Al Qaeda has Lost the Middle East
So proclaims Dan Drezner. He cites an unsigned Economist article from last week that bears the subtitle, “As al-Qaeda scores own-goals in its backyard, many Arabs, including some Iraqis, are beginning to rethink their position on violence in the name of resistance.” The piece gives some evidence to buttress the view that, as many of us have long been predicting/hoping, the killing of Muslims by al Qaeda is backfiring.
These parts caught my attention:
The undermining of entrenched myths is a slow and halting process. But it is subject to sudden, shattering jolts, such as the November 9th suicide bombing of three hotels in the Jordanian capital, Amman. In the minds of the killers, American-allied Jordan had become a rear base for the Ã¢€œcrusaderÃ¢€ invaders of Iraq, and so its hotels, the sort of places where crusaders and their minions congregate, were legitimate targets for the resistance.
Yet it is perhaps more than incidentally ironic that among the 60 people they killed was Mustapha Akkad, the Syrian-born director who created Ã¢€œLion of the DesertÃ¢€. His film, glorifying the bravery of Muslim resistance fighters, happened to be one of the few productions explicitly endorsed on jihadist websites, albeit in a version that replaced the musical soundtrack with religious chants, and cut out all scenes showing women.
The global al-Qaeda franchise, whose Iraqi branch claimed responsibility for the Amman atrocity, has scored many own-goals over the years. The carnage in such Muslim cities as Istanbul, Casablanca, Sharm el-Sheikh and Riyadh has alienated the very Muslim masses the jihadists claim to be serving. By bringing home the human cost of such violence, they have even stripped away the shameful complacency with which the Sunni Muslim majority in other Arab countries has tended to regard attacks by Iraq’s Sunni insurgent Ã¢€œheroesÃ¢€ against Ã¢€œcollaborationistÃ¢€ Shia mosque congregations, funeral processions and police stations.
This is followed by several anecdotal examples of the man on the Arab street getting mad. Less anecdotally–although always somewhat suspect in societies without a history of free expression–is some polling data.
So what? After all, dictators don’t care about polls.
A more tangible measure of change is the behaviour of Arab states. Undemocratic though they may be, shaky Arab governments in many cases owe their baseline legitimacy to their own historical record of perceived resistance to foreign hegemony. The deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq placed them in a quandary. Any gesture towards aiding the success of this Ã¢€œAmerican projectÃ¢€ risked a fierce popular backlash. That equation has now altered, and the results are already evident.
The two Arab heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have lately begun to lend their diplomatic clout to resolving Iraq’s troubles. The sudden urgency to do something, after years of fence-sitting, is prompted by several fears. One of these, seemingly justified by the Amman bombing, is that Iraq has turned from being a sponge for jihadist violence into a fountainhead that threatens the region.
I am not quite ready to declare victory. Terrorists in general and jihadists in particular have proven quite hard to defeat. Still, this is excellent news.