It's as natural as curry in Indian food: Al-Qaida is cited in every terrorist attack everywhere in the world. Western intelligence officials are quick to attach the al-Qaida label to every unsolved case of terrorism. The attacks in Iraq? Al-Qaida is involved, along with supporters of Saddam Hussein. Turkey? Al-Qaida, in collaboration with the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders group. Jordan? Al-Qaida, together with local elements. And it's the same in Chechnya, Kashmir and Morocco.
Yet, in most cases, the organization doesn't bother to announce its involvement. In Turkey, for example, the Abu Hafez Masri organization stated that it perpetrated the attacks, along with a local group. However, it is far from certain that this organization is an active part of al-Qaida; in the past, it has taken credit for attacks or events that are known to have nothing to do with terrorism, such as the blackout in parts of the United States and Canada. Two weeks ago, al-Qaida for the first time stated, in its name, that it did not take part in the terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. That announcement came in the wake of a debate that asked how an Islamic organization could be capable of attacking Muslims. The view is that the perpetrators were local opposition bodies and not the hidden hand of al-Qaida.
This should not be construed to mean that al-Qaida is a virtual organization that exists only on the Internet. The problem is that the organization has developed into a kind of worldwide lexicon of terrorism. So, when two vehicles blow up on the same day in the same place, it's taken to be "a characteristic operating method of al-Qaida." Every terrorist who was ever in Afghanistan or Pakistan is automatically a member of the organization. Every extremist preacher in a remote mosque is from al-Qaida, and every Arab regime that wants to arrest opponents of the regime can do so very comfortably by declaring that the detainees have ties to al-Qaida.
Whatever is anti-Western, anti-American or anti-Israeli is al-Qaida. The world appears to be increasingly divided into two parts: al-Qaida and the West. This kind of approach is not very useful in the war against terrorism, as terrorism in different places may be grounded in a similar ideology but is perpetrated by different organizations, squads and individuals.
In Turkey, for example, there are known to be at least 15 fanatic Islamist organizations. In Saudi Arabia, there are dozens of Islamist associations that want to advance radical ideas. Some of the Islamic organizations that operate in Europe are branches of opposition movements in the Arab states (the European Union refused to include either the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders - which claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Turkey - or the Union of Islamic Communities, which originated in Turkey, in its list of terrorist organizations). Both ideologically and from the point of view of those who want to fight terrorism, it's wrongheaded to place all these organizations under one worldwide radical Islamic umbrella.
Most of these organizations have local national reasons to take action against the regime in the state in which they sprang up. Last Thursday, after the double terrorist attack in Istanbul, it was bizarre to see terrorism experts attempt to ascribe to the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders international goals, coordination with the visit of U.S. President George Bush to London, a war against Western institutions, and so on and so forth. This is a Turkish organization with a Turkish agenda, and if its activists received training in Afghanistan or received aid from al-Qaida, that will not make them change their goals. There was one point that hardly got discussed: the failure of Turkish intelligence to keep under surveillance the Eastern Raiders group, as it was perceived not to be in existence any longer, its leaders and activists having been killed or arrested at the end of the last century.
Al-Qaida is alive and kicking, but replacing all the local terrorist organizations with one "world" organization is liable to make it possible for governments to absolve themselves of responsibility for taking action. Governments prefer to attribute their failures to the activity of "foreign elements," which, of course, have to be dealt with by some sort of "world community" and not by them.
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