|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Al Qaeda's success
September 11, 2003
Fate seems to have decided that I shall always be travelling on the aftermath of September 11. I was in London two years ago, watching enthralled and horrified with everyone else in sight as CNN broadcast images of the United States under siege.
The next day I was on my way to Dubai, and believe me it was an unforgettable flight. Everyone was edgy, there were rumours that the Royal Air Force was out in greater strength over the British capital than at any time since World War
The weirdest part of the journey was that there were absolutely no newspapers aboard the plane; it turned out that the crew had been specifically instructed not to take on any journals -- all of which were obviously showing pictures of planes hitting the Twin Towers and the consequent destruction.
There were plenty of newspapers on September 11, 2002. They were full of news of the World Trade Center attacks' aftermath. By coincidence, one of the masterminds of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had been arrested in Pakistan the previous day. The date may have been a coincidence but the place was not...
This year, once again, I shall be on the move on 12 September, on my way from London to Dubai, and then onwards to Kochi. I have no idea what the headlines shall be this time, but I suspect that the pages inside shall attempt to give some kind of a balance-sheet. So, how would one sum up the two years of the United States' 'war on terrorism'?
Year One: fighting bin Laden and looking for him. Year Two: fighting Saddam and looking for him (and also bin Laden).
The inevitable conclusion is that the military might of the United States is a tool better suited to changing regimes than to organising a man-hunt. As for winning hearts and minds, well, forget it! And you need to look no farther than London, capital of the United States' closest ally, for proof of this statement. Because on September 11, 2003, an organisation called the Muhajiroun Group is organising a conference dedicated to the 'Magnificent 19.' So what is wrong?
Simply this, the 'Magnificent 19' are the men who hijacked four civilian aircraft on September 11, 2001, and used them as gigantic suicide-bombing machines.
Several 'liberal' Muslim groups in Britain have expressed their deep abhorrence at this idiocy. But the very fact that such a group is in existence and feels emboldened to organise -- and publicise -- such a meeting drives home a couple of facts.
First, it is a tribute to the depth of Britain's democratic traditions. Second, it demonstrates that Osama bin Laden is still winning the battle for hearts and minds. If Muslims in London can still venerate him and his men, how do you think people feel in, say, rural Iraq?
One must therefore concede that Al Qaeda is succeeding in its primary aim -- which is not killing non-Muslims in general and Americans in specific, but uniting all Muslims, even those who would otherwise reject violence. As Osama bin Laden himself put it in a statement released from Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001: 'It does not matter whether Osama lives or dies, the awakening has begun'
There are more Muslims today than at any time before -- even as little as two years ago -- who are convinced that the West is committed to the humiliation and the subordination of Islam. Al Qaeda's latest recruits are not just those from rural madarsas, there are graduates from several universities among them.
So much for the debit side of the ledger, are there any assets? One major asset: if there are more Muslims who have adopted an anti-West line of thought, there are many more who are openly advocating a move away from violence. If a fraction of the energy and resources spent on tracking down Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein were spent on cultivating this asset, it could make all the difference to the "war on terrorism".
I predict that the Muhajiroun group shall struggle to attract an audience counted in the hundreds. Just to put that into perspective I would wager that the same group could scoop in people by the thousand if they organised a meet dedicated not to the 'Magnificent 19' but the classic film The Magnificent Seven!
T V R Shenoy