That is, rising again in the Maghreb. And then there are the jihadist groups that are not formally or closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, but which share the same ideology. But of course, the prevalence and spread of that ideology is apparently not a matter of concern for anyone.
“Hearts and minds,” from The Economist, July 17:
THE “Islamic State of Iraq”, as al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies in that country like to call themselves, pumps out a stream of triumphant videos showing its fighters blowing up American Humvees. But these days the swagger has gone as the jihadists have been greatly weakened by the Americans and Sunni tribesmen. Their predicament was summed up in an interview by a man calling himself Abu Turab al-Jazairi. Described as one of al-Qaeda’s leaders in northern Iraq, the movement’s last bastion, he acknowledged losing several cities “because a large number of tribal leaders betrayed Islam”. And some of al-Qaeda’s fighters “got carried away with murdering and executions”.
Note how Abu Turab al-Jazairi describes the people who turned against Al-Qaeda: they “betrayed Islam.” This approach will always find resonance among some Muslims. And in light of it, the State Department’s plan to refer to the jihadists as “evildoers” and “criminals” rather than “jihadists” may seem to be a clever attempt to deny Al-Qaeda the Islamic legitimacy it needs to survive and grow. However, it presupposes that Muslims will be impressed by what the non-Muslim State Department calls or doesn’t call the Muslims of Al-Qaeda, and it effectively bars State analysts from examining the ideology of our foes in any depth — since we cannot even use the terms that they use for themselves, and have to accept a dogmatic declaration that they are using them inauthentically, without examining the jihad theology in depth to determine whether that is true in the first place, and if it is, to what extent.
One of America’s justifications for invading Iraq in 2003 was that Saddam Hussein was supporting al-Qaeda. That claim, like the one that he had weapons of mass destruction, has been discredited. In fact, it was the invasion of Iraq that revived al-Qaeda after its eviction from Afghanistan in 2001. By early 2006, America’s National Intelligence Assessment on terrorism concluded that the Iraq conflict was “breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement”. […]
Yes, and if America fights jihadists anywhere, learned analysts will be able to go into Muslim countries and find out that that fight is breeding deep resentment among Muslims. I expect that the invasion of Normandy and advance into Europe in 1944 bred deep resentment of America among Germans.
Grit, determination, an eleventh-hour change of tactics and the Sunni tribal movement helped America to avoid the defeat in Iraq that seemed perilously close less than two years ago. Al-Qaeda is not so much fighting to beat America in Iraq but to survive. Increasingly, say Western officials, foreign fighters now prefer to take themselves to Pakistan.
But counter-terrorism experts worry about the consequences of America’s success. Might Iraq now start exporting seasoned veterans, as Afghanistan did in the 1990s? Optimists say the danger is less acute than many fear, for three reasons. First, many of the foreign jihadists went to Iraq on a one-way ticket: to die as suicide-bombers. Second, governments are more aware of the danger of returning jihadists. And third, Zarqawi’s death seems to have removed the main impetus behind exporting Iraq’s violence.
Zarqawi’s decision to bomb three hotels in Amman in November 2005 backfired badly, causing a wave of revulsion, especially in his native Jordan. Among the bombed-out ruins of his hideout, American forces found a letter from a man calling himself Atiyah who said he spoke on behalf of the whole of al-Qaeda’s leadership. Written just weeks after the Amman bombs, it warned Zarqawi that his actions were alienating potential supporters. He risked repeating the jihadists” ruinous bloodletting in Algeria during the 1990s when, Atiyah said, “their enemy did not defeat them, but rather they defeated themselves, were consumed and fell.”
The savagery of the Algerian jihad took the lives of more than 100,000 people through the 1990s. The worst of the fighting was waged by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which denounced democracy and embraced jihad as the only means to power. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), broke away in 1998. It had always been close to al-Qaeda, with strong links to fighters in Iraq.
In September 2006, thanks in part to matchmaking by Zarqawi, the GSPC rebranded itself as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and introduced suicide tactics, attacking a series of foreign targets, including the United Nations office in Algiers. It also kidnapped Western tourists in Mauritania and Tunisia. The jihadists use the vast expanse of the Sahara to train recruits from across the region.
Other al-Qaeda offshoots have emerged, for instance, in Yemen and Lebanon. Whether these franchises will fare any better than Algeria’s earlier kind of jihadism, or than the troubled one in Iraq, remains to be seen. Mr Jazairi, for one, thought the bombings in his native Algeria were “sheer idiocy”. Better to fight in Iraq, he said. Still, it may be only a matter of time before AQIM, in particular, leaps across the Mediterranean into Europe.
The underlying assumption of this piece seems to be that one must never fight back against one’s enemies, for fear of provoking a further reaction. Whatever one thinks about the wisdom or ultimate likelihood of success of the Iraqi democracy project, that is a cry of defeatism and surrender.