Ireland is now a target of Al-Qaeda simply because of what we are says Richard Whelan, author of a book on the subject.
Two lines in the current issue of the Military Balance, the core publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (“IISS”), summarise the seriousness of the Al-Qaeda threat to Ireland and our difficulty in responding to same.
The Military Balance notes that a group called the Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe (Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade) was established in the UK in 2005 and that it is currently active and operating in both the UK and Ireland. The IISS summarises the aims of this group as: “ideologically opposed to Western culture”. This comment encapsulates the understanding that the Al-Qaeda ideology draws its strength not from particular actions by the West but by Western culture itself.
Western culture is usually seen as representing a number of characteristics including materialism, liberalism, socialism, secularism, individualism, humanism, rationalism, reason, capitalism, urbanisation and feminism.
There is general agreement that this ideology which sees the West as a mortal enemy to be overthrown, comes from a number of sources, including the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The article by Mary Fitzgerald in this newspaper last Friday emphasised that the Muslim brotherhood, which was set up in Egypt in 1928, still has difficulty in convincing many of its current relatively moderate objectives. One of the reasons for this difficulty is that two of its more infamous members mentioned in that article, Sayyid Qutb and Ayman al-Zawahiri, became key ideologists for Al-Qaeda.
Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged by the Egyptians in 1966, made the then unique point that all governments and regimes in the world, including all Islamic ones, were illegitimate, simply because they did not accord Islam a pre-eminent role. He described the separation of church and state, a key element of Western culture, as a form of mental illness – “hideous schizophrenia”, and said the separation of church and state in the republic of Turkey was an attempt to “exterminate Islam”.
Al-Zawahiri is the second-in-command of the core Al-Qaeda group and its ideological chief. He has repeated the view that all states in the world at present are illegitimate – the only true Islamic regime having been the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. After the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad in 1996, he published an important treatise called “Shifa Sudr Al-mu’minin (‘The Cure for Believers Hearts’)” defending this terror attack. This treatise has become the justification for all Al-Qaedaist attacks since. As Maha Azzam, an expert on Islamic political movement puts it “the view expressed is that all Arab and Islamic regimes, including the PLO, had sold out by the mere fact that they accepted the authority of the UN and the very idea that any Jew might remain in any part of Palestine”. Al-Zawahiri’s treatise goes on to say that because citizens in the West vote for and pay tax to their governments, they (the citizens) are the real decision makers and are thus no longer innocent non-combatants, but legitimate targets. In addition Muslims and children (women are not mentioned) may be killed in Al-Qaedaist attacks because of the “exceptional circumstances” currently prevailing where in the eyes of the Al-Qaedaists they are weak and their enemies are strong.
Osama Bin Laden summarised these views in one of his many propaganda attacks on the concept of democracy by saying democracy means “collective guilt”.
While all this may sound far fetched, Al-Qaedaist attacks show that they act in accordance with this analysis.
Two years after the publication of Al-Zawahiri’s treatise Al-Qaeda bombed two American embassies in East Africa. To kill 12 American diplomats they killed 212 Africans, many of them Muslims, while to injure 15 Americans Al-Qaeda was willing to injure 4,559 locals, again, most of them Muslims. The first Bali attack on Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club killed 202 Westerners from Sweden, Britain, America, Holland, Germany and Australia and many locals. The reason advanced by Bin Laden for this attack? The UN role in East Timor lead by Australia.
In Jordan on 9th November last year, three hotels were attacked killing 62 people and wounding hundreds. Amongst the targets was a Palestinian wedding party. This attack finally led to a huge popular backlash against Al-Qaeda and eventually to a declaration by the Arab League stating emphatically: “while resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism does not represent legitimate resistance, and accordingly we condemn terrorism”.
Ireland while neutral is Western and a strong supporter of the UN, the PLO and East Timorese independence. What can we do to defend ourselves in these circumstances?
As the core objective of Al-Qaeda is to hijack Islam, our broad role should be to help the Muslim population of the world deal with this cancer within.
Firstly, An Garda Siochana needs to work closely with Muslim community leaders in Ireland to identify and isolate the Irish operatives of the Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qaeda of Jihad organisation in Europe.
Secondly and more importantly, the underlying issues that have helped create this ideology must be dealt with. Many Muslim states who are struggling economically look to our model of economic development. Both the public and private sector should proactively assist Muslim governments in that regard. Indonesia, the largest Muslim-population state in the world, is a relatively new democracy. Successful economic development will help solidify its democratic institutions. Ireland’s experience of economic development would be invaluable to them and non-threatening.
Furthermore, the Department of Foreign Affairs clearly has the skill and knowledge to help solve the current disagreements between Turkey and the EU on Turkish accession. Turkey, while not a perfect model for Islam, does believe, contrary to Al-Qaeda, in a convergence of civilisations. The accession discussions with Turkey in themselves are important in sending a signal to the Muslim Community worldwide of Europe’s positive vision of Islam.
Finally, we should remember Locke’s famous dictum and not over-react to this threat and worsen the problem we face– “security is an instrument to protect freedom, not an end in itself”.
Update – 15 August 2007 – The newspaper referred to in this article was The Irish Times. Subsequent to drafting this article I established, in discussions with the IISS that the Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qaeda or Jihad organisation in Europe appears to be only currently active in the UK and not also in Ireland.