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Monday, April 19, 2004
RSVPs would be appreciated.
Various world leaders condemned the assassination, just as they lamented the attack on the pitiable wheelchair-bound Yassin. To put it in perspective though, the USA has had a crippled President and Indonesia a blind one. Nobody patronises Stephen Hawkings the way they fawned over the late Ahmed Yassin.
Those who want to remember Yassin and Rantissi as hapless victims should remember some things Rantissi said:
"The word ceasefire is not in our dictionary."
Israel will "never know security."
"We will fight them until the liberation of Palestine, the whole of Palestine."
(and what does that mean for the people of Israel?)
"By God, we will not leave one Jew in Palestine."
Some argue that Yassin and Rantissi were not military targets, being political leaders - after all, they issued political statements and organised social infrastructure. But what is new about this? Several days ago Usama bin Laden issued a political statement, and during the 1990s he heavily invested in infrastructure (particularly agricultural infrastructure) in the Sudan, putting his company, al-Hijra Construction, to work.
But at the same time, "Sheikh" Usama bin Laden was the spiritual leader of a worldwide terrorist movement, directing the murder of westerners across the globe - just as "Sheikh" Ahmed Yassin was the spiritual leader of Hamas, directing the murder of Jews in Israel.
Each spiritual leader also had an intellectual right-hand man. Oddly enough, both men - Dr Rantissi and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri were paediatricians trained in Egypt.
Speculations also abound about the role of Abdullah Azzam in both organisations, however Rantissi's "the word ceasefire is not in our dictionary" could have come from Azzam's lips.
Take a close look at al-Qaeda and Hamas - two Jihadi Salafi organisations following the path of the Muslim Brotherhood's Sayyid Qutb. How do they differ? Hamas kills jews in Israel, whereas al-Qaeda kills Americans in America and Europeans in Europe. Now we come to a central aspect of the division between "old Europe" and neo-Conservatism. After September 11, the world heard George W Bush declare that war would be waged on terrorism. Not al-Qaeda, note - but terrorism. "Old Europe" chose a more narrow conflict - while al-Qaeda would be fought tooth and nail because it threatened Old Europe, Hamas and various terrorism-sponsoring states would be absolved. The overthrow of Ba'athist Iraq, which funded terrorism against the Jews in Israel and an assassination attempt against George Bush Senior, was for Old Europe not a war on terror - because Iraq could not be seen to be connected to al-Qaeda, or seen to be a direct threat to Paris or Berlin.
The difference between "Old Europe" (a mindset that is not confined to Europe) and neo-conservatism (a mindset not confined to the United States) is the difference between short-sighted self-interest on the one hand, and the far-sighted vision that seeks to secure self-interest through a wide-ranging and positive vision.
If al-Qaeda routinely attacked French citizens, and attempted to assassinate Jacques Chirac, does anyone doubt that France - the country that bombed an environmentalist vessel in the harbour of its ally New Zealand - would attempt to 'assassinate' Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Would the leaders of civilised countries condemn France for its "illegal" and "irresponsible" attack, blame France for the "inevitable wave of vengeance amongst the Islamists" or cry over poor old bin Laden, who walked with a stick?
It's time we all took a good look at our prejudices.
I will never rejoice at the loss of a human life, but by no means will I mourn the deaths of those vicious criminals, Yassin and Rantissi.
Saturday, April 17, 2004
Is it really bin Laden?
I heard an excerpt played on the radio, and it sounds like his voice, which is quite distinctive.
The CIA also seems to think it's him.
Personally, I thought Usama bin Laden's tape was a brilliant political ploy, and the European leaders fell right into it. That's not surprising though, because any response to this tape would constitute the error of confirming the consequent. In other words, it's a bit like answering the question "do you still beat your wife?" Any incautious answer will confirm the assumption in the statement, which is that one is, or has been, beating one's wife. Politicians use this trick all the time.
Bin Laden is cynically positioning al-Qaeda as the hapless victim here, as he often does. His tape essentially says "If you stop assisting the American-Jewish alliance against Muslims, we will stop defending ourselves (by killing you) - because after all, ours is the camp of peace, and we are responding against the camp of war". This statement is packed with lies and deceptive assumptions, all integrated into the ultimatum.
Any response that does not identify and refute the underlying assumptions will deliver a strategic propaganda advantage to al-Qaeda. The tape is an ultimatum (accept our peace offer or we'll attack you), so Europe can answer in two obvious ways:
(1) Yes [... we will stop the murderous campaign against Muslims that we have been waging at America and Israel's instigation.]
(2) No [... we will continue killing Muslims and committing all the barbarous acts you accuse us of because we do not care for your peace.]
Either answer confirms a falsehood.
The first answer would of course be a tremendous victory for bin Laden. Note that his tape does not call for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but for a withdrawal of all personnel from all "Muslim countries". Of course bin Laden did not believe the Europeans would agree to this - that was not the purpose of the tape.
The second answer is still a victory for bin Laden, of course. The Europeans have confirmed the underlying assumption that al-Qaeda is the camp of peace, whereas America-Israel-Europe is the camp of war. This is entirely unrealistic, but European governments will now be more likely to distance themselves even further from Israel and America. By confirming al-Qaeda's claim that Europe is waging a war against Islam by daring to set foot in Muslim countries (who exactly appointed bin Laden the arbiter of what was a Muslim country or who was allowed into it?), the Europeans are placing themselves in an unenviable position. This tape restricts Europe's actions not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even in Kosovo and Bosnia! This tape is a brilliant wedge.
No negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues
Several leaders declared that it is impossible to negotiate with al-Qaeda. For example, Colin Powell said, "You can't make a deal with somebody like bin Laden. How can you make a deal with a terrorist?" The problem with this approach is that it implies that we in the West refuse to negotiate because we don't like terrorists, preferring relentless war. It is as if we are closing the door. Of course, the real reason one can't negotiate with these terrorists is that they themselves rule out the possibility of negotiation in good faith!
One of the key principles in al-Qaeda's ideology is that compromise or negotiation with the 'enemy' is pointless and sinful. The motto of Abdullah Azzam, the late mentor of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was "Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues." In the unlikely event that Europe did withdraw all personnel from all Muslim countries, they would enjoy but a brief reprieve. One must naturally assume that bin Laden would consider the arrest of his agents in Europe to be a breach of the truce; in other words, such a truce would turn Europe into an organisational centre for anti-American terrorist attacks. Bin Laden would also presumably regard trade with America and its allies to be a breach of the truce, as he frequently justifies attacks on civilians on the basis that they form part of the American war machine because they pay taxes. Al-Qaeda treats non-Muslim aid workers and businesses in the Middle East as invaders. What is being offered is not a treaty, but a siege.
Jihadi Salafis such as bin Laden are attempting to emulate al-salaf al-salih (the 'pious predecessors' of early Islam), particularly the first Muslim community at Yathrib (Medina). According to the story, after the hijra (migration) to Yathrib, Muhammad and his Sahaba (companions) established a 'perfect community', with the co-operation of the Ansar (helpers) - the citizens of Yathrib. Although they had a ten year hudna (truce) with Mecca, they carried out ghazwah (raids) against Meccan merchants, wearing Mecca down. Eight years into the truce, Muhammad determined that the Meccans had broken the treaty through their own actions, and marched triumphantly into Mecca, establishing the first Caliphate.
In order to recreate the Caliphate, al-Qaeda and its precursor groups have attempted to interpret that story for contemporary conditions. The base (al-qaeda al-sulbah - the solid base) of operations in Afghanistan is considered to be the location of al-Qaeda's hijra - both in the anti-Soviet Jihad and in the current one. Al-Qaeda almost always refers to attacks such as September 11 and March 11 as ghazwah, raids. It is natural for al-Qaeda to offer Europe a hudna, as a precursor to its conquest. Al-Qaeda's treaty offer should be placed in the same category as Hitler's Munich Agreement - a political instrument designed to soften up a target. The treaty would end at bin Laden's convenience.
This was not a treaty offered in good faith, and therefore it was not negotiation at all. That is why one can not negotiate with al-Qaeda.
A New bin Laden?
Someone at the BBC described this tape as the first example of Usama bin Laden striking a clever political blow. That is completely false - the tape is entirely in keeping with every other publication by al-Qaeda and every major political action the group has taken. What exactly happened in Madrid in March? Did Spain/Europe/The West ACT against Muslims, who then RESPONDED to their action with a bombing? Or did Islamists ATTACK Spain, at which point Spain RESPONDED by panicking? Who is pulling whose strings? Think of the tape. Bin Laden has the arrogance to address Europe - and Europe quickly stammers out a response! When al-Qaeda acts, it is with an eye to making its enemies react in a particular way, although in the tape bin Laden carefully positions the West as the active aggressor and the Muslims as the victim responding. Al-Qaeda has proven to be very successful in pushing us just where they want us, because they know us. On the other hand, we in the West know very little about al-Qaeda. Most of us don't understand what they want, how they think, what their plans are. So we can only act in the dark. Al-Qaeda watches and waits, and chooses its moment to dig the needle directly into the nerve. The West, stabbed in the dark, leaps away, or throws blind punches.
Other reactions to the tape
Scott Martens has his finger on the pulse with his response to the tape, although I fail to see why he thinks that Usama bin Laden was not intentionally splitting the Europeans from the Americans. From my experience, most effective politicians choose a course of action that achieves several objectives. Al-Qaeda is fighting an asymmetric war against a vastly more powerful opponent - naturally bin Laden is attempting to 'wedge' components of the West apart. That doesn't mean that he believed they might actually accept the offer; the very act of re-affirming that Europe is in America's camp will place pressure on European leaders on an issue where they have proven themselves vulnerable to pressure. I also don't quite agree that "There is no risk whatsoever in refusing, and nothing to gain from accepting." - there is risk in both paths.
Jan Haugland also picks up on the fact that this tape manoeuvres European countries into turning down "Bin Laden's honest and generous offer of a truce". Haugland sees the tape as an attempt by bin Laden to appeal to moderate Muslims by himself appearing to be moderate.
Dominic Cummings, in an astute article in the Telegraph, observes that "If we are to defeat bin Laden, we must not fall for his tricks." He places the tape in the perspective of bin Laden's previous words and actions, and also looks at the historical crisis of the Middle East that is a principal reason for al-Qaeda's emergence; "Particularly since Napoleon's landing in Egypt and Nelson's ejection of him, Muslims have been asking: what went wrong?" Spot on. The one reservation I have is Cummings' claim that bin Laden has "reinvented himself as the rational terrorist". If Cummings means that this rational, politician's point of view is a new thing for bin Laden, then he is mistaken. If he means that from a public relations point of view, bin Laden has appeared politically rational to the West for the first time, I can see the point.
More links (18/04/2004)
The BBC has a more comprehensive translation than the MEMRI selected excerpt translation I linked to above. I obtained the BBC link from Non Tibi Spiro's entry on this topic. Non Tibi Spiro underlines the fact that bin Laden's tape is phrased in a way that is clearly directed at European citizens, something he has done in the past.
The BBC also has an analysis of the tape that points to the important fact that "The craftily worded broadcast contained a classical left-wing analysis" of America and multinationals. The focus on Palestine also indicates bin Laden's wily use of wedge politics.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Naturally, those who have a deep emotional investment in the Bush Administration being proven inept or negligent have taken this information as being in some way meaningful.
What, precisely ought the Government have done?
Although these precautions may have reduced the probability of success of threats that sound plausible in retrospect, in most cases the threats would have sounded like inventions from a Tom Clancy novel in August 2001. In a large, open society, terrorists can invent just about any plan and put it into effect.
Second guessing who will attack what, when and how is essentially impossible without good intelligence. In the event, the attacks of 11th September were more unbelievable than any of the above possibilities, and indeed President Mubarak states, "But nobody expected the event would be of such enormity. We did not know that they would hit this target or that, and we were all surprised when planes with passengers on board hit the twin towers."
The two best ways of combatting terrorism are (1) to gather intelligence and (2) to weaken terrorist organisations and eliminate the most dangerous possible methods of attacks. The destruction of al-Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan and northern Iraq and the cleanup of the illicit WMD trade that has resulted from the war in Iraq certainly address point (2). How does Bush stand up on point (1)?
Ought the Bush Administration have known how great a threat al-Qaeda was before September 2001? Critics argue that the Administration ought to have been able to sort out a picture of the al-Qaeda threat from the vast stream of tip offs and "something will happen" warnings beforehand. For example, indications that several Muslims had taken flying lessons and not learnt to take off or land should have rung alarm bells, whereas the fact that Iraq sponsored the attempted assassination of George Bush Senior, and the regime's repeated attempts to hinder arms inspections (apparently an elaborate bluff) should have been passed aside as mere 'static'
Of course, the US Government should have listened to the people whose job was to sort through the stream of intelligence and prioritise threats. Ideally, such people ought to be able to tell the government who is going to attack its interests, how, and where.
It is for this reason that the claims of Richard Clarke seem to be biting. Clarke was responsible for tracking terrorist threats against America before September 2001, and was immediately demoted to the head of the Cyberterrorism threat assessment after the attacks. A lot of coverage has recently been given to Clarke's claims that the Bush Administration brushed off his warnings that al-Qaeda could organise an attack that would be America's "next Pearl Harbour". Clarke says he urged Wolfowitz to divert resources into the prevention of this "next Pearl Harbour", to no avail.
In fact, as Jan Haugland's Secular Blasphemy blog has revealed, Clarke was very loudly demanding that the Bush Government divert resources into preventing the imminent "digital Pearl Harbour". That's right, Clarke predicted that the greatest threat to American security was not al-Qaeda but Internet viruses.
That certainly puts Clarke's demotion to the Cyberterrorism unit into perspective...
Sunday, April 04, 2004
On Friday, another bomb (which may or may not have been placed by the same people who initiated the 11th March wave of attacks) was found on the train line between the capital Madrid and the city of Seville in southern Spain. Today three Northern African terror suspects detonated a bomb while chanting in Arabic when police raided their apartment. The bomb killed all three suspects and a police officer.
The recent discovery of a cache of ammonium nitrate (one of two ingredients of massively destructive but easily produced ANFO bombs) in Britain also underlines the importance of the terrorist strategy document discovered by Norway's Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt (FFI). It would appear that al-Qaeda is attempting to force the allies from Iraq one at a time by means of terrorist attacks designed to alter those countries' internal political dynamics. The Islamist strategy document states that the road to British withdrawal from Iraq lies through Spain.
Some commentators have implied that Islamic militants have only now 'discovered' their ability to impact on the politics of their targets in this way. In writing my thesis on al-Qaeda in 2003, I found that this is in fact at the core of al-Qaeda's methodological model. Al-Qaeda - including its allies in the 'Arab-Afghan' diaspora - genuinely believes that the Soviet Union fell as a consequence of the application of 'correct' theory by the foreign Mujahideen in Afghanistan. This theory states that just as Muhammad and his Al-Salaf al-salih (pious predecessor) companions migrated from pagan Mecca (the Hijra or migration/flight) to establish the ideal Muslim community in Yathrib (Medina), so Afghanistan was the ideal destination for Hijra (until the American-led coalition invaded in 2001.) Applying their new theory to new conditions, al-Qaeda leaders have repeatedly predicted that by attacking Western/American interests, they could drive the West out of lands they 'occupied' (such as Saudi Arabia) thereby destroying America as a Superpower. Similarly, Jemaah Islamiya believes Australia will cease to exist within ten years, and Indonesia will be thrown into civil war as a result of Australia's terrorism-induced collapse.
Al-Qaeda's current objective is to render Iraq ungovernable by destroying all external and internal forms of support for non-Salafi-Islamic government. Note that this does not necessarily mean al-Qaeda aims to found a new Salafist Islamic government in Iraq. Al-Qaeda did not respect the laws of the Taliban - with which it had significant theological differences - rather the group exploited the opportunity to work undisturbed in those areas controlled by the Taliban - just as al-Qaeda's Kurdish wing, Ansar al-Islam, operated in Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of the no-fly zone. As Medina/Yathrib was used as a base from which to build up strength, resulting in the reconquest of Mecca eight years after the Hijra, so Iraq is to be used as a base for training and organisation against al-Qaeda's enemies in Europe, America, Australia, the Middle East - indeed, everywhere.
By helping al-Qaeda to achieve that goal, Spain has taken us all one step closer to the nightmare scenario of a failed post-Coalition Iraq. The world community must provide Iraq with all the support it needs until it can genuinely govern itself.
Salafis have always adhered to the principle that 'nothing succeeds like success'. The recent events in Spain must surely have boosted al-Qaeda's standing within Jihad Salafi circles and in the Salafi community in general.
I read your "paranoid" and "cheesy" comments on Bjørn Stærk's Total War Blog and found my way to your own blog.
Having read your piece about ABC not finding anything positive, I thought I had better send you this in order to brighten up your day!
And indeed, it has brightened up my day!
The article, "What has gone right in Iraq?, reports on the flow of Iraqi refugees - back into Iraq.
This underlines one of the weaknesses in the left-wing anti-war position.
Many critics of the Australian Government contrast the Government's position on refugees (most of whom come from Iraq and Afghanistan's Hazara region) to the more compassionate position taken towards Vietnamese boat people by Malcolm Fraser's Government in the 1970s, after Australia and the United States failed to save South Vietnam from Marxist subversion. The current Prime Minister (John Howard) was Fraser's Deputy Leader.
However, as a general rule those who are most vocal on the refugee issue are also vocally opposed to the Coalition of the Willing's liberation of Iraq. If America and its Coalition allies (including Australia and Norway) are making such an awful mess of Iraq and Afghanistan, why have both countries gone from being the greatest sources of fleeing refugess to being the greatest recipients of repatriated refugees?
In the case of Vietnam, the flow of refugees in the opposite direction was the consequence of the withdrawal of military and logistical support by America, Australia and South Korea. In Iraq, democratic countries invaded a quasi-Marxist totalitarian state in order to instal democracy, whereas in Vietnam the Marxist North invaded and installed totaliarian Marxism. This is why Iraqi and Vietnamese refugees are so supportive of the war in Iraq.
Takk for linken Jan!