Al Queda is an Idea

December 11, 2008

Al Queda is not a group or organization so much as it is an idea. That is to say, the power (and danger) of Al Queda comes less from its plots and actions than from its ability to inspire others to act.

A look at history, whether we choose the soviets in Afghanistan, Nazi Germany and imperial Japan during the Second world war, the American revolutionary war, or perhaps the second US invasion of Iraq as our model, shows us that an insurgency armed with an ideology can and will fight against overwhelming odds and at great cost. Further, these ideas have a tendency to gain influence in proportion to the strength, brutality, and cost of the opposing side’s military efforts. In short, an ideologically driven force grows stronger, not weaker, as it becomes outmatched militarily.

It does so by inspiring other poor, disenfranchised, desperate souls to follow the same path. The idea of poor, outmatched religious warriors standing up to the powers of the world works to inspire the worst off of the Islamic world  to similarly attack the west.

This works especially well when backed up by a network of religious schools, as is the case in Pakistan, where Al Queda has its roots. Any serious military action taken against the militants simply reinforces their ideology. To complicate matters, a long-term occupation like we used in Iraq would likely accelerate the radicalization of Pakistani youth.

Therefore, it would appear the best way to fight this ideology is to create and present an alternative view, and convince those likely to be swayed by extremist ideology (the young, impoverished, and desperate) that ours represent a better course of action.

We cannot hope to defeat an idea with guns and bombs. This lesson has been learned by occupying nations throughout history, and unless we change tactics, the United States is set for another Vietnam in Afghanistan.


This post was originally a response to this article, which I found on Digg.  It is on the issue of global governance and global government, which I find fascinating.  So, here goes.


Nobody really reads this blog at all, but I do have one beef with this article that I would like to lay out.  Perhaps by writing it down, I may better understand my own position on the issue.

The author assumes that “Global Government” and “Global Governance” are one and the same, but that is frankly untrue. (Or at the very least, not a consensus agreement among those in international relations, philosophy, etc.) There is a prolonged argument among theorists whether the two terms are interchangeable, or whether “Global Governance” (defined by thinkers who find a difference between the two as any global regulatory framework, independent of a central government) is possible without a state.

When I was in college, I remember debating a professor on this point, and defending the thesis that Global Governance would lead to Global Government, but that the transition would be slow enough that it would occur democratically, through treaties between nation-states, international business networks, and non-governmental organizations. I went on to argue that this transition, should it be chosen willingly by those affected, is not a guaranteed evil. At least to me, it is conceivable that a global federation of co-dependent states, or even a centralized global government, could be both free and open, BUT ONLY IF THE CITIZENRY ACT TO MAKE IT SO.

I still believe that some form of Global Governance (of which Global Government is but one variety) will eventually come to pass. As the article brings up, the issues facing humanity are larger than any one government is capable of dealing with. If such issues truly do threaten the survival of our species, or if inter-national relationships become beneficial to the point of overcoming of their deficiencies, then we will likely see the rise of some form of Global Governance.

To conclude  – Global Governance is likely going to occur at some point in the future of humanity, provided we don’t die first. That said, the form that this governance system will take is entirely up to the inhabitants of Earth to decide. Fascist and unfree societies do not come into existence without the support (tacit or otherwise) of the citizenry. Similarly, no Global Governance, and certainly no Global Government, can be created without the consent of the governed. If we take on those in power, if we become the media, if we are willing to fight for that which we hold dear, there is no reason that Global Governance (or Government) must destroy rights and suppress freedom any more than existing nations do.

Now, if you think existing institutions already repress freedoms to an intolerable extent, then the task is more arduous, but ultimately the goal is the same – to create a system where the rights and freedoms of all are protected from those who would seek to deny them, without itself denying these same freedoms.  The line is a delicate one, indeed.

Dear Mr. President,

You have asked the people of this nation what they want to see out of this nation, and out of your administration.  Here is my submission, and I encourage anyone who comes across this site to write to Obama as well.

I would like to see this country, over the next 8 years, fully rectify the numerous constitutional and legal crises brought upon us by decades of abuse by the congress and the executive branch.  I would like to see this nation punish those who have tortured in her name, those who took us into unending and expensive wars, and who broke our laws.

Mr. Obama – I do not want “CHANGE” from the present if that change is only in the names and faces, but not the substance.  We elected you to set this country back on a course of international neutrality; a course we left generations ago.  If this nation continues to try and impose her will upon the world, we set the stage for another world war – one with us as the aggressor and the enemy of freedom.

End the spying, end the torture, end the lying.  You and every member of our government swore to protect the constitution of this nation, and that constitution puts a very specific set of limits on your power.  You know this – you are a constitutional law scholar.  Don’t forget your principles, and trust no one with a vested interest.  John F Kennedy had high hopes, and those around him fought tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

Best of luck, Mr. President, and never let yourself be isolated from the minds of the American public.  You serve them now.
Nothing will come of it, but I like to pretend my input counts.

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