Dall’Economist della scorsa settimana:
The growing, and mysterious, irrelevance of al-Qaeda
Jan 22nd 2009
From The Economist print edition
Military setbacks and ideological disputes have put al-Qaeda on the defensive
The resultant bickering and low morale do not mean that al-Qaeda and its followers cannot still mount spectacular attacks. Western intelligence services are convinced the group tried to blow up several transatlantic airliners in 2006. It can still pose a menace in, say, parts of Asia. But for now, Mr bin Laden has to try to exploit the news, rather than to make it.
So it was with his last philippic, an audio recording issued on January 14th, in which he claimed that his jihad against America since 2001 had been responsible for bringing about the superpower’s economic collapse. His followers would “continue jihad for another seven years, seven more after that, and even seven more after.” The inauguration of Barack Obama, he said, changes nothing; democracy is a form of “polytheism”. The new president is “like one who swallows a double-edged sword” and will be hurt however he moves. If he withdraws from his predecessor’s wars, Mr Obama suffers military defeat; if he continues, he deepens the economic crisis.
Above all, Mr bin Laden sought to exploit Muslim outrage over Israel’s war in Gaza. Forget about street protests, diplomatic mediation or treacherous Arab leaders, said Mr bin Laden; the only way to defeat Israel was through jihad. Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, is among those who worry that the war in Gaza will have radicalised more Muslims.
Yet Palestine is a problem as well as an opportunity for al-Qaeda. It wants to be linked with the cause that is dearest to Muslims’ hearts, but it has little to offer. Others have fought harder against Israel, chiefly Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizbullah, the Shia militia in Lebanon. But jihadists of al-Qaeda’s sort regard the Muslim Brotherhood as, at best, deviant. By taking part in elections they place man’s law above God’s. And they see Shias as apostates.
Al-Qaeda’s failure to fight for Palestine comes up repeatedly in jihadist internet forums. It also forms part of the latest ideological counter-attack against al-Qaeda by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of its founders in 1998 and a leading jihadist ideologue under the pen-name “Dr Fadl”. He has since fallen out with its leaders, particularly Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded him as head of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad group. Al-Qaeda, he now says, “did not offer Palestine anything except words”.
Dr Fadl was arrested in Yemen in 2001 and extradited to Egypt. His first assault on al-Qaeda for its profligate killing of Muslims, at the end of 2007, prompted Mr Zawahiri to write a rebuttal of nearly 200 pages. The rejoinder to that, issued in November, was serialised in an Egyptian newspaper. His latest critique ranges from personal attacks on Mr Zawahiri to accusations that al-Qaeda has distorted Islamic law on jihad and inflicted a series of disasters on Muslims.
Dr Fadl accuses Mr Zawahiri of being an agent of the Sudanese intelligence services who agreed to carry out ten attacks in Egypt in the 1990s in exchange for $100,000. He denounces him as a liar and a coward who incites others to die in jihad while not taking part in the fighting. Egyptian prisons and graveyards were filled with jihadists, but Mr Zawahiri fled abroad, he says.
Al-Qaeda blames America for all the woes of the Muslim world. But Dr Fadl says the problem is Muslims’ own failings. He accuses al-Qaeda of declaring entire populations, even in Muslim countries, to be apostates, and of establishing a “criminal doctrine” of wholesale slaughter. This defies traditional injunctions in Islamic law against indiscriminate killing. Even the killing of non-believers in war is restricted, he avers, pointing to the bans on killing women, boys, the demented and hired hands such as labourers and peasants.
The attacks on America in 2001, says Dr Fadl, prompted foreign invasions and the destruction of the “Islamic state” set up by the Taliban. It led to the death of more Muslims than have been killed in all of Israel’s wars. “Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers,” he writes. Their talk of Palestine is “just for propaganda”; they cannot find allies among Palestinians.
Do the ideological revisions of Dr Fadl, facilitated by the Egyptian security services, matter when the assault in Gaza may have won al-Qaeda new supporters? Some officials argue that the emotional fury will pass; they say Dr Fadl’s first attack hurt al-Qaeda even though it followed Israel’s equally brutal war in Lebanon in 2006. But pundits such as Bruce Hoffman, of Georgetown University in Washington, think the impact will be marginal. “Dr Fadl discomfits al-Qaeda,” he says. “Young hotheads are not going to listen to some geriatric sitting in an Egyptian prison. But al-Qaeda worries he might have an impact on its finances.”
Counter-terrorism officials say that al-Qaeda is short of money. Individual attacks may be quite cheap, but running an organisation—and supporting the families of members who are killed—is costly. Tellingly, Mr bin Laden appealed for money in his last message, arguing that Muslims had a duty to wage “financial jihad”. What better way to raise funds than to evoke the unending agony of Palestine?