Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Maoist Roots of Al Qaeda

In an article by Michael W.S. Ryan published in Sunday's Boston Globe, he points out that a lot of Al Qaeda's theory and strategy seems to be derived, not from the Quran and the Haith but from Mao Zedong and General Giap.

Al Qaeda’s strategic foundations are laid out in a variety of documents written by its ideologues and trainers. Originally produced secretly for training recruits and as a legacy for future generations of jihadi guerrillas, the documents began to emerge in the early 2000s—published on jihadist forums, stored on commercial websites, or confiscated from terrorist safe houses and training camps by local police or military

What this body of work reveals might strike even informed readers as surprising. When it comes to strategy, close readings of the documents suggest that Al Qaeda draws its ideas less from classical Islam than from a broad array of sources in 20th-century guerrilla warfare, as well as older European and Chinese military strategists. Its books and articles refer to the ideas of Mao, Che Guevara, Regis Debray, the Vietnamese strategist General Giap, Fidel Castro, and even the somewhat obscure Brazilian urban guerrilla Carlos Marighella. They are secular and analytic, and do not rely on religious arguments as a detailed guide to action.

To study Al Qaeda’s strategic literature is to realize that we should understand it primarily as a new type of revolutionary group—one that is, in fact, less classically “Islamic” than Maoist. It is a modern ideology built on Al Qaeda’s distorted version of Islam, one that is rejected by mainstream Islamic scholars. And this deeper understanding may give us new tools in what is shaping up to be a long fight against Al Qaeda’s influence.

Which forces the question, does the anti-Islamic, openly racist propaganda campaign launched in the wake of  9-11 not play into the hands of  the people who attacked the United States?   Not to mention the two wars that resulted, especially the one in Afghanistan which was a long shot, based on the history of foreign invasions of that country.  If the Soviet Union, sharing a common border with it and without having to worry much about an anti-war movement to restrain its response, it is absurd to think that an aggressive war would do it.  The American mind, trained by movies and fiction, has been misunderstanding all wars as being WWII.  It's obvious that the people who were planning Al Qaeda didn't make that mistake any more than the North Vietnamese government did in the 1960s and 70s.

We have payed an enormous cost for racism and bigotry over the course of our history and a lot of that cost has been through the attempts of elites to use that racism and bigotry to their own ends.  I won't go over those, they are as obvious as the corporate media's attempts to use Barack Obama's race and middle name to win elections.

In this case, the anti-"Arab", generally anti-Islamic branch of that vine has the potential to destroy us.  I have no doubt that the racism of Cheney and his band of neo-cons allowed them to ignorantly underestimate the intelligence and dedicated perseverance of what are, essentially, nationalist groups.  It's a repeat of the Western mindset that allowed it to deceive itself about national liberation movements which produced Mao and General Giap and the others on that list of works cited by Al Qaeda.

One of the more interesting things about this from a liberal view point is the use of 9-11 in anti-religious bigotry.   There is Sam Harris whose flagrant racism and bigotry knows no bounds and it has made him a rich man.  Following on that are other figures in new atheism, one of the most sleazy and massively hypocritical is the late Christopher Hitchens who went from Trotsyite to Bush II invasion supporter. They stirred up a large amount of bigotry that is exposed regularly in allegedly lefty venues, though I would say that the presence of that bigotry is a definitive refutation of a person's or venue's genuine liberalism.  It is a disproof of it.   If you changed the names called and the used what gets said in white supremacist, neo-Nazi circles.  It's especially ironic among those whose anti-religiosity falls in line with old-left, vaguely Marxist and anarchist rhetoric. In my time the ideological predecessors of those who slam Al Qaeda and pin them to all of Islam and all religion, generally, supported and venerated the same thinkers that inform Al Qaeda today.

A lot of the religious trappings of Al Qaeda are exactly the same kind of cynical use of religious language and appeal is exactly the same kind of thing that the Republicans have used in the United States.  The entire thing is all about political power and economic control among people to whom nothing is sacred, nothing beyond exploitation, no one beyond exploitation.   And there is nothing religious about that, it's an entirely secular thing.  Anyone who believes that Bush and Cheney have any real religious motivation are as foolish as the poor dupes that Al Qaeda ropes in to do the killing and get killed. In the run-up of their attack, a number of the 9-11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, went out partying at strip clubs.  I'm unaware of any aspect of Islam that would countenance that.   Or any traditional understanding of any of the other Abrahamic faiths. All of which forbid the killing of innocent people in a way that Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and atheism do not.


  1. So Al Qaeda is not driven by religious fervor but by a desire for power? All that religious stuff is just so much fishwrap?

    Seems I remember stories going around about terrorist recruits who were obviously poor and disheartened and crazed against the power structure because of poverty and neglect; until it turned out most of the recruits were from wealthy families, and they were just bored and dissolute.

    My guess is they were drawn more to the Maoism, etc., than to the daily prayer readings and religious harangues. Come to think of it, no one ever knew Bin Laden for his religious harangues. He just draped his statements in religious language; sometimes. Mostly he just ranted against America.

    I mean, calling us the "great Satan" ain't exactly a theological assertion.

    Framing is all, isn't it? If Al Qaeda frames itself as warriors for Islam, and nobody looks under the robe to find out how true that is (how many religious texts did they find in bin Laden's compound? How much evidence of piety was there? Just curious....), then it's safe to assume we know all we need to know! Right, Sam Harris?

    Nobody cares about facts, everybody makes their own reality. I'm convinced that was going on long before the intertoobs or 9/11 or even the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I'm also convinced it has a great deal to do with the collapse of religion and the rise of atheism. Not a direct line, since religious people can have their own delusions (ahem, the Crusades. I mean, really....). So let me be a bit more circumspect at this point, and say exchanging atheism for religion hasn't made a jot of improvement in matters.

    And at least the saints and avatars of religion aren't akin to Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens....

  2. Your point is, of course, right, but, this is about the secular roots of a warrior group. I'd read about the influence of the Tamil Tigers on them and their allies before, around suicide bombing. I was never sold on the authenticity of the Christian roots of Melosivic or George W. Bush or the Holy Roman Emperors either. But this is about the influence that other nationalist movements have had on Al Qaeda. It's not surprising that they'd look to successful nationalist movements as a model, especially the Vietnamese one which won over the strongest military power in history. There is this passage from the article:

    The most influential strategic documents appear to be anything but religious in origin. For example, Al Qaeda strategist and trainer Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri wrote in his voluminous “The Call to Global Islamic Resistance” that one of the most important books on guerrilla warfare has been written by an American. That book, published in 1965, is “War of the Flea,” by Robert Taber, an investigative journalist who covered Castro’s operations in the late 1950s. The title refers to Mao’s often-cited analogy that guerrilla warfare is like the attack of a weak flea against a powerful dog. The flea first agitates the dog with a few bites, and then the dog attacks itself in a frenzy but is unable to kill the flea; as the bites multiply and other fleas join, the dog is weakened and eventually dies.

    Taber’s book, a classic popular study of insurgencies, examines how guerrillas end up succeeding or failing in wars against overwhelmingly powerful enemies. The book’s title was translated into Arabic as, approximately, “The War of the Oppressed”; a more literal translation would be “the war of those thought to be weak.” The message is clear: If you feel weak, this book shows you how to be strong.

    Except for history and military buffs, few Americans today read Taber’s book in English; similarly, few Al Qaeda terrorists would have read it in Arabic. But its lessons ended up embedded in Al Qaeda’s philosophy and insurgency campaigns. Al-Suri even recorded a lecture course on the book, and both the failed mid-2000s terrorist campaign in Saudi Arabia and the current war in Yemen bear its imprint.

  3. Religion can certainly be used to justify violence. But that's a different assertion than saying violence has its roots in religion.

    Thanks for the added information. I'm going to read the Boston Globe article now.