Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology?
I wonder if there is any sort of reverse analogy with South Pacific “cargo cults”. Instead of creating symbols in the hope of “magically” obtaining Western goods, the destruction of symbols to emphasise, and subconciously perhaps “magically” obtain, the rejection of Western contamination.
Joe believes this “rings true” and points us to Lee Harris, who argues that al Qaeda is not fighting a war but rather is lost in a delusion:
This common identification of 9-11 as an act of war arises from a deeper unquestioned assumption Ã¢€” an assumption made both by Chomsky and his followers on one hand and Hanson and National Review on the other Ã¢€” and, indeed, by almost everyone in between. The assumption is this: An act of violence on the magnitude of 9-11 can only have been intended to further some kind of political objective. What this political objective might be, or whether it is worthwhile Ã¢€” these are all secondary considerations; but surely people do not commit such acts unless they are trying to achieve some kind of recognizably political purpose.
The man who insists on being taken more seriously than his advantages warrant falls into the former category; the maniac who murders an utter stranger because God Ã¢€” or his neighborÃ¢€™s dog Ã¢€” commanded him to do so belongs to the latter.
What is common in such interactions is that the fantasist inevitably treats other people merely as props Ã¢€” there is no interest in, or even awareness of, others as having wills or minds of their own. The man who bores us with stories designed to impress us with his importance, or his intellect, or his bank account, cares nothing for us as individuals Ã¢€” for he has already cast us in the role that he wishes us to play: We are there to be impressed by him. Indeed, it is an error even to suggest that he is trying to impress us, for this would assume that he is willing to learn enough about us to discover how best we might be impressed. But nothing of the kind occurs. And why should it? After all, the fantasist has already projected onto us the role that we are to play in his fantasy; no matter what we may be thinking of his recital, it never crosses his mind that we may be utterly failing to play the part expected of us Ã¢€” indeed, it is sometimes astonishing to see how much exertion is required of us in order to bring our profound lack of interest to the fantasistÃ¢€™s attention.
I agree that al Qaeda is living a fantasy if it thinks it will achieve its goals via terrorism. I do, however, believe that they have political objectives for what they view as a war. The author of Imperial Hubris, with whom I disagree on several issues, makes a rather compelling case that Osama has six goals, which he has stated over and again:
Ã‚· The end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state;
Ã‚· The removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian peninsula;
Ã‚· The removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands;
Ã‚· The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India;
Ã‚· The end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera;
Ã‚· The conservation of the Muslim worldÃ¢€™s energy resource and their sale at higher prices. (210)
As I note in my review of the book, forthcoming elsewhere, the evidence is rather clear that–by his own standards–Osama is losing the war:
There is no evidence presented in this book or obvious to one who keeps up with the news that they are any closer to fruition. Indeed, U.S. sympathy for the Israeli cause vis-Ãƒ -vis the Palestinian terrorists is higher than it has been in years; we have stopped condemning Russian atrocities in Chechnya and began buying their assertion that they are part of the war on terrorism; we are more tied than ever to Arab dictators who are willing to ally with us against the Islamists; and we have more forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq than we had before 9/11. It is true that we have drawn down forces in Saudi Arabia, although mainly to take the heat off the Saudi regime. Oil prices are up, although owing to increased demand from China and other factors rather than any policy changes.
The fact that al Qaeda is willing to murder thousands of people in order to achieve goals that are fantastic does not, however, make them necessarily “irrational.” They honestly believe they brought down the Soviet Union through their resistance effort in Afghanistan and see no reason that they can’t topple another superpower in this decade.