Comments have been all over the board about my “Meet a Jihobbyist” series, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts this morning. My conclusion up front is that, however painful this series might have been to endure for some of you, it has helped me provide the ONLY THOUGHTFUL ANSWER that I’ve seen out there to the question of why Bin Laden just issued two statements about global climate change. This “Meet a Jihobbyist” series spoke DIRECTLY to the issue of tomorrow’s al-Qaeda, an issue that I’ve seen very little nuanced or useful analysis about anywhere else.
So love it, hate it but you cant deny what it accomplished after you get through this post: namely, illustrating how:
- Bin Laden’s new tactic is focused on manipulating Muslim communities in the West by playing on grievances that are ok for them to have and using that to lower the fence by which they can feel ‘linked’ to others who share those ok grievances (anger about the effects of global climate change and the disproportionate amount of humanitarian relief effort expended in the Muslim world as opposed to other parts of the world, for example).
- The CT community has no metrics for distinguishing between acceptable support for AQ and unacceptable when talking about social/political/humanitarian issues
- There is a strong likelihood that the more AQ turns to various constituencies to support open causes in the name of AQ, the more mistakes law enforcement will make in trying to police the growth of AQ, which will invariably become self-fulfilling as those communities begin to feel alienated and start to buy into the nasty part of the ideology.
I’m headed toward the conclusion that the answer might actually be in giving guys like my “Meet a Jihobbyist” series subjects more discursive and political space to be angry, not less. Yeah, didnt expect that one, did you? Keep reading cuz it gets better.
If you recall, some of my long-time readers were bothered by the fact that I was reposting public profile images of individuals who openly supported al-Qaeda. Their argument was that, by taking a photo of some nobody dude sporting an “I love Osama” t-shirt and posting it to my blog, I was inflicting some sort of pain on them or their reputations – a response that itself mandates more discussion another time.
My response, if you recall, was to huff and puff about whether I needed to protect individuals who had publicly posted images of themselves alongside AQ propaganda to the Internet. I eventually begin anonymizing my subjects. Virtually all of those who commented to my blog in protest then withdrew their protests with the anonymization in place.
Some of my most dedicated Muslim readers, however, argued that this approach was still offensive – the implication being that I was blurring the line between an individual who supports terrorism and an individual simply dissenting or expressing discontent with the US. Wearing a UBL t-shirt was not necessarily an expression of alignment with Bin Laden, but a political statement that may have nothing to do with supporting terrorism. In other words, they argued that promoting Bin Laden as a symbolic figure is doesnt mean that somebody has swallowed the ideology hook, line and sinker but more likely, is angry and expressing themselves in a way that they know will attract attention to their grievances.
My response to my Muslim friends’ comments is that YOU’RE EXACTLY RIGHT, well, almost. I’m not actually the one bluring this line between supporting terrorism and supporting a political statement. I’m just depicting what’s going on. In fact, your reaction to my blog is PRECISELY the answer to the question of why UBL now cares about climate change.
Think about it, UBL’s goal is to make it harder for everyone to distinguish between:
“those who sport proverbial ‘I heart Osama’ t-shirts as a statement of undying support for al-Qaeda the terrorist organization”
“those who proverbially sport ‘I heart Osama’ t-shirts as a political/social/rebellious/etc.. statement.
The best way to do this is to universalize: talk about issues that nobody can deny is bad for the world. By doing this, you start forcing the question of what exactly “is” AQ?
Are they 150 little devils running around AFPAK trying to launch attacks against the West? Or does AQ refer to the global movement of individuals who have some intersubjective agreement about the fact that the current direction of the world is generally wrong and Muslims are paying a steep price: seen in terms of pain, suffering, famine, disease, drought, war, poverty and death?
Put your emotion aside and just think about my blog posts on “jihobbyists” as a microcosm of this advancement in AQ grand strategy . Nobody could answer my questions about metrics for determining what made somebody a threat vs. a loud-mouth. Nobody provided me with an analytical template for overlaying on the swamp of online AQ supporters to make those distinctions. Nobody that I know has a solution to my questions about how do you draw these lines?
Instead, people just grumble and gripe about Brachman’s latest blog post, letting emotion and instinct guide their reactions rather than critical thought.
So, now, say you work in law enforcement or intelligence. This new al-Qaeda is predicated on making your life hell. It is premised on blurring every line that you thought you knew about how to spot the difference between loudmouths and would-be terrorists. The goal is to get you to overpolice and over-surveill Muslims because you no longer have a roadmap to navigate intelligently in this new world. As you stumble over endtables and stub your toes on chairs in the darkness, the new AQ hopes that you will alienate Muslims and actually do their job for you.
You see what’s happening here? By going above ground, AQ confuses everything. If everyone is AQ, then nobody is AQ. As you try to make sense of this new world, you will make mistakes. AQ’s hope is that in trying to get it right, you will get it wrong just enough to mobilize constituencies who never would have gone extremist.
My message to those offended by my, “Meet a Jihobbyist” series: YOU’RE WELCOME.