Evidence that Al Qaeda is not sui generis but possibly part of a wider phenomenon was provided by Brazilian prison gangs. Using cell phones to coordinate their attacks, criminal syndicates torched buses, machine-gunned police stations and launched coordinated prison riots in an effort to force Brazil to rescind an order to transfer gang leaders to a high-security facility. According to the Washington Post:
SAO PAULO, Brazil, May 15 -- Masked men have attacked bars, banks and police stations with machine guns, gangs have set buses on fire, and inmates at dozens of prisons have taken guards hostage in an unprecedented four-day wave of violence in Sao Paulo. More than 80 people have been killed, officials said Monday. As President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva prepared to send in 4,000 federal troops, officials worried that the violence could spread 220 miles northeast to Rio de Janeiro, where police were put on high alert and extra patrols were dispatched to slums where drug gang leaders live. ...
Leaders of First Capital Command gang, or PCC, reportedly used cellphones to order the attacks. Gang members then riddled police cars with bullets, hurled grenades at police stations and attacked officers at their homes and after-work hangouts. On Sunday night, the gang employed a new tactic: sending gunmen onto buses, ordering passengers and drivers off, and torching the vehicles.
All the Brazilian gangsters really lacked to reach the first rank of villains was a good pitchman to cast their depredations in terms of some politically respectable cause; a task theoretically made easier because the gang leaders had roots in Third World slums instead of being billionaires like Osama Bin Laden. But the pitchmen may come later. Money can buy respectable apologists and not simply for cults. For the moment the gangs are content to use the very familiar tactics of hostage taking, attacks on civilian targets and attacks on police stations to achieve their aims. What difference there is between the Brazilian gangsters and Zarqawi's "freedom fighters" lies not in their methods but their goals. And maybe even those are the same.
It may be no coincidence that Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence is Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin is the same man who tracked down and killed Colombian narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar, a sign that perhaps someone recognizes the similarity between terrorism and gangs in the Third World.
From 1990 to 1991 he was at the Army War College. In 1992/early 1993, as a colonel, Boykin was in Colombia leading a mission to hunt for drug lord Pablo Escobar. Seymour Hersh later claimed in The New Yorker that there were suspicions within the Pentagon that Boykin's team was going to take part in the assassination of Pablo Escobar, and that US Embassy officials in Columbia were acting as support.
Thankfully Boykin never went so far as to shoot Escobar or the New York Times would have been highly displeased. But perhaps the Brazilian government is not similarly constrained. The Washington Post story continues:
Gilson Adei, 35, driving one of the few buses in downtown Sao Paulo, demanded that authorities lash back at the criminals. "It's absurd -- the gang members can do whatever they want? They can just start a war? And why would they attack the transportation, normal people? Next it will be schools," he said. "We should get the military on every corner and kill them."
It's ironical that while some American politicians want to treat terrorism as a criminal problem some Brazilians want to treat super-gangs as a terrorist problem.
One difficulty with elevating Al Qaeda to a level completely different from the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda or the Janjaweed in the Sudan is finding some property, apart from scale, that sets them apart. Presumably Al Qaeda has a more coherent, nobler and rational set of aims. All they want after all is simply to conquer the world and subjugate it using weapons of mass destruction and unrestrained savagery. That is so much more reasonable than the irrational desire to sell drugs for profit and prevent the transfer of gang leaders to a different jail cell. But dissenters may be argued that the First Capital Gang, Lords Resistance Army and Al Qaeda are all byproducts of failed states or perhaps the an alternative form of social organization that now threatens to engulf large parts of the Third World. Thomas Barnett believed the world was better described not in terms of its Muslim and non-Muslim parts but as being divided between a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap: between localities that "worked" and those which were falling apart.
So what parts of the world can be considered functioning right now? North America, much of South America, the European Union, Putin?s Russia, Japan and Asia?s emerging economies (most notably China and India), Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa, which accounts for roughly four billion out of a global population of six billion. Whom does that leave in the Gap? It would be easy to say ?everyone else,? but I want to offer you more proof than that and, by doing so, argue why I think the Gap is a long-term threat to more than just your pocketbook or conscience.
Maybe Barnett should not have included too "much of South America" in his accounting of the Core. But if Barnett is conceptually right the problems of peace in the 21st century are rooted in the difference between the Core and Gap; between the world's gleaming cities and its seething hinterlands. The War on Terror is really the Struggle Against Chaos, a chaos that is riding the wings of Globalization. If so what institutions does the Core have to deal with problems like ultra-powerful Third World gangs, militias and terrorist organizations? The UN, aid agencies and NGOs have proved no match for them in the past and nothing has come forward to take their place.