Source: National Post
This week’s death-by-drone of Abu Yahya al-Libi delivered for my recollection a February 2006 Onion article reporting that “80 percent of Osama bin Laden’s seconds-in-command have been eliminated … [leaving] only 400 of Osama bin Laden’s right-hand men in the organization.” A good piece of humour, that — and yet the quantitative absurdity of a vast second-in-command queue tells us much about a qualitative reality which is the antithesis of funny.
The quality to which I refer propels a now-common preference for drones, as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan of combat troops and the president’s deference to CIA-drawn kill lists. One might describe this quality as war fatigue, many voters having arrived at the conclusion that no number of fatalities will bring down an organization employing death as a recruitment incentive. On our side the leaders are eager to be seen as doing all within their power to keep soldiers out of harm’s way, while on theirs harm of the worst sort is the best path to an undying glory.
Long ago, al Qaeda placed its military bets on the prospect of attrition abetted by weary voters and depleted national treasuries. The base to which the Arabic word qaeda refers is Afghanistan, where in the years following Russia’s war exhaustion Osama bin Laden and a good many other expatriate Central Asia jihadists were given territory by the Taliban to prepare their respective campaigns. The al-Libi nisbat appended to Abu Yahya reminds us that Libya was the origin of some high-ranking al Qaeda leaders, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Having got religion (in this case literally), the convert’s conventional journey was to Yemen and Afghanistan and Pakistan, where training was applied and the queue for a glorious demise formed.
When the work of dislodging the Taliban was undertaken first by Afghans themselves, and soon thereafter by Britain and the United States, such was the terrain. In the days when Osama bin Laden was Enemy One, the war was in, and for, Afghanistan and Mesopotamia and at its greatest reach the Middle East as a whole. This is, however, an outdated view. Under the once second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda is a franchise taking full advantage of the world’s growth industry of weak and failing states. The dirty works of al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, for instance, are both inspired and facilitated by al Qaeda, and are delivering the predictable miseries to a growing segment of Africa.
As hysterical and degenerate an outfit as you’ll find, Boko Haram is clear concerning its objectives. Although these Islamic militants are sometimes remarked for their refusal to mix among the infidel, the phrase Boko Haram is itself a mixing of Western-Hausa and Arabic elements, and may be translated as “Secular Education is Forbidden.” If this slogan sounds distinctly familiar, you will appreciate that Boko Haram — hopeful to reproduce the Taliban example — chose Afghanistan as the name for its Kanamma base of operations. Boko is the term for the Latin-based writing system introduced to Nigeria by Europeans, so that the word constitutes a synecdoche, or holding bag, for all that is Western. Haram, the opposite of Halal, designates all that is forbidden by Allah, and you will hear the word used both in casual Arabic and Hebrew conversation to mean “that’s a shame.”
Further to the topic of things which are a shame is the relative lack of global scrutiny and condemnation applied to Africa’s jihadists. Against the boasted successes of the drone program, one must place not only the moral and practical concerns posed by a President-hitman, but the increasingly narrow and outdated view of the war offered for our consumption. The serial eliminations of al Qaeda’s numbers one through three, by means of drone and in the northern regions of Pakistan, are victories only of a limited kind so long as the deeper and broader rot of corrupt and failed states around the world goes unaddressed. In the years ahead, the threats which drew the world’s attention and resources to Afghanistan and Iraq will increasingly draw these to Somalia and Nigeria and a number of other destinations already overlooked for too long.