October 23, 2006:
Islamic radicals are still trying to figure out what they did wrong in Algeria. There, in 1992, the generals and old revolutionaries (who had led the fight against French colonialism three decades earlier), refused to respect a democratic vote, that gave Islamic political parties control of the government. Islamic radicals then led a decade long terror campaign that left over 100,000 people dead (mostly civilians, slaughtered by terrorists for not supporting the cause). Over 20,000 Islamic radicals died as well. The Islamic radicals lost. There are still about a thousand of them in Algeria, but they spend most of their time avoiding capture, and terrorist attacks are rare. The people are still angry with the corrupt government, but they are even more unhappy with the Islamic radicals, whose brutality exceeded anything the government ever resorted to. While the government was dishonest and inefficient, the Islamic radicals were terrifying. As has happened in several other Moslem countries, the population eventually rejected the terrorists, and the Islamic radicals were all arrested, killed, or forced to flee the country. Most Algerian Islamic terrorists are now outside the country, mainly in Europe, either as refugees, or illegals.
The recent merger of the Algerian Islamic terrorist organization (the GSPC) with al Qaeda (complete with some fanfare, in the form of an official announcement) has led to some public debate, by Islamic radicals, about what "went wrong" in Algeria. The GSPC had been in touch with Osama bin Laden since the late 1990s, and it was bin Laden who advised the tough approach to civilians who would not support the GSPC. This led to entire villages being wiped out by GSPC killers, to set an example. Interestingly, bin Laden never let many GSPC members into al Qaedas inner circle. Bin Laden knew that the Algerian police had infiltrated the GSPC, and didn't want one of those cops to get close to him. But now, both GSPC and al Qaeda are down and out, and hope that joining forces will enable them to turn things around.
In the last thirty years, only two Islamic radical groups have succeeded in taking control. This first happened in Iran, during the 1980s, when the Moslem clergy seized power during the war with Iraq. While widely unpopular, this government is still in power. The second success was in 1996, when the Taliban defeated all the other factions in the Afghan civil war, and remained in power until overthrown in late 2001, by an anti-Taliban alliance, American air power, and 300 Special Forces operators and CIA agents. In Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic radicals failed in their attempts to take over. An Islamic coalition is currently trying to take control of Somalia, but so far has had only partial success. Similarly, in the Palestinian territories, the Islamic radicals have only been partially successful in taking over. The major effort these days is in Iraq, where the Islamic radicals have allied with Sunni Arab nationalists to overthrow the elected (mainly by Kurds and Shia Arabs, who comprise 80 percent of the population) government.
Current thinking, among Islamic radicals, still leans towards using lots of violence and terror. After all, the Islamic radicals are on a mission from God. The debate is over how much violence to use, and against whom. One tactic is to concentrate on foreigners, especially tourists, and to avoid killing Moslems. The more hardcore Islamic radicals insist that the Moslems running the country should be the primary target, both the men-in-charge, and their families. Many Islamic conservatives believe that Islamic governments can be elected, as long as the Islamic radicals and terrorists are kept under control. These are fighting words to the Islamic radicals, so they are offered quietly. There are no fresh ideas, just the same old death and destruction.