11 September 2006

Understanding Al Quaida

I watched part 1 of "The Path to 9/11" last night on ABC. I'll let other people comment on any political agendas, historical inaccuracies or the show's artistic merits. This post is about a missing piece, not just in the movie but (maybe) in our general approach to the Global War on Terror.

In the show, the terrorists were portrayed as constantly angry and murderous (when they weren't shaking-what-Allah-gave-them in Phillipino nightclubs, that is). Why are they so angry? American "policies," of course. Several times, the terrorists talked about the terrible "American policies."

Which policies would that be? Ah, they didn't say, and that's the problem.

My experience with idealistically angry people is that they LOVE to spout off lists of their specific greivances (think partisan politicians or commentators criticizing their opponents, i.e. Ann Coulter or Michael Moore). I expected them to say "The USA did this and that and this again..." But apparently, the people who made the film didn't think it was worth while to have the terrorists actually spell out much in the way of specific greivances, aside from the fact that the US supports Israel.

My fear is that we really think the terrorists are simply angry. They hate Israel, we support Israel, therefore they hate us.

I'm not sure it's that simple, and I'd hate to think we have such a simplistic understanding of the situation or the enemy.

Clausewitz explained that wars are won in the enemy commander's mind. The battle may be over when the other side stops shooting at you, but the war doesn't end until the other side agrees it's over. That means we need to get into their heads and get them thinking differently.

So when I say we need to understand Al Quaida (and islamofacists in general), it's not because I think they are poor, misunderstood people who just need a hug. It's because we can't beat them unless we really grasp their motives, priorities and worldview. I don't propose accepting, tolerating or respecting their worldview (I'd like to eradicate it, frankly). I propose understanding it enough to figure out what it will take to convince them that the killing needs to stop.


Mark said...

Interesting points... I didn't watch the show, but I would propose that the terrorist's anger is not driven by our policies at all. It seems to me that they are angry simply that we (and Israel, and all other infidels) exist. It is not so much what we _do_ or _say_, but rather what we _are_ that they want to destroy.

That is what makes them so dangerous and such a different enemy to face. And I agree 100% that we should try to understand them as best as possible - so we can beat them. It is a scary realization that as long as there is one person dedicated to the destruction of us infidels, we will never really be safe. Moral issues aside, killing every last one is not really practical. "Convincing" them all that we are not so bad seems unlikely as well. So containment and minimizing their ability to hurt us seems to be the best course of action. Not a great scenario...

Dan said...

Yeah, there really doesn't seem to be an effective strategy beyond containment, and hoping they will change their minds on their own... but it looks like that worked alright in the Cold War.

And as for what drives them, it very well might be as simple as intolerance for our existence. One might ask what it is about our (& Israel's) existence that offends them... but it's not a question I hear being asked very often, and while I'm not sure even the terrorists could answer that question, it doesn't look like we can really answer it either.