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January 04, 2010

Did Al-Qaeda Ever Matter as Much as We Think it Did?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc Lynch has a post well worth reading on the Al-Qaeda’s diminishing influence in the Arab world:

The Arab media's indifference to the story speaks to a vitally important trend. Al-Qaeda's attempted acts of terrorism simply no longer carry the kind of persuasive political force with mass Arab or Muslim publics which they may have commanded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

It’s not so much that al-Qaeda is irrelevant – it isn’t – but, rather, that it is, and has increasingly become, beside the point. Having lived in Jordan in 2008 and now in Doha, it’s really quite remarkable the extent to which al-Qaeda doesn’t figure into Arab conversations about the future of the Arab world. Except it’s not remarkable.

Al-Qaeda was never the threat some thought it was, and others wanted it to be. Al-Qaeda was never going to become mainstream, because other organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that were strong opponents of al-Qaeda were already quite popular, commanding the loyalty of millions in the region. These were the mainstream, nonviolent Islamists, and it was never coincidental that Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s no. 2, had written an entire book accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of betraying the Islamic cause by, among other things, participating in elections.

To be sure, Al-Qaeda certainly gained some sympathy in the years after 9/11, largely due to the perception that they were the only ones actively confronting the United States. But sympathy is different than support, and al-Qaeda could never really claim much of the latter. But then again, it was never al-Qaeda’s objective to gain mass support or become what might be called a membership organization. It’s model has always been different, to use small numbers for big effect, and, in this, there is little doubt they succeeded, at least for a time.

What people seem to forget is that al-Qaeda wasn’t influential for what it was – or perhaps even what it did – but, rather, for how others reacted to it, namely the Bush administration.


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I think people hate Obama more than Al-Qaeda...

Good points on the one hand. But on the other hand, it is not in al-Qaeda's perception that they matter to us, is is in the desire to,and potential capability in order to, engage in acts of depraved international terrorism,which in an era of enormously powerful weaponry, is a grave problem.

By playing into this as being somehow a big "war" with al-Qaeda, Charles Krauthammer and the like, who tend to be on the far right in this country (ironic, since al-Qaeda is the super far right of THEIR world) are in effect worsening the problem, because it is in the perception of al-Qaeda that recruitment and radicalization become most directly effected; the more extremist, less "enemy combatant," less "Muslim" but more fantatical extremists who happen to be Islamic, and the more lowly psychotic murderous criminals, the more this plays against al-Q's perception of itself, and to some extent possibly misguided troubled overly propagandized youth who may otherwise mistakenly misperceive and find appeal in al-q's rhetoric.

People need to recognize that many (some?) right-wing Americans and the Al-Qaeda types are actually allies. They have similar ideologies (look at Ramash Ponnuru’s book of a few years ago); they have similar conspiratorial outlooks; they are all crazy and bloodthirsty.
The two “sides” are also mutually supportive. Nothing helps the right-wing American bed-wetters more that a “terrorist” attempt, and nothing has helped al- Qaeda more that the poorly planned American military expeditions into Muslim lands.
I am reminded of the mutual support that the American and Soviet military-industrial complexes during the Cold War.

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