Once again, there was a Big Event, and I felt that I should write something about it before I wrote about anything else, and couldn’t figure exactly what to say about the Big Event, so posting dried up and Other Topics began to build up and risk overflow.
My usual way of getting over this is to take the epic Big Event commentary in my head and strangle it down to a couple of sentences, and then move on.
So here ya go.
The terrorist attack in London was a terrible thing. But I can’t help but feel relieved that “only” 50ish people were killed. And I can’t help but feel sad and frustrated about the millions who’s deaths will never be noticed, because they died quietly of hunger or disease, because they were born and died with dark skin, because their deaths were not packaged with fire and smoke.
The parallels are drawn between 7/7 and 9/11. But I’m not sure that those parallels hold; if this blogger is correct, the British tried to return to business as usual on 7/8 while the US media tried to spin this attack into 9/11 2. Maybe someone should have reminded CNN about the IRA, or the Blitz.
And in the wake of these attacks, the always informative Juan Cole restates our assumptions, and reminds us who Al Qaeda is, what they want, and how they operate. After 9/11 I remember how the people with the least knowledge had the most fear. That’s one of the reasons I returned to journalism, actually (well, whatever you call my brand of writing and radio). So I’ll post some of the most informative snippets from Cole’s latest article and a recent interview about the attacks.
The Al Qaeda ideology believes that the Muslim world is weak and oppressed and dominated by the wealthy capitalist West. And that this West uses things like the establishment of Israel or the setting of Muslim against Muslim in Iraq or Afghanistan as a way of keeping the Muslim world weak. Ideally, all the Muslims should get together and establish a United States of Islam, which would revive the Caliphate. (In medieval Islam the Caliph was a kind of pope figure, a central spiritual authority.) Under the Caliphate, you’d have the wealthy Egyptian writers and engineers and you’d have the wealthy oil states come together to make the Muslim world into a united superpower…
It goes back to the 19th century. The Ottomans, when they were facing British and French incursion, put together this idea of pan-Islam back in the 1880s. They think that for the last 200 years or so, since Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, Europe has been invading their countries, raping their women, subjecting their men, and stealing their wealth.
So they have a two-fold plan. In order to establish a united Muslim country, you’d have to overthrow the individual secular regimes that now exist—Algeria and Egypt, and so forth. Then you’d have to unite them all under Salafi Islam. And every time they’ve tried to overthrow the Egyptian government, they’re checked, in part because the Americans back [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak.
So then they put forward the theory in the 1990s of hitting the foreign enemy first. Basically there are two major impediments to their plan. One is the local secular military governments, which resist being dissolved into this Islamic state. The other is the Western superpowers that back the military regimes. So they became convinced that in order to go forward with their plans, they would have to find a way of pushing the United States and the other powers out of the Middle East—make them timid about intervening, make them pick up stakes and go home, leaving Mubarak and others to their fate. So the attack on London is part of this strategy—getting the British out of Iraq and Afghanistan, weakening British resolve for having a strong posture in the Middle East a la supporting the United States. Having gotten rid of Western dominance, they believe, they can then polish off the secular enemies and go forward with their plans for a revolution of the global south.
I’d like everyone to remember that. Al Qaeda is a specific terrorist group with specific goals. They want to unify the Middle East under their own particular brand of Muslim rule. To do that, they have to overthrow all the secular governments, and presumably expel Israel. And to do that, they think that they have to get the US to stop supporting the regimes that stand in Al Qaeda’s way. And at present, it seems that their strategy is to attack US allies to get them to pull away from the US.
They don’t hate our freedom, they’re not trying to convert us to Islam, they’re not trying to destroy civilization. I imagine that if they ever did get their unified Middle Eastern caliphate empire, that maybe then they’d try to conquer the rest of the world, but I don’t see that as real likely.
One of the tragedies in all this is that Americans don’t know much of anything about Islam or central/south Asian culture think that “Islam”, “Arab”, and “fanatic” are pretty much the same thing. So when a group of fringe radical Muslims attack the US, in the minds of many Americans, it’s suddenly a racial and holy war against an army of irrational madmen. And US military action and every disrespectful act by a US soldier to an Arab or Muslim leads Muslims to believe the hype of Osama bin Laden, in which Americans are hell-bent on destroying, robbing, and defiling them all. The ignorance, hate, fear and anger create more willing warriors on both sides, and neither side seems to care if the target they’re aiming at is the right one or not.