Monday, July 7, 2008
OBL...over and out?
Sana’a, Yemen---Credible assessment or wishful thinking?

Just after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden was arguably at his most menacing. His words and warnings were always breaking news as the world sized up every syllable, looking for the next threat.

Fast-forward to Bin Laden’s latest audio message a few weeks ago and his statements were merely reported and catalogued, hardly treated as major news. According to a credible collection of opinion from an array of security analysts and authors, Bin Laden’s core appeal may finally be unravelling. 

Paul Cruickshank and Peter Bergen recently wrote in the New Republic that there was a “rising tide of anger in the Islamic world toward Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose victims since September 11 have mostly been fellow Muslims” adding, “Al Qaeda’s new critics have the jihadist credentials to make their criticisms bite”

It is the kind of claim that can easily be interpreted as naïve or contrived. But on a on a recent trip to Yemen, the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family, the adulation of Bin Laden had been replaced by cynicism and doubt.

As one young student put it, “he kills innocent people who can’t be blamed, like what he did with the twin towers. Maybe if he wanted to declare war against America or Israel than he might find support but he uses unacceptable methods like killing innocent people” he told us on the streets of Sana’a ancient city centre.

Make no mistake, certain causes do resonate with young people in Yemen, especially ones that are anti-American and anti-Israel. But Bin Laden and Al Qaeda seem to have lost their deft skill at tapping into that anger and grievance and turning it into a terrorist advantage.

In an interview with CNN, Cruikshank said “ this is not the Pentagon line going out about what’s going or the CIA line going out about what’s going on- this analysis comes from people within Jihadist movement themselves. One senior ex-Jihadist told me in five years Al Qaeda will be finished.”

Abdullah Anas considered Bin Laden a friend and fellow freedom fighter when the pair were battling the Soviets in Afghanistan. He believes America’s war on terror actually helped keep Al Qaeda in business, “this organisation have got a very good gift, after 9/11 and after the occupation of Iraq so they were recruiting people as freedom fighters, ” says Anas.

But he adds, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are now being deprived of these potent recruiting opportunities. More and more he says, Muslims are realizing that Al Qaeda cannot address any real grievances they may have.

“This organisation is not popular in the Arab world, it’s not popular in the Islamic world,” says Anas.

The problem is that all this analysis may not mean much when it comes to Al Qaeda’s operational ability to launch a terrorist strike. They still have thousands of militant sympathizers and powerful affiliates all over the world. What is significant is that this challenge to Bin Laden’s doctrine is coming from within the Muslim community, not from his enemies. It is a challenge coming from credible voices within Islam.

One shouldn’t be too optimistic though and interpret this to mean that any of us are any safer from terrorist attack. As Daniel Kimmage author of “The Al Qaeda Media Nexus" recently noted to CNN that the iconic and very media savvy image of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is still at the heart of its message,

“This is their presence, this is their way of saying we are still here. But bear in mind there is an increasing disparity between the very grand claims they make to change the world and the fact that they are increasingly a media presence.”

That might give Bin Laden and Al Qaeda even more incentive to make good on some of their ‘grand claims’ to change the world and take jihad to civilians across Europe and North America.

By Paula Newton, International Security Correspondent


Al Qaeda's lessening popularity among the Islamic community is a good sign, but must be taken with a grain of salt. I truly believe that the only way to combat Islamic extremism is for the moderate Muslims of the world to stand up and take their religion back from those who have attempted to hijack it. Fortunately for the world Al Qaeda has been unable to deliver on many of their promises. In addition, their attacks have been less focused on the West and more on fellow Muslims. Time is truly not on Al Qaeda's side. The more of it that goes by, the obvious it becomes to Muslims that Al Qaeda is all bark and no bite, and what little bite it has is directed towards fellow Muslims. The less influence Al Qaeda has on radical Islam the better it is for the world. (These are the opinions of the author and not the US Army, Department of Defense, or US Government.)
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