Al Qaeda Rebuts State of the Union Address

Joseph Braude, author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World, writes today at The New Republic Online,

The Democrats had their rebuttal to the State of the Union address last week; yesterday Al Qaeda offered its own. Ayman Al Zawahiri, the organization’s number two, broadcast a recorded message about five minutes in length on Al Jazeera around noon, eastern standard time. In it, he offered an alternative take on the meanings of “freedom” and “reform.” Al Zawahiri’s speech represents a departure from the Al Qaeda addresses of recent memory, most of which amounted to direct threats of violence targeting Western and Muslim regimes (including, needless to say, their civilian populations). This statement, by contrast, was not so much threat as political argumentation, and the audience was not Western but rather Arab and Muslim. Implicit in Al Zawahiri’s speech was an acknowledgement that the United States is now actively competing in the war for hearts and minds in Muslim countries–leaving Al Qaeda no choice but to engage America at the level of politics and ideas. The irony, however, is that Al Zawahiri seemed in his speech to be entering the realm of politics precisely to make clear what Al Qaeda won’t do politically: namely, countenance the entrance of Islamists into the democratic arena.

Braude then excerpts and comments at length from the translated text of al Zawahiri’s speech. While most of it is the familiar litany that Islamists and general and al Qaeda in particular have been repeating for years, the comments directed to the Arab domestic front are particulary revealing. Braude concludes,

Al Qaeda may kill hundreds of innocents in Spain to influence the outcome of elections there–or deliver a tirade against George Bush on the eve of the American elections, apparently to influence voters here–but the movement seems to have no appetite for achieving its goals through elections in Arab and Muslim countries. In this respect, today’s message wasn’t just another hyperbolic rant. It drew a philosophical line in the sand. And among Arabs and Muslims, it may prove to be an unpopular one.

One would hope. The results of the Iraqi elections and the fact that the jihadists fear the outcome of elections would certainly indicate that’s the case. The problem, of course, is that fear of retalliation by the terrorists has so far been enough to prevent a serious backlash against them. One wonders how long that will continue to be the case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    An honest assesment of what we are up against.