George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
RESPONSE (Archives)...Daily Commentary on News of the Day
This is a new section. It will
quick reactions by myself to news and events of the day, day by day, in
this rapid-fire world of ours. Of course, as in military
a rapid response in one direction may occasionally have to be followed
by a "strategic withdrawal" in another direction. Charge that to
"the fog of war", and to the necessary flexibility any mental or
campaign must maintain to be effective. But the mission will
be the same: common sense, based upon facts and "real politick",
by a visceral sense of Justice and a commitment to be pro-active.
That's all I promise.
to return to the current Rapid Response list
MONDAY through FRIDAY, August 27 through 31,
"Ladies and gentlemen, the news is...there's no news".
With that simple statement, repeated frequently to Londoners
during their frequent and fearful stays in bomb shelters during the
Blitz in the early days of WW II, the authorities were able to avoid
Nothing so dramatic here, but the message is the same.
Nothing has changed in China or Russia or Afghanistan or Iran or
Iraq...or in this country...to require a change in what I have
already offered in recent weeks on those subjects. That
means, of course, that nothing has changed regarding those serious
problems: not the poisons coming out of China and landing on our
shores; not Vladimir Putin on steroids; not any effective effort to
destroy the world's greatest and most vulnerable source of opium; not
the Kabuki Dance between Iran and the IAEA (shades of Hussein's Iraq)
regarding its nuclear efforts; not regarding Maliki's persistent
efforts to force a Shia power structure on all of Iraq; not regarding
truth-telling about the future of New Orleans or about the future of
immigration. Only another unfortunate side-show about Washington
sex life. All this is the result of a bunker mentality within the
Bush administration, a scorched- earth policy from the Democratic
leadership, and a rampant CYA posture among Republicans. Shades
of Nero's Rome.
SUNDAY, August 22 through 26,
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Interview With Author of The New Fundamentalists
In this interview with ZENIT, Deacon Brandenburg, who will be ordained
a priest of the Legionaries of Christ this December, comments on his
book "The New Fundamentalists: Beyond Tolerance," recently published by
Q: In a nutshell, what is the new fundamentalism that you address in
Deacon Brandenburg: When we hear fundamentalism, what normally comes to
mind is religious narrow-mindedness, perhaps with an irrational or even
fanatical bent, like that displayed by some Muslim followers after
Benedict XVI's Regensburg address.
The "new" fundamentalism that I describe in my book often displays the
same intolerance, irrationality and extremism. The key difference,
however, is that the new fundamentalists profess to be secular
followers of no religion. Yet closer examination shows that the
relativistic dogma underlying their worldview excites more religious
fervor than do many tenets of the great world religions.
John Paul II's experience with Nazism and Communism -- two completely
secular ideological systems -- led him to write in "Centesimus annus":
"When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social
organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can
use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that
organization into being. Politics then becomes a 'secular religion'
which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world."
I would say that what Nazism and Communism were in the past, relativism
is today in our times. The methods are different -- softer and more
subtle, working from the inside out -- but the effects on people and
social structures and relationships do bear some comparison.
Secular religion did not die with those defunct systems. During an
address last June 11, Benedict XVI touched upon the difficulties of
passing on the faith "in a society, in a culture, which all too often
makes relativism its creed. [I]n such a society the light of truth is
missing; indeed, it is considered dangerous and 'authoritarian' to
speak of truth."
We face a new fundamentalism -- a new secular religion -- that assumes
there is implicit arrogance in any statement of truth, especially if it
implies a value judgment about morality or the merits of one religion
or worldview in comparison to others. The relativism of our time admits
no rivals and is aggressively intolerant.
In the end, when truth is taken away or ignored, might makes right.
That applies for any brand of secular religion.
Q: Your book opens with a case study of a college student named Jeff
who is virtually blackballed on campus for standing up for his faith,
even though he did so in a reasonable and respectful way. What is the
urgency of combating secular fundamentalism on college campuses?
Deacon Brandenburg: Jeff's case is one of countless true stories, all
of which call us to an essential point: It's not enough to understand
the nature and dangers of this new fundamentalism. We also have to
equip ourselves and others to oppose it, using the tools of logical
argumentation and reasonable dialogue.
This is of the highest urgency, since relativism has a corrosive effect
on almost every area of human life, from religion to morality to the
organization of social and political life. The battle is not limited to
college campuses, but extends to all levels of education, the media,
politics and social life.
Q: What specific solutions do you propose as an antidote to the
influence of relativism?
Deacon Brandenburg: Since this new fundamentalism is both a human and a
religious malady, the medicine I prescribe at the end of my book has a
human and a religious ingredient.
On the human level, I urge mutual respect, dialogue and honesty. This
last point of honesty is vitally important, since it entails a constant
attitude of openness to truth.
Sometimes it is uncomfortable to be continually challenged by truth. It
might seem easier to dig our heels into what we already know and just
settle into a familiar landscape of facts and opinions that we feel we
But truth is not something we can possess and put in our pocket. It is
something that masters us, possesses us, and constantly challenges us
to grow. To avoid that challenge would be to run away from growing into
our full stature as human beings ... and as children of God, who is
On the religious level, I believe the remedy is authentic religion: a
faith rooted in the personal encounter with a God who transcends and
loves us, leading to deep attitudes that build on the best of human
virtues and surpass them.
For example, authentic religion builds on the principle of mutual
respect and elevates it to the virtue of charity. In a similar way,
faith takes dialogue to a higher level of impact by opening man to the
fullness of his spiritual nature. And honesty is brought to its full
wingspan when man reaches after objective truth with all his strength.
Relativism and agnosticism clip man's wings by discouraging him from
inquiring after the great questions and actively seeking the answers to
his most profound longings. The liberation of faith is that it brings
back that wide horizon of ultimate questions and sets man free to
search for the answers.
Q: Your book occasionally cites insights from Alexis de Tocqueville,
the early 19th-century Frenchman who wrote "Democracy in America." What
do you think De Tocqueville would say if he could see the impact of
relativism in America today?
Deacon Brandenburg: I think De Tocqueville saw the potential danger
from the beginning. He was one of the first to say that a democracy is
worth only as much as its people are, and that the character of a
nation is dependent on the moral character of its individual citizens.
One of the points I argue in the body of the book is that the doctrine
of tolerance is having a clear and measurable impact on marriage,
family and the quality of social relationships as a whole; it is
weakening the people who made our nation strong.
Q: What do you think are the key concepts that help us to engage
effectively in debate and action?
Deacon Brandenburg: Many people might argue that tolerance is the key
to interpersonal relations, but I would venture to say that charity and
truth are much more important.
If I really care about a person -- charity -- I will seek the truth for
them. A doctor does his ailing patient a disservice to tell him he has
nothing wrong, just as a parent destroys his child's future by
tolerating self-destructive activity like engaging in premarital sex or
taking drugs. We need to go beyond tolerance and pursue truth; hence
the subtitle of my book.
We can't be afraid to say that truth exists. The relativistic ethos of
our society tends to frown upon statements of objective truth because
it assumes that growth in intellectual maturity runs on par with growth
in skepticism. For the modern mind, intellectual sophistication seems
to require systematic doubt, an ability to see all sides without
committing to any one point of view.
Of course, there is no doubt that there is a legitimate complexity to
many things in life and answers are not easy to find. Yet this will
never legitimate the lack of absolute answers to anything.
Maturity means moving from doubt to renewed conviction about what is
good and true. Truth, in this context, is not just a soap box to stand
on, or a state of intellectual stagnation to sit in. On the contrary,
seeking after truth is dynamic, active, growing, and yes, critical and
discerning, because it requires going beyond skepticism to a deepened
and perhaps purified grasp of reality in all its dimensions. Again,
it's a matter of allowing reality to challenge and change us.
We can respect people and tolerate their right to hold their own ideas
while still affirming that some ideas are true, and others are just
plain out of touch with reality. Part of dialogue entails this respect
for the person and the willingness to engage in debate based on the
objective merit of the ideas.
That's what this book is intended to drive forward: to provide the
tools and means for committed Catholics -- like Jeff -- to engage in
reasoned dialogue with the secular world without losing confidence in
the truth they have received.
MONDAY and TUESDAY, August 20 and 21,
PEPPERIDGE FARM REMEMBERSHS. GS
My Mom used to cut chicken, chop eggs
and spread mayo on the same cutting board with the same knife and no
bleach, but we didn't seem to get foodpoisoning.
My Mom used to defrost hamburger on the counter AND I used to eat it
raw sometimes, too. Ou r school sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper in
a brownpaper bag, not in icepack coolers, but I can't remember getting
Almost all of us would have rather gone swimming in the lake instead of
a pristine pool (talk about boring), no beach closures then.
The term cell phone would have conjured up a phone in a jail cell, and
a pagerwas the school PA system.
We all took gym, not PE.. and risked permanent injury with a pair of
high top Ked's (only worn in gym) instead of having cross-training
athletic shoes with air cushion soles and built in light reflectors. I
can't recall any injuries but they must havehappened because they tell
us how much safer we are now.
Flunking gym was not an option... even for stupid kids! I guess PE must
be much harder than gym.
Speaking of school, we all said prayers and sang the national anthem,
and staying in detention after school caught all sorts of negative
We must have had horribly damaged psyches. What an archaic health
system we had then. Remember school nurses? Ours wore a hat and
I thought that I was supposed to accomplish something before I was
allowed tobe proud of myself.
I just can't recall how bored we were without computers, Play
Station,Nintendo, X-box or 270 digital TV cable stations.
Oh yeah.... and where was the Benadryl and sterilization kit when I got
that bee sting? I could have been killed!
We played 'king of the hill' on piles of gravel left on vacant
construction sites, and when we got hurt, Mom pulled out the 48-cent
bottle of Mercurochrome (kids liked it better because it didn't sting
like iodine did) and then we gotour butt spanked.
Now it's a trip to the emergency room,
followed by a 10-day dose of a $49bottle of antibiotics, and then Mom
calls the attorney to sue the contractorfor leaving a horribly vicious
pile of gravel where it was such a threat.
We didn't act up at t he neighbor's house either because if we did, we
got our butt spanked there and then we got butt spanked again when we
I recall Donny Reynolds from next door coming over and doing his tricks
on the front stoop, just before he fell off. Little did his Mom know
that she couldhave owned our house. Instead, she picked him up and
swatted him for being sucha goof. It was a neighborhood run amuck.
To top it off, not a single person I knew had ever been told that they
were from a dysfunctional family. How could we possibly have known
We needed to get into group therapy and anger management classes?We
were obviously so duped by so many societal ills, that we didn't even
noticethat the entire country wasn't taking Prozac! How did we ever
THURSDAY through SUNDAY, August 16 through 19,
Looking for a common theme in the following offerings? Fuggedaboudet.
- The Day today has a good article on "Retirement"...or the
lack thereof. Here's a prescription for a happy life:
work as long as you are able, competent and interested. It's very
good for your health. "If you like what you do, you never
have to work a day in your life".
- Raising kids requires many talents and
resources, the greatest being love, interest and time. Here's
something else: if you find or stumble upon a particular interest
or aptitude of the child, encourage and nurture it...in addition to the
three R's, etc. That can be a true diamond in the rough.
- Sub-prime Mortages and us...and U.S.
Michael Moore, where are you when we really need you? Today's
NYTimes editorial entitled "Watershed" has it right this time.
Greed is NOT good for 99% of Americans.
- In the same edition, Thomas L. Friedman gets it
right again regarding the Middle East
cauldron. Will someone in the government finally start telling us
the truth about what we face there over the next quarter century?
- Now Medicare has decided not to pay for "errors" in the
delivery of health care. This will produce more
litigation, more defensive medicine, less quality and quantity of
medical care. And it's all the more reason to develop specialized
Health Courts to deal with all this. Another ham-handed approach
by the government. And can the insurance companies be far
- New Orleans. Still the Land of Oz in terms
of realistic planning.
- Finally, the following is my response to the cynical
editorial posted in the NYTimes last Sunday entitled "World's
Best Medical Care?" Although it is little more than a
rehash of "Sicko", which I have already answered in this section, these
stories cannot go unchallenged. 1) American health care at top
medical centers is the best...right. 2) There should be
universal health care coverage with no cost-sharing by the patient...dead
wrong. 3) Access is good, compared with other
countries...right, although this sticks in their craw.
4) Care is better for richer than for poorer citizens...wrong, and
also simplistic. 5) Information technology would fix
everything...wrong, as reported in a just - released large
study on the subject. Treat the patient, not the computer.
6) Regarding "healthy lives", whose responsibility - and fault - is
that? 7) "Life and Death": here's a great leap to a simplistic
and unfounded conclusion. The final paragraph is a proper call to
action. But needed action will not follow the continued approach
of denigrating our existing system with falsehoods, half-truths and
demagoguery. No way to make friends and influence the very people
that any improvements must rely on...the American Health Care
WEDNESDAY, August 12 through 15,
More on Fort Trumbull…Just the facts,
SATURDAY, August 10 and 11,
Four separate stories this week support the following heading: ON
THE DOLE: EVERYBODY WANTS A HANDOUT FROM US CITIZENS.
- As reported by NBC's Matt Lauer in unusually saccharine tones,
imagine some employers trying to surcharge the health insurance costs
of their fat, sedentary, smoking and boozing workers. And
why not? Has anybody ever heard of "risk management" and
- Having seen great profits from palming off excessive loans to
people who were too desperate or too stupid to understand their own
financial incapabilities, the nation's bankers and brokers get a
bail-out from the "Feds"; ie., from you and me.
- Now some of the 150,000
civilian contract workers who went to Iraq voluntarily
in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in income are
complaining that they are not eligible for the health care available to
their military counterparts...who were earning a fraction of such
- While most Americans actually believe that the "small farmer" is
the backbone of our country, massive subsidies continue to be
sent...decade after decade...to massive Agri-businesses that then are
in a position to buy up the small farmers' lands and to drive them
out of business.
Folks, I wish I were making this up. So, when are a few
million of us going to get up and say: "I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT
GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE". How about the next election?
THURSDAY, August 9,
Hello out there. "Is anybody there? Does
anybody care?" GS
I hope the picture will go
through for you - of this Army soldier in Iraq with his tiny 'plot' of
grass in front of his tent. It's heartwarming! Here is a soldier
stationed in Iraq, stationed in a big sand box. He asked his wife to
send him dirt (U.S. soil), fertilizer, and some grass seed so that he
can have the sweet aroma, and feel the grass grow beneath his feet.
When the men of the squadron have a mission that they are going on,
they take turns walking through the grass and the American soil -- to
bring them good luck.
If you notice, he is even cutting the grass with a pair of a scissors.
Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we don't stop and think about the
little things that we take for granted.
Upon receiving this, say a little prayer for our soldiers that give and
give (and give up) so unselfishly for us.
WEDNESDAY, August 8,
A mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die in Iraq?"
A mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die in Saudi Arabia?"
A mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die in Kuwait?"
Another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die in Vietnam?"
Another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die in Korea?"
Another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die on Iwo Jima?"
Another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die on a battlefield on a field in France?"
Yet another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die at Gettysburg?"
And yet another mother asked President ...
"Why did my son have to die on a frozen field near Valley Forge?"
Then long, long ago, a mother asked...
"Heavenly Father ...
why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem ?"
The answer is the same ....
"So that others may have life and dwell
in peace, happiness, and freedom."
This was emailed to me with no author.
I thought the magnitude and the simplicity were awesome.
IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO STAND BEHIND
OUR TROOPS, PLEASE, PLEASE, FEEL FREE...
TO STAND IN FRONT OF THEM !!!
TUESDAY, August 6 and 7,
The following addresses two opposing
points of view between friends. GS
this is one area of disagreement between us: not the barbaric nature of
torture; not how I, as a physician, get infuriated envisioning what can
happen to the body and mind through such practices; and not because of
some cavalier attitude I may have regarding the welfare of our fighting
men and women. I won't even say "this is war"...for what we are
involved in is barbarism. 9/11 was barbarism. The tens - if
not hundreds - of thousands of innocent Iraqi people intentionally
killed by their own people for political gain is barbarism. And
barbarism is not covered by The Geneva Convention. The Convention
has no jurisdiction here. For self-protection in such a
situation, including pre-emptive self-defense, only our self-imposed
limits have jurisdiction here.
more point. During the Cold War, under the threat of nuclear
holocaust, I always maintained - and travelled - under the assumption
that any American anywhere in the world should consider himself a
soldier, and be prepared to die for that status. We're not
playing cricket here. We are not even playing by the "rules of
war". Ever since the American Revolution, we fight in accordance
with the practices applied to us by the enemy. I have no problem
with that. George
attached is an interesting article about the CIA's prisons. I believe
that any military man worth his salt will tell that the Geneva
Conventions are the only limited protection that an American fighting
has when in combat. I believe that we ignore the application of the
Geneva Conventions at the peril of all American fighting men. I just
know that during the Vietnam War our commanders would hammer the Geneva
Conventions into our skulls. Thus, I find the following paragraph from
the attached article to be upsetting!
Since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, the
International Committee of the Red Cross has played a special
role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war.
For decades, governments have allowed officials from the
organization to report on the treatment of detainees,
to insure that standards set by international treaties are being
maintained. The Red Cross, however, was unable to get
access to the C.I.A.’s prisoners for five years. Finally, last year,
Red Cross officials were allowed to interview fifteen
detainees, after they had been transferred to Guantánamo. One of
the prisoners was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. What the
Red Cross learned has been kept from the public.
Confidentiality may be particularly stringent in this
case. Congressional and other Washington sources familiar
with the report said that it harshly criticized the
C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described
the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as
tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials
responsible for the abusive treatment could have
committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that
these officials may have committed “grave breaches”
of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S.
Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The
conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and
caution, could have potentially devastating legal
SUNDAY, August 4 and 5,
This has been a good week in the news. Definition of a
"good week": one during which I have not been provoked to respond for a
number of days. But the week is over.
- Very early in the three terms that I served in elected
public office in New London, Ct., I learned that - having
initially thought that it would be important for me to be the
"decider" by choosing the one right course of action among the several
options always presented - most of the time it was a good
day when...after getting all the facts...I
had any choice at all. The Democratic majority in Congress are
learning that. Witness the nonsense about
getting out of Iraq "now", or in any proximate time frame.
Witness their necessary capitulation in passing the "anti-spy" bill
yesterday. Whatever the politics, the facts always get in the
- The same dynamic will also play out, hopefully sooner rather than
later, for the inbred and suspiciously dense conservative Republicans
regarding Immigration Reform. The current
situation is a disgrace and, in the absence of Federal leadership, is
giving rise to a new form of local Jim Crowism. Shame on you!
- The Minnesota bridge tragedy contains one
blessing. Think of what would have happened in this country if
the collapse had been preceeded by an explosion. Think of what
will happen if a 9/11 happens again. The ACLU will need a
- That brings up another subject, recently in the news as "Is
Obesity Catching from your Friends?" No, but its the herd
mentality, always present when two or more persons
meet...but much stronger among the younger generations today who have
been raised to depend upon each for their "self-worth", rather
than celebrating their personal individuality. In a
dangerous world, that is a liability, played out in the
dictatorships of many nations throughout the 20th century.
In fact, terrorists depend upon this as a major weapon, right next to
- Iraq. Four one-half years later: No water;
no power. "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!"
- And now: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
The Good: Alex Rodriguez. The Bad: Barry Bonds. The Ugly: Roger
FRIDAY, August 1 through 3,
Another clear exposition that requires no
editorial comment. GS
Foreign Policy Research Institute
July 31, 2007
Michael Radu, Ph.D., is Co-Chair of
FPRI's Center on
Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and Homeland Security. He is
currently at work on a book on Islamism in
enote is available on line at www.fpri.org.
AL QAEDA CONFUSION: HOW
TO THINK ABOUT JIHAD
Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 9/11,
some; it is less strong than it could have become, answers
the administration. Congressional Democrats say that instead
of catching Bin Laden, Bush took his eyes off the ball and
got mired in an irrelevant war in Iraq; the
replies that if we don't fight the jihadis in Iraq, we will
have to do so in Manhattan.
And so American politics argue in what seems to
cognitive vacuum, confusing the public and producing inane
statements from our elected
leaders. Had Al Qaeda
consciously planned how to thoroughly confuse the infidels,
this would have been the ideal result. It
is all the
persistent and inevitable outcome of executive
(jihadis are "a small minority") and Democratic
("the war on terrorism is a bumper sticker,"
Edwards has charged) against a
background of popular
ignorance and an oversupply of lawyers and
activists. The result is that six years after 9/11 we (and
the Europeans are generally worse) are still fighting a war
in a conceptual fog--and not getting any close to
In reality, the nature and goals of the
complex, should be quite clear, as should the ways to defeat
it. Until we understand a few key
realities, we will
continue to tread water and remain on the defensive.
WHAT IS AL QAEDA?
Al Qaeda ("the base") is at the same time
totalitarian terrorist organization and the
violent part of a global Muslim revivalist movement. As the
name implies, it was established as a
organization, not dissimilar, conceptually,
previous Marxist Leninist self-selected vanguards of
proletariat (Shining Path in Peru, Red Brigades in
etc.), seeking to reestablish Islam's historic (and mostly
mythical) supremacy and purity throughout the world via the
unification of the umma, the Islamic community,
single political and religious leadership and
Caliphate. The means to accomplish this is jihad, strictly
defined by the followers of this ideology as warfare.
Al Qaeda was not originally
intended to exist as a
territorial base, but the victory
of the Taliban in
Afghanistan unexpectedly offered that opportunity. Al Qaeda
took advantage of that opportunity, but controlling
lands was neither intended nor absolutely necessary.
same applies now to the wild areas of Pakistan that Al Qaeda
uses for refuge and training--they are important but
vital. That fact is still misunderstood and explains
continuous surprise of some that after the Taliban's fall in
2001 and the heavy losses it incurred at the time, Al Qaeda
did not die.
While it incessantly claims to be defending an Islamic umma
under attack from all sides--the
convenient way to justify jihad--Al Qaeda's ideology
strategy are aggressive and
revisionist. Al Qaeda
aggressively attacks the home base of the "Crusaders" (see
9/11 or the attacks in the UK) and revisionistically seeks
to reintegrate into the umma the long-lost
Islam, such as Al-Andalus (the Iberian Peninsula).
Al Qaeda's ideology is rigorously anti-nationalist.
allows it to attract alienated and
elements among Muslim communities in the West and explains
in part the attraction it has
among Muslim elites
everywhere. As Iraq today suggests, however, it could also
be a serious threat to the organization, since
clashes with the interests of established
elites and regionalist or separatist groups (Kurds, Berbers,
The enemies, and thus the targets, of jihad are
governing regimes in the Muslim world (the "apostates"); b)
their outside manipulators, controllers and supporters (the
"Crusaders" led by the United States but
Western states and Israel; c)
all other infidels
"oppressing" Muslims (India for
Kashmir, Russia for
Chechnya, China for Turkestan); and d) for the most radical
jihadis (the takfiris), all Muslims who do not
support the cause and, especially, the Shias. While
are all enemies, the priority given to each
circumstances, capabilities and opportunity.
AL QAEDA IN IRAQ
This latter fact is another cause of confusion in the West,
as demonstrated by the case of Iraq. While an
associate group did have a small presence in Iraqi Kurdistan
prior to the spring of 2003, at least on a large scale Iraq
is a target of opportunity. Al Qaeda's growth (or
decline) there depends on the chaos and
followed the 2003 invasion and the vacuum created
fall of Saddam. The scale of and media
attention on its
presence in Iraq aside, Al Qaeda's role there follows
same pattern as in Afghanistan and Chechnya in
1990s, or Somalia more recently - it tries to implant itself
wherever a political vacuum or
develop in the midst of military conflict. Lebanon,
the Sahel, southern Thailand and Philippines are, or should
be expected to become, such areas of implantation. In
such cases Al Qaeda interferes in an evolving
exacerbates it, and tries to channel the outcome towards its
own goals and translate local motivations into a
ideological and global cause.
It is precisely this Al Qaeda piggybacking
conflicts that makes the often heard distinctions
our fighting sectarian conflict or
Al Qaeda in Iraq
nonsensical. Al Zarkawi stirred up the Sunni-Shia conflict
but did not invent it, and separating the two in practical
terms is not a serious proposition, any more than trying to
do so in Afghanistan between Taliban, Pakistani
spillover, and Al Qaeda. For Al
Qaeda such parasitic
behavior serves to magnify its influence, and it will try to
repeat it in every possible
circumstance. This fits
perfectly in the organization's elite, vanguardist ideology.
It sees itself and behaves as the spearhead of global jihad,
not as its rank and file.
Ultimately, what seems to escape so many
especially among politicians, is that Al Qaeda is two things
simultaneously: (1) a violent Islamist organization
worldwide tentacles and a small
core leadership of
ideologues and strategists, and (2) part and parcel
large and growing political-religious movement of Islamist
revival. The organization tries to channel and recruits from
the movement, and the latter looks to it
direction and, often, tactical purpose.
ISLAMIC REVIVALIST MOVEMENT
The Islamic revivalist movement that is by now dominant in
most of the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, including
huge segments of the Muslim communities in the West, shares
some of Al Qaeda's basic ideological tenets: that Islam is
in crisis and under attack, from inside and
alien, Western, mostly American influence and
Roughly put, Islamic countries and Muslims generically are
victims of the West. The only solution is a return to
"original" principles of the faith, those that gave it world
importance and power centuries ago, and to umma unity
These basic perceptions are shared by a majority of Muslims
and Islamic organizations everywhere,
from the Muslim
Brotherhood, the largest, to individuals and smaller groups,
whether in Muslim-majority countries or in the West. While
refuge in religious
revivalism as an
civilizational, political and military decline is far from
unique to Islam, its contemporary manifestation is largely
The interface between the general perception of Islam
victim of the West--a perception often encouraged by Western
elites themselves--and Al Qaeda's (or the Salafi) view that
the victimization is largely due to naked
thin. This is demonstrated by a seldom noticed aspect of the
reaction of nonviolent, even anti-Al
Qaeda groups and
personalities, including those in the West, to
terrorism. Those groups have steadfastly opposed not
the conflict in Iraq, where the arguments used in favor of
the U.S.-led intervention could always be debated, but also
the 2001 U.S.-led attack on the Taliban.
always in Islamic critiques of
American and British
policies, whether they come from London or
Muslim Brothers or others, Afghanistan is mentioned in the
same breath as Baghdad. Since the removal of the Taliban and
its Al Qaeda proteges was a clear-cut case of self-defense,
Muslim condemnations of the Afghan operations could
mean that umma solidarity is more important to them than the
Taliban's crimes. Precisely the kind of attitude Al
needs to thrive.
Where most of the Islamic revivalist
movement and its
supporters depart from Al Qaeda's ideology is the
whereby Islam is to be renewed. In that
leaders' claim that "most Muslims" reject
correct, but far from encouraging. Despite attempts, such as
those sponsored by Jordan's Crown prince Hassan
respected imams condemn jihadi terrorism (the method not the
ideas leading to it), not only has no
scholar declared Bin Laden a
non-Muslim (the most
influential, Al-Qaradawi, would rather let Allah
but many large Islamist organizations, such as
Tahrir (an international Party of
Liberation) or the
Tablighis (Muslims missionary movement), could and do claim
to be seeking the Caliphate by nonviolent means while their
recruits often "graduate" to jihadism--again, same beliefs,
different methods, and all unhelpful.
Thus, even when
revivalist Islamists sincerely claim to oppose
they are voluntarily tying their own
hands. Hence the
eternal and annoying "we condemn terrorism . . . but" that
so confuses Western politicians, media and publics.
Why, in this context, anyone in the West would expect such
Muslims, as a whole or organized ones, to condemn anything
other than acts of terrorism is a mystery.
AL QAEDA/MOVEMENT RELATIONSHIPS
The relationships between the different Al Qaeda
the movement are dynamic, both centripetal and centrifugal
at the same time.
Centripetal. The centripetal expansion of
follows general, indeed universal terrorist
recruitment and indoctrination. In the specific case of Al
Qaeda this means two distinct, but related methods.
The first is centered on the thousands of
graduated from the Afghan camps prior to the end of
who returned to their countries of origin--Saudi
Egypt, and countries in North
Africa, Central Asia,
Southeast Asia, and Europe. Once
back, they either
established cells or founded or
organizations (the cases of Morocco, Algeria,
These people know and share Al Qaeda core's
many retain ties, including personal ones, with it and with
A typical case is that of Saad Houssaini, a.k.a. Moustapha,
one of Al Qaeda's most prominent cadres in Spain and North
Africa. Born in Meknes, Morocco, from a middle-class family
(his father was a professor)--an almost universal
among Al Qaeda cadres, Houssaini obtained
scholarship to study chemistry and physics at the University
of Valencia in Spain. It was there that he was attracted, or
recruited, to Islamism under the influence of Sheikh Rachid
Ghannouchi, the London-based ideologue and leader of
Nahda (the Revival), Tunisia's major Islamist organization.
Already under Spanish surveillance, in 1997 he
Taliban's Afghanistan where he underwent further training in
explosives in Al Qaeda camps, met other
Laden, Al Zarkawi and Al Zawahiri--the latter was a witness
at his marriage. Following the U.S. attack in the
2001, he returned to Morocco in April 2002, became a founder
of GICM (Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, now part of the
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb--AQIM) and trainer of
bomb makers. By September 2006 he was running a network of
Moroccan volunteers to Iraq, until his arrest
2007. It was under the influence of one of
"nonviolent" Islamist ideologues in Spain
"Londonistan" that he was radicalized, shifted to jihadism,
established personal ties to the Al Qaeda core, and
served as a force multiplier for the organization thousands
of miles away.
Second, Al Qaeda's central core (Bin Laden,
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, etc.) have sometimes accepted
given their "brand copyright" to
independently, such as the Algerian Salafi Group for Combat
and Preaching, which last year
became the AQIM, or
autonomously, like Al Zarkawi's group, now Al
Like metastasized cancerous tumors, members and trainees of
these formal Al Qaeda franchises, and some informal
like Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiah, spread the ideology
and expand the committed membership of the movement.
Centrifugal. There is, however, another dynamic within the
movement, a centrifugal one. This consists of thousands of
individual Muslims, many from the West and
disproportionate number of converts to Islam, who
personal ties to the Al Qaeda core or its main franchises,
but feel attracted to its ideology and the methods it uses.
With each spectacular jihadi attack or
numbers grow and they flock to the latest
defined by Al Zawahiri in his Al Jazeera statements
the innumerable jihadi Internet sites and
yourself jihad recipes.
There is not always a clearly defined line between the two
dynamics--Al Qaeda recruiting for its cause and would
self-recruited jihadis seeking a battle under its flag, or
at least its cause.
The case of Shaker Al-Abssi, the leader of Fatah Al-Islam in
the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al-Bared, near Tripoli,
Lebanon, lately under assault by that country's army,
revealing. A Palestinian born in a camp near Jericho,
family migrated to Jordan after 1967, and he joined Yasser
Arafat's Fatah as a teenager. The organization sent him to
study medicine, but he dropped out in favor of
pilot, receiving training in Libya and later serving as an
instructor in South Yemen. Later he participated in combat,
on the winning Sandinista side in Nicaragua and
losing Libyan side in that country's conflict with
Disappointed with Arafat's corruption, he joined dissident,
pro-Syrian factions and moved to
Damascus, where he
discovered religion and became a fervent believer. Afterward
he became associated with Al Zarkawi's group in
Jordan, and was sentenced to death in absentia for his role
in murdering an American diplomat in Amman in
Because, says his brother Abdel Razak, a
Palestinians have tried Marxism and Arab nationalism.
failed. I believe that for Shaker Islamism was the ultimate
solution." Now, claims his family, "we wait for
become a martyr, hoping that his death will be the fuel that
will set on fire the Palestinian cause."
This, then, is a case of a rebel in search
of a global
ideological and strategic anchor to articulate and justify
his fight for a particular cause. Associating with Al Qaeda
satisfied both needs. The fact that Fatah Al-Islam is seen
as both an Al Qaeda spin-off and a Syrian tool should not be
confusing, not in light of the organization's pattern
tactically piggybacking other causes.
Another good example is a new jihadist group, Ansar al Islam
fi Sahara al Bilad al Mulazamin (The followers of Islam in
Sahara, the land of those lifting the veil).
Made up of
Moroccans, Algerians, and Mauritanians, dissident elements
of AQIM, it first surfaced in June 2007. Ansar
obey direct orders from Al Qaeda's core, all
telling the latter that "You should know that we are in the
same trench." Indeed, it shares Al
obsession with the "recovery" of Al-Andalus and hatred for
all North African governments and France.
This is a
perfect example of what French analysts call the "Al Qaeda
nebula"--a multiplying system
of jihadi groups
ideologically, but not always hierarchicaly, tied to
core group. We are once again confronted with the interface
of movement and terrorist group.
German-Turkish author Nacla Kelek was right when he pointed
out that "Politicians and religious scholars of all faiths are
in pointing out that there are many varieties of Islam, that
Islamism and Islam should not be confused, that there is no
line in the Koran that would justify
murder. But the
assertion that radical Islamic fundamentalism and Islam have
nothing to do with each other is like asserting that there
was no link between Stalinism and Communism."
But just as Stalinism (and Pol Pot or Mao) was made possible
by the mass of usually peaceful and naive believers in the
Marxist Utopia, Al Qaeda and its nebula are
feeding up from the growing Islamic revivalist movement. To
separate the two should be the goal of Muslims
Muslims alike, since they are all targets of
deny the intimate link between the two is to deny reality.
By making artificial distinctions between the two, one only
postpones and avoids the real struggle..
 For his career, see "Adil
Boukhima, Portrait: Le
Marocain d'Al Qaida," TelQuel (Casablanca), May 17,
Craig Whitlock, "In Morocco's 'Chemist,' A Glimpse of
Qaeda Bombmaker Typified Resilient Network, Washington Post,
July 7, 2007; Driss Bennani, Abdellatif El Azizi,
Bellaouali and Lahcen Aouad, "Enquete.
Au-dela de la
panique," Tel Quel, July 5, 2007.
 Cecile Hennion, "De la colere au djihad, le
Fatah Al-Islam raconte par son frere," Le Monde,
 Antonio Baquero and Jordi
Corach n , "Actividad
Extremista En El Desierto. Un nuevo grupo terrorista magreb¡
amenaza a Espana," El Periodico (Barcelona), July 12, 2007.
 Quoted by Peter Schneider, "The New Berlin Wall,"
York Times, Dec. 4, 2005.
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