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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Strategy of Al Qaeda

  • Does Al Qaeda target U.S. specifically, or is it equally prevalent in the international terrorism scenario? What other groups do they target, if any? What are the political or social goals of this terrorist group?
A constant theme in Western attempts to explain Islamic terror, including terrorism as committed by al Qaeda, is the lack of scrutiny to the words of the spokesmen of al Qaeda. We have seen academics attempt to use anomie theory or the dogmatic use of “oppresion” and “poverty” as causes for these terror acts. The truth, that al Qaeda acts under both religious and political motives, as communicated clearly by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. Their theological treatises “justify and glorify violenece and hatred toward the West within an Islamic framework” (Ibrahim, 2007, p.2). Although America is a predominate target for al Qaeda sponsored terror, it is the West as a whole, as infidels and promoters of impurity, that is the target. Other targets are Muslims that resist the restoration of the caliphate. Much of the rhetoric and theological view of al Qaeda was developed primarily by the Muslim Brotherhood; one of it's architects, Sayyid Qutb, visited America from 1948 to 1950. Qutb was shocked by the “sinfulness and degeneracy” of America which affected the “development of his ideas concerning the realtionship between Islam and the outside world” (Lewis, 2003, pp. 77-78). This falls into place considering the overall goal of al Qaeda is to restore the caliphate, the “correct” rule of Islam on Earth. The mentor of bin Laden, AbdAllah Yussef Azzam, “stressed that jihad must be carried out until the Khilapah (caliphate) is established wherever Muslims dwell” (Bodansky, 1999, p. 20).
  • What do Al Qaeda's motives classify the group into—Exotic Terrorism, Religious Terrorism, International Terrorism, Gender-selective Terrorism, Criminal Dissident Terrorism, or a combination of various types of terrorism? How? Explain your reasoning and provide examples to support your answer.
Al Qaeda is primarily a Religious Terrorist group, but depending on the context of a specific attack, can be classified under International Terrorism and Criminal Dissident Terrorism premises as well. However, the religious nature of al Qaeda can be seen in bin Laden's 2002 “letter to America”, in which his first demand is that America “embrace Islam” (Lewis, 2003, pp. 157). Habeck concludes that, “For Al Qaeda, jihad is not 'internal' self mastery but externally directed violence to bring others under its control. And Sharia has only one variant-that promulgated by Al Qaeda and imposed by violence if necessary” (Jones, 2014, p.1). Al Qaeda attacks can be classified under International Terrorism in the specfic examples of the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, and the 2002 Bali bombing. Their attacks can also be described as Criminal Dissident Terrorism in the cases of suicide bombings of Iraqis in opposition to the legitimate government of Iraq.
  • What, according to you, is Al Qaeda's strategy for achieving the goals and mission of its group? What, according to you, are the tactics that Al Qaeda uses to attain their goals and mission? How can the weapons or tools used by Al Qaeda be classified in the international terrorism scenario?
Payne suggests that al Qaeda uses a focoist strategy in that “picture that emerges from the pages of key Islamist strategic texts is of a movement with a distinct strategy that emphasizes violence as a means of obtaining territory” (2011, p. 125). This strategy stresses the use of hard-core militants to adapt to “preexisting local disputes,magnifying their global significance and incorporating them within their favored ideological framework” (Payne, 2011, p. 127). However well Payne's description of al Qaeda strategy works to explain the “boots on the ground” tactics of al Qaeda, it neglects other aspects of their stratgeies. The major component of al Qaeda stratgey is to act as a coordinating agent, “not so much an organization that controls a terrorist network as a movement that incites, sometimes coordinaters, and sometimes supports franchise operations to attack U.S interests and it's local allies” (Ryan, 2013, p.43). Propaganda is a major part of the incitement strategy of al Qaeda; it it used to “prep the battlefield” for local activities, to recruit new members,and to spread dissension in the West. Zawahiri states, “We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. . . . [W]e are in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our umma”(Lynch, 2006, p.50) Ibrahim discusses the use of two sets of messaging, a “wholly propagandistic” message to the West and and the theological messaging to the Muslim community (2007, p.5). The messaging directed at the West leads to disseion through the dishonest retransmission of al Qaeda's message by the Left:
a culture of denial exists on the left about the problem of Islamic terrorism. This takes four key forms: mystification (the failure or refusal to acknowledge its true character); displacement (the transformation of the perpetrators into avengers and the victims into wrong-doers); evasion (the reluctance or unwillingness to recognize its significance);and minimization (the unwillingness to recognize the scope of the problem)(Cottee, 2005, p.119).
  • Are Al Qaeda's goals justified? Do you agree that Al Qaeda's goals are religious activities, or are they terrorist activities? Do their goals justify violent behavior? Why do you think so?
No individual that supports the ideal of liberty can find the goals or behavior of al Qaeda to be justifiable; their goal is establishment of an Islamic State, and their tactics violate basic concepts of justice. On the other hand, for those that want to live a life of “submission”, and would rather have someone else make all the important decsions of life for them, moral standards don't matter anyway.

Bodansky, Y. (1999). Bin Laden:The man who declared war on America. Roseville, California, Prima Publishing
Cottee, S. (2005). The Culture of Denial: Islamic Terrorism and the Delinquent Left. Journal of Human Rights, 4(1), 119–135. doi:10.1080/14754830590947653

Ibrahim, R. (2007). The al Qaeda reader. New York, New York. Broadway Books
Jones, D. T. (2014). Al qaeda's grand strategy. American Diplomacy, 1-2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1511438682?accountid=87314
Lewis, B. (2003). The crisis of Islam: Holy war and unholy terror. New York, New York. Random House Trade Paperbacks
Lynch, M. (2006, Spring). Al-Qaeda’s Media Strategies. The National Interest, (83), 50–56. http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/216515177?pq-origsite=summon

Payne, K. (2011). Building the base: Al Qaeda’s focoist strategy. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(2), 124–143. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2011.538832

Ryan, M. S. (2013). Decoding Al-Qaeda's Strategy : The Deep Battle Against America. New York: Columbia University Press.
Following up the Jones citation leads to the excellent lecture by Dr. Habeck, in which she asserts that other Muslims are the primary targets of al Qaeda:
Habeck, M. (n.d.). Attacking America: Al Qaeda’s grand strategy in Its war with the world. Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs, Foreign Policy Research Institute. Retrieved from https://www.fpri.org/articles/2014/02/attacking-america-al-qaedas-grand-strategy-its-war-world

Obama is a reflection of the Democratic Party and it's "philosophical" bases at large; nothing he says has any bearing on reality.

Speaking strictly on terms relating to Islam, every prediction and assumption this Administration has made has been wrong, to be generous in description:

The Arab Spring resulted in Arab dictatorships being replaced with Islamic dictatorships ( and immediately replaced back by a military dictatorship in the case of Egypt).
Whatever was going on with Benghazi (and which we will probably never find out), the administration chose to go fundraising as opposed to responding to an hours long attack on the compound.
The terrorist attack on Fort Hood was labeled as "workplace violence".
ISIS was aided in Syria while attacking Iraqi positions;  there are now American "boots on the ground" again, despite the claim that wouldn't be necessary.
The administration traded five known terrorists for a soldier that the Army reported as a deserter in 2010.  One of these terrorists is already back to work.  CNN reports "This is the first known suggestion that any of the detainees involved in the exchange may be trying to engage again in militant activity. It comes at a politically sensitive time as the administration has quickened the pace of prisoner release"
Officials: Detainee swapped for Bergdahl suspected of militant activities - CNN.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/29/politics/bergdahl-swap-prisoner-militant-activity/index.html

I don't think you can pin the blame solely on Obama.  He is a symptom of the political problems of this country, not it's cause.  And I don't really see the Republicans using the tools legally available to them to counter his actions, so they are part of the problem as well.

You bring up a good point with the "honor killings".  These attacks are not considered as terrorist attacks, and yet, isn't one purpose of an "honor killing" to intimidate women into obeying the strictures of Islam?

Overall, Hoffman makes some good points.  He does miss two key points, however.  He contends that AQ's core demographic as coming from the disenfranchised;  in contrast, their biggest operation, the 9/11 bombings were caqrried out by wealthy, connected, and educated young men.  More importantly, he misses the connection between the "deep bench" and the nature of AQ as a coordinating agency rather than a directing agency.  AQ is not a hierarchical command structure but rather a "booster club".

I did think the perspective that the goal of weakening the US to prevent us from supporting popular revolts against Islamist tyrannies made sense.

Hoffman, B. (2013). Al Qaeda's Uncertain Future. Studies In Conflict & Terrorism, 36(8), 635-653. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2013.802973

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