How President Bush and al-Qaeda Are Alike

Now before anyone gets all freaky on me based on the headline to this post, let me say this is a serious argument.  As I was reading a book review this afternoon I agreed with the plausible view from an author about the state of affairs as it relates to the Middle East over the past many years.  This argument is not new, (many of us have argued the same geo-political aspect about past policy but never wrote a book) but according to the review is written in such a fashion that it may garner a larger audience.  That is a good start as most of the complexities in the world are often misunderstood based on lack of background knowledge.  If we are truly working to resolve the issues ahead of us, we must accept the history that has brought us to this point.

In Gilles Kepel’s telling, it is not only Mr Bush whose strategy failed after September 11th. Osama bin Laden’s strategy failed too. The Bush administration’s “global war on terror” encompassed not only the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq but also a project to spread democracy to the Arabs and remake the dysfunctional Middle East in America’s image. It was, in Mr Kepel’s phrase, “a vision of global rectification through violent means”. That was precisely al-Qaeda’s project as well. Mr bin Laden did not intend only to inflict pain on America and force its armies out of the Middle East. Martyrdom was also supposed to lead the Muslim masses to identify with al-Qaeda, to hasten a general uprising against “apostate” governments like Saudi Arabia’s, to precipitate the establishment of an Islamic state and destroy Israel.

In the event, as Mr Kepel demonstrates, both of these grand, transformative narratives “crashed against a wall of reality within the Muslim world”. Instead of throttling jihadism, the American occupation of Iraq recruited an army of new martyrs to the cause. But far from rallying the Muslim world at large to its banner, the murderous jihad in Iraq—and al-Qaeda’s killing of many Muslims in other Muslim lands—ended up repelling the very audience this epic struggle was intended to attract. Indeed, to the extent that radical Islam grew stronger during this encounter, it was not the Sunni zealots of al-Qaeda who benefited but their rival pretenders to leadership of the Muslim world: notably the Shia leaders of Iran and, after the 33-day war with Israel in 2006, Iran’s Hizbullah co-religionists in Lebanon.

Although Mr Kepel is by no means the first person to mark this ironic and reciprocal tragedy of unintended consequences, he has a rare ability to tell a tale in a way that is easy to follow and yet does justice to the granular complexities of the Muslim world. And his argument has a third leg, one that is more original, more optimistic but also more controversial. This holds that Europe—which both the jihadists and some of Europe’s American detractors (remember “Eurabia”) see as the West’s softest underbelly—is in fact the one place where experiments in cultural integration are flourishing and promise to create “a unique deterrent to the logic of terrorism”.

Saturday Song: Charlie Louvin “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?”

As promised last week here is the final of what I consider to be the top five country and western songs.  Subjective to be sure, but based on what I consider to be the foundations of the genre taking into consideration the lyrics, chords, and presentation.  The other four are listed here.

Today’s song is performed by one of the Opry legends, Charlie Louvin.  It was a real treat to have a long chat with Charlie backstage about two years ago.  While using my pen to sign some autographs for others, we chatted about his traveling time with his brother Ira, and his memories of working with Elvis Presley on the Louisiana Hayride.  There is so much to admire about these ‘old-timers’, as they paved the way for the singers that today garner so much money and fame.  In the days of the Louvin Brothers, it was not uncommon for performers to sing on the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot, and then sell their own records from the truck after the show.  They traveled endless miles over beat up roads, in even more beat up vehicles.  They were gone from home too much, and the toil of the travels took a toll.  There was no slick PR, air-conditioned buses, or fruit bowls with bottled water waiting before the show.  It was much different world.

From 1960 here is “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?” by Charlie Louvin.