[A-List] Palestine: accumulating blowback
michael011 at fastmail.fm
Thu Jun 21 01:48:23 MDT 2007
The west has created fertile ground for al-Qaida's growth
The occupation and obstruction of peace has helped to pave the way for
this terrifying new presence in Palestine
Thursday June 21, 2007
It seems that al-Qaida's dream is on its way to turning into reality. At
last it has found a foothold on the Palestinian scene. Witness the
kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by the al-Qaida
affiliated Jaish al-Islam 100 days ago yesterday, and the heated battles
in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida
sympathisers Fatah al-Islam over the past month. And with Gaza and the
West Bank sliding further into anarchy, with Hamas and Fatah turning on
each other after a year of crushing siege, this new presence can only
Since declaring jihad in 1998, al-Qaida has aspired to acquire the
legitimacy of representing the Palestinian cause, well aware of its rich
symbolism within the Arab and Islamic collective conscience. Ever since
the eruption of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948, Palestine has offered
vital legitimacy to a great many political movements and regimes, from
nationalist Nassirites and Ba'athists to liberals and Islamists. It is
this moral authority that gave the late Yasser Arafat the status he
enjoyed not only among Palestinians, but across the Arab world and
Palestine is the mirror in which the Arab political scene is reflected.
Fatah was an expression of the rise of the left and nationalism; Hamas
of the shift towards political Islam. And that is precisely why events
in Gaza and Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps today should not be
taken lightly. They are ominous harbingers of what could lie ahead. When
Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri issued their "Jihad
against Jews and Crusaders" statement on February 28 1998, responses to
their declaration varied from apathy to amusement. They were an obscure
group lost in the faraway emirate of the Taliban, a pathetic remnant of
the fight against the USSR during the cold war. Their role looked
historically defunct and their discourse archaic.
Things could not be more different now. Al-Qaida has become an intensely
complex global network, with a decentralised, flexible structure that
enables it to spread in all directions, across the Arab world, Africa,
Asia and Europe. Whether pursuing active cells or searching for sleeping
ones, the security world is haunted by al-Qaida's ghost. Like bubbles,
these cells are autonomous, bound together neither by hierarchy nor by a
chain of command. It only takes a few individuals who subscribe to its
ideology and terrorist methods for al-Qaida to extend its reach to a new
part of the globe.
With the Middle East moving from one crisis to another, this small
organisation saw itself miraculously transferred from periphery to
centre. In its founding statement, al-Qaida defined its mission as a
jihad aimed at cleansing the Arabian peninsula of the American "locusts,
eating its riches and wiping out its plantations", and liberating
Palestinian land from Zionist occupation. With the invasion of Iraq in
2003, al-Qaida was offered a firm foothold in the Middle East and the
unique chance to implement its "resistance against Jews and crusaders"
The organisation's penetration of Palestinian politics is the climax of
a long, still unfolding process. Rapidly expanding from one location to
another, al-Qaida currently boasts branches throughout the Arab region.
These developments are worrying not only from the point of view of
ruling governments and their western allies, but from that of mainstream
Islamic movements too. The defeat of Nasserite nationalism in 1967 saw
these movements turn into the principal active players on the political
map. Nationalist demands and aspirations of liberation of Palestine,
independence from foreign dominance, and sovereignty over resources,
began to be spoken with an Islamic voice, in a region where the national
and the Islamic have always been intimately intertwined.
With the severe restrictions imposed on them by their western-backed
governments and the evaporation of American promises of reform and
democratisation, this "democratic Islam" currently finds itself in the
grip of a crisis. The greatest beneficiary is al-Qaida. In the Middle
East, its battles are fought on two fronts: against "traitor" regimes
and their western backers on the one hand, and against popular Islamist
oppositions deemed "deviant from the true path of jihad" on the other.
In a speech recently broadcast on the al-Jazeera satellite channel,
al-Zawahiri scolded Hamas for straying from the path of resistance by
participating in the political process.
Events on the ground give further credibility to al-Zawahiri's words.
Arabs have watched with horror as Palestinians have been severely
punished for their electoral choices, isolated, starved, and propelled
towards the bottomless pit of internecine feuding. The message from
Washington and London seemed to be: don't bother with the ballot box -
only through bombings and violence is change possible. Between
occupation and obstruction of peaceful change, the US is creating the
ideal environment for al-Qaida to flourish, the product of a sick
geopolitics and a deformed view of the region and its needs.
But one thing is certain: the smoke rising from Nahr al-Barid's ruined
camp will not be the last the region will see, and the flames will not
stop at the Middle East's borders, or consume its people alone.
· Soumaya Ghannoushi is director of research at IslamExpo
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