The (Troubled) Future of Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda is in trouble.
It still poses imminent and significant threat to many societies and states, but there are signifiers of an internal corrosion.The organization is losing ground because of the waning support for the justification of its methods and ideology. It still has a lot of potential recruits, but this is driven mostly by events on-the-ground rather than any logical coherence and popular acceptance of Al-Qaeda’s strategy. Here I will state 4 reasons why Al-Qaeda is in trouble. None of them will have anything to do with the military presence of the International Community in Afghanistan or Iraq. Rather, I will focus on the internal divisions in the organization and the Islamic world.
Reason 1: Al-Qaeda’s goals are detached from its supporters.
Al-Qaeda’s main goal is to create Muslim Kalifat, but few of its supporters take this cause to heart. Rather the support for Al-Qaeda comes from contingent events and personal tragedies that happen in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When an air strike hits Muslim wedding, those opposing the foreign military presence would gain support. This is where the majority of the backing of Al-Qaeda is coming from. When it comes down to creation of Muslim Kalifat or imposing the Taliban social rules, Al-Qaeda does not look as strong.
Reason 2: Al-Qaeda’s ideology is cut off from the Muslim clergy and intellectuals.
Even among those Islamic scholars who support the Jihad there are very few who can give religious justification to the brutal terror and the killing innocent civilians – the primary strategy of Al-Qaeda. Former jihadists have questioned the religious basis of suicide bombings and al-Zawahiri has failed on a number of occasions to give sufficient justification for this method. Religious thinkers, who have previously supported bin Laden’s war, now turn against him and his network. In the very religious society of the Middle East and Central Asia they are often the only authority and have enormous influence over the population.
Jihadist fighters fear that dying in the name of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda will not serve the Islamic purpose that they proclaim. As Dr. Halbawi, a Muslim religious scholar said for BBC “They [jihadists] are not afraid of terrorism laws or security forces, or prison. They are afraid to go to hell”. The godfather of jihadist thought, Said Imam, also repudiated al-Qaeda in his latest devastating treatise and condemned resorting to violence. Influenced by the leading Islamic scholars, people are increasingly truing their backs on Al-Qaeda. With sharp criticism against Al-Qaeda that is cemented in the religious authority of the Muslim countries, Bin Laden is running into deep trouble in the long-run. He may still get support from Pakistan and Afghanistan’ tribal areas, but on a larger scale, he is losing the battle for hearts and minds, because of its anti-humane techniques that are with contradiction with the Muslim faith.
Reason 3: Al-Qaeda does not have state support.
No state machine channels resources to it and no state provides safe haven for its leaders. The opposite: rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, countries are allocating troops and money to irradiate international terrorism and rebuild Afghanistan. Except a few mountainous regions in Central Asia bin Laden and his people are outlawed almost everywhere. It is natural for a state not to align with him, because the kind of power he wields and wants to establish for the Kalifat is anti-state in its nature. The most obvious example is Pakistan, a country which greatly fears al-Qaeda and its terrorist tactics. Although in Pakistan Bin Laden has strong grass-root support, a closer look at this shows that it comes mainly from the Pashto population in the West and aims at pushing the foreigners away rather than establishing new power relations. So with failing religious support and without the power of a protector-state Al-Qaeda can only feed onto the war tragedies of the locals and the mistakes of the International Community which often acts in uncoordinatedly and loses ammunitions, thus unconsciously arming al-Qaeda.
Reason 4: Al-Qaeda’s methods are unpopular among ordinary people.
This stems from the brutality of the terror that the network resorts to. Even after bombings in Christian cities, there is a widespread disapproval of al-Qaeda’s actions. Not to mention, that killing Muslim brothers severely undermines al-Qaeda’s legitimacy. Attacking western militaries is one thing, but many attacks target local security forces or even civilians. Often al-Qaeda deals with local oppositions by using the same kind of terror and destruction. There have been voices that much Muslim blood has been spilt because of al-Qaeda and this has brought no good to the communities that support the network. That is why some of them are now turning against it.
Nevertheless al-Qaeda is still a serious threat with its grass root support (even in European states). Often in many areas locals with little access to religious knowledge, education and no social perspectives turn radical. The power of Madrassa in the Federally Administrated Tribal Area in Pakistan should not be underestimated, as should not be the support al-Qaeda gets from Iran.
Therefore the threat should not be misjudged. It must be effectively dealt with but kinetic force is not the only proper way. It is necessary, but greatly insufficient. Understanding the Muslim jihad debate is needed and aligning with the moderates in it will probably give a big advantage of the West in winning the hearts and minds of many radical Muslims. What is needed is the rethinking of western states’ soft policies in the war on terror and more emphasis the internal corrosion of the Al-Qaeda. Of course, by itself sending aid workers and building schools is ineffective. Reconstruction can come only after stabilization. And stabilization comes only after there is a continuous and sustainable security provision.