You are either against us or against us
Peter Bergen argues in the New Republic (subscription only link) that Al Qaeda isn't dead. "It's not even on the run. In fact, it's back and stronger than ever." A better summary of Bergen's article might be that after being evicted by US forces, al Qaeda simply moved to other countries. But not just to any Islamic country. The real center of its new network is built around Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom.
The story of Al Qaeda's renaissance begins with its eviction from Afghanistan in late 2001. Unfortunately, the group didn't disintegrate--it merely moved across the border to the tribal regions of western Pakistan, where today it operates a network of training camps. A former American intelligence official stationed in Pakistan told me that there are currently more than 2,000 foreign fighters in the region. ...
Nowhere in the West do these developments pose a greater danger than in Great Britain. ... The nexus between Al Qaeda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom is almost certain to generate more attacks. Making a rare public speech last November, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, said, "We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and damage our economy ... 30 that we know of. These plots often have linked back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and, through these links, Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale." One such plot involving Al Qaeda was the alleged plan by a group of British-Pakistani citizens to launch an attack in the United Kingdom using 1,300 pounds of fertilizer (reportedly stored in a locker in West London). They were arrested in March 2004 by British police. According to court documents entered in the trial, two of the accused said they worked for Abdul Hadi, a senior leader of Al Qaeda. Also, the British government alleges that several of those arrested had trained at terrorist camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border in 2003.
Bergen should have added "Saudi Arabia" to the list. And he does, but through the door of Iraq.
And then, of course, there is Iraq. Several studies have shown that the suicide attackers in Iraq are largely foreigners, while only a small proportion are Iraqi. In June 2005, the site Institute of Washington found, by tracking both jihadist websites and news reports, that, of the 199 Sunni extremists who had died in Iraq either in suicide attacks or in action against coalition or Iraqi forces, 104 were from Saudi Arabia and only 17 were from Iraq.
From these new bases Bergen predicts that Al-Qaeda will not only continue its low level campaign of violence but will go for another Big One. Maybe a radiological bomb on a Western City. Maybe something even bigger. But the questions he raises become eerie in the context of British TV's expose entitled Undercover Mosque. It follows the months-long attendance of an undercover reporter at a Saudi-funded mosque in London where the sermons were not only disturbing but outright inflammatory.
Much of "Undercover Mosque" was filmed with a hidden camera. The sound is clear, but the footage is often shaky and tentative. Ironically, this is now the predominant style for hip documentary filmmaking, which affects a nervous, frantic style. Here you have the real thing — it's nervous and frantic because it has to be. The preachers shown, including an African-American convert, are jaw-droppingly explicit in their revolutionary plans for Britain and the world.
One, Dr. Ijaz Mian, at the Regents Park Mosque in London, official seat of "moderate" Islam in Britain, talks openly about his desire to see Saudi-style religious police operating in the United Kingdom. He urges Muslims to wait until they are sufficiently numerous to make Britons surrender: "Hands Up!" Another predicts jihad will be waged against all nonbelievers and a British Islamic state established, with the flogging of drunkards, chopping off of thieves' hands, and jihad against non-Muslims all on the menu. "You have to live like a state within a state until you take over," he says. Women are "deficient," and should be marriageable before puberty because Muhammad himself married a nine-year-old. The animus against homosexuals and Jews is particularly virulent, meaning not merely condemnation, but explicit calls for their (eventual) murder. One imam even mimics a throat-cutting.
The initial vision behind Operation Iraqi Freedom was to provide an democratic alternative to the Muslim world. And the question implicit in any "redeployment" strategy or change in direction is quo vadis? Do we really mean to take on radical Islam in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Europe? Because they will still be there however far one flees from Iraq. And how do we intend to fight them in those places? If the West could not bear to abandon a "catch and release" policy in Iraq do they expect it to be implemented in Western Europe? Now that Iran has decided to destablize Afghanistan by supporting even forces traditionally unfriendly to it, for so long as they attacked Americans, we now have a reprise of the Iraq in Southwest Asia with Iran and Afghanistan playing the roles of Iran and Syria. Given there is no prospect of cleaning up the Taliban hiding in Pakistan, what is the way forward in Afghanistan that is not different from the way forward in Iraq?
There is no escape from the current conflict. There is nowhere to withdraw. The West must find a way to defeat a networked radical Islamic threat one way or the other or leave the planet. The jihadis have every intention of inheriting the earth.