Hysteria over Shahid Alam

From the Dissident Voice comes an essay by an Islamist apologist claiming certain parallels between al Qaeda’s war against the West and the American Revolutionary War. Several popular blogs — LGF, Jihad Watch, and The Jawa Report — have taken Professor Shahid Alam to task for daring to make such a comparison. Each post fails to recognize that Alam qualifies some of his comparisons, but some the comments at these three posts show a hysteria that is unhealthy.

The fact of the matter is that Alam is largely correct. Al Qaeda is engaged in a revolution against us. How can one see it any differently? His concept of 9/11 being an Islamist “shot heard round the world” seems dead on, as does his rhetoric describing calls for global Muslim mobilization.

What Americans need to realize is that there really is no such thing as terrorism; there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you don’t (terrorists). But to label a person or a group “terrorist” is to say nothing more than that you disagree with their claims and their cause. For Alam to eschew the terrorist label when dealing with al Qaeda is quite accurate in actually quite helpful.

This need not be a seditious statement. In fact, my insistence that al Qaeda is engaged in a revolution against our country and our way of life was the reason I voted for George Bush and the reason I think we’re being too soft in Iraq. If it is a war then the enemy needs to be killed or forced to surrender unconditionally. If it is not a war, then we should have elected John Kerry. Had presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton recognized the Islamist revolt that began in 1979 we might not be in the situation we’re in today.

The real problem, and the true source of all this anger against Professor Alam, is that he seems to be rooting against America and for the enemy. This is Alam’s treason, not his calling the jihadists revolutionaries.

(cross-posted at Professor Chaos)

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, , , , ,
Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. Chad Evans says:

    Your statements concerning Al Qaeda staging a revolution against the U.S. and our way of life are dead on accurate, however the term terrorist derives from those who operate by stoking fear into others in order to push their views upon them. That is what Al Qaeda is doing and that is why they are not revolutionaries; they are terrorists.

    The term revolutionaries gets thrown around to people and groups not fitting the title. Alam has done this as have many reputable sources as well. Revolutionaries fight against those oppressing them by destroying infrastructure, military targets, etc. but not by committing mass murders of innocents. There is a clear distinction between the two that Alam fails to recognize.

  2. Bithead says:

    There’s a bit more of a disconnect than either of you are describing. This appears to be as you suggest a simple attempt to give the Islamofacists credibility.

    Ask yourself; Given the hard-line state of the type of Islam we’re talking about here, Can the self-described ‘revolutionaries’ be described as fighting for freedom on ANY level?

  3. Boyd says:

    Chad, if they’re participating in a revolution, why are they not revolutionaries?

    It seems to me that a revolution describes your goal; terrorism describes your tactics. They’re not mutually exclusive, so it seems reasonable to view Al Qaeda as both revolutionaries and terrorists.

  4. Chad: I disagree that there is at all a clear distinction between revolution and terrorism. Was the attack against the USS Cole terrorism? What about the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania? Was the Pentagon a legitimate target?

    I guess what’s most important, which sort of addresses Bithead’s question, is that they believe it is a revolution. For us to simply say that they’re evil terrorists does nothing toward crafting an effective counterterrorism strategy. In fact, such normative labels allow the Alam’s and Chomsky’s to make claims that the United States is the “real terrorist.”

  5. Maggie says:

    When fighting King George III, we did not go to London and start firing on citizens in the streets. King George sent his soldiers here to suppress the Colonists…then they fought back….and not by killing civilians loyal to the King. But by killing soldiers.


  6. Chad Evans says:

    Boyd and Leopold, I see your points, however I cannot see how these types of terrorist acts can be called revolutionary. While the two are not fully mutually exclusive, the label of terrorist describes those who push their ideas through installing fear. Revolutionaries push their agenda either violently or non-violently however historically they have done so always with the support of the people. Naturally some revolutions have not had major support of the people, which is why most have failed. While Al Qaeda is pushing their ideology violently, what makes them a terrorist group versus a revolutionary group is their method. A terrorist that takes the last step to fully perform in the realm of terrorism cannot be labled a revolutionary based upon the historical definition and precedent.

    Throughout history revolutionaries have risen in various countries, most unsuccessful. They have tried to install change and mostly through violence. What they have not done though is intentionally target innocent civilians. If Al Qaeda were to only attack military targets while pushing their ideology, sure call them revolutionaries. We know that’s not true though. That is the distinction and that is why Al Qaeda and the ilk are not revolutionaries.

    As far as legitimate targets in a revolution. The USS Cole and the Pentagon were legitimate military targets. The embassy bombings, WTC and the hundreds of attacks on innocent civilians are not revolutionary.

    Any comparison of terrorists by an American to our Revolutionary War is both historically inaccurate as well as misunderstood. I could go on and on regarding the American Revolution and why this comparison is as obsurd as it is, however I have neither the time nor the will power to relive history.

  7. Steve says:

    No such thing as terrorism? I think not. A “freedom fighter” broadly defined has the option of targeting civilians or not. If the freedom fighters choose to target civilians, no matter their cause, they become terrorists.

    Other than that, I think your posts raises some valid points. Al Qaida and the islmists do see this as a revolution, making (qualified) comparisons to other revolutions seems reasonable, generally speaking. I think Alam is wrong on a number accounts (e.g., claiming that the hijackers wanted their people to live free, when the type of society they are fighting for kills women for the most minor violations of tribal customs).

  8. Chad: I didn’t post this to annoy anyone with semantics, but let me answer your last comment by saying that by your definition Timmothy McVeigh was a failed revolutionary and our troops in Baghdad are engaged in terrorism. There are simply too many holes in any definition of terrorism and terrorist to make it a meaningful category.

    To compare al Qaeda and our Revolutionary War is not a comment on tactics and targets, but ideology and goals. The sooner we can discern which ideas and goals can be accomodated and which cannot, the sooner we’ll be able to articulate a clear counterterrorism strategy — something which we do not currently have.

  9. Mr. K says:

    I would buy the Cole as a legitimate target but I buy none of the rest of this; it is nonsense. Don’t forget they hijacked a plane full of innocent civilians and murdered them attacking the Pentagon. How completely goddamned ludicrous to call that a legitimate “revolutionary” action.

    Also, al-Qaeda’a ultimate goal is to bring the world under Islamic rule. Revolutionaries, in my own humble opinion, fight to free themselves, not to subjugate those who are free to the strictures of that hideous, disgusting political ideology called Islam.

  10. anjin-san says:

    I have always found Bush’s assertion that the “terrorists” “hate America & they hate freedom” to be a massive oversimplification of what is occuring.

    No doubt Bin Laden & co recruit drones, pump them full of dogma, and send them out to commit terrorist attacks. But I doubt very much that the senior leadership of al queda wakes up in the morning frothing at the mouth with no other goal then to kill innocents, especially Americans.

    A pentagon study, no less, says that they do not hate America, they hate our policies. Maybe the freedom they want, the one Bithead cannot see, is the freedom from US & other military forces in their lands. It does not seem like all that unreasonable of a wish. How would we feel if the situation was reversed and there were Saudi forces in America?

    We have known about the dangers of reliance on middle eastern oil for over 30 years now. Our response? To build bigger & better gas guzzelers, complete with DVD players. Perhaps if we as a nation had really dedicated ourselves to energy efficiency back in the 70’s we could tell the Saudi’s where to stick their oil, and we would not need to use military force to ensure the continued supply.

    The people we are fighting are not stupid. Look at the difficulties our forces, the best in the world, have had with the insurgency in Iraq. The administrations desire to simply paint them as evil cartoons serves no one. Sun Tzu said it best a long, long time ago. “Know yourself, know your enemy. A hundred battles, a hundred victories”. Too bad Bush and Rumsfeld are either too proud, too ignorant, or too stupid (perhaps all three?) to heed these words of wisdom.

  11. bryan says:

    The people we are fighting are not stupid.

    Actually, the ones who strap bombs on their chests as suicide bombers are the very definition of stupid.

    Beyond that, I think what we have is very much a semantic argument, and one of operational definitions. What makes a revolutionary? What makes a terrorist? Give me some concrete actions and behaviors that I can look at and say “yes, that’s a revolutionary” or “yes, that’s a terrorist organization.”

  12. Chad Evans says:

    Leopold, no annoyance here and it wasn’t taken that way at all. In fact, I believe this has turned into a quality discussion.

    I’m unclear though how my second comment above makes McVeigh a revolutionary though.

    I completely agree with your statement that the U.S. does not have the correct goal in defeating terrorism. I’ve argued multiple times on my site that in order to defeat an ideology you must weaken the source not just from military action, but from a public relations standpoint. Zarqawi and Bin Laden’s statements slamming Democracy has given the U.S. propoganda machine something to work with, I just don’t believe we have an effective propoganda arm.

  13. McVeigh was part of a structured and organized mass movement, the American Patriot Movement, and he struck a key governmental target as both revenge for Janet Reno’s killing of “his people” as well as to try to bring about the revolution preached/predicted in The Turner Diaries. I think this makes McVeigh a revolutionary. A piece of garbage who I’m glad is dead, but he was fundamentally a revolutionary in mindset.

    As for the US propaganda machine, our public diplomacy seems to be our weakest link right now. The sad thing is that a part of this problem is that the Michael Moores and Daily Kos people act in ways detrimental to our getting our message of individual freedom out in the Middle East. It’s a two-front war in which one of the enemies is blinded by their hatred of all things Republican.

  14. Blixa says:

    What’s the more truly noxious thing about this post, the historical amnesia or the abdication of morality? Look at this construction: “there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you don’t (terrorists).” Apparently revolutionaries one doesn’t support are, by definition, terrorists, says the author. Bullcrap. Not all revolutionaries are terrorists! (Nor are all revolutions for “freedom” for anybody per se.)

    It’s bad enough that Mr. Stotch apparently cannot conceive of revolutions which don’t involve the particular tactic of terrorism. This is a vile insult to, for example, the American revolutioners. He has tossed out the window all Western notions of Lawful War – once it’s a “revolution”, he expects nobody to abstain from terrorism, holds no one to any kind of standard. It’s *natural* to commit terror in the service of a revolution, says Stotch. Sick.

    Mr. Stotch, “terror” refers to a particular collection of tactics. Now, the definition may have fuzzy edges but that need not prevent anyone with a brain (i.e. you) and/or who doesn’t (like Alam) seek to excuse certain terror acts due to an ideological motive, from being able to distinguish between terror in the service of a fanatical totalitarian ideology on the one hand, and warfare in the service of political independence (=revolution), and in particular revolution seeking consensual government (which al Qaeda *does not*), on the other.

    Such muddled thinking creates the blind spot which al Qaeda walked right through on 9/11/2001. They are terrorists. Simlutaneously, they are revolutionaries (not against us but against primarily the Saudi regime).

    But although they *are* revolutionaries, they are not “freedom fighters”. They are not fighting for “freedom”! Engaging in “revolution”, let alone committing terror, does not automatically prove that one is fighting for somebody’s “freedom”! Get that straight because it’s embarrassing and harmful to make that confusion at this point in time. It is the worst sort of moral equivalence, and by raising it you have helped to prove Alam’s critics correct.

  15. LT says:

    Semantic Pulp-

    The Islamic fascist is no different than the Christian fascist,

    what we choose to call them is irrelevant, They believe that they
    are in a great struggle against those who would deny them their
    relgious dominance over their particular region. Look for Christians to exhibit the exact same violent behavior when their
    religious dominance in America is threatened.
    What shall we call them?

  16. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I agree with Leopold. It should be impossible for radical Islam or any other force to use the airwaves against the interests of the United States. Either drown them out or blow them up. There can be no denying that jihad depends on keeping the people stirred up.

  17. ken says:

    It’s bad enough that Mr. Stotch apparently cannot conceive of revolutions which don’t involve the particular tactic of terrorism. This is a vile insult to, for example, the American revolutioners

    The American revolutionaries did indeed engage in terrorism. Under letters of marquee John Paul Jones and other merchant seamen attacked non-combatant British vessels killing numerous innocent sailors and siezing their cargoes as bounty. This was the terrorism of it’s day and enraged the British merchant class against the American revolutionaries.

  18. Blixa says:


    The acts you describe, whatever else one might think of them, were not “terrorism” as it is *actually defined*, which is violence intentionally targeted towards civilians the purpose of which is scare others and to put political pressure on their society. We can agree perhaps that such acts were Bad, but that doesn’t make them “terrorism”. “Terrorism” is not a synonym for “bad acts that make people mad”. It has a definition. The blurring of this definition you’ve engaged in leads to precisely the harmful moral equivalence present in the above post.

    We end up with this construction: “How can we expect Islamists not to place bombs in marketplaces and consider that an invalid method of warfare, after all John Paul Jones interdicted British merchant vessels.” The problem is that there are terrorists who will be only too happy to spew such tripe, and Western useful idiots who will be only too happy to gobble it up, and thus we get the partial-paralysis of Western society which is precisely what makes terrorism an effective weapon against it. It pisses me off.

  19. TM Lutas says:

    It would be incorrect to call Al Queda revolutionary because they are not attempting to create anything new. Rather, they wish to *restore* the caliphate, *restore* the prevalence of paying the jizyah (head tax), *restore* the Islamic civilization as the foremost on the planet with the capability to eliminate christendom or anybody else they wish.

    You can call this irredentist, counter-revolutionary, restorationist, theocratic, or a number of other labels but it lacks even the tiniest smidgen of the key element of revolutions progressiveness.

  20. Blixa: you inadvertantly make my point. Your definition of terrorism has serious holes in it, just as any definition does. Under your criteria, McVeigh may not have been a terrorist (if one considers FBI employees police), the attack on the Pentagon lies outside of your definition, the attack on the USS Cole is not terrorism, and Hamas was not a terrorist group prior to 1994 (prior to then they did not target civilians). The list can go on.

    The larger point I was trying to make is that the hysteria over Alam’s article shows that we are unwilling to deal with the political component of bin Laden’s war on the West. We can dismiss him as an evil coward, or we can attempt to know our enemy so as to defeat him.

    The reason that terrorism is an effective weapon against us is not because of useful idiots (I assume you’re referring to me), but because we refuse to acknowledge it as political violence.

  21. ken says:

    Blixa, you are wrong. Although the term ‘terrorism’ was not in vogue during the revolutionary war the American ‘pirate’ fleet did engage in what we today would call terrorism if it were utilized against us. They attacked innocent civilians for the purpose of frightening other civilians from engaging in seafaring commerce and to put pressure on British society.

    You may quibble about this if it makes you feel morally superior, but you would still be wrong.

  22. TM: I don’t think a progressive intent is required for a revolution, and if it were I’m sure bin Laden would claim to be the most progressive of all. Al Qaeda seeks a complete overthrow of the existing order in favor of a pan-Islamic one. If that’s not revolution, I don’t know what is.

  23. Blixa says:


    Your definition of terrorism has serious holes in it, just as any definition does.


    Under your criteria, McVeigh may not have been a terrorist (if one considers FBI employees police)

    Perhaps, if you wish to argue as much.

    the attack on the Pentagon lies outside of your definition, the attack on the USS Cole is not terrorism

    Right. Never said otherwise.

    Hamas was not a terrorist group prior to 1994 (prior to then they did not target civilians)

    I’ll take your word for it.

    The list goes on and on.

    What “list”? List of things that are not terrorism? But so what? Here’s the definition of even numbers: can be divided by 2 with no remainder. Here’s some which lie outside that definition: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. The list goes on and on.

    Maybe I’m missing your point here. You’ve established that you can name various and sundry violent acts which are not terrorism. I can too. Whoop de doo. So what?

    The reason that terrorism is an effective weapon against us is not because of useful idiots (I assume you’re referring to me),

    I wasn’t. I was referring to people who would be swayed by the constructions like the one in my previous post. Sorry for the confusion.

    because we refuse to acknowledge it as political violence.

    Now I’m really confused. Who’s refusing to acknowledge it as such? On the contrary: “political violence”, with some elaboration, is more or less the *definition* of terrorism. But you’re the one arguing that this definition is useless, not I.

  24. Blixa says:


    “They attacked innocent civilians for the purpose of frightening other civilians from engaging in seafaring commerce and to put pressure on British society.”

    Ok swell, I’ll defer to your expertise and stipulate that such attacks took place: that (1) innocent civilians were intentionally targeted (were merchant marines “civilians”?), and (2) the sole purpose of the attacks was to pressure British society (i.e. interrupting the shipping lines in question served no military interdiction purpose – essentially, these boats weren’t carrying guns or coins for the redcoats). If so, I’ll agree that such acts were terrorist acts.

    If the American Revolutionaries engaged in such type of attacks as their *primary* tactic, I’d even call them “terrorists”. You tell me.

    “You may quibble about this if it makes you feel morally superior, ”

    ????? What are you talking about.

  25. Kent says:

    What Americans need to realize is that there really is no such thing as terrorism; there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you don’t (terrorists)

    This is absurd.

    Whereas Washington ordered British and Hessian prisoners treated with much greater kindness than was the custom of the day — so that one out of every four Hessian prisoners chose to remain in America — Al Quaeda offers no quarter to its civilian victims. Whereas the Declaration of Independence held out the promise of future goodwill towards Britain — “We … hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends” — Al Quaeda has declared a total jihad that brooks no compromise until we or they are all dead.

    These are not superficial differences. They reflect fundamental differences in philosophy and objective.

    Really, I think you’ve had a little too much New Year’s cheer.

  26. Blixa says:

    Just need to append my McVeigh comment so it’s not misinterpreted. If OKC was a “non-terrorist” attack (because (to hazard a guess) a few FBI agents happened to die, along with office workers, day care children, etc) it was a bloody stupid and inefficient one (not to mention a huge war-crime). Did McVeigh primarily want to kill FBI agents working on such and such floor, and just happen to kill 100+ extra people? Or did McVeigh primarily want to cause terror and “get revenge”, and happened to catch a few FBI agents along the way?

    This just illustrates the fuzziness I was talking about. Perhaps it was a 95% terror attack / 5% anti-government strike. Or 99/1 (I don’t care). Near the extreme end (99.999999+% terror) we can understand that if you plant a bomb in a pizza parlor and happen to kill someone who works for the FBI in the process, that doesn’t make it “not a terror attack” because a “legitimate target” happened to die in it (unplanned by you). McVeigh isn’t quite to that extreme (because he really did target federal workers) but (a) most of those federal workers, AFAIK, were *civilians*, (b) he took no care to concentrate or focus his attack on “legitimate targets” in any way, and (c) the primary purpose of the attack was obviously to cause a huge PR/fear splash rather than serving any coherent military purpose (the OKC federal building not having been exactly crucial to the ongoing functioning of the federal government I reckon). So that’s why even though I understand people like Stotch who try to argue otherwise, in my book it stays “95% terror” or whatever. This just illustrates that there is really not a binary either/or but a spectrum or continuum.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s utterly meaningless to distinguish groups who focus primarily (not always!) near one end of the spectrum (al Qaeda) and groups who focus primarily (not always!) near the other (American revolutionaries).