I’ve been largely out of the loop for the last week, so there’s quite a bit to catch up on. A quick word on the attempted terrorist attack on the airliner in Detroit–and then a synthetic remark at the end.
Whatever else comes up in the pseudo-analysis of the (thankfully) failed terrorist attack, we see yet again that the terrorists are largely from middle to upper classes. The ones who are recruited to perform suicide attacks are usually young and increasingly drawn from a self-selecting pool, communicating through the internet.
This lends credence to the notion that al-Qaeda is the anarchist movement of today. It follows in the patterns of the Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade, and the earlier anarchist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contrary to the right-wing US motifs of the early 2000s (which thank God are soon about to end), the analogy for an Al-Qaeda is not to Nazism or Communism.
The attacker came from Nigeria, a country in the midst of a transition to modernity. The revolutionary cadre–as in European history–always come from the upper classes. It comes from those who are both exposed to and then ultimately break from the modernization process (cf Osama bin Laden).
But unlike Communism or Fascism, these groups hold no states, have no armies, no alternate world economic regime. They pop up in hollowed out states like Afghanistan, the tribal areas of Pakistan, or Yemen. They can recruit from other parts of the world (e.g. Nigeria, even US) but in the end can only perform nihilistic attacks.
Or as Matthew Yglesias says (also holding to the anarchist analogy):
I really mean that analogy to be read in two directions. On the one hand, I think people drastically overestimate the extent of terrorism risks and the extent to which Muslim immigration to Europe is some unsolvable nightmare. But at the same time, I think part of what gets people confused here is a tendency to underestimate how severe the problems of the past seemed. Catholic (and Jewish) immigration to the United States really was, at the time, seen as a major dilemma involving the integration of ideological, religiously, and racially alien people. And people living before World War One really were living in an era marked by a frightening upsurge in anarchist violence, particularly a volume of major assassinations that would be unthinkable today.
In fact it might be argued that al-Qaeda the franchise is essentially being subsumed into regional/local insurgencies: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq, Algeria, and Yemen. On one hand, this gives al Qaeda-ism (if not Al Qaeda in Pakistan itself) another lease on life, but on the other continues their slide into being swallowed up into local insurgencies, limiting their political influence and eventually leading them down the road towards a kind of mafia-hood.
Either way, the future of al-Qaeda lies in Africa as Africa is the next great place of globalization (or modernization) and therefore (as Horkheimer and Adorno argued) of counter-modernization. [Either there and/or into former Soviet republics in Central Asia.]. With what in the West is normally called Islamism representing something of the counter-modern force (or rather a more conservative modernist force) and al Qaeda being the extreme, violent, anarchist wing of Islamic counter-modernism.
The “War” was never against Civilizations but was always a war within a Civilization (Islam) as it becomes shaken up by the process of globalization. The West can (and has been) drawn into that conflict–and through the Cold War inserted itself into that conflict and fomented it–but the conflict is fundamentally about one between modernists, counter-modernists, and traditionalists (largely being rubbed out) in the Islamic world.
If the global values of “peace, security, democracy, freedom and human rights, moderation, and religious tolerance,” have not yet taken hold in Muslim lands, concludes Nasr, it is not because of the “fundamental nature of Islam,” but because the “commercial class that must spearhead the process of propagating [those values] is still too small.” Helping this “critical middle” grow and come to “dominate their societies is the best way of making sure those global values will take deep root as Muslim values, paving the way to democracy.”
Critical to that evolution is taking place is an ability to live with ambiguous and developing situations, letting the internal and regional dynamics of a country play out (e.g. Iran). The paradox will be that as these groups come to power many, if not most, of them will be (at least rhetorically) more anti-American, but their presence will overall be a better sign of geopolitical stability (including the US). See Lebanon as an example.
Other thoughts as we approach the end of the year:
The Department of Homeland Security still sucks and has yet to learn anything about what is going on.
Yemen is fast becoming a mini-Pakistan with the Obama counterterrorism practice of air raids, training of local forces, pay offs, and all the rest. Yemen has not yet reached (because the attack failed) counter-insurgency mode (a la Afghanistan).