June 11, 2008
The inner jihad: Islamic extremism attacks itself
It’s an ancient lesson that for every warrior/gangster/terrorist the good guys kill, five more step up to fill the void. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi gets killed but Al Qaeda in Iraq persists. Don Corleone dies at the end of “Godfather,” and his son Michael steps up to lead the family in two subsequent movies. You’d think all of our foreign-policy geniuses in Washington would be aware of this. Most people are.
The War on Terror has, in seven years, cost $527 billion and 4,587 lives (and could grow to much more). But the answer to Islamic extremism lies not just in firepower but, as President Bush’s loyalists used to say, winning hearts and minds. This doesn’t seem to be happening en mass, but the New York Times recently had an article about the de-radicalization of younger Iraqis and some outside jihad leaders have turned against the ideology, as detailed in this New Republic article about Noman Benotman, a former leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group:
A week before this article appeared, Lawrence Wright, who won a Pulitzer for “The Looming Tower” and has a more intimate knowledge of Al Qaeda than any other American journalist, wrote a very long piece for The New Yorker about Al Qaeda’s inner rebellion.
I don’t want to be overly optimistic, or pessimistic, but these are positive developments. Still, they are incredibly limited in their scale and need to be reproduced over and over to cause significant change.