Al-Qaida's method, reduced to a phrase, is blood for headlines, which is an old concept. Ninteenth century European anarchists exploited sensational magnification of hideous violence and used mass terror as a cruel marketing method.
The terrorist (of any type) frames his action as a tactic for achieving greater, inspired goals, either futuristic or apocalyptic. He frames his inspiration as political, cultural, religious, philosophical or tribal (think Rwanda or Bosnia). In doing so, he attracts the politically, culturally, religiously, philosophically or tribally sympathetic -- until time reveals his tactic for what it is: CRIME. Not the harbinger of the future or the omen of the end of this age, but despicable murder.
So here is the news value of dulled reactions to depravity, news more sorrowful and sobering than sensational: Al-Qaida's terrorists have not lost the ability to kill, but they have lost some of their ability to shock. Losing the sensationalist edge is a major blow for a terrorist organization and especially al-Qaida, which has always been foremost an information power. Al-Qaida's dark genius has been to connect the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasy sought to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline.
But in the process, they have killed indiscriminately and without regard to long-range consequences. Moreover, with Iraq and Afghanistan as the central battlefields, instead of New York or Madrid, al-Qaida's victims have been predominantly Muslim.
Arab Muslims have not missed that grisly bit of information.
And it is no longer news. It has, at least in Iraq, produced political and social revulsion.
In two columns I wrote last fall, I noted al-Qaida's "looming information warfare defeat" and mentioned reports from 2005 and 2006 that detailed the Iraqi people's rejection of al-Qaida as nothing more than a gang of criminals. I think in February 2008 that national rejection is apparent. That rejection could be the fragile foundation for securing al-Qaida's ultimate ideological defeat.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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