Al Qaeda is encouraging its members and any like-minded Moslems to make an effort to kidnap non-Moslem Westerners, in order to exchange them for imprisoned terrorists. This was made clear when, in late October, al Qaeda released a two-hour speech by their leader (Ayman al Zawahri) in which he repeatedly called for these kidnappings and provided some detailed advice. For example, Zawahri specifically praised the kidnapping of an American aid worker, 71 year old Warren Weinstein, last year in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has been unable to obtain the release of any terrorists in return for Weinstein. This is mainly because the United States has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists, especially when it comes to ransom and releasing prisoners (especially those tried and convicted). But al Qaeda is encouraged by the fact that most governments (especially Israel, India, and many European countries) will make deals, even if they sometimes do it secretly and unofficially.
Western governments hold several thousand Islamic terrorists, including over a hundred that the terrorists consider senior leaders. Even modern Islamic conservatives (like the new president of Egypt) believe some of these terrorist leaders should be released. This attitude by a prominent Islamic conservative spotlights something that most Moslems would prefer stay within the Moslem community. That is the belief that Moslems are inherently superior to non-Moslems (“infidels”) and that the infidels are constantly attacking (in many ways, some of them incomprehensible to Westerners, or simply the product of group paranoia) Moslems and that Moslems are justified in fighting back. This sort of thing is preached in mosques, including many of those considered moderate. In Saudi Arabia, where infidel churches (and open practice of other religions) are forbidden, outright hatred of infidels is widely preached. All this explains the joyful and spontaneous celebrations throughout the Moslem world after the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington. When dealing with infidels, most Moslems deny that these attitudes exist. Most non-Moslems pretend to agree with that. That doesn’t change the reality.
Despite toleration of Moslem delusions, most infidels are less and less tolerant of Moslems that act on these destructive attitudes. So are many Moslems, who were appalled at the violence al Qaeda unleashed against fellow Moslems in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Al Qaeda, it turned out, had no qualms about killing fellow Moslems, including women and children. These victims are considered “involuntary martyrs” for the cause of bringing Islamic rule to the entire world. These murders caused a dramatic drop, among Moslems, in popular support for al Qaeda and similar groups. Despite all that, while Islamic radicals are not merciful against those who disagree with them (Moslem and infidel alike), it is considered perfectly OK to ask for mercy when it comes to jailed terrorists. At the same time Islamic conservatives (and “moderates”) think it quite reasonable to demand the death of all Jews.
When it comes down to mercy, Islamic radicals treat terrorists who killed Moslems and those who killed infidels differently. For the former, execution is considered suitable treatment, for the latter, some mercy is in order. Infidels continue to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the Moslem world. Corruption, a feature of Middle Eastern life for thousands of years (the ancient Romans complained about it) is all the fault of the infidels. The revolution in Syria and the continued brutality of the Assad dictatorship is, according to Zawahri, all the fault of the infidels. Despite al Qaeda’s loss of popularity among Moslems, blaming the infidels for everything will still get you some approving nods from Moslems. What it won’t get is a solution to any of the problems that bedevil the Moslem world.
Meanwhile carrying out these kidnappings has proved to be very difficult. The best targets are foreign aid workers and reckless tourists. Both these groups are quite small. Moslems who benefit from the tourist business are wary of anything that will keep the tourists away. Western diplomats and tourist businesses will warn their citizens away from areas where terrorism becomes a threat. There are still reckless, or unlucky individuals who can be captured, but not that many, and local police will usually mobilize a major effort to free the hostages. Zawahri’s call for kidnapping will not result in a lot of kidnappings, but it will create a lot more Moslem anger against al Qaeda as more Western tourists and aid workers stay away for a while.