The Al Qaeda Myth
We now know that Al Qaeda had nothing to do with the London bombings in July 2005. This is the conclusion of the British government's official inquiry report leaked to the British press on April 9.
We now also know that the U.S. military is deliberately misleading Iraqis, Americans and the rest of the world about the extent of Al Qaeda's involvement in the Iraqi insurgency. This was reported in The Washington Post on April 10, on the basis of internal military documents seen by that newspaper.
What do these revelations tell us about the arguments of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Blair that in Al Qaeda the "Free World" faces a threat comparable to that of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, a world-wide terrorist network which seeks to build a radical Islamist empire over half the world?
That they are threadbare, to say the least. But also that they are cynical, misleading and self serving.
The London bombings, it turns out, were the work of four alienated British Muslims, with no links to "international terrorist networks", who had learned how to make bombs by trawling the Internet. They had been radicalized and motivated, according to the report, by British foreign policies in the Muslim world—a view Tony Blair has consistently sought to undermine and discredit. The role of the alleged "Al Qaeda mastermind in Iraq," Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, we are now told, was cynically misrepresented and exaggerated by the U.S. military's propaganda units in an effort to discredit and divide the Iraqi insurgency and to provide a retrospective justification for the Iraq war by suggesting a link between Iraq and 9/11.
Wherever in the world Al Qaeda crops up, its appearance has often been uncannily convenient for the local authorities—dictators, warlords, occupation forces and elected governments alike. And often the precise nature of the Al Qaeda connection turns out, on close examination, to be tenuous or non-existent. But by that time the message has gone out and sunk in: "Al Qaeda was here".
It's almost certain that as the United States ratchets up the pressure on Iran in the coming months the non-issue of Tehran 's "links" with Al Qaeda will come to the fore. In fact the groundwork is already being laid. Blair, no less, said ominously in a speech last month that although "the conventional view is that Iran is hostile to Al Qaeda: we know from our own history of conflict that, under the pressure of battle, alliances shift and change." So as the confrontation with Iran builds, watch out for leaked reports from anonymous security officials about dastardly Iranian-Al Qaeda conspiracies.
Stripped of exaggeration, romanticism, demonization and myth making, the picture of Al Qaeda which has emerged from the trial in the United States of Zacarias Moussaoui is of a fractious organisation that has been a magnet for bewildered martyrdom-seeking fantasists. At least this has a ring of truth to it.
This is not to say that Al Qaeda is not dangerous. It is a serious security challenge. It may even one day be a strategic threat, especially if it gets hold of some WMD. But it is not the threat Bush and Blair tell us it is.
The recent revelations of the non-existent role of Al Qaeda in the London bombings and of the Pentagon's deliberate exaggeration of Al Qaeda's role in Iraq reinforce the argument that in their response to the threat of Al Qaeda (the so called "war on terror," or "Long War"), the United States and its allies are making strategic errors of monumental proportions.
First, this war, as it is being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not principally fighting "Al Qaeda" but is creating and fighting new enemies: people who don't like being invaded, occupied and kicked around by foreigners and who are prepared to stand up and resist. These people may eventually become terrorists. But it will have been U.S. policies that created them. If Iran is next on the Pentagon's list, the same thing will happen there. To the extent that Israel is seen by the United States as pursuing its own war on terror in the Palestinian territories it occupies, it is happening in Gaza and the West Bank too. Second, the Long War is a distraction from the real issues which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to reduce conflict, violence and injustice in the region and thus to reduce the radicalization of a generation of angry and alienated Muslim youth at home and in the diasporas. These include: ending the Israeli occupation of occupied Palestinian territories through negotiation; pursuing peaceful nuclear reduction throughout the region; and engaging seriously with political Islam. Talk of "democratization" without engaging with political Islam is nonsense.
Third, on the grounds that it is fighting a "just war," the United States and its allies have justified using levels of violence, coercion and repression—including torture, collective punishment and the killing of large numbers of civilians—which are not only of questionable tactical efficacy, but have led to a collapse of U.S. prestige in a part of the world where it has long been seen as a necessary protector, stabilizer and arbiter.
The fact that there was no operational link between the London bombers and Al Qaeda shows that its real danger lies in its ability to inspire terrorist attacks. In this it has no better allies and collaborators at present than the United States and Britain under their current leaders.