Does al-Qaeda Exist?
I know that members of the administration have been creating a tenuous linkage between al-Qaeda and the Iraqis
Was the attack [9/11] then an imminent threat two, three, or six months before?
- Donald Rumsfeld
by Brendan O'Neill
"Al-Qaeda bombing foiled" says the front page of today's UK Sun, reporting the arrest yesterday of 24-year-old student Sajid Badat in Gloucester, England, on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. Other reports have referred to Badat as "having links with al-Qaeda" and being a potential "suicide bomber" (1). Also this week, media reports claim that al-Qaeda may have developed "car-bomb capability" in the USA, and that al-Qaeda has compiled a "kidnappers' manual" and is plotting to snatch American troops from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Every day since the 9/11 attacks of 2001 there have been media reports about al-Qaeda - its leaders, members, capabilities, bank accounts, reach and threat. What is this al-Qaeda? Does such a group even exist?
Some terrorism experts doubt it. Adam Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud reckon it's time we "defused the widespread image of al-Qaeda as a ubiquitous, super-organised terror network and call it as it is: a loose collection of groups and individuals that doesn't even refer to itself as al-Qaeda." Dolnik and McCloud - who first started studying terrorism at the prestigious Monterey Institute of International Studies in California - claim it was Western officials who imposed the name "al-Qaeda" on to disparate radical Islamic groups and who blew Osama bin Laden's power and reach "out of proportion". Both are concerned about the threat of terror, but argue that we should "debunk the myth of al-Qaeda" (2).
There is a "rooted public perception of what al-Qaeda is," says Dolnik, who is currently carrying out research on the Terrorism and Political Violence Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore; but, he says, such perceptions are far from accurate. Dolnik argues that where many imagine that al-Qaeda is "a super organisation of thousands of super-trained and super-secret members who can be activated any minute," in fact it is better understood as something like a "global ideology that has not only attracted many smaller regional groups, but has also facilitated the boom of new organisations that embrace this sort of radical and violent thinking." Dolnik and others believe that, in many ways, the thing we refer to as "al-Qaeda" is largely a creation of Western officials.
"Bin Laden never used the term al-Qaeda prior to 9/11," Dolnik tells me. "Nor am I aware of the name being used by operatives on trial. The closest they came were in statements such as, 'Yes, I am a member of what you call al-Qaeda.' The only name used by al-Qaeda themselves was the World Islamic Front for the Struggle Against Jews and Crusaders - but I guess that's too long to really stick."
So where did "al-Qaeda" come from? Dolink says there are a number of theories - that the term was first used by bin Laden's spiritual mentor Abdullah Azzam, who wrote of al Qaeda al Sulbah, meaning the "solid base" in 1988; or that it derives from a bin Laden-sponsored safehouse in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when he was part of the mujahideen fighting a gainst the Soviet invasion, again referring to a physical "base" rather than to a distinct organisation. But in terms of "al-Qaeda" then being used to define a group of operatives around bin Laden - that, says Dolnik, originated in the West.
"The US intelligence community used the term 'al-Qaeda' for the first time only after the 1998 embassy bombings," he says, when suspected bin Laden followers detonated bombs at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people. Dolnik says al-Qaeda was used as a "convenient label for a group that had no formal name." Prior to the 1998 bombings, US officials were concerned about Osama bin Laden and the financial backing he appeared to provide to Islamic terror groups - but they rarely, if ever, mentioned anything called "al-Qaeda".
According to British journalist Jason Burke, in his authoritative Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, "Al-Qaeda is a messy and rough designation, often applied carelessly in the absence of a more useful term" (3). Burke points out that while many think al-Qaeda is "a terrorist organisation founded more than a decade ago by a hugely wealthy Saudi Arabian religious fanatic," in fact the term "al-Qaeda" has only entered political and mainstream discussion fairly recently:
Like Dolnik, Burke points out that the name al-Qaeda entered the popular imagination only after US officials used it to describe those who attacked the embassies in Africa. "In the immediate aftermath of the double bombings, President Clinton merely described a 'network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama (sic) bin Laden,' writes Burke. "Clinton talks of 'the bin Laden network', not of 'al-Qaeda'. In fact, it is only during the FBI-led investigation into those bombings that the term first starts to be used to describe a traditionally structured terrorist organisation" (4). According to some experts, it was this naming of al-Qaeda by US officials that kickstarted the public's misunderstanding of Islamic terror groups. Dolnik points out that, while US officials talked up a structured group, this so-called al-Qaeda did not even have "any sort of insignia - a phenomenon quite rare in the realm of terrorism."
Having given bin Laden and his henchmen a name, Western officials then proceeded to exaggerate their threat. "In the quest to define the enemy, the US and its allies have helped to blow it out of proportion," wrote Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud of the Monterey Institute in 2002. They pointed out that after 1998, US officials began distributing posters and matchboxes featuring bin Laden's face and a reward for his capture around the Middle East and Central Asia - a process that "transformed this little-known jihadist into a household name and, in some places, a symbol of heroic defiance" (5).
Now, Dolnik says that Western officials have helped to blow al-Qaeda out of proportion in other ways, too - by "the automatic attribution of credit to the group for disparate attacks; by making unintelligent and unqualified statements about the group's very basic 'weapons of mass destruction' programme; by treating al-Qaeda as a super-organisation; by creating the impression that al-Qaeda can do just about anything." As a result, al-Qaeda has been turned into something it is not. In the mid-1990s intelligence officials saw bin Laden as "one name among thousands"; within a few years they had transformed him into a global threat who heads a ruthless, structured organisation that is capable of doing anything, anytime, anywhere.
This invention, or certainly exaggeration, of al-Qaeda is not only inaccurate; it also has a potentially destabilising effect, encouraging regional groups to act in the name of al-Qaeda in the knowledge that such actions will have a massive impact on our al-Qaeda-obsessed world. The talking up of al-Qaeda has created a kind of brand name, which can be invoked by small, isolated groups wishing to strike a blow beyond their means.
Consider the recent suicide bombings in Istanbul. Predictably, many in the West instantly attributed the attacks to al-Qaeda, though it has since emerged that the bombs were most likely made and detonated by local Turkish groups. However, at least three Turkish groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of al-Qaeda. The West's obsession with al-Qaeda has given terrorist outfits a convenient shortcut to grabbing the world's attention and scaring us senseless.
According to Dolnik: "In a world where one email sent to a news agency translates into a headline stating that al-Qaeda was behind even the blackouts in Italy and the USA, anyone can claim to be al-Qaeda - not only groups but also individuals."
Sajid Badat, the 24-year-old student arrested by British police in Gloucester yesterday, on suspicion of planning to carry out a terrorist attack, was immediately referred to in media reports as a "suicide bomber" and "al-Qaeda terrorist" - after it was revealed that he had boasted to college mates and neighbours: "I'm in al-Qaeda." Whatever the truth of the allegations against him, however, it is clear that anybody can make an impact today by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda. The script for such claims has already been written, by fearful Western officials who have made "al-Qaeda", whatever that might be, into an instantly recognisable, frightening, global phenomenon.
How can we challenge the widespread but warped understanding of what "al-Qaeda" is? Dolnik worries that it might be "too late", but he has some ideas: "We could have a balanced assessment of the group's capabilities, including its embarrassing failures - some al-Qaeda plots were flat-out ridiculous. We could emphasise al-Qaeda's heretical nature within Islam, in order to decrease the overt support for the group among fellow Muslims who are forced to align 'with us or against us.' We could stop calling everything al-Qaeda does 'new' or 'unprecedented' - I am aware of at least 10 concrete plans to use aeroplanes to crash them into buildings and one actual successful attempt as far back as 1976. And we could stop calling small amounts of recovered chemicals 'chemical weapons' - without effective weaponisation, these are about as dangerous as bullets without a gun."
(1) "Al-Qaeda Bombing Foiled", Sun, 28 November 2003
Source: spiked-online.com 28 November 2003
The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaida.
- Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Source: daily.pk 24 December 2008
Bombs in Spain
Madrid bombings that killed nearly 200 people.
Spanish protestors gather in Independence Street during a silent march through central Zaragoza 12 March 2004. Chanting "Cowards" and "Killers," millions of protestors packed rainswept streets across Spain condemning the country's worst ever guerrilla attack which killed at least 199 people. Spanish royals and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar headed the march in Madrid alongside Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi and EU President Romano Prodi demonstrating unity a day after what was also Europe's bloodiest bomb attack in 15 years.
Source: news.yahoo.com Friday 12 March 2004 photo credit Reuters
An impressive unity of feeling for a sad event...
Bush in Baghdad: Far From Honest
by John Hickman
Bush's terrorism justification not only deals in deliberate confusion, it also misrepresents the facts.
Every retailer in the United States knows that Americans become sentimental and careless during the holidays. Sappy sales pitches cause us to buy what we wouldn't buy at any other time of the year and we are disinclined to read the fine print on contracts. That politicians also understand that vulnerability helps to explain the content of the speech that George W Bush delivered during his 2-hour Thanksgiving tour of duty in Baghdad. Wrapped in the inevitable invocations of divine blessing and military patriotism his speech summarised the second Bush administration's current policy justification for its war in Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, Bush did not mention Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The primary pretext for the war in Iraq at the start of the war, discussion of that non-existent threat appears to have been tabooed by the administration. Terrorism and freedom remain the revised explanations for the war.
According to Bush, the US military is there to defeat terrorists in Iraq, "so that we don't have to face to face them in our own country." In the next breath, he said that they were, "defeating Saddam's henchmen." Conflating the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon with the supporters of Saddam Hussein appears an all-too-obvious effort to exploit the American public's weak grasp of international affairs. Ba'athist Iraq was not home to al Qaeda terrorists. If al Qaeda is now operating in Iraq, it is because a chaotic US occupation made the country a suitable environment. What seems more likely is that most of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqi nationalists, people who hardly need to carry their fight to the US homeland. Why should they? The second Bush administration has provided them with plenty of targets within easy driving distance of a donkey cart.
Bush's terrorism justification not only deals in deliberate confusion, it also misrepresents the facts. The US military does not appear to be winning. Iraqi insurgents are elusive and operations against them further alienate the Iraqi civilian population. They have demonstrated the ability to kill an average of one US soldier every day, and that attrition may be a winning strategy. Not only does it undermine support for the war in the US, but it also forces the US military to focus its efforts on limiting casualties.
When Bush uses previous US sacrifices to justify future US sacrifices, he compounds confusion and factual misrepresentation with illogic. "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," he says. (Imagine for a moment the howls of conservatives had Bill Clinton dared make statements that appeared to place himself, even figuratively, among military personnel in active combat.) Bush's appeal here is an obvious "sunk costs" argument. Familiar to economists, "sunk costs" is an emotional appeal not to abandon a losing effort because losses are so large already. For example, investors might be urged not to sell off a losing investment but instead to invest more in the hope of recouping previous losses. Confidence artists often exploit sunk costs thinking to cheat the same victims repeatedly. Americans should expect to hear versions of the sunk costs argument from the administration and its conservative supporters whenever the war news from Iraq takes a new turn for the worse.
Freedom is the other justification for the war in Iraq. The word "freedom" appears 8 times in Bush"s speech, yet it is unclear what he meant by the word. As used in the speech, one can live in freedom, believe in freedom, spread freedom, defend freedom, pay the ultimate price for freedom, or rebuild Iraq based on freedom. Presumably anything but define freedom. More tellingly, Bush uses the word "democracy" only once and then not in connection with the promise to, "stay until the job is done." Whatever the second Bush administration means by freedom or by staying until the job is done, it does not appear to require establishing a real democracy.
Reluctance to promise a democratic government is hardly surprising. The administration bungled the occupation of Iraq so badly that it effectively aborted any realistic hope of establishing democracy. Any Iraqi government installed by the US is likely too illegitimate to survive as anything other than a police state. Rather than establishing a democracy, the administration is likely to be content with an authoritarian regime capable of maintaining itself in power, protecting new US economic interests in Iraq, and making sure that Iraqi crude flows without interruption. With respect to foreign policy, freedom may be conservative code for nothing more than authoritarian capitalism.
Traditionally, Americans mark the end the holiday season by making lighthearted, self-mocking New Year's Resolutions to avoid the kinds of unhealthy indulgence that peaked during the holidays. Perhaps we ought to begin 2004 with a more serious individual commitment - resolving to reject rank nonsense whenever we hear it from politicians.
John Hickman is Associate Professor of Political Science, Berry College
Source: english.pravda.ru 1 December 2003
The "weapons of mass destruction" reason for deposing Saddam in Iraq seemed to me a subterfuge from the first and I resented the gross attempt at hoodwinking. I must say, though, that Lawrence Wright's outstanding article, "The Kingdom of Silence", in the 5 January New Yorker has made me look at Islam countries with much more critical eyes. The article is quite long, but WELL worth a read. If the case for a regime change had been made purely on humanitarian grounds, I for one would have found it somewhat more palatable...
A Funny Song about Fighting for Oil
(if such a thing could ever BE funny...)
(Warning: the MP3 is 3.5 meg!)
There's also a couple of video clips on that same page - one on keeping America scared and the other called "What Barry Says" (Flash plugin required) About 10 meg each...
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