Political vs. Military Solutions to Terrorism [2 of 4]

War Between the Military & the Civilians
War Between Military & the Civilians



By  John Maszka


In this part J.M. analyses situation in different theatres of war, and quotes Professor Scott Atran (another scholar on issues such as global terrorism), how the US administration is doing exactly what al-Qaeda might wish it to do viz. create more well wishers, sympathizers and active collaborators for its cause – if not overt, then covert participators in al-Qaeda’s combat activities in the Muslim world.

Today, Nayyar Zaidi, a noted columnist elaborates in a leading daily of Lahore, how the highly educated pro Islamic militant groups in Algeria have found a collaborator in the guise of al-Qaeda. “The Islamists of Algeria are highly educated people and as such do not seem to have much in common with the al-Qaeda guys” says Nayyar Zaidi. However believing in the age old dictum that ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ continues Zaidi, they are collaborating with al-Qaeda.

In the present part of this four part series of J.M.’s essay, findings of different US writers and think tanks have been subjected to a scholarly review and writer comes to conclude the same theme i.e. Bush administration is indirectly doing through its war on terror what al-Qaeda may wish as well, and its here that this war has two parallels which meet in different theatres of this war.


Far more than an engaging game of “whack-a- mole,” the United States government is facing a world-wide mutiny against the existing order. “Western governments must recognize that the tiny proportion of the population that ends up in terrorist cells cannot exist without the availability of broader sources of active or passive sympathy, resources and support” (Cronin, 2006:81). But how do terrorist groups obtain this support from the broader population?

The Palestine Theatre

The Palestine theatre of war

Given the offenses committed by the Bush administration, angering Muslims by the millions, the greatest challenge that remains is to unite the Muslim population against a common enemy. Scott Atran (2006:136, 143) offers an explanation of how this is accomplished: The edited snippets and sound bites favored by today’s mass media have been used with consummate skill by jihadi leaders and ideologues, beginning with bin Laden himself. As a result, deeply local and historically nuanced interpretations of religious canon have been flattened and homogenized across the Muslim world and beyond, in ways that have nothing in particular to do with actual Islamic tradition but everything to do with a polar reaction to perceived  injustice in the prevailing unipolar world…Historically and today, it is desecration of sacred places and perceived humiliation, even more than death and destruction, that has moved people to embrace violence.

“We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media… [We] are in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our umma.”
– Ayman-al-Zawahiri, July 2005 (reprinted in Lynch, 2006:50).

Al-Qaeda is attempting to restructure the political identity of the entire Islamic population, primarily via the media. Much like any political campaign, al-Qaeda is targeting the “median voters of the Arab Muslim public.” While this target population may not be Islamist, because of their concern over American involvement in the Middle East and their fury over corrupt Arab governments, they are susceptible to Al-Qaeda’s anti-American message.

While al-Qaeda has been utilizing the media all along, it invested in this tactic more heavily than ever after the American strikes against Afghanistan. Zawahiri strongly believes in the need to obtain wide support of the public. He uses American intervention in the region to turn popular support against America (Lynch 2006:53).

Jessica Stern (2004:1121-2) quotes from Zawahiri’s autobiography, in which she refers to the “crusader” alliance and the “fundamentalist coalition” which opposes it: “It is anxious to seek retribution for the blood of the martyrs, the grief of the mothers, the deprivation of the orphans, the suffering of the detainees, and the sores of the tortured people throughout the land of Islam.” Stern cautions that the Bush administration is giving Zawahiri every media advantage he could dream of to muster support for al-Qaeda.

Not only does Stern claim that the Bush administration’s approach to fighting the war on terror is immoral when she refers to “the heart-wounding images of American soldiers humiliating, torturing, and killing Iraqi prisoners,” she also suggests that it’s just not very smart:

If bin Laden were writing a script for George Bush and Tony Blair to follow, would he not command them to attack and occupy a Muslim country in defiance of the international community and in violation of international law? And would it not be his fondest wish to see the “new crusaders” humiliate those Muslims, and themselves, in the most graphic way possible? Having those soldiers photograph their crimes might have seemed too much to ask for. While Zawahiri is after the median voter, Zarqawi (al-Qaeda in Iraq) placed “far more emphasis on the mobilization of already-committed jihadists.” To tap this market, Zarqawi depended heavily on the internet to wage “cyber-jihad” against the Shi’a in Iraq. Zarqawi’s approach was very different from Zawahiri’s in that he did not care about the median Arab voter, only mujaheddin who could fight to further the goal of al-Qaeda in Iraq (Lynch, 2006:53).

Matthew Levitt (2006 a) explores a similar phenomenon: Hamas. In Levitt’s opinion, Hamas uses its vast charitable and political reach specifically as a vehicle to further terrorism. Much like al-Qaeda’s efforts to reach the median Arab voter, Hamas has built an extensive organization designed to win the popular vote, which it of course did in January 2006 with its remarkable victory at the polls. According to Levitt, however, Hamas is not a multi-functioning charitable, political organization with many distinct and separate agencies and functions. It is in fact a dangerous terrorist organization that has very strategically established itself in the social and political fabric for the sole purpose of obtaining the much needed public support for continuing its terrorist activities.

Desouza and Hensgen (2007) argue even further that beyond popular support from the general public, terrorist groups also depend on collaboration with other entities for their survival. The authors contend that no terrorist organization is completely self-sustaining; nor can terrorist groups exist in isolation. They “must engage in the fundamentals of established economic practices in order to succeed” (p.593). And once they taste a bit of success, an entire world of support and collaboration opens itself to them. Take the case of bin Laden:

Bin Laden’s success against the Soviets made him appear as an attractive and powerful “friend” in a destabilized area of interest to many. With popularity comes access, and bin Laden availed himself of the support and finances of many suitors. Support came from “charitable donations,” funds solicited from religious fundamentalist sympathizers, and both aid and funding were provided by the West. Among the charitable organizations is the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a private religious organization based in Saudi Arabia, with branches in more than 50 countries that contributes between $30 million to $80 million to various charities annually (Desouza and Hensgen, 2007:594).

War is not a collateral damage, its destructio

War is no collateral damage, its total destruction, decimating humans, property, vegetation, every thing.

If bin Laden can amass such support because of the popularity of his cause, so can a host of other groups across the globe. And let’s not forget, that the West was once one of these supporters. If, as Desouza & Hensgen argue, terrorist groups often collaborate with one another, fueling one another’s determination, anger, popularity, notoriety, and most importantly, enhancing one another’s strengths and abilities; then it stands to reason that America’s backing of one organization today (Fatah for example) against another organization (for example, Hamas), could prove seriously counter-productive to its interests tomorrow. Just as our support of bin Laden allowed him to grow stronger and draw even more support from others, the same can very well happen with Fatah. And who is to say that Fatah and Hamas won’t form another alliance, this time against the U.S.?       Contd……

  •  US establishment is working on premise of combating today’s terrorism, does this premise damage US global interests?
  • Is terrorism and crime one and the same thing? US administration’s view on this question and its impact on US position as a global leader?
  • Crime is more dangerous for America than terrorism?
  • Challenge for America, combat crime or terrorism, the larger threat?
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2 replies to “Political vs. Military Solutions to Terrorism [2 of 4]

  1. I agree with the author’s contention that Bin Laden and Co. are former ‘friends’ of the United States that have now turned foes.

    As they say, “As you sow, so shall you reap.”

    Or, one could say that America’s chickens have come home to roost!

    That said, I believe the keyword is ‘respect’. America has to learn to respect the citizens of other countries (Iraq, for instance) as human beings who deserve the same fundamental rights as those of the citizens of the United States.

    Once that respect is developed, America can automatically progress towards curbing its tendency to try and play God for the rest of the world.

    With great power, as some one has rightly said, comes great responsibility.

    America has to wage a battle for winning the hearts and minds of the followers of Islam and a sincere effort can only originate from a healthy sense of respect for these people, as equals, no more and no less.

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