Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Evolution of al Qaeda

This article in today's Los Angeles Times says what a number of analysts have been telling us for some time, but it is well worth reading nonetheless--particularly for those who haven't read what the terrorism experts have been saying. Here's the lede:

Authorities have made little progress worldwide in defeating Islamic extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda despite thwarting attacks and arresting high-profile figures, according to interviews with intelligence and law enforcement officials and outside experts.

The story goes on to state, "Since the loss of its base in Afghanistan and many of those leaders [who previously directed operations], the organization has dispersed its operatives and reemerged as a lethal ideological movement."

Richard A. Clarke, in Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (p. 263), reports that, following 9/11, he urged those who asked him what to read on the terrorist threat to watch a movie instead. The movie he recommended, Gillo Pontecorvo's classic The Battle of Algiers, recounts the French failure to understand--and challenge--the ideological foundations of the Algerian terrorists. Clarke writes (p. 262), "The second agenda item post-September 11 [after improving homeland security] should have been the creation of a counterweight ideology to the al Qaeda, fundamentalist, radical version of Islam because much of the threat we face is ideological, a perversion of a religion."

The United States is still not countering the Islamist ideology effectively. The ideological nature of the threat is something we must address, particularly as it becomes more and more apparent that al Qaeda is undergoing a transformation from terrorist organization to terrorist inspiration.