Writing for Prospect Magazine of the UK Jason Burke traces the development of Muslim terrorist groups in the 1990s and more recently. (a strongly recommended read)
Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in May 1996, invited not, as is commonly presumed, by the Taleban but by a group of their opponents. He was, however, able to ingratiate himself with the newly formed Islamic militia and during the next five years extended his influence over them. This growing relationship, the celebrity status brought by a series of attacks for which he was widely perceived, (not always correctly) as responsible, and the arrival of his partner from Sudan, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, allowed him to gain control of the huge infrastructure that had been developed over the previous ten years for training Islamic militants. Bin Laden himself had not built a single one of the camps which he controlled, but their possession put him in the unique position of being able to provide, to any Islamic militant in the world, security and training. With his own, and his partners', connections in the Gulf, he was also able to provide funding. The double bombing of US embassies in east Africa in August 1998, the first attacks for which Bin Laden and his associates were indisputably responsible, also raised his profile among militants and this, enhanced by clever manipulation of the media, brought him fame and authority.
What I found surprising was the extent to which the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan was being built up even before Osama Bin Laden became a major player. Bin Laden basically came in and took over and organized a bunch of independent groups and managed to play his cards in ways that boosted his popularity among Muslim radicals.
Burke reports that many attacks (e.g. Bali in October 2002, Casablanca May 2003, and Istanbul November 2003) have been initiated by local Muslim radicals and took place without any centralized Al Qaeda control. He says that on the one hand the ability to launch large coordinated attacks has been degraded but that on the other hand the distributed and less centrally controlled nature of the terrorist networks make them stronger and harder to break into.
Burke reports a rising consciousness among Muslims of being part of a global struggle between Islam and an opposing alliance.
The second is that the events of the last two and a half years have led to the Islamic world being immeasurably more radicalised and politically conscious than it was in the early 1990s. The worldview of Sunni Muslim salafi jihadi militants is now far more widespread than a few years ago.
Local struggles are now being conceived as taking place in the context of a global struggle between Islam and the west. In Indonesia last year I saw pro-Palestinian slogans scrawled on walls and young Muslim activists with pictures of Bin Laden on their T-shirts. In Kashmir, where locals were once proud of their moderate, Sufi-influenced Islam, I was told by many ordinary people that India was part of a Hindu-Zionist-crusader alliance. Such language would have been inconceivable a few years ago - as would Kashmiri youths undertaking suicide attacks as they have done in recent months.
The Clash Of Civilizations is becoming more pronounced.
One effect has almost certainly been the recruiting of potential terrorists linked to al Qaeda, one of its branches or similar organisations. The International Institute of Strategic Studies, not an alarmist or extreme organisation, believes al Qaeda now has 18,000 potential terrorists in 60 countries and that recruiting has been accelerated by Iraq. If the institute is right, the invasion of Iraq, justified publicly as part of the "war on terror," has actually produced more terrorists.
"Christian nations' forcible occupation of Iraq, a historically important land of Islam, has more than offset any calming effect of the US military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia," the IISS said. It added: "With Osama bin Laden's public encouragement, up to 1,000 foreign jihadists have infiltrated Iraq."
So the Iraq invasion has radicalized Muslims as many critics of the invasion predicted ahead of time. The invasion would not have had as much of a radicalizing effect had it been better planned to provide better security during the occupation. But that would have required a much larger US Army to supply sufficient number of occupation troops and also a very ambitious effort to train US soldiers to speak Arabic and to do police work. So a proper occupation force would have taken literally years to prepare. Even if the occupation planning been competent the effect of the Iraq invasion would still have been to radicalize many Muslims the world over, just not as many or to as great an extent.
On the bright side, US intelligence agencies intelligence agencies of other countries around the world have become more vigilant and active at going after terrorist networks. It seems reasonable to expect the CIA and other US agencies to become more competent at tracking terrorists as criticism of the lack of foreign language and culture skills translates into better hiring and training programs (or am I being excessively optimistic?). Also, materials for making conventional bombs, chemical weapons, and biological weapons are tracked much more diligently by governments around the world. Also, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are sharing more information and developing better information systems for detecting terrorist activity.
One of my fears is that the radicalization of so many Muslims will increase the number of scientifically and technically competent Muslims willing to participation in preparations for terrorist attacks. Skilled chemists, biologists, and engineers could produce much more potent weapons for terrorist attacks. This points up the need for much better immigration and border control policy. But it also underlines the need for the development of approaches to terrorism that are less visible to Muslims and literally less invasive. We need to undermne Islamic ideology without provoking a figurative immune response in Muslim societies.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 June 22 04:14 PM Terrorists Activities|