Directly

Put simply, bin Laden decided to attack America because his reading of the 1990s showed that we were a paper tiger. Time and again he or other jihadist terrorist organizations attacked Americans and got away with it.

The list of attacks by jihadist groups on America in the 80s and 90s that we did not respond to is long: Beirut(1983 Marine Corps barracks), Algeria, Somalia, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Khobar Towers, Chechnya, Bosnia (we allowed a jihadist brigade to form up and fight "alongside" us), ignoring the Taliban, the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole.

Worse, on Feb 22, 1998 Osama bin Laden issued a formal declaration of war against the United States. He had all his t's crossed and i's dotted; the text met all of the legal requirements as established by centuries of Islamic law. Yet the United States completely ignored it. Bin Laden was stunned.

His assumption was that it was a sign from Allah that America was ripe for the picking.

What Osama bin Laden Thought Would Happen after September 11

Osama bin Laden thought that three things would happen after the attacks

Popular Chaos: Bin Laden thought that Americans would rise up by the millions against the government. He thought that congress and the president would be paralyzed and that the economy would collapse.

Backlash on Arabs and Muslims: Bin Laden expected us to do what he would do if the situation was reversed; slaughter anyone remotely associated with the enemy. Let us not think that by "backlash" bin Laden was expecting what we would call "discrimination" or even name-calling; he was expecting pogroms of the sort that used to happen against Jews in Czarist Russia. He thought there would be armed strife whereby fascist militia groups would murder Muslims by the hundreds or even thousands.

American Wrath Overseas: Just as bin Laden would have slaughtered his enemies at home, he would have done likewise with a foreign enemy that dared to attack him. He was thus expecting us to lash out at all Muslims and Arabs overseas, perhaps even using nuclear weapons in a mass slaughter.

The net result, he thought, would be that the United States would be in disarray and Arab Sunni Muslims would rally around him and annoint him the new caliph.

What Might Have Happened

It is easy to smile at what bin Laden thought would happen, for in fact he was wrong on all counts. But what if he had waited 5 - 10 years? What if he had waited until he was able to infiltrate hundreds into this country instead of barely more than a dozen?

Instead of 19 hijackers on 4 airplanes, imagine 50 - 60 on a dozen or more.

Imagine also that the terrorists are not only boarding airplanes, but that al Qaeda has infiltrated people into the FAA, where they now work as air traffic controllers. Others are mechanics at working at airlines. On the appointed day they all work in unison. The air traffic controllers issue bogus commands, and the mechanics sabatoge aircraft.

Truck bombers attack attack police stations and government offices, not just in Washington DC or New York, but around the country.

U.S. Military bases experience terrorist attacks carried out by soldiers and sailors working for al Qaeda. Aircraft are destroyed and ships crippled. Others in intelligence or communications units work to sow confusion.

Still terrorists act as snipers in cities, perched atop buildings or holed up in strategically located apartments, shooting at random those below.

How would Americans have acted then? The answer is that we don't know, but it might get ugly very quickly.

Phares lays out just such a scenario in Future Jihad. Now, I think the chances of such a plot going undetected are pretty slim, even in a pre-9/11 mentality. Yet even so, it is not clear that if we had caught some terrorists we could have prevented the entire operation. It is something to think about, certainly.

Up Next:

Guidelines and prescriptive policies.


In Part 1 I introduced Walid Phares' book Future Jihad and explained the logic of jihad.
In Part 2 I mapped out the three branches of the jihad as identified by Phares.
In Part 3 we discussed methods of the jihad as told by Phares.
In Part 4 we covered how the Saudi Wahabists Undermine the West
Part 5 was about the success the Muslim Brotherhood has had in penetrating the government of Egypt, and it's success in establishing an Islamist government in Sudan

Posted by Tom at March 21, 2007 8:47 PM

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