by Austin Bay
December 26, 2006
Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri's pre-Christmas rants backfired
in both Palestine and in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Zawahiri -- Al-Qaida's terror
emir No. 2 -- ordered the Palestinians to wage his globalist brand of jihad. In
the midst of their own vicious civil war, Hamas and Fatah quickly told Zawahiri
to butt out.
Zawahiri's history lesson for
Washington Democrats elicited yawns. Zawahiri argued that the "the Muslim ...
vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq ... won (the U.S. election), and the American
forces and their crusader allies are the ones who lost ..."
Cave life in Pakistan evidently
limits the al-Qaida firebrand's ability to affect current events. It isn't
simply a feat to simultaneously flop in the Beltway and Gaza Strip -- it's a
Zawahiri's December case of tin ear
is small encouragement, however, for his insistent message remains an enormous
menace. At the end of 2006, al-Qaida is a shattered organization, but not yet a
The ideology al-Qaida and its
"affiliated cadres" empowers a still potent enemy. Oklahoma City bomber Tim
McVeigh provided a domestic American example of the horror a handful of driven,
delusional and violent men can wreak. McVeigh, however, was truly isolated.
Al-Qaida's dark genius -- or, more
accurately, the dark genius of the Egyptian strain of internationalist jihadism
-- has been to connect the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young
men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian
fantasy seeks to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline.
The rage energizing al-Qaeda's ideological cadres certainly predates the
post-Desert Storm presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.
After 9-11, the popular press
focused on Osama bin Laden's Saudi money rather the Zawahiri's Egyptian
militancy, but together the Saudi-Egyptian link was the combination that forged
al-Qaida operationally and philosophically.
Zawahiri's inspiration, mentor and
fellow Egyptian, Sayid Qutb, is the modern father of jihadist rage and violence.
Counter-terror experts have long acknowledged Qutb's resilient appeal. In his
book "Assassins and Zealots," terror expert Dr. Stephen Sloan notes Qutb
"demonized" Western and secular Muslim leaders "as agents of revived jahiliyah
(pre-Islamic heathenism) who ... could be attacked at will by true believers."
Lawrence Wright's magnificent new
book, "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," provides the most
literate narrative history available of the origins and operations of al-Qaida.
In doing so, Wright examines Qutb, Zawahiri, bin Laden and their cohorts in
extraordinarily informed detail.
"The Looming Tower" treats Qutb
rigorously and poignantly. Qutb possessed a brilliant intellect, and his
American sojourn (1948-1950) had a profound effect on the man. Qutb visited New
York and California, and attended college in Greeley, Colo. Wright says the
freedom of American women led Qutb to conclude that "Islam and modernity were
completely incompatible." Qutb was palpably threatened by, yet deeply attracted
to, Western women. Personal repulsion and fascination fed a lurking sense of
cultural and political humiliation.
Qutb key facts: Qutb was born in
1903. He died in 1966 -- executed by Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, who at the time
was a Soviet ally.
Qutb's rage fed Zawahiri and
ultimately shaped bin Laden. The same rage continues to feed disaffected and
isolated young Muslims trapped in corrupt autocracies and denied other
political, cultural and aesthetic avenues of expression.
Both Zawahiri and bin Laden grew up
in comparatively privileged circumstances. Wright's sources on Zawahiri's early
years include family members and family friends, providing a remarkable
psychological record of a young, politically active intellectual on the road to
global murderer. Wright documents bin Laden's inept record during the Afghan war
against the Soviets. Hardened mujahideen regarded bin Laden as a buffoon and
Azza Zawahiri, Ayman's wife, also
receives tragic attention. Trapped in the debris of an air attack in
Afghanistan, Azza chose to remain beneath the rubble rather than take the risk
that men would see her face. She died there. The Wright vignette illustrates the
fierce, unbending will of al-Qaida's most committed cadres. And demonstrates why
they remain a threat.