The Sunday Telegraph includes an interview with Sir David Richards, new chief of the British Defence Staff, that is worth Yanks (and others) reading. The story is headlined: Why we cannot defeat al-Qaeda.
Please don’t stop with the headline. Click on the link and read the Telegraph’s report.
The general subscribes to the notion that such an ideologically-driven adversary cannot be defeated in the traditional sense, and to attempt to do so could be a mistake.
“In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital.
First of all you have to ask: “do we need to defeat it (Islamist militancy)?” in the sense of a clear cut victory, and I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.”
It is a bold statement and he quickly adds: “But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”
Education, prosperity, understanding and democracy, he argues passionately, are the weapons that would ultimately turn people away from terrorism, although he admitted that to believe that such an undertaking could be achieved “within the time frame of the Second World War would be naive in the extreme”.
He also warns that while the threat from al-Qaeda is currently based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, it is unlikely to remain so in the future.
Sub-Sarharan Africa is also potentially at risk from militant Jihadists and the challenge now, Sir David believes, is for those countries to be identified and helped.
Back in January in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Sir David also made the following point,
Having learnt the lessons taught by AQ, the Taliban and many other non-state actors, and thought how to exploit them perhaps on an ‘industrial’ scale, why would even a major belligerent state choose to achieve our downfall though high risk, high cost traditional means when they can plausibly achieve their aims, much more cheaply and semi-anonymously, using proxies, guerrillas, economic subterfuge and cyber warfare?
I perceive US defense officials and military leadership largely agree with Sir David, but when they say so their comments are either ignored or sensationalized. Such a schizophrenic response does not easily produce a thoughtful and efficacious national strategy.
Last Monday, November 8, a new 23 minute video surfaced featuring Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. According to the Associated Press the message in Arabic includes Awlaki’s admonition to, “Don’t consult with anybody in killing the Americans,” he said. “Fighting the devil doesn’t require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils.”
Al-Awlaki is a citizen of the United States, born in New Mexico. He is currently thought to be somewhere in Yemen. More information on the Awlaki video is available from the SITE Intelligence Group.
In his lectures and other pronouncements al-Awlaki increasingly departs from Qu’ranic guidance and Islamic tradition. To discourage seeking divine guidance is far outside what most Muslims will recognize as their faith, especially in this season of Hajj. To discourage prayer when the taking of human life is involved is specifically suspect.
Much more in the Islamic mainstream is the Fatwa on Suicide Bombings and Terrorism by Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. In this scholarly finding the Pakistani Muslim leader declares “terrorism as forbidden, and an act of rebellion and brutality, and indeed of infidelity.” Dr. Qadri was in Washington DC last week (I was not). Some of his remarks can be accessed via webcast archives at Minhaj, his religious foundation.
It is interesting that if you search for “al-Awlaki” using the Google news function at least 999 news stories are spawned for the video launched on November 8. Inputting “Qadri” into the same function generates no links related to the Georgetown University speech given on the same day. What might this mean for our ability to perceive something close to reality?
Al-Qaeda remains dangerous. But whether the counter-terrorist goal is victory or containment, in either case our most effective partners are faithful Muslims who recognize the self-aggrandizing heresy of the terrorists.