The Origins of al Qaeda

In the beginning all Muslims were supposed to belong to one community, not to many communities, and there was to be no division between politics and religion.  By the start of the Twentieth Century the Ottoman Empire expressed these unities.  At the same time, the Ottoman Empire—called the “Sick Man of Europe”—fell farther and farther behind Western countries, while the Turks bullied the Arabs inside the empire.

Then secular (non-religious) nationalism (which divided Muslims into Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Saudi Arabians, etc.) created the first countries in the Muslim world.  Secularism and nationalism were Western ideas, so this amounted to Westernization.  Turkey provided the example here after the First World War.  Many other countries followed it after the Second World War.  Unfortunately, many of these governments did not serve the interests of their people.  The early nationalist leaders held on to power in ways that looked like dictatorship.  Economic development and the opportunity to make a better life did not keep pace with population growth.  Countries often seemed to cringe before the Western countries.

The dissatisfaction with secular nationalist governments made their religious critics the natural alternative in the eyes of many people.  Religious feeling became increasingly strong throughout the Muslim world.  However, the emergence of leaders with a strong religious motivation did not begin in the Arab world.  Rather, the movement which overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1978-1979 put power into the hands of religious leaders.  Subsequently, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 sparked a rebellion by Afghans which drew in many Muslims from all over the Middle East to wage “jihad” against the Russians.  Among them was a Saudi Arabian soccer enthusiast named Osama bin Laden.  ObL’s father was rich, but he wasn’t.  He fought some, but mostly he organized people to fight and raised money to give people the weapons with which to fight.  In 1989 the Afghans succeeded in driving out the Russkies.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia ObL suggested that the “Afghan Arabs” who had defeated the Soviets should now fight the Iraqis.  The Saudis preferred to put their faith in the Americans.  Enraged by allowing these “unbelievers” into Islam’s holy land, bin Laden turned his attention to the “far enemy”—America.  Again he served as an organizer/fund-raiser.  (A National Endowment for Inhumanity.)

First, he based himself in Sudan.  When that got too hot, he moved to Afghanistan.  The Taliban, a movement of Muslim fundamentalists which had gained control of Afghanistan, protected ObL.  From these bases he organized the simultaneous bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanganyika, then the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, an American warship visiting Yemen.  Then he agreed to support the “planes operation,” which had been pitched to him—purportedly—by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.  This—purportedly–involved hijacking a bunch of planes in America and crashing them into buildings and hijacking a bunch of planes over the Pacific and crashing them into the ocean.  The second part of the plan had to be abandoned because the CIA snagged a bunch of the Pacific Ocean plotters in the Philippines.  Bin Laden concentrated on the American part of the operation.

On 9/11/2001 the attack came off as planned.  The Americans then invaded Afghanistan.  ObL fled to the lawless border regions of Pakistan.  Then the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  Eventually the Americans killed ObL.  The war in Afghanistan goes on to prevent the Taliban from coming back.

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