May 10, 2006
Bin Laden's Ideology and the Seeds of Democracy
Amr Hamzawy sees Osama bin Laden on the ideological defensive:
The second remarkable aspect of bin Laden's videotape was his addressing, albeit by assailing them, Arab liberals. In previous videotapes, he accused pro-Western Arab governments and official religious institutions of seducing their populations away from the path of jihad. But this time he blamed Arab liberal intellectuals and writers for betraying the true spirit of Islam. For bin Laden, the liberals disseminate "blasphemous ideas" of democracy, human rights, and moderation, and in so doing diminish the degree of popular support for Al-Qaeda's jihad. The Al-Qaeda leader's decision to open a front against Arab liberals may threaten them, but it is also a testimony to their moral and political influence in the Arab world of today.
Austin Bay sees this as Arab moderates being "emboldened." Why? "For years Arab moderates have said “you must help us pull the gun away from our heads” (ie, protect us from the dictators and the terrorists). That is what Iraq is about, pulling the guns away (literally and figuratively) from the heads of Arab moderates and liberals."
He goes on to write,
There appears to be an emerging public consensus that democracy is the only viable way ahead. Bin Laden is right in fearing this development, since it undermines the logic of his terrorist agenda. Indeed, liberals in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia have proven as effective in combating terrorism as various "hard" security measures. Al-Qaeda is on the defensive not only because of the geographical but also the political isolation of its leaders: Its radical, militant blueprints have lost a great deal of their appeal as Arabs have had a change of heart.
There may be something significant to the seeds of representative and limited government in Arab lands. However, these embryonic ideas might be used in tribal-religious positioning. With his statements bin Laden is probably doing the same. He's performing the age-old dance of attempting to play some parts of the umma off against another (Arab liberals).
These seeds need time to grow into civil institutions. To Western eyes we will see young Arab democratic as corrupt with money and favors flowing behind the scenes. In David Pryce-Jones' The Closed Circle you will understand that that Arab's aren't incapable of cleaner government it's that they apply the political skills of the body they're most familiar with, the tribe. Posturing and the preserving of honor, thus strength, become very important. He writes, "One and all, the Arab states are incomplete, partially formed, neither defined nor defended by proper institutions or jurisdictions, and therefore at the mercy of the power holder." Pryce-Jones goes on, "Their identity is at stake, even at risk, until such time as political processes evolve, and successful power-sharing and nation-building introduces values more open to compromise, not requiring defense through violence."
"Al-Qaeda Faces an Ideological Crisis"