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When Watching Coverage of Events in Lebanon

CNN is repeating the comment, attributed to "Lebanese government officials," that the massive fighting that has broken out in Tripoli is the fault of "Al Qaeda"*. By eerie coincidence our friend Juan Cole has some very profound observations just today, about this "organization" we call Al Qaeda:

Another important impetus to al-Qaeda's survival is that it has taken the place of the Communist Party as radical response to the status quo. Al-Qaeda's top leadership is rich, not poor, and it is a movement of the Right, not the Left. But it is a radical, populist Right that can attract the dispossessed.

This cannot be too often repeated, because it is one of those say-whaaa?? sort of things that takes many repetitions and a good deal of thought to soak in. But look at the longer version of Cole's post on the subject and it's really been there in front of us all along:

Al-Qaeda, at least as a vague franchise, still exists, and remains a major threat to the US. That is, however, mostly because opportunistic forces on the American Right would use any further attacks on the US to abrogate more of our constitutional rights. At the moment, al-Qaeda's biggest targets are other Muslims.

Al-Qaeda might well have faded away after Tora Bora. It did not, despite having its command and control deeply disrupted and the capture of many top commanders and hundreds of operatives.

Why?

The US occupation of Iraq is one big reason (see below). It has galvanized Gulf millionaires to begin giving money to al-Qaeda again, and Iraq generates both trained operatives and small amounts of cash for the central al-Qaeda organization, which operates in the badlands on the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.

Another thing that kept al-Qaeda alive was the internet. Wonderful as the latter is, it is just a communications medium and can be used for good or evil. Jihadi radicals have used it for recruitment and for spreading around knowledge of how to make explosives, etc.

Another important impetus to al-Qaeda's survival is that it has taken the place of the Communist Party as radical response to the status quo. Al-Qaeda's top leadership is rich, not poor, and it is a movement of the Right, not the Left. But it is a radical, populist Right that can attract the dispossessed.

Although al-Qaeda has struck with brutal inventiveness at Western countries, currently its biggest target is other Muslims, whom its leaders consider to be "collaborators" with the United States and Western Europe, or other status quo powers.

Friday's bombing of a mosque in Hyderabad, India, which killed a dozen and provoked riots in which there was further loss of life, appears to have been an operation by the Harakat ul-Jihad ul-Islami or HUJI of Bangladesh. The sim cards used in the phones that set off the blast point to a Bengali network. Some of the sim cards used had expired, saving dozens, perhaps hundres of lives.

So why would radical Muslims blow up a historic mosque and kill worshippers? They may have hoped that the bombing would be blamed on Hindus and would promote civil strife. They certainly were hoping to radicalize Muslims and drive them to join HUJI. Attacking Muslims is seen by the radicals as a way of radicalizing Muslims. They grossly misjudged their public in this case, since Muslims in Hyderabad tend to vote Congress, the ruling party of India.

Sunday's market bombing in Afghanistan, which killed 14 and wounded 30, was a similar tactic. The Neo-Taliban in Afghanisan (3,000 to 5,000 fighters) certainly make an attempt to associate themselves with dispossessed farmers in Helmand, whose poppie crops were burned by the government in an anti-drug campaign.

A mixture of criminality, turf wars, and grinding poverty also underpins the Fath Islam movement of Lebanon, which has come into deadly conflict with the Lebanese army.

Greg Miller of the LA Times reports that al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is able to funnel a few tens of thousands of dollars to al-Qaeda in Waziristan (a tribal area of Pakistan), easing a money cruch that had left Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri broke in 2005.

Given the millions of dollars in oil and antiquities smuggling sloshing around Iraq, not to mention the kidnapping and ransom money, it doesn't sound to me like the al-Qaeda fund transfers are more than peanuts. The money is enough, apparently, to convince Ayman al-Zawahiri to go along with the Iraqi jihadis' preference for hitting Iraqi Shiites as a way of mobilizing Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

More worrisome is that some jihadis who have gained experience fighting the US military in Iraq have fled to Pakistan and gotten in touch with Taliban remnants, passing over to them key operational knowledge. Miller says that the CIA put an extra 50 operatives into the field in Pakistan to attempt to track down Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, but without success.

One of the major reasons for the US to get out of Iraq is that its attempt to occupy a major Arab Muslim country is generating terrorism and support for terrorism at a pace much faster than US security agencies can fight it.

The longer we stay in Iraq, the more likely it is that it will produce another attack on the US mainland. Since important elements of the US political, military and corporate elite are apparently not actually much interested in democracy, another such attack might provide the heavies with a pretext to do away with it in practice (the Putin model), whatever trimmings they retain. Former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks once suggested as much.

So getting out of Iraq might be the only way to save the Republic.

We don't normally use entire posts like this but this may be the most important essay you read this ...well, week, month, decade, century, take your pick. I don't think Professor Cole will mind our extended usage.

*and when I went in to the room with the TV to check the spelling of "Al Qaeda" I see they have gone to the CNN International feed, where the attribution is now to this "Fath al-Islam" group the good professor cites. I don't mean to be harsh with the extremely stressed-out Lebanese government, and it may not be their fault so much as the US CNN editors, but whenever a gun is fired or bomb goes off anywhere in the world and the words "Al Qaeda" are the first ones out of your mouths, some of us hear a little boy out in the sheep pasture yelling "Wolf! Wolf!"

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leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

is from Artillery fire, aimed into a camp that is like a village, i.e., where ordinary people live, or try to. Palestinians. So who cares, right?

CNN made it seem like there was some kind of resistance or gun battle going on; however large a collection of weapons Lebanese intelligence is sure is sequestered somewhere in that camp, it's beyond doubtful that the Palestinians there have anything like artillery...

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

I'm reading Mike Davis' book BUDA'S WAGON--A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CAR BOMB. He examines the use of car bombs across the globe, and relays its impact in Lebanon, which was profound in the 80's. One point: if you wish to get people frightened or agitated all you have to do is plant bombs and make it look as though they may have come from some other group. Lebanon was so full of splinter groups claiming responsibility for all manners of mayhem it was an easy target for covert Israeli operations. And who was the real target? The refugee camps, filled with Palestinians. Surely there is not enough lambs' blood in all the Middle East to protect them from the wrath of an angry and frightened god.

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