Re: More from Friedman


I've always taken their words at face value -- namely, that their goal is to inspire a global jihad against the West with the long-term hope of overthrowing the corrupt dictatorships in Islam's holy places and re-establishing the glory of an Islamic empire which will stretch from the Iberian peninsula to Indonesia, all under the control of the Caliph.

Crazy stuff, but no crazier than our own right-wing paramilitary groups or white supremacist terrorists here (Tim McVeigh and the like).

Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:33 AM
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Also, Friedman's engaging his usual infuriating habit of referring to "the Muslim world" as if it were, say, a guy. When really it is as complex and diverse a group as what we refer to as "the Western world".

Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:34 AM
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Don't they have editors at the Times?

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:35 AM
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Philosophers might like John Gray's little primer, Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern. But more rigorously, perhaps, Jason Burke's Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam.

Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:37 AM
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I also have no confidence that I understand what they're up to. And I expect that the motivations of those running the operations are very different from those of the people carrying them out.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:41 AM
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4 implies that the taste of philosophers runs towards the non-rigorous. Thems fightin' words.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:42 AM
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Re (5): this terrifies me. I don't know why the London bombings made this seem so much more urgent, but, damn, we're so dumb sometimes.

Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:44 AM
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6: Sorry, not quite what I meant.

Gray's is a strictly philosophical discussion of what he understands as modern radical Islam and its antecedents, based on his reading of the Western-educated cleric, whose name presently escapes me, whom he regards as the key figure on modern Al Qaeda thought. So, an intellectual history if you like, and intellectually rigorous then.

Burke's book is more a reported and analyzed, facts as we know them, method and structure as we know them, kind of affair. So, more rigorously attuned to modern available data.

Different kinds of rigor, you see.

Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:47 AM
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I've tried to research the subject a little and it is very frustrating. I suppose it is the fog of war or fog of history. Many things do not become clear until after the fact.

I have my own ideas on things but they are not better informed than anyone else's. In may ways we are like those in the tsunami getting swept along inland fighting the currents to stay alive. We will only find out later the pressure that built up to produce the underwater landslide that produced the wave which is rushing us forward.

Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:51 AM
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I wish there were a book out there that could explain what he means by something becoming flat.

Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 11:10 AM
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Like a beginner's guide to al Qaeda and related Islamic terrorism?

The Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.

Posted by: J | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 11:19 AM
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Or have we, like Montezuma, imposed our own inadequate categories on an event that simply does not fit them?

That implies al Queda is doing something never seen before. The Assassins did exactly this kind of stuff, back in the day. (Although their mountainous base and hideouts were based around Lake Van in Turkey.)

Yet, if 9-11 was not an act of war, then what was it?

Killing people and blowing shit up.

In what follows, I would like to pursue a line suggested by a remark by the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in reference to 9-11: his much-quoted comment that it was "the greatest work of art of all time."

Walter Mathau, paraquoted: 'It's a large corporation, a huge corporation, a wealthy corporation, but not neccessarily a GREAT corporation.'

Nonetheless, he's on to something. They favor low-tech weapons, they're adept at recruiting suiciders, they are heavily focused on Western finances. They have a fetish for transport targets in particular, with embassies and ships in ports as sidelines. Another words, they like targets with loose security and lots of people. Preferably with maximum media exposure.

They are not focusing on military or political targets, they are not optimizing for a high number of kills. They always warn the country being attacked in advance, and their statements are repetitive (god, I've read enough of them). They want current Islamic governments dead, they want the west out of Muslim countries.

I think the term fascist is partly correct at least: they accept Marx's observations, without agreeing with his conclusions, and are trying to merge that with traditional hardcore (Sunni) Islamic beliefs. (viz Mussolini.)

Their tactics are not war tactics per se, which is one reason to suspect that most if not almost all fighters in Iraq are not primarily al Queda. Or I should say, they aren't following standard guerilla tactics. They're inclined instead towards the kinds of tactics that were popular with european leftists in the 70's, with the small modification that they aren't acting and then issuing demands. They're issuing demands and then launching lethal attacks.

Very theatrical. Very skilled at target selection. They're trying to 'radicalize the masses' rather than trying to bodily throw out the capitalist oppressors.

So I don't think it is far off to think of them as (Islamic) theatre majors gone really bad.

If we're misinterpreting 9/11 it's because neither they nor we had expected that particular result. It had occurred to them to attack the building, and it occurred to them to use airplanes to do it (per their planes, trains, and automobiles fetish) but it didn't occur to them OR us that you could take a coupla hundred thousand pounds of jet fuel and light off a giant Coleman stove in the sky. And that it could actually collapse a building. Nobody had ever thought it through. So that was a surprise. And the surprising success created the surprising (to them) reaction. They weren't expecting us to hit back like that, because they didn't think they would succeed well enough to piss us off that badly. They're not trying to inflict megadeath, they're trying to get us wasting time swatting bees (or wasps or ants) until we finally decide being in the middle of that field is not worth the hassle.

CNN/Fox/BBC Theatre of Terror 3000.

Aside from that, however, I still think people are overlooking how much, um, sustenance they are drawing from Pakistan and its security services.

The Al Qaeda threat has metastasized and become franchised. It is no longer vertical, something that we can punch in the face. It is now horizontal, flat and widely distributed, operating through the Internet and tiny cells.

Bah. There is still a core providing inspiration and direction. The stars in a galaxy may all be be individually heading in different directions, but collectively they still orbit the core.


['If Friedman believes it, it's probably wrong.']

Posted by: ash | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 10:37 PM
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Recently baa linked to this article in Policy Review arguing that it's a mistake to think of al Qaeda as having clear political goals and using terrorist tactics as instruments to achieve them:

I forgot. I've seen that article a number of times, and basically, it's a piece of shit. Without going into the 5000 words needed to describe exactly how (I worked them up many moons ago, but I've slept since then) and why it's a piece of shit, let me simply say that if you skip into the piece a ways, you'll see that 'fantasy ideology' is an ultra-elastic term that means whatever it needs to mean for the author to make his argument at any given point in the article. Labeling al Queda as fantasists is a way of ignoring what they are actually saying and doing, and attributing to them a bunch of bogus inclinations that allows the author to urge his preferred set of actions. Psychoanalysis to order.

Not to mention, it is instructive to read the article keeping in mind that when the author talks about al Queda having a fantasy ideology, he's actually talking about himself and his fantasy ideology.


['In fact, the entire article is recursive. And when examed like that, it disappears up its own ass.'']

Posted by: ash | Link to this comment | 07- 8-05 11:13 PM
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slightly off topic, this article may be of help (though it is from a source i normally do not put much credence).

Posted by: larrybob | Link to this comment | 07- 9-05 12:10 PM
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