to be poor historians. Throughout the last century, terrorist groups achieved
few of their objectives, and ultimately faded away. The media tends to
concentrate on the few terrorist objectives that have been achieved, ignoring
the (boring, and thus not news) fact that the terrorists usually fail. A recent
study published in "International Security" magazine ("Why
Terrorism Does Not Work") took 28 terrorist organizations that have been
operating during the last six years, counted their objectives, and found that
only seven percent of those have been achieved. Not very encouraging for the
Some al Qaeda leaders have
been paying attention, and are suggesting that current tactics be modified.
Even the slow learners in al Qaeda have noted that attacks that kill a lot of
civilians, makes the terrorists very unpopular. This was the case even in the
two nations that are home for most al Qaeda leaders (Egypt and Saudi Arabia).
Once there were terrorist attacks in those two nations that killed civilians (after
2003), support for al Qaeda plummeted. But once those attacks ceased (after a
two year crackdown), support for the terrorists began to rise again.
Talking about how dumb it is
to attack civilians, and getting terrorists to stop, are two different things.
Al Qaeda, in particular, has adopted the attitude that civilians who die
because of terrorist operations, are simply involuntary martyrs for the cause.
But the families and neighbors of these involuntary martyrs think differently,
and often turn on the terrorists violently. This reaction is one thing al Qaeda
reformers have going for them. But for al Qaeda groupies and wannabes in the
West (especially Europe and North America), the lack of local terrorist attacks
just encourages them to keep believing in mass murder.
The al Qaeda reformers stress
that by sticking to government, police and military targets, you not only avoid
antagonizing the civilian population (that can hurt you bad, if they hate you),
but you weaken the security forces. This is particularly true if the government
is not popular with the locals. But going after guys with guns is more
difficult, and dangerous, than just blowing up civilians. No glory in getting
killed, tortured or imprisoned by the police. Getting al Qaeda to change their
target list is going to be difficult, if not impossible.
Another thing the reformers
want to change is the list of objectives. At the moment, al Qaeda will settle
for nothing less than world domination. Everyone must be Moslem, Sunni Moslem
to be specific. That means about fifteen percent of Moslems who are not Sunni
must undergo some violent attitude adjustment. Many al Qaeda fans are getting
discouraged at the difficulty there appears to be in achieving this goal. Thus
the reformers urge a change of objectives. Let's stand for something more
achievable. Like just getting all unbelievers (non-Moslems) out of the Middle
East, or one country (like Iraq). Once that is accomplished, a new goal can be
set. In other words, make it seem like al Qaeda has a chance. Not much change
of that either. Bigger is better, reality be damned.
Given the history of terrorist
organizations, which, by their very nature, are based on extremist positions,
the reformers don't stand much of a chance, and neither does al Qaeda. But as
long as they keep trying, some of their attacks will succeed.