Why Zawahiri Does Not Matter

The headlines read: Al-Qaeda "organization" names new leader. The truth is, of course, that al-Qaeda has never been an "organization." Rather, they are a phenomenon. An ideology. An almost metaphorical group that strikes fear into its western adversaries. Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who served as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, will persist with al-Qaeda’s ambition of driving western forces from Arab land and continue their "fight against apostate invaders". Already a $25 million sum has been placed on his head, along with the threat to "capture and kill" this somewhat irrelevant individual. 

Whilst the news has sparked a plethora of Washington reaction and anxiety, the reality is that this man is extraneous. Al-Qaeda – whether the western world likes to admit it or not – have merely become an abhorrent excuse to invade Middle Eastern nations. Worryingly, even Arab dictators have begun using al-Qaeda as a propaganda tool in their violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators. Both Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and Muammar Gadhafi in Libya have accused al-Qaeda of plotting the uprisings seen in their countries. Bizarrely, the two leaders have also accused the United States of engineering the Middle Eastern protests. What a hybrid! Al-Qaeda and America working side-by-side. I think not. 

But let us not deviate from the real issue here. Despite al-Qaeda being used as justification for various criminal deeds being enacted across the globe – drone strikes, unlawful assassinations, suppressing civilians etc – they no longer pose the misconceived menace they once did, if indeed, they ever did. Al-Qaeda is not – and has never been – the ‘organization’ it is represented as. There are no headquarters. There are no member’s badges. You can literally wake up one morning and declare yourself a ‘member’ of al-Qaeda. There is no application process. And this is what the western world – especially America – fails to recognize. 

Yes, al-Zawahiri, during a recent speech, declared his admiration for the uprisings sweeping the Middle East. But this does not mean that al-Qaeda is behind them. It is merely a sophisticated propaganda technique being utilized in order to rally anti-western sentiment. But what al-Qaeda fails to interpret is that many of the protests are civil disputes. They are not about western occupation of Arab land. They are not concerned with US-Arab relations. Instead, they are about equality, fairness and representation. The western-educated youth have risen and no longer accept the status quo. 

‘Experts’ have been expressing how al-Zawahiri "lacks charm" and is not as "dynamic" as his predecessor. What baloney. Who cares? This is not the real issue. Whoever took over the reigns as al-Qaeda’s main spokesman – which is essentially what they are – was going to receive widespread media attention. After all, it makes a good story, right? It ignites that famous Chomsky filter; fear. Without al-Qaeda – and their supposed relevance and peril – there would be no excuse for western forays onto foreign soil. There would be no excuse for the continued support offered to out-of-touch Arab tyrants. And without validation, people – God forbid – may start asking questions.  

So undoubtedly, the al-Zawahiri ‘appointment’ will awaken discourse over the need to destroy al-Qaeda. And undoubtedly many of the general public shall fall for this hyperbolic posture. But let us not be fooled into thinking that al-Qaeda offers the humongous threat that Washington officials would like us to believe. Interestingly, since bin Laden’s killing, were we not supposed to be on "red alert" for terror attacks? Yet – unsurprisingly – all reported al-Qaeda attacks since their martyr’s death have occurred in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan. But – apparently – it is us who should be fearful. 

The only answer – as ever – remains that we must get out of the Middle East. Take our troops, our tanks, our Apache helicopters and leave. What excuse would al-Zawahiri and his cronies have then? When al-Zawahiri speaks of aspirations to free the Muslim world, what better way to belittle him than by actually granting him his wish and ending this preposterous "war on terror"? The Arab awakening has highlighted how a peaceful mass has the potential to topple corrupt regimes. Mubarak and Ben Ali can certainly vouch for that. Al-Qaeda has been demeaned by this concept. Their methods have been proven ineffective in comparison to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. And any right-minded Muslim can see that.

Author: Scott A. Hill

Scott Hill is an independent journalist from Bedfordshire, UK. He specializes in domestic and global politics and is inspired by the writings of Robert Fisk, John Pilger, and Christopher Hitchens.