Update from AIJAC
September 11, 2007
Number 09/07 #04
Six years after the infamous Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden has released a new video statement to the American people. (Full text and video clip here) This Update parses what he had to say, and looks more generally at the issue of Islamist terrorism six years on.
Former Muslim radical Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, not a counter-terrorism analyst, goes over the major themes of the bin Laden tape, including the critique of capitalism and praise for left-wing Western authors, the emphasis on Iraq, and the final demand that Americans convert to Islam. Gartenstein-Ross points out that the strong focus on this last demand demolishes the claims that bin Laden’s past political tracts show he is driven primarily by political grievances rather than religious motivations. For this full analysis of what bin Laden said and to whom he was trying to appeal, CLICK HERE.
Next up is a retrospective of the war on terrorism six years down the track from columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe. Jacoby discusses the fact that there has been no major terror attack on the US since 2001, and argues that one important reason for this is that the West is now treating itself as at war with Islamist extremism, as the other side always did towards the West. He looks at some of the measures that this led to, and the reasons these have largely succeeded HERE.
Also discussing the situation six years on is Strategic Studies Professor Mackubin Thomas Owens, who points out that the revelation of Sept. 2001, that “today’s terrorism — and the likely terrorism of the future — differs qualitatively from that which had gone before” remains valid. He also focuses on the criteria for victory in the current conflict, and says the key is to win ideologically, as the cold war was won, using a variety of means. For his argument, CLICK HERE.
Analyzing the latest video.
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
The Weekly Standard, 09/08/2007 2:14:00 PM
OSAMA BIN LADEN’S STRENGTH as an orator has always been his ethos. He is an eloquent and seemingly honest speaker, proud of his role in the attacks of 9/11, a principled spokesman for radical Islam’s war against the West. Though bin Laden may not have penned all his words personally, the force of his ideas always shines through. As Bruce Lawrence notes in Messages to the World, “these messages are not ghostwritten tracts of the kind supplied by professional speechwriters to many politicians in the West, whether American Presidents, European Prime Ministers, or their Middle-Eastern counterparts.”
In bin Laden’s last video–released on October 29, 2004, on the eve of America’s presidential election–bin Laden mocked President Bush: “Free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike–for example–Sweden?” But even while skewering President Bush for his simplistic framing of the conflict, bin Laden has been hesitant to explain the roots of the struggle to a Western audience. (His rhetoric differs when the target audience is Western rather than Muslim.) The closest he has come was the October 2004 video, where bin Laden outlined his grievances at length and urged his audience to look for 9/11’s “causes in order to prevent it from happening again.”
This vagueness has led some commentators to conclude that bin Laden is fundamentally a political terrorist rather than a religious one. The sociologist Michael Mann wrote, “There is a simple reason why he attacked the United States: American imperialism. As long as America seeks to control the Middle East, he and people like him will be its enemy.” Doug Bandow of the American Conservative Defense Alliance–after quoting bin Laden’s quip about Sweden–declared that al-Qaeda’s attacks are “in pursuit of specific geopolitical objectives. The evidence is overwhelming that they attack Americans because they believe Americans are at war with them.”
A NUMBER OF COMMENTATORS have described bin Laden’s latest video, released yesterday, as breaking new ground–and it does.
One way the tape does not break new ground is through the breadth of topics covered. The video is somewhat of a tour de force. Bin Laden’s complaints run the gamut from the invasion of Iraq to Hollywood, global warming, and interest-bearing loans. The authorities he cites to bolster his case include Noam Chomsky, Michael Scheuer, and a soldier he calls only “Joshua” (presumably from a mid-summer ABC News report). But broad lists of grievances and a complex narrative have always been signatures of bin Laden’s rhetoric. This is not the first time he mentioned the Kyoto Protocol, nor is it the first time he cited leftist intellectuals.
One discernable shift in this speech is that bin Laden is far friendlier to the Jews than ever before. He declares that if the Nazi holocaust had occurred closer to Muslim countries, “most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refuge with us.” Bin Laden also recalls how Jews found shelter in Muslim countries during the Spanish Inquisition.
A second discernible shift is that the speech is more anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist than past work. Bruce Lawrence writes in Messages to the World, “The word ‘imperialism’ does not occur once in any of the messages he has sent out. He defines the enemy differently. For him, jihad is aimed not at an imperium, but at ‘global unbelief’.” But this speech is more explicit. Bin Laden describes the media as “a tool of the colonialist empires,” and refers to America as an empire twice, predicting its collapse. More to the point, he says that capitalism lies at the heart of the current struggle. In the West, bin Laden says, “those with real power and influence are those with the most capital.” He continues: And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment . . . in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war. . . . As you liberated yourselves before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism, you should liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system.
THE VIDEO’S EMPHASIS on the evils of empire and capital make its third rhetorical shift all the more odd. Up through bin Laden’s denunciation of capitalism and plea that his audience should “search for an alternative, upright methodology,” it seemed that his speech would successfully appeal to a certain audience. Those who believe that curtailing American power is critical to solving the terrorist threat could find bin Laden’s words at least somewhat reassuring: there was enough meat to suggest that the root cause of al Qaeda’s grievance is an aggressive American foreign policy. I have previously noted that, after the Madrid train bombings swung the Spanish elections to the Socialist Party, al Qaeda’s rhetoric seemingly attempted to better appeal to some segments of Westerners.
Though they emphasize grievances, past al Qaeda videos have provided Westerners little idea of how to avoid the terror group’s wrath. In addition to bin Laden’s October 2004 video, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri released videos in November 2004 and February 2005 speaking platitudinously of dealing with al Qaeda “on the basis of respect and mutual interests” and of “mutual cooperation with the Islamic nation.” The third rhetorical shift in the new video is that it is markedly more concrete: he actually names the “alternative, upright methodology” that should replace capitalism.
Those familiar with bin Laden’s ideology may not be surprised that he declares: “The infallible methodology is the methodology of Allah.” But when he pronounces this alternative, the speech takes a drastic turn: in that moment he is transformed from anti-imperialist rebel to an imperialist of another flavor. Bin Laden makes clear that his is a theological imperium. His problem is not just capitalism, but lawmaking that is not derived from the sharia. “What you have done is clear loss and manifest polytheism,” he claims. “You believe that Allah is your Lord and your Creator and the Creator of this earth and that it is His property, then you work on His earth and property without His orders and without obeying Him, and you legislate in contradiction to His Law and methodology.”
Bin Laden continues to make dawah (Islamic evangelism) for much of the latter half of his speech. The dawah’s blandness stands in contrast to his thundering condemnations of America and the West. “And did you know,” bin Laden asks, “that the name of the prophet of Allah Jesus and his mother . . . are mentioned in the Noble Qur’an dozens of times, and that in the Qur’an there is a chapter whose name is ‘Maryam,’ i.e. Mary, daughter of ‘Imran and mother of Jesus?”
THIS LAST TWIST in bin Laden’s speech makes it a confused work, an unworthy sequel to his last video for an American audience. The fact that the speech’s only proffered alternative to capitalism is Islamic rule means that bin Laden is unlikely to truly reach the “people of America” whom he purports to address.
At least bin Laden is honest about what he stands for. He has made his uncompromising theological vision clear to his Muslim audience since releasing his first public statement designed for a wide audience: a theological critique of Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz released in late 1994. The new video should leave his Western audience, too, with little confusion.
In evaluating what al Qaeda represents, it is unwise to simply discard large portions of bin Laden’s public statements in an attempt to see him as something that he is not: a political rather than a religious terrorist. The fact that bin Laden’s largely (though not entirely) secularized analysis of the ills plaguing the West transitions so smoothly into his theological solution makes it more difficult for those who would like to superimpose their own ideological gripes onto him. In that way, the speech is not effective: rather than bolstering bin Laden’s standing with the target audience, it will likely make parts of his worldview more menacing, more difficult to apologize for.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam.
© Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
By Jeff Jacoby
Boston Globe, Sept. 10, 2007
If there was one thing we all knew after Sept. 11, 2001, it was that another massacre was coming. The next terrorist attack on US soil, it was asserted time and again, was not a matter of if, but of when.
Americans weren’t the only ones who expected al-Qaeda to commit another slaughter. Al-Qaeda did, too. Earlier this year, terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed that in addition to 9/11, he had been planning to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Empire State Building, and to blow up US embassies and nuclear power plants.
None of those attacks occurred. In the six years since 9/11, Islamist terrorism has led to scenes of horrific carnage in, among other places, Madrid, London, Bali, Istanbul, Israel, and Russia. Yet there has been no catastrophic attack on the American homeland — something no one would have predicted in 2001. What explains such good fortune?
There is no definitive answer to that question. But surely the place to begin is with the belated recognition that we were at war.
The jihad against us didn’t begin on 9/11. It had started long before, with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 by a mob loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini. Years of Islamist bombings, hijackings, and hostage-takings followed, but few Americans recognized that war was being waged against us by a determined enemy that cried “Death to America!” and meant it. In a New York Times column two months before 9/11, the former deputy director of the State Department’s counterterrorism office pooh-poohed as “fantasies” the belief that “the United States is the most popular target of terrorists” or that “extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.”
The blood and horror of 9/11 ripped away such comfortable misjudgments. President Bush declared at once that we were at war with terrorism, and likened it to the global wars against Nazism and Communism. (A few days later he was more precise about the nature of the enemy, calling it “a fringe form of Islamic extremism.”) The US government overhauled its counterterrorism operations, moving aggressively to disrupt and damage al-Qaeda’s maneuvers abroad and to uproot would-be jihadists at home. After years in which terrorism had been regarded as a legal crime to be prosecuted after the fact, the Bush administration made before-the-fact preemption the overriding goal. Instead of waiting for terrorists to strike, the government — armed with expanded powers to seize records, monitor communications, and search homes and businesses — would strike first.
An all-but-unanimous Congress enacted the Patriot Act, which authorized many of those expanded powers and tore down the wall that had barred federal law enforcement and intelligence agents from sharing information. Terrorist funding channels were choked off. Reliance on human (as opposed to electronic) intelligence was dramatically expanded. American counterterrorism officers worked closely with their counterparts in friendly countries to identify jihadists and — as with last week’s arrests in Germany — foil deadly attacks.
Taking the war to the enemy in Afghanistan deprived al-Qaeda of a secure base and crippled its leaders’ ability to travel and communicate. Many al-Qaeda operatives have been killed; others have been seized by US troops and forcefully — sometimes too forcefully — interrogated. In all these ways and more, the United States has indeed been fighting a war on terrorism, a war more intense, more unrelenting, more sophisticated, and — as six years of domestic safety suggest — more successful than anyone could have conceived before 9/11.
But if the terrible events of that day finally concentrated American minds on the deadly threat from radical Islam, the US response to those terrible events may have had a similar effect on the minds of Osama bin Laden and his allies. It is one thing to launch spectacular attacks against a paper tiger that doesn’t have the spine to fight back. It is something very different to attack a superpower that reacts with fury and a terrible swift sword.
Had al-Qaeda known what 9/11 would trigger — the toppling of its Taliban protectors, the strangling of its financial network, the death or detention of thousands of its lieutenants and foot soldiers — would it have gone forward? Having reaped the whirlwind once, would it be more inclined to risk it again? Or less so?
It is a contrarian thought, but Daniel Pipes, a noted expert on Islamism, argues that “terrorism does radical Islam more harm than good.” That is partly because “it alarms and galvanizes Westerners,” stiffening their resolve and intensifying their counterterrorist efforts. And it is partly because “terrorism obstructs the quiet work of political Islamism” — it impedes the radicals’ long-term goal of making Islam ever more dominant within Western society.
What is in the enemy’s mind we cannot know for sure. What we do know — what 9/11 made brutally clear — is that we are at war. The enemy is in this till the finish. We had better be, too.
The war is over when the loser, not the winner, says it is.
By Mackubin Thomas Owens
National Review, September 11, 2007
Six years have now passed since the Islamist terrorists turned airliners into cruise missiles to attack the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington. In the intervening years, we have launched major military operations against the Taliban/al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. A combination of U.S. technology, U.S. Special Operations Forces, and indigenous forces routed the Taliban in 2001-2002. U.S. forces swept into Baghdad in the spring of 2003, ending Saddam’s reign. But the war goes on. The Taliban has reconstituted itself in the tribal regions of Afghanistan along the Pakistani border, while the war in Iraq quickly morphed into an insurgency. Intelligence reports indicate that al Qaeda has also reconstituted, in spite of the death and capture of many of its operatives.
At the same time, paradoxically, complacency has set in among the American public. As Mark Steyn asked Sunday on National Review Online, if there’s no terror, how can there be a war on terrorism? The government’s very success in preventing a repeat of 9/11 has led some to conclude that the threat has been oversold. In academia, things are worse. A growing number of professors of international relations and political science have concluded that al Qaeda is an artifact created by the U.S. government to justify emergency measures. My own institution, the Naval War College, is not immune to such views.
But complacency aside, the world is different now. For one thing, the character of terrorism has changed which makes it difficult to return to the days when terrorism was a threat best addressed by law enforcement.
The change was anticipated by Walter Laqueur in his 1999 book The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction, which is an expanded version of his earlier essay “Postmodern Terrorism,” that appeared in the September/October 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs. The thesis of both the article and the book is as follows: increased access to weapons of mass destruction combined with the apocalyptic vision of many terrorist groups meant that today’s terrorism — and the likely terrorism of the future — differs qualitatively from that which had gone before.
Terrorism has a long history, but in the past, the ability of terrorists to wreak havoc was limited by their own political goals and the weapons available to them. Now the proliferation and easy availability of destructive technologies make it possible for even small, marginal groups to have an impact far out of proportion to their numbers. Two years before 9/11, Laqueur observed that as horrifying as the Oklahoma City bombing, the first World Trade Center attack, and the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa may have been, they would be dwarfed by a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological, or radiological.
With some clear exceptions, most terrorists over the past century have espoused nationalist or left-wing ideologies. But Laqueur argued that terrorism was becoming increasingly a phenomenon of religious fanaticism. He argued that the conditions that foster religious fanaticism are likely to remain features of both developed and developing nations for the foreseeable future.
Laqueur argued that state-sponsored terrorism had not disappeared, but that its impact was likely to remain limited because sponsoring states wish to limit their exposure to retaliation. Not so for the “exotic” terrorists, such as al Qaeda, who fervently embrace ruthless violence to achieve their goals. The growing importance of fanaticism and paranoia in modern terrorism; the replacement of the use of violence as a means of achieving ideological ends, with the use of violence as an end in itself; and the potential capability of terrorist groups to wreak unprecedented destruction by means of weapons of mass destruction, all make terrorism far more dangerous than it once was.
This leads to the obvious question: what constitutes “victory” against such an adversary? As my friend and former Naval War College colleague, Bill Martel, now a professor at the Fletcher School, points out in his recent book, Victory in War, “we do not have a framework for victory beyond the implicit assumption that the unalloyed purpose of strategy is to achieve it.”
“There is no theory or precise language of victory that permits policymakers, military officials, and the public to agree on what ‘victory’ means or when ‘victory’ has been attained.” This is clear today as we execute a war against Islamist terrorism in general and against al Qaeda in Iraq in particular.
Defeating the enemy can constitute a victory, but only if military success is translated into political success. After all, wars are not fought for their own sake but to achieve a favorable peace. The reason defeating the enemy is not sufficient in itself for victory was articulated by Clausewitz: “In war, the result is never final…The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.”
The successful translation of an enemy’s defeat into true victory is rare in history. World War II is one example. But even surrender does not necessarily lead to victory. Although Confederate armies surrendered at Appomattox and Durham Station, much of the social system of the militarily-defeated south was successfully reestablished in the years following the Civil War. The war is over when the loser, not the winner, says it is.
What would constitute victory in the war against the network of Islamist terrorists? The only meaningful metric is what Martel calls grand-strategic victory, the “strategic successes that occur through the destruction of a society, its military, economy, and institutions of government.” I would add to this list the defeat of the ideology that underpins Islamist terrorism. One of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was that Communist ideology was successfully discredited.
As was the case with communism during the Cold War, the ideology of radical Islamist terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. Military success in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere can buy us time. But in the long run, grand strategic victory against the network of Islamist terrorists requires defeat of their murderous ideas. The problem here is that many in the West are beginning to reject the principles of liberalism, and just when adherence to those principles is most necessary to achieve victory in a war of ideas.
— Mackubin Thomas Owens is an NRO contributing editor and a professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-1969.