Many people have mapped out how we should fight the war on terrorism, but few have actually thought about what a victory by the West would end in. Al Qaeda's loose structure means that there will probably be no official end to the war, but rather a situation similar to World War II, in which we were finding Japanese soldiers on isolated islands for decades afterwards. Al Qaeda's members are unlikely to give up if we kill Osama bin Laden, and their likely reaction to a U.S. victory is what I'd like to discuss.
As most people know, al Qaeda's main objective has always been to destroy the corrupt governments that rule the Middle East and replace them with a Taliban-style theocracy. When al Qaeda was unable to bring down a single government, the group began attacking American targets on the assumption that U.S. support was keeping the regimes in business. This led to some notable embarrassments, such as the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa that only killed 12 Americans but also killed 240 predominantly-Muslim Kenyans and Tanzanians.
Following that fiasco, al Qaeda switched to "softer" civilian targets, such as the World Trade Center and the Bali nightclub. But its goal is still to replace the Middle Eastern regimes. Unfortunately for al Qaeda, its anti-Western jihad still hasn't provoked a massive uprising against the "impious" regimes and the "Jewish-Crusader Alliance" that supports them. So what will its members do when their jihad fails to bring about a new Caliphate?
Looking down the road, the ending is all too clear: an internal bloodbath where al Qaeda targets the "traitors within:" Muslims who refuse to join the group in its battle against humanity.
Don't believe me? Take a look at Algeria.
In that country, the military invalidated a 1992 election that Islamists were widely predicted to win. Angered, the Islamists began a bloody insurrection against the government but were largely defeated by 1995. In desperation, the more hard-line elements, calling themselves the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA), began a terror campaign in mainland France. This included bombings of the Paris subway and a September 11-style plot to crash a passenger jet into metropolitan Paris.
By the late 1990s, the guerrillas were suffering from massive unpopularity caused by their extortion of the middle-classes, as well as for a series of massacres of unarmed civilians that swept the country in 1997. Facing up to this, the more moderate elements of the resistance signed a cease-fire with the government, much like in Northern Ireland or Cambodia.
But the GIA refused any attempt at reconciliation, and continued its bloody campaign of massacres. According to Islamic scholar Gilles Kepel in his book Jihad, "[The GIA] justified [the massacres] by declaring impious all those Algerians who had not joined its ranks. Thus, the GIA had finally chosen the option of takfir, the excommunication of society as a whole."
Takfir is the act of identifying kafir, unbelievers or those who offend God, so it was a radical notion that even the most pious Muslim could be labeled a kafir if he did join the GIA's terrorist group. Religious leaders who refused to issue legal rulings supporting this course of action found themselves similarly pronounced as kafirs and killed.
"The logic of massacres," as Kepel described it, makes perfect sense to religious terrorists. Their main obstacle to implementing a theocratic dictatorship is always the government in power. If the government cannot be destroyed, why not target the foreign devils supporting it? And if that doesn't work, why not "persuade" the average citizens who have abstained from fighting for God? This strategy is already used in many brushfire wars, where the government and guerillas compete to see who can more-effectively terrorize the peasantry into supporting its side.
Today, the GIA is destroyed, but the killing goes on. Smaller Jihadist groups have since taken up the sword to punish society. Though largely ignored by the outside world, a BBC report about a December 1997 massacre sums up the new conflict:
"According to local newspaper reports, the [Jihadists] arrived at sunset at the end of the first fasting day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and stayed until dawn. They set upon the victims, cutting their throats and hacking them to death using knives and hatchets. Some bodies were dismembered and not even babies were spared."
That Islam specifically forbids the execution of unarmed women and children is lost to the terrorists. All that matters to them is the end, not the means used. Any sort of twisted logic is possible with fanatics.
This is just more evidence that there can be no compromise with terror, and that we must all join together to wipe out the scourge of al Qaeda. Following World War II, Martin Niemoller, a formerly ardent Nazi, wrote a poem about the dangers of ignoring tyranny. With respect to him, I would like to update his poem for today:
In the Dar-al-Islam (Muslim world) they came first for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I didn't like Jews. Then they came for the government and I didn't speak up because I didn't like the government. Then they came for the Westerners and I didn't speak up because I didn't like Westerners. Then they came for meand by that time no one was left to speak up.