Al-Qaeda’s Past and Present

The newest issue of Foreign Affairs on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 includes an essay by me (free registration required) on the history of al-Qaeda and its prospects after the Arab Spring. The essay covers the reasons for al-Qaeda’s founding, its targeting of the United States, its strategic thinking under Zawahiri’s leadership, its concept of an Islamic state, and its enduring problem with Islamist parliamentary politics. Regular readers of Jihadica will find much that is familiar but the essay makes one point I have not seen elsewhere: al-Qaeda is not against democratic elections, just parliamentary politics. The misperception that it is against democratic elections arises from a general ignorance of al-Qaeda’s thought on Islamic states and statecraft, a subject I also treat in the essay. Islamic states, not the caliphate, are central to al-Qaeda’s strategic planning and its interpretation of the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I look forward to your comments.

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Defending Failure in Gaza (Part 1)

Will’s latest post suggested that at least one jihadi is quite critical of what al-Qa’ida is doing regarding the Palestinian question. Well, he’s not the only one. Late last year, the Shumukh al-Islam forum published a book of its Q&A sessions with a jihadi leader from Gaza, namely Abu l-Walid al-Maqdisi, the amir of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad and a member of the Shari’a Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. While most questioners praised Abu l-Walid and wished him well, many also asked critical questions that forced Abu l-Walid to defend what essentially boils down to his group’s failure to achieve any substantial successes. In a short series of posts, I intend to work my way through this book, thereby providing insight into the problems that jihadis in the Gaza Strip face. Unity The book has about 160 pages (there’s no pagination) and contains 292 questions. What is interesting is that

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Reasons for the Strategic Failure of al-Qaeda in Palestine

In an essay provocatively titled, “Reasons for the Utter Strategic Failure of al-Qaeda to Threaten the Security of the Zionist Entity,” Ansar forum member Qandil al-Bahr is at pains to explain why al-Qaeda is advancing the Palestinian cause by focusing its attention in the United States: There is no doubt that al-Qaeda is incapable of undertaking a single operation in the land controlled by the Israeli enemy. The mujahids of al-Qaeda are not even able to pay for a single shot or assassinate a single Jewish person in the land of Palestine. What is the reason for this utter failure? The reality is there is no reason behind it worth mentioning other than that the premise is faulty. It is not possible to defend a faulty premise other than by first critiquing it and moderating it then base it upon reality. Qandil says he has heard this faulty premise over and over but has

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Strategic Theory of the Second Generation of Jihadis

Three days ago, Abu Hafs al-Sunni al-Sunni, a member of the Atahadi forum, posted an article he titled, “The Strategic Theory of the Second Generation of Jihadis: Propagandistic Foundations and Operational Methods.” Despite the title, it is less about strategy and operations and more about the public relations problems plaguing the jihadis. Here are his main points: The first generation of jihadis did not do an adequate job of winning over ordinary Muslims. This left the field open to the quietist Salafis. Jihadis need to engage commoners by showing them videos of the suffering of Muslims and gauging their interest in doing something about it. However, one has to be careful so as not to be accused of inciting terrorism. Jihadis need to avoid actions that alienate the masses, like beheadings, and demonstrate how much more ethical they are in waging war than the Americans. The second generation of jihadis is

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