What If We Win?
The Al Qaeda has been hit hard by a number of arrests radiating from the
capture of their communications
post in Pakistan. The capture of 25-year old Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, who
used the Internet to speed messages between terrorist cells led to the rollup of
major cells in Europe and possibly Saudi
Arabia. The Christian
Science Monitor summarizes what is publicly known.
The capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghaliani, a Tanzanian indicted by the US for
his role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, and a Pakistani
computer expert identified as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, provided US
intelligence agents with their greatest leads, reports the AP. Maps,
photographs and other details of possible targets in the US and Britain were
found on computers belonging to Mr. Ghailani.
As a result of his arrest in Pakistan, Mr. Khan was "forced to take
part in an undercover 'sting' operation to help the authorities in Britain and
the US track down key Al Qaeda agents," reports the Times of London.
The terrorist cell architecture revealed by the arrests has proved
surprisingly shallow. The European head of Al Qaeda was said to have received
his orders directly
from Osama Bin Laden through Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. "The key
Pakistani operative has been identified as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. He is
believed to have been in direct contact with Abu Eisa (the AQ European head)
about plans for an attack at Heathrow, the busiest airport in the world. Khan is
believed to have traveled to Britain at least six times in recent years and is a
said to be a link between European cells and Osama bin Laden."
Collateral confirmation of the extent of the penetration came indirectly with
of Faris al-Zahrani, described as a top Al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia, who had
until Khan's arrest eluded security officials. "Both suspects were detained
'swiftly and efficiently' and were not able to use the weapons they were
carrying, the Saudi press agency added. Al-Zahrani was No. 12 on the kingdom's
list of 26 most-wanted terror suspects and has been described as an al Qaeda
recruiter." The stated circumstances of his arrest suggest he was taken
while asleep or in a place he believed secure.
Far from being the shadow behind every disturbance in the "Arab
street", the short operational chain suggests that the Al Qaeda is a
relatively small and narrowly based organization. Its key ideological leaders
appear to be holding out deep underground in their traditional strongholds in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, communicating with a limited network through an
intelligent but by no means world-class computer technician and developer.
Dangerous men, but much diminished.
The spotlight on Al Qaeda's true stature is complemented, atmospherically at
least, by the fearful
drubbing that Moqtada Al Sadr's "militia" received at the hands
of the US Marines. Up to 400 militiamen were killed and 1,200 were captured
after the uneasy truce between Sadr and the US military fell apart. Hit hard in
Baghdad, Najaf and Basra, the normally combative Sadr has been reduced to
pleading for a ceasefire. With Iran yet untamed, and strong pockets of
resistance in Lebanon, North Africa and Southeast Asia, no one should think that
the War on Terror is going to be over soon. But the enemy is clearly and
palpably losing ground. Although still in possession of large residual forces,
they seem unable to reverse or even slow the juggernaut that is hitting them
from all sides. They are facing a problem to which they can find no solution.
Even those who were licking their lips at the prospect of driving the Jews into
the sea two years ago are gripped by despair as they stare defeat
in the face.
It's not so much what Zakariya Zubeidi, the fugitive leader of the West
Bank Aksa Martyrs Brigades, says, but how he says it. Zubeidi speaks in the
vacant tones of a ghost. ... If anyone embodies the intifada on the eve of its
fourth anniversary, it is Zubeidi. The 28-year-old Aksa chief boasts a
pedigree of martyrdom: Zubeidi's mother was shot dead in the battle of Jenin,
as was one of his brothers. Two other brothers are in Israeli prisons. His
father died of a skin cancer that the family says went untreated while he
served a prison term for political activism against Israel during the first
intifada. "The intifada is in its death throes. These are the final
stages – this I can confirm," he said on Wednesday.
Not imminent defeat, but slow lingering defeat, bereft even of heroic
defiance. Yet before anyone reserves a bottle of champagne against the day,
British historian Karen Armstrong warns that we may have been fighting for the
wrong side or at least for a cause we never fully understood. In their own perverted
argues, the Al Qaeda have been fighting to assert the existence of God in
world that has forgotten Him.
So what is fundamentalism? Fundamentalism represents a kind of revolt or
rebellion against the secular hegemony of the modern world. Fundamentalists
typically want to see God, or religion, reflected more centrally in public
life. They want to drag religion from the sidelines, to which it's been
relegated in a secular culture, and back to center stage.
If so, the victory discernable as a thin line on the horizon really
represents the final triumph of secularism over the last religion. And while
Armstrong has publicly said many foolish things this particular accusation at
least deserves serious examination, not in the least because other writers, like
Sam Harris affirm it from an opposite point of view. The Amazon review of
Harris' book The
End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason summarizes his
thesis as follows:
Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend
reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to
justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes. He asserts that in the
shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer tolerate views that
pit one true god against another. Most controversially, he argues that we
cannot afford moderate lip service to religion—an accommodation that only
blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.
Harris claims that if we seriously subscribe to God in any form we will
eventually wind up settling accounts with WMDs; hence we must abolish God.
that unless we accept all gods, any religion left out will eventually resort to
weapons of mass destruction. "Now more and more small groups will have the
capability of destruction that were formerly the prerogative of the nation-state
... The way we're going -- and Britain is just as culpable as the United States
-- we're alienating Muslims who were initially horrified by Sept. 11 and we're
strengthening al-Qaeda, which has definitely been strengthened by the Iraq war
and its awful aftermath." She argues that we should simply recognize that
many people "just want to be more religious in some way or another."
The cure to religious extremism, according to these arguments, is a choice of
two elixirs: believing in nothing particular or classifying all religious belief
as madness. Yet on closer examination both these arguments are so close to each
other that despite apparent differences they are virtually identical. Both
require the abolition of belief as the price of survival, the latter by
maintaining there is nothing worth arguing over and the former asserting there
is nothing to argue about.
That will be good news to those who feel that the Global War on Terror is
really about making the world safe for homosexuals, metrosexuals, MTV and the
United Nations: that it is really about using the US Armed Forces to impose the
"End of History" on 8th century holdouts; that its function is to
restart the music that inconveniently stopped on September 11. But there is
another possibility: that fundamentalism is created by the very vacuity Karen
Armstrong recommends. Camus in The
Rebel believed that man could find the courage to live under a dark heaven
swept clean of stars. But then he was Camus: he uncharacteristically forgot that
in that vasty night false beacons would almost instantly spring up, the sort
that Vladimir Ilich Lenin, anticipating Sam Harris, lit to the destruction of
millions. In one thing Armstrong is almost certainly correct: Islamic
fundamentalism is twinned to relativism of the West. In one thing she is almost
certainly wrong: that its antidote is even more relativism.
It would be absurd to conclude that the war on terror is waged to make the
world safe for nihilism. That would almost equal Robert
Fisk's declaration, upon being beaten by a Muslim mob that "if I had
been them, I would have attacked me." For where the mind can find no
purchase it must ground its postulates in the simplest of things.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We fight in the end not to disbelieve but for the right to believe again --
and trust that we may find our way.