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Incomplete conclusions

Reader comment on item: The Limits of Terrorism

Submitted by Archimedes2 (Canada), Apr 22, 2009 at 14:10

Insofar as this piece goes it looks perfectly reasonable, but it is missing a few very important observations. Abram's work appears to define "success" as understood by "us", not by the terrorist groups -- in terms of clearly definable political and military objectives that would be "understandable goals" from the perspective of western culture and political/military analysis.

But to address the question on hand -- why militants continue to adopt terrorism -- one must judge their success against the *militants' own* understanding of "success", which may well be, and generally is, very different from our own. In your penultimate paragraph you give a nod to this sort of analysis. When you observe that jihadist groups regard themselves as engaged in a divine struggle; their success is measured not by classical measures but by a mystical divine approval.

As we often say in Christianity, what matters is not "success" but "faithfulness". So with Muslims. Put another way, mere faithfulness, in and of itself, is a higher form of success than those measured by monetary, political or military gains. One needn't go very deep into the recruitment strategies for shaheeds or the statements of the suicide bombers themselves, to understand that success for the shaheed, and in the eyes of those who share their ideology, rests not in accomplishing worldly goals but in the sacrifice of one's life in a divine war against the infidel, and to them there is no higher goal (witness the Hamas/Ikhwan motto..."...death for the sake of Allah our highest aim!").

Even winning such a war is not their primary objective -- they regard the winning of the war to be in the hands of Allah; it is only for them to fulfil their role. Even looking at the worldly aspect of their tactics one discovers many ways in which jihadists' tactics can be regarded as successful in their own eyes while appearing foolish in ours.

For example, what was accomplished by 9/11? Al Qaeda did not gain a foothold in the US by it, nor did they win any important concessions on our part. Yet they regard the attack as a smashing success, and it remains widely regarded as such throughout the Islamic world. Why? Well, on one level, many muslims consider it a moral victory of great symbolic significance, and it rejuvenated their "jihadist spirit" -- they saw Allah's forces striking fear into the hearts of the enemies of Allah, as commanded in Qur'an 8:59,60: "Let not the unbelievers think that they have won the game; surely they can never frustrate the believers. Muster against them all the military strength and cavalry that you can afford so that you may strike terror into the hearts of your enemy and the enemy of Allah, and others besides them who are unknown to you but known to Allah."

On another level, one should consider Osama bin Laden's own statement of objectives. He made it very clear, long before 9/11 that he was turning his attention to attacks on America not to defeat the US directly but to weaken its support and to muster opposition for its immediate goals, which relate to establishing a larger base in the Islamic world from which more permanent war can be waged.

Observe that his dearest and most pressing concerns have to do with removing the political leadership of Saudi Arabia. Long frustrated in this goal, for their inability to muster broad sympathy in the Islamic world for it, they adopted a new slogan: "Attack the far enemy (the U.S.) in order to defeat the near enemy (rulers of Saudia)". The idea was that there is little sympathy to be had by attacking the "guardians of the two holy cities". But because Saudia is a military ally of the U.S. much more could be gained by attacking the U.S. Indeed, it accomplished the most direct goal of galvanizing Islamic support rather brilliantly.

To a lesser extent it fulfilled a secondary objective of drawing the U.S. into wars of attrition that it cannot win, which were supposed to further support for Al Qaeda. I say "to a lesser extent" because this was not a clear success. Al Qaeda, I think, did not anticipate the degree to which competing Jihadist groups would frustrate their own agenda, or the lack of direct support they would receive from larger political movements like the Ikhwan, who regard them as rogue harbi -- they ended up starting a large internecine fight that nobody can win, but everybody can lose.

They had more success by allying with the Taliban in Pakistan. Here a combination of terrorist tactics in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the (Perhaps witting perhaps unwitting, or a combination of the two) cooperation of the Pakistani regime in its own collapse, and the use of that regime to shield them from NATO intervention, has given them precisely the sort of foothold 9/11 was designed to bring them...or rather, it appears on the verge of doing so at this point.

I would say that the current state of things in Pakistan is probably as close to absolute success as Bin Laden and Zawahiri envisioned at their most optimistic while plotting deep in the caverns of Afghanistan. Similar success has been had by unceasing terrorist tactics in Somalia. ...

Submitting....

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