Wednesday, February 20, 2008

al-Qaeda as "a post-modern pastiche"

This week's "Start the Week" on Radio 4 was a cracker, but Prof. Madawi Al Rasheed was particularly great. I don't think I have heard of her before but her description of the political-clerical balance in Saudi Arabia was excellent - brief, pithy, but completely convincing. It is somehow comforting that such smart people are around - truly "one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics". When I first started reading about al-Qaeda seriously in 2003 I couldn't get how seemingly differing ideological strands came together - Saudi Wahhabism, Egyptian political Islam, the early liberal Salafism and the later reactionary Salafism. There didn't seem to be much coherence to it. So Prof. Al Rasheed's description of al-Qaeda being "a post-modern pastiche" of an organisation is wonderful: there is no one ideology but rather a fuzzy mess of shared agendas and localised co-option.

I'm going to have to get Michael Burleigh's new book as well "Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism", it sounds very interesting. His quote from Baader-Meinhof: "we half read a lot theory, that we fully understood", and his description of a consistency over time amongst very different terrorist groups: "a moral squalor" are alone enough to make me want to read it.

1 comment:

KGS said...

A very interesting radio program, thanks for sharing it. Regardless of the fragmentation of wahhabism into the various Islamist extremist groups, and their ability to be "pragmatic" enough to incorporate all the competing reasons to be at war against the "other", there is one thing that unifies them all, Islam. Period, full stop.

The question remains, can this "fragmentation" be used as their 'achilles heel' against them? I think not. We can discuss all day long whether or not this or that group -which rallies under the jihadist pirate flag- believes in the installation of the world caliphate, it's the glue that's binding them together, the acceptance of purist version of Islam, that will be more than enough to keep them fighting until an exhaustion sets in.

The statement "we half read alot of theory which we fully understand" placed this time within the Islamic context, may seem to perhaps offer an avenue worth exploiting, but when its religious fundamentalism in question, especially Islamic fundamentalism, I see nothing that would induce the jihadi to take a second look or to question his motives.

How Mohamed's opened ended dictates can be minimized or completely ignored is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, and won't ever be fully resolved. It's my own personal opinion that Islam is at its core, an ideology that can resist repeated attempts at its modification or reformation. So instead of one purist version of wahhabist ideology floating around, we have multiple morphed versions, that are as deadly to western civilization as the original version.

I had enquired from Kings College professor Efraim Karsh, whether he believes that there is a major difference between the Salafist and the Wahhabist brand of Islamic extremism, and he said very little that would make a difference in the outcome. So what are we arguing about here, other than how many angels can fit on a head of a pin?

Even al-Rasheed believes that the problem stems from within as the bombings in Riyadh clearly shows, and that the Saudis attempts to brainwash captured jihadists into moderating their Islamic views may not bear fruit. "Highly doubtful" I believe she said.

As with Marxist theory, "the inevitable rise of the proletariat to carry out a class war throughout the globe" was proven to be a myth, so to will the jihadists' nihilistic dream of creating a world wide purist version of Islam, -whether they adhere to the Wahhabist brand or not- will result in a resounding failure. But this time around, if only the West remains steadfast in denying them any reasons for hope.

Any attempts by western democracies at placating the seemingly more benign Islamists with gains they can wave around as proof for their own legitimacy will only serve to spur the more violent version of Islamic supremacy, the international jihad, to more violence and to more extreme mutations of Wahhabism and pan-Arab/Islamic supremacy. At least that's my take on it.