[A-List] US imperialism: unsustainable
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Mar 25 06:02:41 MST 2004
'Al-Qaeda has got it wrong'
By Ritt Goldstein
Asia Times, March 26 2004
A recently released Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided document
affords some remarkably critical and militant Islamic perspectives on the
"war on terror". Highlighting the unique nature of the document's
perspective, it addresses an analysis of al-Qaeda's efforts by al-Jama'ah
al-Islamiyah, a faction which is designated by the US State Department as a
terrorist organization. The fact of the document's release by the CIA speaks
volumes about its interest.
Providing an equally surprising parallel, in December the US Defense
Department's Strategic Studies Institute released a report describing the
objectives of the Bush administration's war efforts as "politically,
fiscally and militarily unsustainable". Al-Jama'ah observed essentially the
same of al-Qaeda. And according to the CIA translation, al-Jama'ah argues
that al-Qaeda "entangled the Muslim nation in a conflict that was beyond its
power to wage".
Al-Jama'ah is Egypt's largest Salafist group on the US terror list,
allegedly complicit in the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center, as
well as numerous acts of violence within Egypt. Their goal has been stated
as the removal of secular government and restoration of an Islamist state.
The group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, was convicted for
his alleged Trade Center bombing role by a US court.
The militant Egyptian Salafist groups are reportedly Islam's oldest, tracing
their roots to the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, five years
after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The encroachment of Western secularism
spawned the Brotherhood, but al-Jama'ah's activity dates from the 1970s.
Islamic Jihad, Egypt's other major Salafist group on the terror list, was
reportedly responsible for the assassination of the late Egyptian president
Anwar Sadat. Ayman al-Zawahiri, now allegedly Osama bin Laden's second in
command, was reportedly one of Islamic Jihad's two leaders. Al-Qaeda itself
is sometimes referred to as a militant Salafist group.
The CIA's original document appeared as an Arabic-language review of a book
by al-Jama'ah's leadership, their work entitled: "The Strategy and Bombings
of al-Qaeda". It was published by the influential and Saudi-owned London
daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat.
Footnoting this, al-Sharq al-Awsat is known for publishing material that
coincides with Saudi perspectives. And Salafist is a term which many of the
Wahhabi denomination of Sunni Islam use to describe themselves, Wahhabism
being the strict branch of Islam most often associated with Saudi Arabia.
But in 1997, al-Jama'ah's leadership reportedly began an initiative to end
violence. Their present writings intimate that a policy of confrontation fed
anti-Islamic currents within the US, shifting America away from a policy of
Islamic accommodation when it suited US objectives.
"The official religion of the United States is its interests," note the
authors. They also see the US pursuing an opportunity for "hegemony on the
world, global sovereignty, and decisive victory over all rivals".
Their text is noteworthy for its illustration of perceptions within the
militant segment of the Islamic community. Al-Jama'ah doesn't take exception
to al-Qaeda's motivations, but does to their methods and strategy, al
Qaeda's giving "preference to the logic of defiance over the principle of
The authors blame anti-US violence (including the Trade Center bombing) for
casting Islam as "the green peril". They portray a shift in US perception as
transpiring during the period when America was attempting to define its "new
enemy" following the Cold War.
Particularly singled out as evidence of this American development are the
works of Francis Fukuyama The End of History and Samuel Huntington (The
Clash of Civilizations). However, the authors pointed out that even during
this period, the US sought an accommodation with the Taliban, demonstrating
"the supremacy of the US self-serving logic on US strategy". But
concurrently the authors saw an al-Qaeda policy of confrontation lead to the
foregoing of unique opportunities that may never recur.
According to the text, because of US geostrategic (oil and gas) interests,
the Taliban were offered "US$3 billion as a free grant and $300 million
annually in return for leasing the pipeline transporting natural gas from
the Caspian" to Pakistan. This was in reference to the trans-Afghan pipeline
the US had long desired.
Al-Jama'ah cites Islamic history to make the point that mutually
advantageous accommodation is not sacrilegious.
The authors note that instead of the assets and stability the proposed
pipeline revenue held for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, there have instead
been substantive setbacks for the global Islamic community. The siege
al-Qaeda is under, as well as the increased pressures on those who are
fighting traditional struggles of liberation, were seen as but one part of a
much broader fallout. Particular note is given to the extreme nature of
September 11, and the West's reaction to it.
The texts describe al-Qaeda's perspective as a uniquely Afghan one. Notably,
it was the US which had cultivated the philosophy of uncompromising jihad as
a tool against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the Cold War. In those days
the people who are today's al-Qaeda were then integral parts of America's
anti-Soviet engine in Afghanistan.
Through US urging, even mosques throughout global Islam were encouraged to
call for volunteers in the anti-Soviet, Afghan jihad. Egypt is reported to
have provided facilities for their training. But while these jihadis may
have switched enemies, their unbending methodology remained the same.
Al-Jama'ah intimated that while al-Qaeda's late 1990s creation of the
Islamic World Front to Combat Christians, Jews and Americans may have been
pure in ideology and motive, it represented an unrealistic overreach which
succeeded only in "enraging and antagonizing the enemy". The authors see a
key result of this in US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's later
promise to "liberate the Muslim world". The perceived threat this represents
to the "values and traditions of the Muslim culture" is highlighted as very
Alternately, strong concerns are raised that Islam must avoid the "trap of
clash of civilizations", instead pursuing a policy of "interaction".
Simultaneously advocated is "maintaining the Muslim identity and defending
and struggling against any attack on the principles of Sharia [Islamic law]
and the supreme interests of our faith, homelands, and nation".
The interpretation of Rice's remarks provides a reflection on the position
voiced by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on September 26, 2001. At
the time Berlusconi voiced that he foresaw the West as "bound to
occidentalize and conquer new people". While al-Jama'ah argues that a
Western religious crusade exists "only in the imagination of those who make
such a claim", they condemn al-Qaeda's strategy for inciting "Christian
currents that are hostile to Islam".
The authors see al-Qaeda's strategy as influencing concerns of the US
fundamentalist Christian right, precipitating an alliance with elements of
the Jewish right, culminating in Israel's advantage and what they perceive
as a campaign couched as "backing persecuted minorities in the world". The
reality they perceive though is a US strategy of intervention "under the
pretext of defending democracy and the human rights ... and combating
terrorism". They pointedly add that the thrust of this is to "impose US
hegemony on the whole world".
As the idea of the Bush administration potentially seeking to enfranchise
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ites has been recently floated,
it's noteworthy to recall that Saudi Shi'ites are concentrated in the
segment of the country where the oil fields are.
Evaluating the benefits al-Qaeda received via its widely spread front of
hostilities, al-Jama'ah notes that while the Soviets were militarily and
socially exhausted in Afghanistan, the breadth of America's global presence
already provided sufficient, less provocative opportunities for this. They
also argue that America's overriding interest is oil, and that unlike in
Vietnam or Somalia, the US is prepared to accept substantive casualties to
assure its "oil hegemony".
Translating out the thrust of the text's criticism, flexibility is much of
its essence. Al-Jama'ah accuses al-Qaeda and others within the Islamic
militant community of failing to go beyond a path "of force only", adding
that "rigid reliance on one single strategy does not bring the flexibility
that is needed to attain the aspired goals".
A failure in determining the requisite priorities for successful
confrontation is subsequently emphasized. According to al-Jama'ah, "Al-Qaeda
built its strategy without a sound arrangement of the priorities and without
taking into consideration the limitations of its capabilities."
Providing more than a slight sense of paradox, the US Defense Department's
Strategic Studies Institute report observed the same problem with the Bush
Striking a tone similar to al-Jama'ah's criticism of al-Qaeda's World Front,
a report entitled "Bounding The Global War On Terrorism" faulted the Bush
administration for subordinating "strategic clarity to the moral clarity".
In so doing, the administration is said to have placed the United States on
a "course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate
entities that pose no serious threat".
Paralleling the faulting of al-Qaeda's goals, the Strategic Studies report
found that the majority of the "war on terror's" "declared objectives",
objectives repeatedly articulated by the administration as the basis for the
war's prosecution, "are unrealistic and condemn the United States to a
Notably, a 1999 Pentagon report prepared for the highest levels of the US
defense community had warned: "The danger ahead lies not only in the adverse
international trends that are unfolding, but also in the risk that the US
government may not understand them."
* Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist based in
Stockholm. His work has appeared in broadsheets such as Australia's Sydney
Morning Herald, Spain's El Mundo and Denmark's Politiken, as well as with
the Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.
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