Earlier this month Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the sixth edition of Inspire magazine, a colorful web publication written in English designed to recruit Al Qaeda volunteers. I got my copy last weekend. The link immediately above takes you to the Public Intelligence website’s slightly censored copy.
This is a memorial issue, considerably more somber than previous versions, marking the death of Osama bin-Laden. The cover is above. Notice the headline: Sadness, Contentment and Aspiration. Six others killed in action are also profiled.
I have a hypothesis about bin-Laden: What I have seen and heard suggests he was — as much as possible given our intense search — an ego maniacal micro-manager. This would be consistent with the characteristics of many other confirmed sources of evil.
I speculate bin-Laden was so consumed to out-do the 9/11 attacks that he became an impediment to many other less spectacular plans. Bin-Laden no longer had sufficient command-and-control to effectively launch an attack that matched his ambitions, but he had enough authority to veto other more likely-to-succeed efforts. Bin-Laden was working hard to stay involved and — paradoxically — his ego was a big help to our counter-terrorism effort.
I don’t have enough evidence to prove or disprove this hypothesis. But Inspire encourages my hypothesis. In the same issue marking the death of the al-Qaeda founder and — very briefly — affirming Ayman al-Zawahiri as the new head of al-Qaeda, there is a long article on individual jihad by Abu Mu’sab al-Suri. Also known as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, this long-time strategist of terrorist violence has been a sophisticated critic of the 9/11 attacks and the more centralized strategic approach of bin-Laden.
Following are two paragraphs from al-Suri’s piece in this month’s Inspire magazine. Al-Suri is answering, why is individual jihad necessary? (Compare to what Marc Sageman has called leaderless jihad.)
1. The failure of the operational methods of the secret, hierarchical organizations, in light of the international security campaign and the international and regional [counter-terrorism] co-ordination, which we have referred to above. Furthermore, the need for an operational method, which makes it impossible for those security agencies to abort the Resistance cells by arresting [some of] their members, based on [information extracted through] torture and interrogation [of other members].
2. Inability of the secret organizations to incorporate all of the Islamic ummah’s youth who want to perform the duty of jihad and Resistance by contributing with some kind of activity, without being required to commit themselves to membership responsibilities of a centralized organization.
The king is dead (and he was, by the way, wrong). Long live the (kingless) Resistance! Which could result in an increasing scope and frequency of deadly — but less than apocalyptic — attacks.
I received Inspire on the same weekend that the final Harry Potter movie was opening. The temptation to analogy is too great.
Ten years ago, just weeks after 9/11, still hurting and much more innocent than now, I took my tween children to see the first Harry Potter movie. In subsequent years any pretense to innocence was lost, hurt multiplied many times, and evil became increasingly explicit. The personification of evil was finally surprised and killed. That ended the decade-long fictional tale. The death of bin-Laden does not end the real world’s narrative nor the emergent threat.
At the core of the Harry Potter series — and in the narrative of terrorist martyrs — is the power of self-sacrifice. The Inspire magazine profile of six lesser known martyrs invokes this power. For love of God, neighbor, and family Muslim youth are called to self-sacrifice.
But there is a difference between these visions of self-sacrifice, potentially a crucial difference. From near the end of the current movie:
Harry Potter: “… But before you try and kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done…. Think, and try for some remorse….”
Voldemort: “What is this?”
Harry Potter: “It’s your one last chance, it’s all you’ve got left…. I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise…. Be a man…. try…. Try for some remorse….”
Innocence cannot be retrieved. Our own self-sacrifice is still needed. Our adversary also depends on and glorifies self-sacrifice. Each of us claim to sacrifice ourselves — or too often others — for a cause beyond ourselves.
But with luck or faith or courage we may be able to preserve our sense of remorse. In remorse we recognize our own pride and failure. In remorse we grieve, even over the death of our enemy. In remorse we mourn that violence is sometimes the tool of love. By embracing such remorse and learning from it, we may transcend remorse and even be redeemed by it.
The finished man among his enemies? –
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?
I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men…
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.