March 06, 2006
The Themes of al-Zawahiri's Latest Tape
My colleague Andrew Cochran noted that al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released new audio and video tapes on Saturday. Since a large component of the global war on terror is the battle of ideas, it is important to understand how al-Qaeda is attempting to sell its cause and ideas in the Muslim world. Before analyzing al-Zawahiri's new message, it is worth noting that the video of al-Zawahiri's message was again aired by al-Jazeera. My colleague Walid Phares recently noted that al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released new audio and video tapes on Saturday. Since a large component of the global war on terror is the battle of ideas, it is important to understand how al-Qaeda is attempting to sell its cause and ideas in the Muslim world. Before analyzing al-Zawahiri's new message, it is worth noting that the video of al-Zawahiri's message was again aired by al-Jazeera. My colleague Walid Phares recently noted the panel discussion on al-Jazeera following the release of al-Zawahiri's January tape, wherein the panelists agreed with and amplified his message. Given the benefits that al-Jazeera derives from being granted exclusive releases by al-Qaeda, we can expect more of the same for future tapes that al-Qaeda releases.
There are five primary themes in this new al-Zawahiri tape. The first is the development of a deeply anti-Western theory of the world based on current events, wherein there is a grand conspiracy to undermine the Islamic faith. Al-Zawahiri describes the publication of cartoons satirizing Prophet Muhammad as part of a crusader plot against the Muslims, saying that the publication is "an example of the hatred of the crusaders led by America." He said that Muslims should boycott countries where the cartoons were published, including Denmark, Norway, France and Germany. Al-Zawahiri states that the publication of these cartoons stands in contrast to the fact that "no one dares to harm Jews or to challenge Jewish claims about the Holocaust nor even to insult homosexuals." We can expect future al-Qaeda tapes to further develop the idea of a far-reaching conspiracy against Muslims, and to frame future controversies involving Islam as manifestations of that conspiracy. In doing so, the terrorist group will frame itself as the true defender of the Muslim nation: a group that is willing to stand up while the Middle East's cowardly governments kowtow to the West.
A second theme is the oppression of the Palestinians. Al-Zawahiri voices his support for Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel, and urges them to "continue the armed struggle." He describes previous deals between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as "surrender accords," and lashes out at previous secular governments that ruled over the Palestinians. He says that no Palestinian has the right "to give away a grain of the soil," and that the only alternative is to pursue armed struggle "until the liberation of Palestine and the building of an Islamic state." In doing this, al-Zawahiri is attempting to link al-Qaeda's struggle to that of the Palestinians -- a cause with immense popularity in the region. Reaching out to Hamas serves a dual purpose for al-Zawahiri. On the one hand, there is the chance that Hamas will respond well to his overtures (although thus far Hamas appears uninterested). On the other hand, al-Zawahiri surely knows that being in power may cause Hamas to moderate somewhat and enter into talks with Israel. If it does, al-Qaeda will attempt to exploit that move by positioning itself as the true representative of the Palestinian people's theological aspirations.
In a third theme, al-Zawahiri urges Muslims to attack the West. He says that those attacks should hurt the West economically: "[Muslims have to] inflict losses on the crusader West, especially to its economic infrastructure with strikes that would make it bleed for years." Al-Qaeda has for some time focused on the West's economy as one of its key areas of vulnerability. See, for example, the video that bin Laden released just before the 2004 election, in which he trumpeted his "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan" for defeating America.
A fourth theme emerges naturally from that: the importance of oil. Al-Zawahiri describes the alleged theft of Muslim oil by Western countries as the "biggest robbery in history." I've written in the Weekly Standard about al-Qaeda's interest in disrupting the oil supply; since then, al-Zawahiri expressly called for attacks on Gulf oil facilities in a December video. (See also Evan Kohlmann's post on al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia issuing rules for attacking oil facilities.)
And a fifth theme that Zawahiri puts forward is the need for Muslims to support Islamic terrorists financially. He says that al-Qaeda and similar groups are on the "front line" in defending Islam.
This al-Qaeda tape appears not to have been intended primarily for a Western audience, but instead for a Muslim one. As such, it provides insight into what the terrorist group believes will bolster its appeal in the Islamic world.
Posted by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at 12:35 PM | Permalink