The Mystery of al-Qaeda

by , September 11, 2007

Six years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the entity known as al-Qaeda remains largely a mystery: its intent, its ideology, its leadership, and its inner workings are all largely unknown to the American people. Experts study them and interpret the arcane meanings of their utterances in light of Koranic verses. The president of the United States and his allies aver that they hate us because we’re so free, so prosperous, so utterly fabulous – yet still al-Qaeda is, at least in the popular mind, an army of shadows, in the sense that they don’t seem quite real. The one major military operation undertaken by them, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is practically the only evidence we have of their existence as an organized network, and, in recent years, it has become fashionable to describe Osama bin Laden as a purely symbolic figure, one who inspires actions by others but is in no position to direct the action.

Now, however, we have a new video featuring the terrorist leader, released just a few days ago, and, with it, a new evaluation of al-Qaeda and its leader as being much more active, and organized, than previously thought. This piece in the Washington Post portrays a revived organization that didn’t take all that long to recover from the blows directed against it in Afghanistan and is today prospering under the leadership of a new layer of experienced and hardened cadre who have replaced those captured and killed. Now we are being told that al-Qaeda is more than just a symbolic entity, that the network that murdered almost 3,000 Americans on that bloody day six years ago is reestablishing itself, and that this reconstituted incarnation of pure evil is rearing its head once again to wreak destruction in new ways.

The message: be afraid, be very afraid.

The all-pervasive atmosphere of fear that spread, like a poisonous fog, from one end of the civilized world to the other in the wake of the 9/11 attacks is reasserting itself, and this new jolt of terror couldn’t have come at a better time for our rulers – as they ratchet up the war propaganda and get ready to strike at Iran, Syria, and anyone else who dares defy them. This new assault on our reason – and that’s what it is, make no mistake about it – comes at a plastic juncture in our political life, when Americans are getting ready to change their leadership and it looks like the other party might get a chance in power. The plasticity of this moment is further emphasized by the long-touted “report” of Gen. David Petraeus, the War Party’s messiah, who is primed to tell us we’re on the verge of “victory” in Iraq, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The massive antiwar sentiment that allowed the Democrats to take Capitol Hill is stalled, and the War Party – in spite of being discredited by its lies and its crimes – is back, with a vengeance.

At this dramatic turning point, bin Laden reappears with a half-hour long tape, the transcript of which can be found here, and there is something very odd about it, in that it reads like a political polemic that might have been written by an American. It cites Noam Chomsky, as well as the Koran, and excoriates “the neoconservatives” by name, including Richard Perle. There are two mentions of the neocons, and the first is very strange.

Bin Laden starts out with his characteristically elegant invocation of the divine and the human, interspersing political analysis with religious phraseology so that one does not merely explain but actually illuminates the other:

“All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace from Him. And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His Law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed. And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves’ desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse….”

There is a hypnotic power in his words, because he speaks in a language familiar to us: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” That’s something Americans can readily understand, especially when it comes to bin Laden: yet here he turns our own concept of justice against us, and, in so doing, utilizes Shakespearean phrases: “lend me your ears.”

All very skillful, and even entertaining, but what is he trying to tell us? If we look at what he has to say, it is, clearly, a kind of summing up, a progress report – and, in part, a statement of his war aims. He prefaces his remarks by commemorating the awful anniversary of his triumph, taking the opportunity to crow that, in spite of America’s unparalleled power, both economic and military, it was possible for 19 young men “to change the direction of its compass” – the compass of American history, which, he believes, is now pointed in the direction of decline.

“Since the 11th,” bin Laden avers,

“Many of America’s policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions.”

Now there are some oddities about the transcript of bin Laden’s peroration, and his meaning here is not entirely clear: is he really saying that “our” (i.e., al-Qaeda’s) “interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and so with those of the neoconservatives, despite differing intentions”? There is reason to doubt this, yet perhaps this strange confession is not so implausible, after all. In the Washington Post piece cited above, we have this odd description of an up-and-coming al-Qaeda leader:

“One figure attracting interest is a Libyan known as Abu Yahya al-Libi, who gained notoriety after he and three other al-Qaeda prisoners escaped from a high-security U.S. military prison in Bagram in July 2005.

“Since then, he has appeared on more than a dozen videos produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm. His speeches and treatises are so numerous that some analysts speculate he is being groomed to join bin Laden’s inner circle. ‘Abu Yahya al-Libi is now the most visible face of al-Qaeda, surpassing al-Zawahiri, and in fact all of the jihadists,’ said Ben Venzke, chief executive of IntelCenter, a private terrorism research group that does work for the U.S. government.

“In his videos, Abu Yahya al-Libi dresses the part of a gun-toting holy warrior but has made his reputation as a religious hard-liner. He frequently criticizes other Muslims as heretics; favorite targets include Shi’ites, Hamas, and the Saudi royal family.”

One has to wonder if we’ll soon be seeing his byline in the Weekly Standard. Iran, Hamas, and the Saudis – al-Qaeda and the neocons have a lot in common, don’t they, starting with their enemies. Perhaps bin Laden knows whereof he speaks when he raises the overlapping interests of the neocons and the world’s most wanted terrorists. This odd parallelism was noted in a BBC documentary made a couple of years ago, The Power of Nightmares, and bin Laden himself adds a whole new dimension to this in his recent video. He is, it seems, quite aware of his ideological doppelgängers and their power in the U.S.,

“And among the most important items contained in Bush’s speeches since the events of the 11th is that the Americans have no option but to continue the war. This tone is in fact an echoing of the words of neoconservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Richard Perle, the latter having said previously that the Americans have no choice in front of them other than to continue the war or face a holocaust.”

Bush, the tool of the neocons, is intent on continuing the war in Iraq, and, while there is no explicit threat in bin Laden’s speech, the first part is clearly a justification for further attacks on the U.S.: we elected and reelected a president determined to make war, and

“Then you claim to be innocent! This innocence of yours is like my innocence of the blood of your sons on the 11th – were I to claim such a thing.”

The terrorist leader has a sense of humor, albeit a dark one: no doubt the 9/11 Truthers will take this as some kind of validation of their thesis, even though, plainly, and for the second time, bin Laden is taking responsibility for the attacks.

Yet what of these interests of his that “overlap” with those of the big corporations and the neoconservatives? With the recent “redirection” of our strategic orientation in the Middle East, against the Shi’ites – our former allies – and siding with the Sunnis (the former “dead-enders,” as Donald Rumsfeld called them), we can see that al-Qaeda and the U.S. government are even more in sync, in spite of the fact that, according to the Bush administration, they are our major enemies in Iraq.

Bin Laden’s speech reads, in part, like an address by Noam Chomsky, wherein the evil corporations are held up as the apotheosis of malevolence and the forces of “globalization” and “capital” are portrayed as the motivating spirit behind America’s warlike foreign policy. It is a conventional left-liberal and occasionally “radical left” analysis, such as might have appeared on DailyKos.com. Then, suddenly, bin Laden takes a swift turn rightward – as if he suddenly remembered that he’s supposed to be a theocrat, and not some socialist undergraduate at an antiwar demonstration – invoking Islam as the only alternative to global capitalism and American hegemonism. In any case, according to him, antiwar demonstrations will do no good:

“Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment – and there isn’t any – in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war. And you’re the ones who have the saying which goes, ‘Money talks.’ And I tell you: after the failure of your representatives in the Democratic Party to implement your desire to stop the war, you can still carry antiwar placards and spread out in the streets of major cities, then go back to your homes, but that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of the war.”

Here bin Laden sounds like some Marxist sectarian, the representative of some retro-Trotskyist cult – the Spartacist League, or maybe even the International Bolshevik Tendency – in arguing that the very structure of capitalist “democracy” and “freedom” has embedded within it the machinery of repression. So drop those antiwar placards, because “that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of the war.” More commonality of interest between the neocons and al-Qaeda: despite their differing intentions, both implore antiwar Americans to drop their placards.

It’s fascinating that bin Laden, aside from mentioning Chomsky, also cites Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s special unit devoted to tracking al-Qaeda – and author of Imperial Hubris – whose work I have often quoted: “If you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing of your war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard.”

Scheuer opens Imperial Hubris by declaring that the United States government, in pursing its foreign policy based on relentless aggression, is al-Qaeda’s one “indispensable ally.” This expert in the ways and methods of our greatest enemy notes the odd parallelism of interests throughout his works, correctly arguing that our wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan only redound to bin Laden’s benefit.

While this administration has used al-Qaeda as an all-purpose bogeyman, it is little short of incredible that bin Laden still roams the earth, taunting us, six years after the attack that ensures him his place in history. Yet, for all the emphasis on al-Qaeda as supposedly the real enemy in Iraq, our efforts to actually find bin Laden himself, and capture or kill him, have seemed less than strenuous. While once George W. Bush vowed to get him “dead or alive,” it wasn’t too long before our president deemed this task not a priority. Having diverted our resources and attention away from the hunt for bin Laden, and instead concentrated on conquering Iraq, it’s almost as if the last thing our government wants is for bin Laden and his top lieutenants to be caught. They are too useful right where they are, scaring the bejesus out of the American public. Here again we have a congruence of interests between bin Laden and his antagonists in Washington.

That Washington Post piece about the reconstitution of al-Qaeda ends with some advice from Asad Durrani, a retired chief of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency:

“Durrani said U.S. bombing campaigns along the Afghan-Pakistani border had thoroughly alienated civilians who otherwise might help root out al-Qaeda commanders. ‘The first instinct you Americans have is military power – dropping bombs,’ he said. ‘This was absolutely 100 percent guaranteed not to succeed, and it’s continued that way for the past six years.’ He said it would take a concentrated, methodical approach to find bin Laden and his deputies, relying on human intelligence and simple detective work. ‘If they are there, sit back, be patient,’ Durrani advised. ‘The good hunter hunts on foot.'”

That depends on what your quarry is: if you’re hunting whole nations, and not mere individuals, then the methods of our rulers begin to make sense.

Al-Qaeda and the War Party: one could not succeed without the other. There is no conclusive evidence that this odd symbiosis is more than just ideological. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it extended to the operational. The mysteries of al-Qaeda are intertwined with the unsolved mysteries of 9/11: how did 19 young men evade detection for years and pull off one of the boldest, most destructive terrorist acts in modern history? Or were they detected, and allowed to go through with their task?

We aren’t allowed to ask such questions, yet Fox News, a media outlet not known for its hostility to Israel, let alone the neocons, did run this four-part series by Carl Cameron which points to evidence that Israeli intelligence knew something about what the 19 hijackers were up to but neglected to inform us in time. Carl Cameron, a reporter known for his friendliness to this administration, has never repudiated his report on Israeli foreknowledge of 9/11, and neither has Fox News, although they did scrub it from their Web site.

And then there is the question of the second part of the terrorist campaign that was waged against the American people in the winter of 2001: the anthrax attacks. Were they the work of al-Qaeda, or of some other group that had an interest in terrorizing the American people?

I don’t have the answers, I merely raise these questions in the hope of impressing upon my readers that much more remains to be revealed – and that we intend, in this space, to keep digging.

The whole story of how we were driven onto the path of war by a small yet influential cabal within our government is not yet known – but, God willing, some day it will be.

Read more by Justin Raimondo