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The Silent Party

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As we stumble towards World War III or IV or V (do I hear VI? VI? Going once . . . going twice . . . ) one key belligerent has yet to be heard from — Al Qaeda, the gang that started this whole bloody business, or that at least provided Don Rumsfeld with the opportunity to "sweep it all up."

Actually, I don’t know for a fact that Bin Ladin and the boys haven’t broken radio silence on the latest outbreak of major-league fighting in Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. But I haven’t found any communiques that bear even a semi-plausible stamp of approval from the Al Qaeda high command. I did, however, come across the following summary of a statement that’s been circulating in cyber-jihadistan. It’s purportedly from a Sheikh Hamed bin Abdullah Ali — a Kuwaiti Salafist leader who was tried, but acquited, on terrorism charges last year. File it under the category of interesting if true:

He [Sheikh al-Ali] writes of Iran as possessing an expansionist, imperialist spirit, hoping to spread its power and influence into the Gulf countries and Iraq, and using the "Crusader/Zionist" alliance as a conduit for part of its goals. However, the sheikh prays: "But at best and in the end — Allah willing — they will be burned with the same fire which they ignited to burn the Muslims."Iran’s "card" has presented the Shi’a Republic an opportunity to achieve its plans, which according to the message, include the coalition with Syria and Iran’s arm in Lebanon, Hezbollah, supporting parties in the countries of the Arab Peninsula and Iraq, capitalizing on the "Palestinian problem," and steps towards achieving nuclear capability . . . Sheikh Hamed al-Ali predicts that a confrontation is approaching, as the entire region of the Middle East in is between "Great War’s hands and mass chaos." But in the end, it will be in Islam’s favor, "even if Islam and its people will have a great disaster."

Both the translation and summary come from an organization I’ve never heard of before, although a friend who I trust completely vouches for its credibility. That said, caveat lector.

In any case, it sounds to me like Sheikh al-Ali is filibustering, which for present purposes I’ll define as making long-winded but essentially pointless statements to obscure the fact that the party line is in some disarray.

Then again, maybe I’m just reading into Sheikh al-Ali’s little dissertation what I can really only speculate to be the case, which is that the sudden eruption of all out hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel — complete with TV footage of Iranian-made missiles falling on Jewish heads — has left Al Qaeda and its sympathizers between a religious rock and an ideological hard place.

The dilemma, of course, is who to treat as the bigger enemy: the God-cursed Shi’a schismatics, or the bloodsucking Crusader/Zionist entity? And if they’re both the sworn agents of Satan, why the hell are they fighting each other? What’s an honest Takfiri supposed to think?

Sheikh al-Ali never really addresses the latter question. He does, however, answer the first one:

The "Shari’a position" then, as the sheikh writes, maintains that Palestine is Islam’s problem, as Muslims should not be deceived by Iran taking it as its own. Iran, he believes, is more dangerous than the "Crusader/Zionist" enemy.(emphasis added)

All righty then. This implies that all good Sunnis (which in the Takfiri user’s guide means "the only good Muslims") should be rooting for the planes with the stars of David on their tails as they drop their payloads over south Beruit. They are, after all, taking the fight to the more dangerous enemy — or its number-one proxy, any way.

Naturally, this is where I start to get a little suspicious of Sheikh al-Ali’s jihadist bona fides. Putting hatred of the partisans of Ali ahead of the war against the Crusader/Zionists may or may not be official Al Qaeda doctrine, but it definitely is consistent with the policy preferences of the leading U.S.-backed Sunni regimes in the region, as seen in this public statement last week from the his Royal Highness Abdullah al-Saud, Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques:

A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside [Lebanon] and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and co-ordinating with Arab nations. These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created.

When the Saudi government is handing out press releases that could have been written by the Israeli Minister of Information (except, of course, for the part about "legitimate resistance") you know the world has been turned upside down.

One reason why I’d like to know how Bin Ladin and Dr. Zawahiri feel about this is that I’m wondering why the Saudis felt it expedient to take such a blatantly pro-Israel line. Did the pressure from Washington amount to the proverbial offer-you-can’t refuse? Is King Abdullah worried about finding a severed Arabian stallion’s head in his bed? Did the royal family just give a huge vote of confidence to its domestic security services?

Or, does the royal clan feel comfortable blowing little wet kisses at Jerusalem right now because they think the Sunni man in the Saudi street (as well as the Sunni terrorist in the Saudi safe house) is more worried about the Shi’a peril than about Crusader/Zionist expansionism?

One can see two possibilities here. The first is that World War III/IV/V has reached one of those Eurasia/Eastasia moments where everybody — and not just here in Oceania — suddenly switches enemies. Booman at The Booman Tribune pointed today to a possible example of this shift in Iraq, where the New York Times reports that Sunni leaders are having second thoughts about a U.S. troop withdrawal:

As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces . . . The Sunnis also view the Americans as a "bulwark against Iranian actions here," a senior American diplomat said.

This is, of course, the Outer Party Times talking here — with a co-byline from Dexter Filkins, last seen doing script rewrites for the Pentagon Channel. Once again, caveat lector. But also interesting if true.

How far such a realigment could go is anybody’s guess. A friend (see above) told me today that he’d heard through the grapevine that the other King Abdullah, of Jordan, recently told Shrub he believed the Sunni-Sh’ia showdown would soon supplant the Israeli-Arab conflict as the defining grudge match in the Middle East. But then the little king would say that, given who pays to keep his little dynasty afloat.

Put me down as an agonostic. King Abdullah does not, shall we say, have a whole lot of street cred — not unless the street in question is Pennsylvannia Avenue. True, there is a fine old tradition in the Middle East of the enemy of my enemy being my friend, but these things do have their limits. One of the things I took away from Nir Rosen’s book, In the Belly of the Green Bird was just how entrenched and abiding popular hatred and suspicion of the Israelis is among both Shi’a and Sunni, or at least in Iraq. (I’ve come across the same attitudes, albeit expressed more politely, in Egypt and Jordan as well.) My gut — not my most attractive organ but sometimes my smartest — tells me Hezbollah is earning major brownie points on the Arab street by standing up to the Zionists and, what’s more, sending some ordinance flying back their way.

Whether that pathology will act as a brake on the willingness or ability of U.S.-backed Sunni regimes to publicly toe the Cheney administration’s line I don’t know. The Christian Science Monitor suspects it might, but I’d say that only Hosni Mubarak’s security advisors really know for sure.

But that still leaves the second of my two possibilities — one that is distinctly less favorable for Team Oceania than a Shi’a-Sunni death match (which is a divide-and-conquer wet dream.) However senior Al Qaeda leaders feel about Hezbollah and the emerging Shi’a crescent, they can’t be too happy about seeing their status in the terrorist celebrity pantheon overshadowed by Hezbollah’s starring role in the Lebanon extravaganza — particularly at a time when Al Qaeda is already under considerable pressure to prove it still has political and operational relevance. But there’s really only way to show the world who the real scourge of the Jews and Crusaders is: By executing a major terrorist attack, either in Israel (hard) America (less hard) or Britain (even less hard — although something bigger than a couple of pipe bombs in the Tube would probably be necessary to make the point.)

The bottom line is that like any fading rock group, Al Qaeda badly needs a hit to avoid being permanently supplanted in the public eye by its Shi’a rival, which is setting the charts ablaze, so to speak. If the original band or its various spin offs have any ambitious projects on the drawing boards, now might be the opportune time to put them into production. Which means it’s at least possible that the silent party won’t remain silent much longer.

Billmon blogs at The Whiskey Bar  

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