Obama Was Right to Skip Paris
Since the 9/11 attacks, Western governments—the United States included—have struggled to grasp the challenge posed by al Qaeda’s strategy. They still seem all-too-mystified about how to respond and extinguish the enduring appeal that al Qaeda’s ideology seems to have for young Muslims. The world’s most infamous terrorist group—at least until Islamic State burst on to the scene last year—has in turn spent decades trying to figure out how to instigate a global Muslim rebellion against the West. It has always relied on a sort of geopolitical judo, using its enemies’ strength against them by making them prove its own worldview.
[…] The most effective way to convince a target audience to buy into a rhetorical vision is to echo and respond to their grievances. In other words, use their existing complaints to make them sign up to your plan to fix things. Globally, al Qaeda’s problem has always been that although average Muslims have many long-standing complaints about Western foreign policy—such as support for Israel and Arab dictatorships—the vast majority were not ready to subscribe to its remedy of war and harsh religious law.
In response, Al Qaeda has sought to overcome this lack of interest among Muslims by trying to polarize Muslim and Western views, and here is where it has had a great deal of success in Europe, far less so in the United States. The Muslim underclass in many of these European countries is already polarized, and the over-the-top reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings is only exacerbating that trend. The idea, as stated in the jihadi strategy document “Management of Savagery,” is to “transform societies into two opposing groups, igniting a violent battle between them whose end is either victory or martyrdom.” The best way to make sure the intended audience understands the justification for the attack is to make the attack itself self-explanatory, the strategists behind the document say. Clearly, the targeting of Charlie Hebdo, a magazine well known for printing images that many, if not most, Muslims would find offensive, but were seen as part of a cherished European tradition of free expression, fit very comfortably in this strategy. […]
Note in the last paragraph above that the jihadis have clearly & openly stated that getting the kind of reaction they got to the Charlie Hebdo massacre is part of their strategy—they’re setting the rules of the game and we’re letting them.
The reaction to the killings was largely an emotional one; knee-jerk responses aren’t what’s needed if we’re going to outsmart these guys. Oh sure, out of fear and anger all Muslims living in the West could be stripped of their civil & political rights—or possibly even interned indefinitely—and that could be followed up with turning the Mideast into a “glass parking lot”, but then the West would no longer be the sort of society it claims to be and takes such pride in, would it?
As Charles pointed out on the day of the attack:
Right on cue I’m seeing people calling for everyone to post the anti-Islam cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. This strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do. We should carry on doing exactly what we were doing before the attack, not indulge in a fear-driven blustering campaign to offend Muslims as much as possible.
To which I responded, in part:
1000 x THIS. I felt awful over what happened, regardless of my opinion regarding the magazine, but going online and seeing people waving around the most offensive caricatures of Muslims they published isn’t helping. It makes me feel like I’m the enemy—like I deserve to be insulted for the horrible shit some assholes who are complete strangers to me and live thousands of miles away did. It feels like an excuse for people to fly the freak flags that they usually keep hidden. […]
We need to be smarter about this or we’re going to lose.