Why Qutb is not Marx, and bin Laden - Lenin, or How Much Should We Fear Somalia's Islamists
A Specter roams through the world, the Specter of Global Terrorism.
Many politicians and commentators keep warning us of the imminent threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism. They lump together bin Laden's global jihadists, various radical Islamists with clearly national agenda, and devout Islamic fundamentalists with no political agenda, all under the same broad umbrella labeled militant Muslims, or simply 'global terrorist networks.' These same commentators then take this heterogeneous groups with at times contradicting goals, and bundle them together in what I would call securitization of terrorism, to borrow a popular now term from the financial sector. Then just like the bad mortgage security assets they sell them to the general public, raising the expectations of Armageddon any minute now.
You don't know what I am talking about? Did you see Dick Chaney last week on the TV? America, he said, is less secure now with the current president than before. Really?! Well, I guess then we need an army of rough agents of the Jack Bauer type to go postal on our enemies, but mainly on our own treacherous political executives. We will hunt them down and we will torture them until they confess about the ticking bomb. We may even want to think about reinstating Mr. Chaney in office, but this time just give him unlimited power, no strings attached, to do his best to provide for and guarantee our ontological security. Screw the rest! We should even invite the ex-Russian president, and ex-KGB Vladimir Putin to join Mr. Chaney. Finally, we may extend an invitation, and a citizenship, to Gen. Pervez Musharraf to join the others in a new form of triumvirate. After all the crazy money, and blind support we gave him, he is almost one of US. They can let then the 'invisible hands' of CIA, KGB, and ISI to oppose the Specter of Global Terrorism. They would be a great team of executives, long surpassing the glamor of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus: Mr. Musharraf knows how to play a double game and train militants with military and state support, Mr. Putin knows how to fight terrorists with no regret to civilian life, and Mr. Chaney knows... well, he knows everything, from how to lead a country to an unnecessary war, to how to hijack constitution and make torture, secrecy, and conspiracy legal. One little problem, of course, would be how to deal with the inevitable fallout, as history shows that this is usually bloody matter. But let them worry about that later.
What about the enemy? Well, we have the ideologue... Not one, but a couple, the latest one being Iman al Zawahiri, bin Laden's number two. The Marx of their global radical jihadism is Said Qutb, who has offered an idealistic vision of a true Muslim. Like Marx, he was intellectual, a visionary, and an observer. Ironically, a modern observer of Western type. It is typical for Western intellectuals to see their 'civilization' and culture corrupt and declining. Zawahiri and bin Laden resemble in that sense Lenin and Trotsky of radical Islamism. They organize the marginalized, line up the faithful, and unleash terror on the West. Their goal? - to conquer the world, destroy freedom and democracy, and replace it with sharia for all, where women are kept veiled to their toes and locked at home, and where beheading is the norm. The only missing peace is the call to radical Islamistst, like Marx and Engels' one to the proletarians, to unite.
There is only one problem with that vision - Islamism is not Communism, Qutb is not Marx, and bin Laden is not Lenin. Or as the old Russian joke goes, "a small and insignificant annoying mistake." There are many reasons why Islamism is not like Communism. As a starter, the horizontal accountability in Islam, and the decentralized bottom-up credibility of leadership trumps the centralized top-down totalitarian structure of Communism. In 1917 Lenin's Bolsheviks were nether the most popular, nor the most numerous. They came up on the top because they were best organized. In result they hijacked the state, making it its own. In contrast, bin Laden only 'rented' a state - that of Afghanistan - and like all tenants, he wrecked the premises, and left the landlord with a huge bill. Yes, it is well known fact that the Talibans never liked bin Laden's 'celebrity' glamor and taste for sensation. That strained the relationship between the ultra-conservative Arab Slafaists of bin Laden, and their Afghan hosts since the outset. The intelligence Jane's group argued back in January of 2009 that based on CNN report, circles closed to the former head of the Afghani Talibans Mullah Omar has made it clear that he is no longer to be allied with al Qaeda. Whatever the reality might be, one thing is clear - while Lenin got himself a state, bin Laden only rented one. On the long run, state ownership proved to be a better investment than the home ownership in many parts of the world today. At least, its equity did not fall as much.
The 'renting' philosophy of bin Laden is not surprising. Afghanistan was not the first 'premise' he rented. In early to mid 1990s he went to Sudan. There again he regarded the state as a temporary step and stop, from where to launch his global jihadist campaign. But the more fundamental reason why he never tried to get his own state, even if he could, is because he never believed in the existence of it. For him, and perhaps correctly so, the notion of the nation-state is Western invention (one can argue that it is a recent one, too - only since 1648). His call last week to the Somali's al Shabab Islamist group was provocative one. But nothing more. It plays nicely in the vision for civilizational and religious conflict of Chaney likes, but it is not a real threat to us. Bin Laden is experienced and shrewd. He has played the same card a few times before. Here how it goes: he issues a fatwa, or funds a few youth empty-heads to wave the banner of al Qaeda somewhere around the world and he knows for fact that CIA will come in swarming on them and send them in Guantanamo. The whole world will then know it. When this stops working, he would fund and organize a terrorist attack. All that he hopes for is a massive retaliation - a term from the Cold War's Balance of Terror doctrines. Or to call this with its real name - an overreaction. Such overreaction was Clinton's attacks on Sudan, and such an overreaction was the invasion of Iraq. Feeling cornered somewhere in FATA, either in South or in North Wiziristan, he has no other move. And no other hope. His global jihadism wears off, and fades away. Only massive overreaction from an unexperienced administration in its early moths would save him from expiration. That is why if he had the resources, this would be the best time for him to attack. But he can't and that is a fact of life. So all he can do is to keep the burner on with irrelevant calls to al Shabab, and hope that those like Chaney would not miss an opportunity to respond.
Finally, the most important reason why the latest threat from bin Laden's global jihadism should not be put again on the top of national security agenda and securitized, is because Islamism has failed before, and even if it comes to existence in Somalia, will fail again. What the Islamists in Iran did in 1979 was to bring and end to oppressive and corrupt rule of the Shah, and the Islamists in Sudan, despite their horrendous actions for the past years in Darfur, brought end of larger civil war. Nowhere this delivery of ontological security was stronger than in Afghanistan. A country torn apart by protracted civil wars, devastated by the Soviet invasion, and then demolished again by subsequent civil war, enjoyed a relative peace and security, especially in the early days of the Talibans, before they got corrupt and fell under the influence of bin Laden. In Nigeria twelve of the thirty six regional states adopted sharia law after 1999's end of military rule. Ten years on, sharia law has wained off, militant radical Islamists have no credibility, or are altogether ousted from power. Islamists who dream of sharia law live in a remote frozen time. Sharia law did not work well even in the hight of the Islamic empire, the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, and had to be constantly tacled in order to be kept in place. In that context Obama's call to Iran this week strikes a note - the retrograde and comfortably corrupt Islamists inpower there will have to do a whole lot more to counter the soft power projected with this simple but powerful call. In this global world, communication and technology trumps inflexible idealism; bin Laden knows this, and so should Dick Chaney. So, are we still afraid of sharia being introduced in Somalia?