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Not Very Inspiring: Al Qaeda's Reaction to the 'Tsunami of Change' in the Middle East

06 Apr 2011
Short Read by Edwin Bakker

Shaykh Anwar Al-Awlaki has, in the latest edition of the Islamist Glossy "Inspire Magazine", gone through the trouble of responding to the analyses of many commentators in Europe and the US that emphasise that the Arab Spring has announced the bankruptcy of Al Qaeda’s tactics. This late reaction is no surprise. Under the title "The Tsunami of Change", the US-Yeminite Islamic lecturer claims that the mujahidin are going through a moment of elation and that the West fails to observe the upsurge of mujahidin activities in the greater Middle East region. Doing so, he resembles very much the famous spokesmen of (former) Middle Eastern dictators that reassure the audience that "nothing is wrong" and "everybody is supporting the great leader" while the bombs are falling around them and people are revolting in the streets. Al-Awlaki is on the defence, trying desperately to convince his readers – and probably himself – of his interpretation of the events unfolding.

But he is not just turning a blind eye to reality. What Al-Awlaki in Inspire and Al Qaeda in general are doing is distorting a reality that is very unfavourable to them. They did and do not only fail to see the first signs of positive change to the situation and conditions of the people in the Middle East and North Africa they claim to fight for. They also failed to mobilise or gain widespread support of the masses during the recent uprising in those countries. And making its failing even worse, Al Qaeda is now even entering onto the four-lane highway of high-jacking the work of others – i.e. the masses involved in the popular uprisings – in an attempt to masquerade their own mistakes and failures. By doing this they are not helping anyone but the regimes that these mostly young people are revolting against. They jeopardise the fragile results of the youngsters that did all the work and did all the right things by peacefully and effectively demanding change. (Former) suppressive governments could, on the basis of Al-Awlaki’s interpretation of the events, claim that they have indeed always been right: it is either us or violent extremists that rule the Middle East. Exactly the very excuse for the suppressive political rule of these regimes for many years and recently so vigorously reiterated by Muammar Gaddafi, in a desperate attempt to stop the tsunami of change.

With statements like that of Anwar Al-Awlaki, Al Qaeda is assisting the (former) suppressors through claims of elation and surges in mujahidin activity. Very brainless and despicable is the fact that they are also claiming the victory that others fought and lost their lives for. A victory that they contributed not even the least bit to. Thus, Al Qaeda alienates itself even further from the youngsters in the Middle East and Northern Africa, from those who had the courage to take risks, who confronted the security forces, who risked (and some of them actually lost) their lives. These true heroes of change are now confronted with the bluntness of Al Qaeda that enters the stage at the end and claims a free ride to victory. Al Qaeda did not only loose sight of the right tactics but are now also alienating themselves completely from the people that they claim to represent or fight for.

Al Qaeda should realise that its tactics have proven to be the tactics of failure and that the organisations has entered a dead-end street. If it really wants to play a constructive role in the future developments in the greater Middle East, it is time its people face facts and draw lessons from reality. They need to renounce their violent tactics and seriously rethink their inflammatory narratives, if they want to find resonance and support amongst the current generation of youngsters. It would suit Anwar Al–Awlaki if he used the platform of Inspire to show some self-reflection and to give credit to those who in recent months have been far more successful in toppling the autocratic and corrupt regimes than his fellow jihadi fighters whose most concrete result has been a lot of people slaughtered.