STILL THREATENED AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
Why there can be no negotiation with Al Qa'eda
Sunday, October 9, 2005
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
A city on high alert for possible terrorist attacks... briefcases and knapsacks, even baby strollers, being searched before patrons could enter the Subway... the city's Mayor and Police Commissioner talking about a "specific, credible threat" while officials in the Nation's Capital downplayed the threat's alleged credibility as "doubtful"...
I found all of this rather interesting, not just because I happen to live in the Metropolitan New York Tri-State Region and also happened to find myself physically on the island of Manhattan come Friday 7 October (and, thus, potentially a victim had any terrorist attack on the City ensued that day), but because- only a few weeks before- I happened to read an essay published on the 'Opinion' page of the Boston Globe of Wednesday 14 September 2005 (a mere three days after the fourth Anniversary of the 9-11 attacks) under the heading of 'Time to talk to Al Qaeda?' with a subhead of 'US needs to acknowledge and address why the terrorists are at war'. The piece was penned by one Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou who was identified as associate director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University.
This past 7 October was itself the fourth Anniversary of the beginning of the United States' war on the Taliban in Afghanistan- the opening salvo in the War on International Terrorism and the immediate, direct military response of America to what had transpired on 11 September 2001. It was, therefore, natural for me- as I walked about a New York City on alert- to reflect on what I had only so recently read and to now share my thoughts with readers of 'The Green Papers'.
At the very start of his 14 September Boston Globe opinion piece, Mr. Mohamedou notes that
As, indeed, it does! Mr. Mohamedou, in the paragraph of his piece following that which began with the above-quoted sentence, further writes that
Except for the term "unprovoked" in what I have quoted (for what exactly did a waiter getting ready to serve breakfast in the 'Windows on the World' restaurant on 11 September 2001 and who would, as a result of his doing his job, die as the North Tower collapsed do to "provoke" Islamist militants half the globe away?-- the death of that waiter, along with the deaths of hundreds of other World Trade Center workers who, like him, were simply going to work that morning is hardly justifiable) and the notion of an "officially" declared war (since Al Qa'eda, while- perhaps- Imperium in imperio [or, far more accurately, a nascent Imperium spread across many 'imperio's], is not at all a Nation-State which has power, under International Law, to officially declare anything-- and, yes, I well realize that this, like my "waiter" parenthetical earlier in this paragraph, involves legal niceties about which neither Al Qa'eda nor, apparently, Mr. Mohamedou particularly care), I actually generally agree with what Mr. Mohamedou has said in what I have, so far, quoted above from his essay.
9-11 is hardly ever seen, at least on this side of the Atlantic most directly affected by it, as anything other than Good vs. Evil (Mr. Mohamedou himself addressed this in his piece, as I myself will show shortly): we (the West-- or, at least, America) are Good (God is on our side), they (Al Qa'eda) are Evil (and not so little of this happens to be wrapped up in the silly, and historically inaccurate, conception that the Muslim's Allah is not the same as the Judeo-Christian God), case closed. The problem with such simplicism is that it does little to mitigate the problem of Islamist Terrorism. Were the 9-11 attacks wrong? Yes. Criminal? Certainly. An act of abject Hatred? Surely (and the issue of Al Qa'eda's "hatred" will be dealt with later in this Commentary). 9-11 was, no question, an evil deed-- as in a bad act, a criminal wrong-- but please note that "evil" is not here capitalized! "Good vs. Evil" does run the risk of portraying 9-11 as what Mr. Mohamedou has called a "gratuitous" act.
Thus, I agree with Mr. Mohamedou insofar as his notion that 9-11 was not at all "gratuitous" (though- again- I certainly take the strongest, possible issue with the idea that it was "provoked"), that it was, indeed, a "military operation" (though I would have preferred the term "military-style", since- again- Al Qa'eda is not a Nation-State and, thus, has no Military in the conventional sense) related to a "war" declared against the United States "publicly" (although certainly not, for reasons I have already noted, "officially"). Then again, Murder has long been defined at Common Law as "willful" (that is, purposeful: which would imply its not being at all "gratuituous"), "deliberate" (and "public declaration" would certainly imply due deliberation having taken place) "taking of the life of another with malice aforethought" (any "planned" operation "conducted by a trained commando" being, by definition, maliciousness aforethought). Thus, however "military" its style, 9-11 was still Murder on a grand scale!
That said, much else which Mr. Mohamedou included in his piece I found to be even more disturbing and offensive, where not also- at times- disingenuous. But, before I take on the rest of Mr. Mohamedou's arguments, let us get a few things straight immediately, if only for purposes of this particular Commentary of mine:
1.The principal and ultimate goal of Al Qa'eda is the re-emergence of the Arab Caliphate of the 7th Century...
and everything that Al Qa'eda does, or thinks, is primarily in furtherance of this prime directive.
Al Qa'eda, for instance, is not primarily interested in the conflict between Arabs and Jews in general, nor the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in particular, except as it relates to potential future Caliphate governance (for the territory which now includes the State of Israel would, by definition, have to be included in a resurgent 21st into 22d Century Caliphate, since the entirety of historical Palestine- if not all of what is generally known, in the West, as a "Holy Land" of at least somewhat imprecise boundaries [since the concept of Judeo-Christian holy places might also include the Sinai, the Transjordan and even the Road to Damascus]- was once part of the 7th Century version).
To the hardcore Arab Muslim fundamentalists of Al Qa'eda, many- if not most- Palestinians, however Arab they be, are so much "pond scum"- so many "sewer rats"- because they are far too secularized and Muslim only to a point, a point not nearly religious enough for Al Qa'eda's philosophy-- of course, the same could also well describe Al Qa'eda's attitude toward the more secularized, less religious Iraqis. Those Palestinians who were seen cheering news of the 9-11 attacks were either those who were already associated (if only through family ties) with Palestinian Islamist extremist groups or those who were foolish enough (whether this folly be the result of anger, ignorance or relative poverty, or all three) to believe that Al Qa'eda deeply cares about the achievement of a Palestinian Nation-State and, therefore, do not know, nor understand, point 1. above which implies that an independent Palestine is as much anathema to Al Qa'eda as it is to the most anti-Palestinian Israeli because an overarching Arab Caliphate does not well fit in with the nationalist aspirations of the various and sundry Arab nationalities which would make up such a Caliphate's population.
The fact is that there are many, many secularized Arab Muslims in places such as Egypt, and- yes- Iraq and- yes- the West Bank and Gaza, who are at least somewhat attracted to the political, constitutional and legal ideals of the West in general and the United States of America in particular (even though these same might not be much enamored of American Foreign Policy), no less than those who once gathered in front of the Russian Parliament Building back in August 1991 or who chipped away at the Berlin Wall in November 1989 or, for that matter, those who gathered- and died- in Tiananmen Square in the late Spring of 1989... these Liberty-inclined Egyptians, Iraqis and Palestinians most assuredly do not wish to live under a Taliban-style Theocracy!
and Al Qa'eda can't stand any of this--- not in what they consider to be "their" House!!
2. New York City was attacked on 11 September 2001 only because it is the Financial Capital of the United States of America...
not because of the altogether coincidental fact that New York City happens to also be the largest Jewish city in the world-- and no shameless pronouncements by misguided- where not also intellectually dishonest- city, state and even federal legislators representing certain enclaves in, say, Brooklyn can at all alter this basic point.
Washington was attacked that day, too, remember! And, had the fourth hijacked airliner not gone down in Pennsylvania, the attack on D.C. would have been even more visible as it would have been ever more terrifying. But, while the Twin Towers collapsed, the Pentagon was repaired and the Capitol Dome still gleams in the sunshine and so we Americans still largely tend to think of 9-11 as an almost solely New York-oriented event and this, in turn, leads to wrongful thinking as to the motives of Al Qa'eda in having carried it out (not to mention the "where?" and "when?" of potential future attacks on our soil). If the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict were, in fact, the principal motivating force behind Al Qa'eda operations- that is, if Judaism is Al Qa'eda's primary target- then why attack commuter trains in Madrid re: 3-11?: why send suicide bombers into the London Underground re: 7-7?
Like all extremist organizations that use Terror as their primary weapon, Al Qa'eda does not have either the numerical strength or widespread support to think- and, therefore act- strategically: thus, it can only think and act- tactically. Strategically, and given its ultimate goal of a resurgent Arab Caliphate, Al Qa'eda should be directly attacking the governmental institutions of the Kingdom of Sa'udi Arabia: after all, under the strictest Koranic exegesis: whoever controls the Holy Sites at Mecca, he be the Caliph!
But, forced by circumstances to be more tactical than strategic, Al Qa'eda needs far more Bang for its Buck. Taking on the Sa'udi royals directly has proven far more difficult than the hijacking of four American airliners to fly into buildings not all that long ago proved to be and this last had the added advantage of immediate and widespread media coverage. Thus, the Terror of 9-11 informed the World far more effectively than the assassination of some relatively obscure (in global terms) Sa'udi governmental functionaries would have-- as Madrid 3-11 and London 7-7 also so informed the World.
New York City was attacked because Manhattan is the global symbol of American Capitalism which is an economic byproduct of American Liberty and Democracy: as such, the 9-11 attacks were guaranteed a live, global television audience. Comparatively little was spent in the planning and execution of the 9-11 attacks: the resultant Bang, on the other hand, was huge.
3. Al Qa'eda is a threat to Liberty and Democracy and the Way of Life that proceeds from same, albeit only indirectly insofar as the U.S. is concerned...
Much of the debate surrounding Al Qa'eda-sponsored Terror concerns the question of whether or not Al Qa'eda is, indeed, a threat to what is generally referred to as the American Way of Life. Televised talking heads have spent much of the past four years or so discussing the existence, or lack thereof, of such a threat and generally only end up talking past each other, for the answer to this question depends much on semantics, where not also the particular political predilictions of the answerer.
No, Al Qa'eda really does not give a damn whether or not, say, an American woman wears a thong bikini whilst strolling along a Florida beach this coming Winter, much as this woman doing so would offend, bother and even disturb them. What Al Qa'eda does not at all like is a secularized, Westernized Egyptian woman who might come to think it is perfectly OK- that, in other words, she might come to feel free to avail herself of the Liberty- to wear a thong bikini whilst strolling along a beach fronting the Mediterranean! After all, the American thong bikini-wearer is, to Al Qa'eda, the sadly demented product of a corrupt, amoral culture that has- again, to Al Qa'eda- unfortunately come to preeminence on the World scene-- but Al Qa'eda cannot possibly abide a Muslim woman engaging in the exact, same behavior within the sacred metes and bounds of what- to them- is not only the once, but also future, and most sacred Caliphate!!
Put aside, for the moment, the fact that puritanical movements, such as Al Qa'eda, are- by their very nature- doomed to ultimate failure in any event: to take just one example which should be rather obvious to any educated American reading this piece, the Puritans who founded Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 honestly and most earnestly endeavored to recreate the Church they read about in Acts of the Apostles on new soil as yet untamed by White Men but one has to ask: how could 17th Century Englishmen possibly have established a carbon copy of an institution which had emerged from a clime so unlike New England and a society so different from their own as that of 1st Century Hellenized Judea?--how could they have truly reinvigorated the product of a cultural milieu that had ceased to exist nearly 1700 years before with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem? And what would these same Puritans think of the lineal successor of the judicial power of their General Court, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, having declared- nearly four centuries after their time- that homosexuals be permitted to marry?
Even if Al Qa'eda were to successfully establish their neo-Caliphate by the middle of this Century, it is- indeed- quite possible that women of that same neo-Caliphate might yet be wearing thong bikinis whilst strolling along the strand near Alexandria by, say, the year 2500! Of course, the premise I have just stated is something which Al Qa'eda could not possibly accept: best, then, to try and erase any lingering memory of the thong bikini of late 20th Century into early 21st Century Western fashion!
For Liberty (and the Democracy which flows from it, voting being a principal expression of Freedom) is an ideal, not at all an object which can be possessed by only, say, America or the West. This very concept puts pay to the lame arguments of the "Democracy cannot possibly flourish in that part of the World" crowd which has pervaded, where not also perverted, much of both postmodern American liberalism and conservatism and has now begun to come to institutional prominence within the hierarchy of both Major Parties here in the United States. Theocracies cannot possibly sustain Liberty, as the History of the West itself well demonstrates. Likewise, an Al-Qa'eda-instituted neo-Caliphate could have no truck whatsoever with the Middle East's own 21st Century "Giordano Bruno"s who might promote "heretical"- in this case, troublesome (to Al Qa'eda) political and legal, not scientific (as in Bruno's case)- ideas which will so likely provide a detrimental threat to the Rulers' ability to manipulate and control the sociocultural mindset of the Ruled.
Therefore, Al Qa'eda is a threat to the ideal of Liberty and Democracy- though, admittedly, in "that part of the World" and not necessarily here in the United States, where I am now typing this.
Now on to the bulk of what Mr. Mohamedou has suggested. He announces, within the very first paragraph of his piece, his premise that
Hence the title of Mr. Mohamedou's piece itself: 'Time to talk to Al Qaeda?'... of course, the proper answer to this question is (as I will opine): why should we?
Mr. Mohamedou notes that
All, of course, correct. Indeed, 9-11 was largely a "win-win" proposition for Al Qa'eda. If the United States did not ever react militarily to 9-11 (unlikely, though always theoretically possible [after all, there were many here in America, a distinct minority to be sure, who did not want us to make war on the Taliban at all: what if Afghanistan had come to be seen the same way Americans opposed to the war in Iraq now see Iraq? In Democracy, the minority always has the potential to become the majority.]), Al Qa'eda could well have then claimed that Liberty and concomitant Democracy (again, anathema to Al Qa'eda's theory of governance, which is Theocracy) were of no avail to the Arab and Muslim World because the major Protector and Purveyor of same was unwilling to do anything about Al Qa'eda's attack upon it. (The United States would have, in such a case, have been the quintessential "paper tiger" and Al Qa'eda might then well have said "Render unto Allah the things that are Allah's and unto Western Freedom the things that are Western Freedom's" and, just as was the case with the original words of Jesus comparing God and Caesar I have just paraphrased to make my point, it would be quite clear that only the first rendering was to be considered valid by anyone who heard and/or read these words). If the United States did react militarily (as it did four years ago), it would be drawn into the very thing Al Qa'eda could thereafter promote as a modern version of the Crusades- Christendom against Islam (as it already has and continues to do so). Either would have been a boon to Al Qa'eda recruitment propaganda (which is precisely why the War on International Terrorism was, from its start four years ago, a perfect recruitment foil- of course, so would have no War on International Terrorism!)
But the key word in Mr. Mohamedou's sentence most recently quoted by me is his use of the word "tactical", for I have already addressed this where I myself noted that "Like all extremist organizations that use Terror as their primary weapon, Al Qa'eda does not have either the numerical strength or widespread support to think- and, therefore, act- strategically: thus, it can only think and act- tactically". Note that even Mr. Mohamedou does not concede that Al Qa'eda could gain the strategic upper hand the way things currently stand!
Mr. Mohamedou states that
True enough... and, yes, the terminology he cites is, ofttimes, more than a bit overstated by various and sundry talking heads who have appeared many times on American Cable TV news outlets. But if Al Qa'eda were not "fundamentalist" within a Muslim context, it would not even have the goal of a revived Arab Caliphate to begin with- let alone Theocracy as its philosophy of governance- and the fact remains that Al Qa'eda (along with those who have sympathy, and find solace, in its aims) does appear to have an inherent "hatred" of what Liberty and Democracy might well imply (for these concepts imply "We the People get to pick our Rulers-- we may pick you who believe in fundamentalist Islamic Theocracy to rule us-- then again, we may not": put in a specifically Al Qa'eda context, the preceding might well be read: "We the People may freely choose your vision of 'the Will of Allah'-- but we're, of course free not to!"; an organization that sees itself as carrying the torch for the Will of God cannot allow for the possibility that there might be some other Will of God which might also sway the People: in Western History, it was this very concept that forced the carrying out of the execution of Giordano Bruno back in 1600 [for Bruno's assertion that the stars were themselves suns and that planets might be circling these other suns (Bruno fully accepted Copernican Cosmology) and that these planets could also be like Earth itself implied that there might well be other "Church"es on these possible other "Earth"s- meaning, of course, that the Church on this Earth might not, in fact, be the only arbiter within the Universe of who got into Heaven and who did not-- a Roman Catholic Church back then under attack from the Reformist Protestants in much of Europe could not possibly allow this doctrine to become the least bit acceptable to the masses!]-- in far more recent World History, it is the very concept that caused the Taliban whipmasters to corporally punish Afghanis who dared to cheer by uttering anything other than "Allahu Akbar!" ["God is Greatest!"] at soccer matches: apparently, even the Will of one's Favorite Sports Team is a potential challenge to the Will of God in an Al Qa'eda-allied political philosophy!)-- thus, one cannot avoid addressing Al Qa'eda's "fundamentalism" and "hatred" when discussing the "why" of 9-11: to not allow these conceptions to at least somewhat "color key analyses" would lead to other, equally false, conclusions about Al Qa'eda's motives than those Mr. Mohamedou himself decries.
As for the term "irrationality", the use of same as to Al Qa'eda is largely a question of semantics. In the sense that Al Qa'eda has been able to get that "more Bang for its Buck" of which I wrote earlier in this Commentary, Al Qa'eda- in its planning and execution of operations- is hardly "irrational". But, more than four years ago now, the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon was damaged (and long since repaired) and the Sa'udis still rule the land where stands the Ka'bah... and the resurgent Arab Caliphate seems no closer at hand... and Al Qa'eda has not done anything, on its own, to topple the Sa'udi regime... 9-11, along with 3-11 and 7-7, are- at least as of this typing- merely so many "Actions confused with Accomplishment"... so, just maybe there are times to fairly apply the term "irrationality" to Al Qa'eda!
Mr. Mohamedou opines that
This concept, of course, is nothing new and, in fact, is at least as old as zeppelin raids on Great Britain during World War I. It was the very principle behind the V-1 "buzz bombs" that the Nazis rained down on that same island during the Blitz a quarter century later... however, I don't recall ever reading, in my History books, that this having been the opinion of the Nazis (that it was OK to kill civilians in their homes because they elected those who made up the government of the Nazis' enemy) was at all a rationale for negotiation with them: instead, I seem to recall reading about a Casablanca Conference demanding Unconditional Surrender!
Mr. Mohamedou then goes on to write that
as was the Nazi Germany America and its allies fought in World War II... or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics America competed against during the Cold War...
or, for that matter, the United States of America itself!
Mr. Mohamedou goes on to state that Al Qa'eda is
I here beg to differ, given what Al Qa'eda would ultimately like to see: the Arab Caliphate reborn under the strictest Koranic Law and Shariac exegesis (again, just ask the Taliban-- or, better still, those who were the Taliban's victims). Therefore, to Al Qa'eda and those allied therewith, Religion is Politics!
The main thrust of Mr. Mohamedou's argument is at the end of his piece, where he writes the following:
How can the war [between the United States and Al Qa'eda] be brought to an end? Neither side can defeat the other. The United States will not be able to overpower a diffuse, ever-mutating, organized international militancy movement, whose struggle enjoys the rear-guard sympathy of large numbers of Muslims. Likewise Al Qaeda can score tactical victories on the United States and its allies, but it cannot rout the world's sole superpower.
Though dismissed widely, the best strategy for the United States may well to be acknowledge and address the collective reasons in which Al Qaeda anchors its acts of force. Al Qaeda has been true to its word in announcing and implementing its strategy for over a decade. It is likely to be true to its word in the future and cease hostilities against the United States... in return for some degree of satisfaction regarding its grievances.
This, however, is the very same assumption that was made at the Munich Conference of 1938. It is not all that unlike an argument which states that, because a serial rapist told all of us about his intention to rape before he actually did so (and did so quite a number of times- though, of course, he was never so specific as to time and place as to risk being caught in the act), he should- once captured- be allowed to escape punishment on the premise that, should he be allowed to go free, he will promise to never rape again. The question is, of course: should one believe the serial rapist and let him go free?...
"This means Peace in our Time", Neville Chamberlain once intoned... Humpf!
But more to the point are Al Qa'eda's "grievances" themselves. Mr. Mohamedou, in the middle of his piece, introduces them thusly:
right after his comment (which I quoted and addressed earlier) about conceptions of Al Qa'eda's "irrationality", "fundamentalism" and "hatred" coloring (wrongly, in Mr. Mohamedou's opinion, as already noted) "key analyses", he states that
The sway of such explanations is particularly surprising in the face of nonambiguous statements made by Al Qaeda as to the main reasons for its war on the United States. These have been offered consistently since 1996... Mr. Mohamedou then cites a few examples before going on to state that
Since the attacks on New York and Washington, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have delivered, respectively, 18 and 15 messages via audio or videotape making a three-part case: the United States must end its military presence in the Middle East, its uncritical support and military aid of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, and its support of corrupt and coercive regimes in the Arab and Muslim World.
OK... and, were the United States so stupid as to actually negotiate with Al Qa'eda on the basis of these "grievances", what would the U.S. then gain?
For the United States has its own grievances to bring to bear at the negotiating table: thousands killed at what is now New York City's "Ground Zero"- the former World Trade Center, hundreds more killed at the Pentagon, those who lost their lives in a plane that went down in rural Pennsylvania back on 11 September 2001. Mr. Mohamedou is silent about these (actually, he dismisses them out of hand with his assertion of Al Qa'eda's concept that killing and terrorizing [by threatening to kill] citizens of a Democracy is perfectly acceptable, as I have already noted). *I* haven't heard anything from Al Qa'eda or apologists for same about acknowledging that Al Qa'eda murdered innocent people who simply took a plane trip for business or pleasure or went to work that morning. I read quite a lot, in Mr. Mohamedou's piece, about the United States' responsibility (including- as already quoted- the [alleged] responsibility of ordinary citizens for the actions of their government) but not one word- not one!- about any responsibility on Al Qa'eda's part. I only see references to Al Qa'eda's "struggle" but nothing about the fact that, back on 11 September 2001, nineteen Al Qa'eda-trained terrorists were the "hammers", with those inside the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and those four airliners- along with those who immediately responded to the emergency engendered by the 9-11 attacks- functioning as the "nails"... apparently, in Mr. Mohamedou's view, the nails should apologize to the person wielding to the hammer that the nails allowed themselves to be hit! This is hardly the definition of the word "humanitarian" within the name of the organization of which Mr. Mohamedou is identified as the associate director!!
All of Al Qa'eda's "grievances"- as stated by Mr. Mohamedou- are, on their face, zero sum. Ending U.S. military presence in the Middle East means ending all military presence in the Middle East-- not merely some. Military aid of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories means ending all military aid to Israel (since, theoretically, any military aid to Israel not immediately used to occupy Arab Palestine could later be used to so occupy)-- I will, by the way, not here address Mr. Mohamedou's inaccurate use of the term "uncritical", except to note that many American Administrations have been, at times, harshly critical of Israel (it is, indeed, such criticism- or threat thereof- that sometimes brings a recalcitrant Israel to the bargaining table and/or keeps it there). Ending U.S. support of "corrupt and coercive regimes" in the region means no support of regimes in the region (since Al Qa'eda has its own definition, including a politicoreligious one, as to just what is "corrupt" or "coercive"- after all, what was the Taliban in Afghanistan if not, at the very least, "coercive"? Al Qa'eda's own interpretation of the Qu'ran could well be described as "coercive"!)
Essentially, Mr. Mohamedou wants America to talk to Al Qa'eda so that America can have the opportunity to tell Al Qa'eda directly that we will simply do its bidding-- and why? So that Al Qa'eda can then more easily achieve the strategic result it cannot (or won't) achieve on its own. Anti-Al Qa'eda regimes without U.S. defenders, an Israel without U.S. support, would surely make the neo-Caliphate of Al Qa'eda's dreams so much easier to eventually attain. Mr. Mohamedou's conflict resolution here is for one side (the United States and its allies) to simply give up everything: put another way, he is supportive of Al Qa'eda's own demand for Unconditional Surrender.
This is hardly the definition of negotiation and, I repeat, in answer to his piece's titular question 'Time to talk to Al Qa'eda?':
why should we?