Monday, August 08, 2005

The new Al Qaeda: causes and consequences

According to this AP article, terrorism experts have declared that the old Al Qaeda is morphing into a new entity, one that is less centralized and relies on homegrown malcontents:

These experts, who include a pioneer in personality profiling, say al-Qaida, always loosely knit, is mutating into satellites that attract local operatives bound by disenchantment with the Western societies in which they grew up. It is no longer a hierarchy with Osama bin Laden calling the shots, they say.

"Al-Qaida version 1.0 is functionally dead," said Jerrold Post, a founding director of the CIA's Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. "Al-Qaida version 2.0 is almost more an ideology. ... It's an adaptive organization responding to a crisis."...

With its founding fathers in hiding, and dozens of key operatives under watch, al-Qaida has changed. No longer considered capable of large transnational attacks, it is taking advantage of people who don't have to cross borders, receive cash from abroad or engage in other international transactions that might alert authorities, said Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corp.

"We are now dealing with many little al-Qaidas with the potential of neighborhood al-Qaidas," Jenkins said. "They may not be able to carry out specialized operations ... but they can still operate at a lethal level."...

Somehow the image of the broomsticks in "Fantasia" comes to mind.

But here is the part that really caught my eye:

The new al-Qaida is finding fertile ground for recruits, particularly among the children of Europe's immigrants, Post said.

"Diaspora communities are the main resources for this global jihad," Post told The Associated Press. "(Their families) left for a better life, but they really have not been able to fully integrate with the recipient societies that they have immigrated to."

Unlike the United States, where immigrants usually come to stay, many of Europe's Muslims came to make money, then return home, said Olivier Roy, the French author of "Globalized Islam." Because of this and other factors, it has taken them longer to assimilate — adding to their sense of alienation.

"The second generation in America has been taken into the American mainstream, while in Europe there is a tendency to lag behind in social mobility," Roy said.

So, the US is doing something right compared to Europe? The promise of America is not an empty one, after all? Our relative openness and tolerance may mean that we will reap the benefit in practical ways, too, by having a smaller pool of angry Moslem residents and citizens from which the terrorists can draw their new footsoldiers.

This is not to say that it can't happen here. Of course it can; that much is obvious. But this news still seems to be a marginally encouraging sign in terms of the US, and an extremely discouraging and troubling one in terms of Europe.

A personal note: I traveled to England for the first time in 1978. I was looking forward to it, and mostly it was a great trip. But over and over while I was there I noticed a level of racial and ethnic anger that was extraordinary.

Up until that time, I had lived almost all of my life in large cities that were racially and ethnically mixed--mostly New York, but with lengthy stints in Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. But never in all those years had I seen anything remotely approaching the ethnic strife I noticed almost immediately during my English stay. Almost every day I was there I witnessed some racially charged incident/altercation--on the streets, in shops, and particularly on the underground. A great deal of screaming, carrying on, and just plain rudeness was glimpsed almost every time I went out, and these didn't seem to be minor incidents, either.

The level of anger felt almost dangerously high. It was a tremendous contrast to the image I had held of England prior to my visit, and I didn't know what to make of it at the time. But I noted it. In retrospect, I think it was the result of this relative lack of assimilation and opportunity, both in England and elsewhere in Europe (I don't have any personal experience of what it's been like there more recently, since I haven't been back to England since).

So, perhaps (note my caution) this explains at least part of the reason that the US has not experienced a major terror attack since 9/11. If Al Qaeda is no longer a hierarchical global organization intent on spectacular attacks, and Europe is now the place where members are best recruited, and the international cooperation of authorities to curb the free international movement of terrorist suspects has improved to the point where such mobility is impeded--well then, it would stand to reason attacks in Europe would be easier at the moment than attacks here.

Note also that, in the quotes I cited, terrorism expert Jerrold Post mentions that the families of these new recruits left their original countries "for a better life." That certainly is true economically speaking. But it's clear from the next paragraph, which states they come to make money and then go home, that part of the assimilation problem is that the immigrants in question are not looking to assimilate, or even to stay for long. They are looking to get what they can, keep their culture and belief system intact, and then leave with their earnings and return to their original countries.

People who emigrate with that sort of attitude assimilate only in spite of themselves, not because they are trying to. Of course, if their children are well integrated into the mainstream of society, it's the children who usually end up assimilating, whether the parents like it or not. But in this case, sometimes it's the children who are failing to assimilate and are becoming the new "neighborhood" Al Qaeda members.

One more thing: Post is quoted as saying, "Diaspora communities are the main resources for this global jihad." An ironic, although common, use of the word "diaspora;" here is the actual derivation and definition of the term.


At 11:44 AM, August 08, 2005, Blogger karrde said...

It's curious, neo, that I had been picking my way to some of these conclusions myself--occaionally helped by military bloggers who left comments on my posts.

Essentially, my conclusion was that the AQ branch/affiliate/co-belligerents in England were homegrown, underfunded, and did not plan very far ahead.

Of course, they did have encouaragement, help, and possibly funding from abroad. At least two of the 7-July attackers had travelled together to a known terrorist-haven in the Middle East in the past year.

The image of the walking brooms from Fantasia does raise a problem. Instead of a 9/11-level attack every year, we might get what the Londoners got this July. Such a style might eventually lead to a "death by a thousand cuts".

At 1:47 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

We see cells of ELF at work and to a lesser extent ALF using the same tactics - isolated, underfunded, small, unknown but willing to act with no real outside control

At 6:43 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Non sequitur mode on: "They are looking to get what they can, keep their culture and belief system intact, and then leave with their earnings and return to their original countries."

Exactly what is most worrisome about the influx from Mexico. They work hard, repatriate much of their earnings, hold no motor vehicle insurance, duck many criminal charges, receive social services, and maintain loyalty mot just to Mexico, but to Guanajuato, Michoacan, half a hundred other cities and states. It's not quite looting, but it's a grossly unbalanced exchange. A former governor of Colorado (Dick Lamm) calculated recently that the illegals in that state cost it $2 billion per year.
Non sequitur mode off.

At 11:51 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

The splintering of a cohesive unit into many occurred in the '60s in Europe as well. Has something to do with the difficulties of supply/communication when underground--and to me indicates weakness.

The splinter groups were often stranger and most lethal the original: one young German radical visited her father's best friend, a bank president ("pig"), at his office and shot him several times in the face as he greeted her.

At 12:45 AM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a trip to Europe two years ago, I didn't notice any racially charged incidents...however it did seem to me that those of Middle Eastern descent occupied a very similar economic niche to Latino/a immigrants in the US: largely doing low skill, low paying jobs that permanent residents of the countries I visited did not want to do. However, the analogy fails because Latina/o immigrants here haven't started forming terror cells and blowing themselves up.

At 7:06 AM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Europe is a potential powderkeg. The talk is of assimilation,but I wonder to what degree immigrants and Muslims especially want to assimilate. As for alienation it can work both ways. A lot of Europeans are beginning to resent immigrants. We have no coherent immigration policy in this country and our borders are a sieve. No president since LBJ has really addressed immigration policy and we stand to reap the whirlwind.

At 8:33 AM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Neo,

You said in the article that America might be more tolerant than Europe - thus resulting in the situation that Rand outlined.

So what do you mean by tolerant?

Do you mean that America is more tolerant of conservative social attitudes? So it doesn't push hedonistic/pluralistic attitudes into the face of the socially conservative Muslims?

Do you mean that America is tolerant of the business culture which finds jobs for these immigrants so that they have some interaction with americans in a day to day working setting?

Or do you mean that America is relatively intolerant of people who don't work, so immigrants can't be on government support indefinitely - which forces them into the wider world of work and American culture?

If that is your definition of 'tolerant', you are making a large break with modern progressive thought, which defines tolerance far different than that.

James (didn't feal like getting a login)
Denver, CO

At 8:42 AM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

neo- your comment about your '78 visit to England made me think again about an incident I witnessed while visiting London in 1985.
I was having dinner with some friends in an upscale Indian restaurant and suddenly a scene broke out at the restaurant entrance. The waitstaff produced long wooden poles and appeared to be fending off an attack from a group of people on the sidewalk.
I never knew what actually happened but I remember thnking how strange to see waiters in a nice restaurant angerly brandishing long wooden poles. As I recall, one of the big socio-economic issues in England circa mid 80s concerned the miners and the closing of mines. Perhaps ethnic tensions were prevelant too.

At 10:14 AM, August 09, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...

Making a break with "progressive" thought has been going on for awhile, hasn't it? I love Leftie-speak. It morphs into Orwellian shapes so smooothly. "Liberal" was simply eradicated.

Howard Dean is a liberal to me. Progressives are a label, like Nike. And it's still pro-abortion, not pro-choice. And anti-abortion, for that matter.

Neo, I posted a long screed on the Left and on anatomy as destiny, riffing on the p.c. creed:

Guess What?Anatomy is Destiny

It has some sad and disturbing news.

At 11:12 AM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in San Antonio, Texas. The majority of our citizens are Mexican-Americans. This is the first large city in Texas after you cross the border, so we get a bunch of illegal aliens. I don’t mind them but I’m one of those anglos that treasures the bicultural aspect of living here. You can walk in many parts of our city & not be able to tell them from Mexico. Some would be resentful but for me it makes things more interesting. The aliens are no more of a drain on the social services of this city than are the citizens – I’m sure that also extrapolates to the state & national level. They would pay taxes if given the chance. Here we will always have a large Latino ethnic component because we live next to Mexico & there will always be that influx from the Mother. I will always be able to hear Spanish when I walk downtown & I can have a great lunch of enchiladas verdes at the Picante Grill for 5 bucks. Cuando los hombres are borracho on the 4th of July & see the fireworks rise high & burst over Fort Sam Houston they yell & laugh & fire sus pistolas in the air. They do the work no one else will touch. They serve us, clean us, nail our houses together. They are not bitter because of this. They do the work that when they are through for the day they are covered with dust, mud, blood & shit. There are no harder workers. Their children become our finest & bravest. I like the situation we have now with the Mexican aliens – the porridge is not too hot or too cold; the porridge is just right. It’s sad that the English & the Islamics cannot know this, cannot have this relationship, cannot have more depth in their life together.

At 11:33 AM, August 09, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

Anonymous, your version of modern progressive thought is but one school of thought and not at the forefront of everyday life, far from it. In fact, it is pretty much an artifact bantered about by Sociologists and neo-Marxists more as a last gasp than as any serious vehicle of sociopolitical change. The civilized world has about fully realized that fundamentalist islam cannot coexist within said borders, and it is fast becoming a race to decide how to sort the wheat from the chaff. In the extreme, people like me will not tolerate their presence at all, but whereas I will and do abide by the Laws of the land I am in, they of the extreme in the fundamentalist camp have repeatedly chosen not to abide by such Laws, i.e. their multitude of attacks against civilized societies going back a number of years.

At 2:14 PM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Read Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" to get a picture of Muslim's in London. There is a character in there from Bangladesh who is a Muslim. He raises his kids in London and they reject his Islam for Western lifestyles, except that one of them eventually rejects the Western lifestyle and becomes a fundamentalist Muslim, even berating his father for not being devout enough. The book was published in 2000, but this part of the story sounds a lot like the London bombers' stories.

As for my London experience, I was there the last two summers and didn't feel the tension you describe. However, the place is pretty socially stratified, much like a lot of big Western cities. The housekeeping staff at the hotel were Bolivian women, the waiters and waitresses were all Polish, the bartenders were white South Africans, the cab drivers were white and black working class Britons. I'm exaggerating a little, but it was as if white middle class London was drinking fancy cocktails in trendy clubs and floating above this sea of workers from almost everywhere but Britain.

At 6:00 PM, August 10, 2005, Blogger Bookworm said...

Regarding Al Qaeda's morphing into a less tight, coherent unit, into a magnet for generalized discontent from Muslims: George Friedman, of Stratfor, commented on this phenomenom last year. His point was that this is actually a sign of Al Qaeda's weakening. Al Qaeda's strength lay in the fact that it was an extraordinarily small, mobile, well-trained and impenetrable organization. Every Al Qaeda member knew every other one, making it impossible to plant spies, and they all knew what they were doing. That this tight core has mostly been destroyed, and that Al Qaeda needs to look elsewhere probably affects its ability to carry out effective attacks. Think of the 7/21 bombings -- Al Qaeda now tries to say they were just warning, but they were almost certainly a bumbling effort by fairweather bombers, who lack the know-how that characterized Al Qaeda's earlier efforts. Where AP sees a global threat, I see a weakening (albeit still deadly) organization.

At 10:46 PM, August 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Goesh,

I guess I understand the unreality of progressive theory. But I also think that many European governments still live by those theories, even if they can't completely remember what they are, and couldn't defend them if required to do so.

Successful philosophical systems seem to go through several stages. Theory building, followed by popularization, followed by political power, followed by decline. The progressive system appears to have gone through the steps in the last 100 years or so.

By the time decline sets in, most of the members of the movement can't seem to remember what the theory was in the first place. But that doesn't stop me from pointing out when someone casually destroys the theoretical framework without really trying. For some strange reason, I think these instances are significant. But maybe they're not.


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