Al Qaeda’s Brand Name

Daniel McIntosh argues that the hijacking of the al Qaeda “brand” by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may ultimately undermine the goals of its leadership.

The Boys and the Brand (TCS)

Al Qaeda has long been a “franchise” operation, but now anyone who wishes to do so can declare themselves to own one of the franchises. KFC wouldn’t put up with such an arrangement, but Usama Bin Laden and the core of Al Qaeda don’t have a choice. At best, the franchisees will approximate some of the past positions of Al Qaeda, and in so doing turn Usama Bin Laden into the Col. Sanders of transnational terrorism. More likely each will each go its own way, destroying the value of the brand. Much as the IRA finds itself in opposition to the “Real IRA,” or elements of the Palestinian Authority fight one another for control, the division of effort will undermine the various “Al-Qaedas.” In turn, it will become more difficult for the original Al Qaeda to recruit competent people. Threats will be contradictory, or will fail to materialize. An organization with a reputation for terror will evolve into something more like a nuisance. If Al Qaeda were a legally-constituted organization it would be in court protecting itself, but that’s not an option. The founders and leaders of Al Qaeda have to stand and watch as the image they have crafted is rendered worthless.

An interesting point, to be sure. Al-Zarqawi’s actions, notably the beheading of infidel hostages and bombing of American soldiers in Iraq probably plays into the short-term goals of bin Laden and company. But the barbarity of the beheadings and, especially, the indiscriminate murder of Muslim non-combatants could well jeapardize al Qaeda’s larger goals of build a hegemonic Umma.

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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.