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JewishJournal.com

February 28, 2011

Turmoil in Mideast: Good or bad for al Qaeda?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/turmoil_in_mideast_good_or_bad_for_al_qaeda_20110228/

Popular movements in the Mideast have toppled dictators without help from al Qaeda. This seems to work against al Qaeda’s ability to recruit youth disaffected by their autocratic government’s western loyalties. Or so the New York Times reports:

In fact, the motley opposition movements that have appeared so suddenly and proved so powerful have shunned the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism. The demonstrators have used force defensively, treated Islam as an afterthought and embraced democracy, which is anathema to Osama bin Laden and his followers.

So for Al Qaeda — and perhaps no less for the American policies that have been built around the threat it poses — the democratic revolutions that have gripped the world’s attention present a crossroads. Will the terrorist network shrivel slowly to irrelevance? Or will it find a way to exploit the chaos produced by political upheaval and the disappointment that will inevitably follow hopes now raised so high?

For many specialists on terrorism and the Middle East, though not all, the past few weeks have the makings of an epochal disaster for Al Qaeda, making the jihadists look like ineffectual bystanders to history while offering young Muslims an appealing alternative to terrorism.

“So far — and I emphasize so far — the score card looks pretty terrible for Al Qaeda,” said Paul R. Pillar, who studied terrorism and the Middle East for nearly three decades at the C.I.A. and is now at Georgetown University. “Democracy is bad news for terrorists. The more peaceful channels people have to express grievances and pursue their goals, the less likely they are to turn to violence.”

The converse, of course, is that a Libya in transition could provide a strategic opportunity for al Qaeda, both in terms of once sympathetic people and a halted nuclear and chemical weapons program.

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