The Ideology of Al-Qaeda Reflects Real Grievances

Cape Times (South Africa), April 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Ideology of Al-Qaeda Reflects Real Grievances


BYLINE: Hussein Solomon

Al-Qaeda sprang into the popular consciousness of the world with the audacious attacks of 9/11. Since then the organisation has taken a beating – many of its senior commanders killed or arrested, others are in hiding.

Given the various counter-terrorism initiatives, it has proven more difficult to source arms, to move money and to merely communicate.

Under these circumstances, the leadership of al-Qaeda has become more diffuse, with local leaders in charge of command and control while Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri provide merely inspirational leadership through the odd audio and video recording.

Thus, from being a tightly-knit organisation, al-Qaeda has morphed into a loose amalgamation of independent cells that may or may not receive direct support from the main organisation and which can operate independently.

According to the historian RT Naylor, “al-Qaeda itself does not exist … (it) is a loose network of likeminded individuals (who) pay homage to the same patron figure who they may never have met and with whom they have no concrete relationship. They conduct their operations strictly by themselves, even if they may from time to time seek advice”.

This loose amalgamation of independent cell structures is increasingly the al-Qaeda of the future and poses challenges to counter-terrorist officials the world over.

This is not the terrorism of old. In the cases of both the Baader-Meinhoff Gang and the Japanese Red Army, neutralising the leadership of the organisation meant neutralising the entire organisation.

Intelligence officials trying to penetrate the new al-Qaeda can at best hope to neutralise an independent cell, while other cells continue to function. In the process, the war against terror will be measured in years, if not decades.

At the same time, this new diffuse al-Qaeda also challenges the “leadership” of the organisation. Bin Laden has to rely on local leaders like, until recently, al-Zarqawi’s ruthless gang of cut-throats in Iraq, and their excesses against both Sunnis and Shi’ites reflect negatively on al-Qaeda as a whole.

Another organisational challenge confronting al-Qaeda is if this is a loose network, it needs a glue that binds the disparate parts together. That glue is ideology.

The broader parameters of al-Qaeda’s ideology are easily discernible: it is anti-Western and anti-Semitic. …

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