Maj. Nidal Hasan's treachery and terror jolted Americans. As Hasan's attack demonstrates, al-Qaida and al-Qaida-influenced fanatics can strike and kill on American soil.
While Hasan serves warning the threat still exists, does Hasan's act forward al-Qaeda's political goals? Indeed, what are al-Qaida's prospects for victory eight years after the Sept. 11 terror attack on America?
Analysts, and for that matter, political leaders rarely address this question, at least publicly. That's unfortunate. Napoleon understood the importance of assessing his opposition's position. He wrote in 1809, "In war one sees his own troubles, not those of the enemy." Focusing on one's own troubles and those of allies thwarts the clear-headed analysis of a diplomatic or military conflict Napoleon insisted was the mark of an effective senior commander.
American media have made a business of touting America's troubles in the War on Terror. Tales of doom, fright and angry despair are audience-grabbers. Would that doom, fear and despair were the sole traits. An "it must be our fault and we made them angry" argument threads the cable TV carnival of doom. In the case of Hasan, this shtick became a discussion of his "alienation" and "isolation."
Historians such as Bernard Lewis have written volumes on the Islamic world's cultural, historical, economic and political problems. Lewis' "What Went Wrong?" published in 2001, provided an extensive treatment of the great decline afflicting Middle Eastern Muslims. The assumption of theological superiority led to intellectual fossilization and stifled economic and cultural innovation.
Al-Qaida's brand of violent Islamists and their allies claim they have answers for "what went wrong" in their world. Lack of religious authenticity is part of his answer -- authentic Muslims will believe as al-Qaida believes. Hence al-Qaida places itself at odds with the majority of the world's Muslims. In al-Qaida's view, dividing secular and religious authority is a huge mistake, hence its goal of re-establishing a Muslim "caliphate."
There are various "green maps" of this caliphate, usually stretching from Spain to New Guinea, though Hasan would arguably include North America, since it appears he thinks sharia law should supersede the U.S. Constitution.
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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