Monday, September 10, 2007 

Setting up franchises.

US soldiers pose with former insurgents, allegedly from Hamas in Iraq in a village on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In his "The Solution" diatribe, released at the weekend (PDF), rather than pointing the finger at the decadent lifestyles of those that inhabit the "West", a familiar bugbear of Islamist takfiris, bin Laden instead targeted, of all things, capitalism. Coming from someone who used his family's wealth and connections from the very beginning of his radicalisation to finance the various causes he's espoused over the years, not to mention how he now relies on the donations of rich Saudis, to suggest this is ever so slightly hypocritical is akin to remarking that Julian Clary is only a little camp.

Rather than capitalism itself though, bin Laden retains the majority of his fire for corporations, who he describes as the "real tyrannical terrorists". While you can't help thinking that he might not survive telling that to the faces of the families of the thousands murdered by jihadis in Iraq in "martyrdom operations", bin Laden and his mostly autonomous organisation have actually themselves drew on one of the most successful, but also tyrannical business innovations of the 20th century. To quote Tyler in Fight Club, after hearing the narrator explain how he never really knew his father because he'd left and only knew him by the fact that he traveled around a lot, leaving behind women who subsequently had children in different cities, "the fucker's setting up franchises."

Which is exactly the method that al-Qaida is using to further scare the citizens of the West, who go into spasms of terror on hearing of the latest bombing claimed in their name wherever in the world.

The first, inevitable franchise that al-Qaida has managed to set-up is in Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, originally in Iraq prior to the invasion with the Kurdish-based Ansar al-Islam group, first split from them (Ansar al-Islam was eventually to become Ansar al-Sunnah) and set-up his own terrorist group, which went through various names, eventually settling on Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, or the Group of Monotheism and the Holy Struggle. Quickly becoming both notorious for its brutality, such as the suicide bombing on the UN's headquarters and the beheading of various Western hostages on video, subsequently distributed on the internet, al-Zarqawi, having formerly been believed to have been a potential rival to bin Laden, apparently swore allegiance to him, and his group subsequently became known as al-Qaida in Iraq, or the Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers. While the name has not stayed the same, with al-Qaida subsequently becoming a "coalition", first in the Mujahideen Shura Council and currently within the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, the die was cast. That the original group was never Iraqi-based, and still now relies heavily on foreign jihadists, has made little difference to those sympathetic towards the Salafist militant ideology, with the group being by far the most popular
terrorist/insurgent/resistance group in Iraq among the online jihadist community.

Apparently seeing a good thing going on, partly because it suits both the United States, the Iraqi government and al-Qaida itself to blame/claim almost all the insurgent attacks on/for bin Laden's original organisation, it's recently been an idea that has been expanded. Back in May, the previously unheard of al-Qaida in al-Sham (the Levant region, containing Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) released a video of a man wearing a suicide vest and a khaffiya, who delivered a typically bloodcurdling speech of threats against the region's Christians:

“we will tear out your hearts with traps and surround your places with explosive canisters, and target all your businesses, beginning with tourism and ending with other rotten industries... We warn you for the last time, and after it there will only be rivers of blood.”

That would be quite something, coming from a group that previously hadn't existed, and which probably actually really doesn't exist as of yet, except for propaganda purposes. While Fatah al-Islam, recently defeated after the Lebanese army almost completely destroyed Nahr al-Bared refugee camp was an apparent believer in the takfirist ideology, there's little to suggest that there are really any existing groups that AQiAS will be built around, at least as of yet.

The situation is entirely different in Algeria however. While most of the fighters who took part in the civil war have put down their weapons, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has continued the fight to the present day. A group cut down to its very base, estimated to have around 300 active members back in 2003, it serves both their and al-Qaida's purpose, sharing an ideology and an enemy, to harmonise their wars. Following contact with al-Zahawiri last year, the group formally swore allegiance to bin Laden back in January, and since then has carried out its most deadly attacks in years, all with al-Qaida's name attached to them. While it's true that this has likely increased both the numbers of potential recruits and funding, it's giving al-Qaida far too much credit, and the media, including the Guardian, which does at least mention the group's past in its report, really ought to know better than just give bin Laden's group the "honours".

Just like corporations and their franchises inspire boycotts and opposition though, the same is true of bin Laden's. Up until early 2006 the insurgency in Iraq, despite being both takfirist and nationalist in nature and with many disparate groupings, was mostly united against a common enemy: the Americans and what they considered as the illegitimate Iraqi government and its police and army. Since then, the continued murderous nature of al-Qaida in Iraq's attacks on civilians and its ridiculously harsh interpretation of Sharia law in the places where it had control, often with tribal backing, has finally led to the long predicted backlash, both from the tribal groups themselves, with the setting up of savior councils both in Anbar and in Diyala province, and also from its once erstwhile allies, especially from the Islamic Army in Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, both of which have now set up their own "umbrella" groupings with other insurgent groups, opposed to the "Islamic State". The 1920RB itself split in half after its leader was killed by al-Qaida; one section, calling itself "Hamas in Iraq" has aligned completely with the American forces in an attempt to drive them out.

If al-Qaida is to become a truly global phenomenon, there are going to have to be a lot more setting up of these franchises. The thing is, while al-Qaida is by no means universal, the ideology behind it most certainly is. At the moment, there's no real need for the formal formation of al-Qaida in Europe or al-Qaida in North America; individuals, not necessarily connected to "the base", as established by both by the attacks in Madrid and Kamel Bourgass, neither of whom have ever been proved to have a link to al-Qaida, have acted under their own steam or with the help of other sympathetic groupings. That, and of course the fact that whenever anything so much as pops the media are screaming "AL-QAIDA" means for the moment that bin Laden has no need to bring the base of jihad to either these or American shores.

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