Thursday, April 28, 2011


Jason Burke, whose book on Al-Qaeda is one that I would recommend, has sometimes been misread as minimising the threat of Jihadi Islamism.  In fact, what he has always emphasised is its danger. That danger is, paradoxically, the result of what he sees as its organisational weakness and ideological strength. He argues that Al-Qaeda as an idea has not built a conventional underground network, instead it has spread an ideology of terror that has attracted adherents capable of acting semi-independently, which makes it hard to detect and stop. So It was good to read this from him today.
The events of this spring have shown that Bin Laden and his cronies are definitively drifting to the geographic, political, cultural and ideological margins of the Islamic world. Their attempt to radicalise and mobilise hundreds of millions of people has failed. Crowds shouting slogans of democracy, not of violence, have succeeded in forcing the departure of two dictators and shaken several more. The Arab spring started with a public self-immolation, an act of spectacular violence which impressed because it harmed no other and was thus a clear repudiation of the suicide attacks of the last decade. The few statements from al-Qaida's leadership or affiliate groups have sounded tired and irrelevant.
Whilst in no way minimising the possibility of murderous mayhem emerging from the ideologically deranged, or of the continued threat of organised groups such as the Taliban, the decline of the attraction of Jihadi ideas is to be hugely welcomed. And this is the key point. The Arab spring marks a rejection of both the dominant narratives in the Middle East. A new generation has experienced nothing but corruption and oppression from all the variants of pan-Arab nationalism and now the minority, dissident Islamist narrative is seen as a bitter opponent of the liberties the people are desperate to experience. These revolutions represent the defeat of Islamism not its opportunity.

So why then the caution, why the 'we do not know who these people are' cliché, why do we give credence to the desperate claims of tyrants that they are the ones holding back the forces of terror? Every day we are seeing people displaying the most extraordinary courage to try and win ordinary, democratic freedoms. This is democracy's moment in the Middle East and we should be supporting it by whatever means possible.

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