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Al Qaeda as ideology or organisation? 25, September 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East, Terrorism.
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In the aftermath of the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the US government pursued those responsible with vigour. However, they soon came across difficulties when deciding how to proceed with indictments and other legal proceedings because of the nature of the terrorists involved. Because the US authorities did not have a deep and thorough understanding of Islamic militancy at the time (one assumes that they do now) they resorted to the next best thing and essentially used analogy to guide their policy. These terrorists, the mused, are not that dissimilar to the mafia in the US, which the authorities had been fighting for decades. Therefore, they used associated legal proceedings and particularly the RICO (Racketeering and Organised Crime) law as a vehicle to bring the Embassy bombers to justice. To proceed with this, they argued that the terrorists involved were part of a larger, loosely affiliated group. The name of this group was Al Qaeda.

It is a fascinating intellectual question as to who first deemed this group (such as it was) to be called Al Qaeda. There is ample evidence to suggest that it was because of the American legal proceedings that Al Qaeda as a name came into existence. For sure, the phrase had been used for at least a decade: but in what context? In Arabic Al Qaeda translates as the base of some description. So when militants were seeking to go from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or anywhere else to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets back in the 1980s, they were told to go to the base. In short, one wonders how things would have been different had those people directing want-to-be fighters directed them to Omar’s house, for example, instead.

Either which way, this group Al Qaeda were soon blamed (and took responsibility for) for various bombings including the 9/11 attacks. This group was described as being some kind of monolithic, super terrorist group, with a fanatical leader, enormous resources, innumerable bases, and a typical command and control structure was inferred. This is because people, when confronted by an unfamiliar concept, seek to use analogy to find similarities and thus aid understanding. For example, it could be suggested that this happened with British people familiar with the IRA’s long terrorist campaign and them as a rigid, structured para-miliraty group. Thus many British peoples idea of a terrorist group was already clear in their mind. Therefore, Al Qaeda – rightly or wrongly – took on these familiar qualities.

Indeed, this impression was reinforced by the American administration as a whole and Donald Rumsfeld in particular with the absurd cave diagram, or rather, to give its official title, “Bin Laden’s Mountain Fortress”.

It was a work of absolute fiction plucked from the ether and grounded in as much reality as George Lucas’ Death Star, yet it built on and reinforced notions of what people expected: a structured group with a structured base.

Jason Burke is a journalist for the Observer newspaper and wrote the definitive book on Al Qaeda which simply, unequivocally, and convincingly decimates the whole notion of Al Qaeda as some structured organisation, with clear lines of communication, head quarters and so on. His central argument is that such notions simply do not and have just about never fit the actual situation on the ground. He suggests that Al Qaeda can be best described as an ideology, adhered to be followers around the world. Whilst there are examples of carefully planned and executed plots by Al Qaeda, notably the African embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, proving the actual levels of communication and ‘direct direction’ from on-high are notoriously difficult. Indeed, overall, it is best to see Al Qaeda as an ideology that anyone can borrow. The clearest example of this can be seen in the Madrid bombings in 2004, where the culprits were clearly shown to have no links whatsoever with so called Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan: It was an entirely indigenous operation borrowing ideas from Al Qaeda alone.

However, the recent court case involving the so-called ‘airline plotters’ suggests that perhaps some kind of rethink is in order. Burke suggests that as the protagonists in the case visited the tribal areas of Pakistan and allegedly met with several high up members of the remnants of the Taliban, that the link – however tenuous – between the older generation of terrorists (Al Qaeda) and the new recruits has been directly re-established. Indeed, the accused were charged that they received funding and tactical education from those they visited in Pakistan.

Ascertaining the exact kind of relationship in not far off impossibly difficult. Educated guesses are all that there are, no matter what some may claim. Nevertheless, the general weight of evidence suggests that today Al Qaeda may be best seen as a group of people with a common goal and ideology, who maintain some kind of transitory training camps in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas, who pass on their knowledge of bombs, equipment and the like and may suggest targets. Though if one were to ask Donald Rumsfeld no doubt they would morph, once again, into some kind of terrorist super-group, replete with throngs of minions and a mountain fortress.

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Comments»

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3. David Hereaux - 15, February 2015

One assumes they didn’t have a deep and thorough understanding of Islamic militancy at the time.

You can be sure it was all false flag.


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