"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, January 13, 2011


This Economist article has a brief little overview of recent AQAP attacks.   They are clearly stepping up, but so far, and somewhat to my surprise, they have yet to overstep their bounds.   These sentences kind of get at the heart of it.

But recent hit-and-run attacks on government forces and the greater care it is taking to avoid civilian casualties suggest cannier tactics, with lessons learnt from the experience of al-Qaeda branches in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like them it is trying to weaken resolve by targeting the security forces on which the government depends.

While I agree with the second sentence, I think it also goes a little but further than that- they learned the lessons of Iraq and are avoiding the kind of mindless carnage that led to their eventual downfall.  We tend to bandy about words like "nihilism" and "psychopathic" when discussing al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist outfit.  To an extent these words work, at least in certain cases.  Zarqawi in Iraq was a bloodhungry criminal who used jihad to slake his urges.  But it is a mistake to think that all jihadis are like this.  In his excellent book, Talking to the Enemy, Scott Atran frequently uses the term "moral" to describe people who sign up for jihad, whether through Qaeda or independently.   This is a strange word, and strikes the ear as off, but it works.   There are principals, and a goal to be had, and something to fight for.  It is of course a backwards, atavistic goal, but it is there.    The more professional jihadis are moral in this sense, and that is what separates them from the merely criminal.   This is what we have in Yemen, with Nasir al-Wuhayshi.  And that is what makes him so damn dangerous. 

Think "moral" in the sense that Woody Harrelson's character uses it to describe Chighur's character in No Country for Old Men.  I can't find a video that shows it, but you all remember, right?

There is a lot more to say about this, and is something I am working on.  

In the meantime!  I'll be on the Peter Dominick show this afternoon at 5EST talking about the chance for reform in Yemen, dovetailing off the Secretary's remarks.  

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