June 21, 2003

'Al Qaeda Itself Does Not Exist'

by Standard Schaeffer
An Interview with Historian R.T. Naylor

There really is no relationship between Al Qaeda and the Afghan opium trade. That is because Al Qaeda itself does not exist, except in the fevered imaginations of neo-cons and Likudniks, some of whom, I suspect, also know it is a myth, but find it extremely useful as a bogeyman to spook the public and the politicians to acquiesce in otherwise unacceptable policy initiatives at home and abroad. By those terms, Al Queda is cast like "the Mafia" and similar nonsense coming from police lobbies. This is a complex issue but, putting it very simply, what you have in both cases is loose networks of likeminded individuals--sometimes they pay homage to some patron figure who they may never have met and with whom they have no concrete relationship. They conduct their operations strictly by themselves, even if they may from time to time seek advice.

In other words, if any line of communication does exist, it is initiated from the people on the ground "upwards" to the presumed patriarch--not the other way around. Of course, from time to time some father-figure, if he really exists, might dish out some cash to some would-be followers or sycophants or hangers-on. But the notion that there is a firm "money trail" used so much in cop discourse, and now hijacked by the national security establishment, is foolish. And the idea that attacking the money trail is the best way to curb either crime or terrorism is a pure fantasy. This follow-the-money stuff has been shown time after time to be useless when it comes to "organized crime" (another stupid term) where the motive is supposedly profit. Therefore how much more so when it comes to "terrorism" where money is not a motive, but merely one among many instruments, and where in any case most actions are actually quite cheap to pull off. The reality is, for "terrorist" actions, the most important resource is commitment and that is something which cannot be frozen in a bank account.

. . . the US is targeting these [Islamic] charities selectively. It has made no moves against the Jewish fundamentalist "charities" who have been funding terrorist groups in Occupied Palestine, and indeed inside the U.S. It has made no serious moves I can think of against Hindu fundamentalist charities who may be (it is certainly worth a close look) sending money to the groups responsible for the mass murder of Muslims in India. . . .


Leon T. Hadar, "The Green Peril: Creating The Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Cato Institute, 1992

[Your brothers in Palestine and in the land of the two Holy Places are calling upon your help and asking you to take part in fighting against the enemy --your enemy and their enemy-- the Americans and the Israelis. they are asking you to do whatever you can, with one own means and ability, to expel the enemy, humiliated and defeated, out of the sanctities of Islam.--"BIN LADEN'S FATWA: Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," Al Quds Al Arabi, August 1996]

[Every piece of evidence I came across in my own work contradicted this notion of al-Qaeda as an "Evil Empire" with an omnipotent mastermind at its head. Such an idea was undoubtedly comforting - destroy the man and his henchmen and the problem goes away - but it was clearly deeply flawed. As a result the debate over the prosecution of the ongoing "war on terror" had been skewed.

Instead of there being a reasoned and honest look at the root causes of resurgent Islamic radicalism the discussion of strategies in the war against terror had been almost entirely dominated by the language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication.

One question remained, and remains, largely unanswered: what is al-Qaeda? The word itself is critical. Al-Qaeda comes from the Arabic root qaf-ayn-dal. It can mean a base, such as a camp or a home, or a foundation. It can also mean a precept, rule, principle, maxim, formula or method. . . .

Abdullah Azzam, the chief ideologue of the non-Afghan militants and a spiritual mentor of bin Laden] was talking about a mode of activism and a tactic, not talking about a particular organisation. Indeed it would be a year or more before bin Laden formed his group. Azzam was using the word to denote a purpose, an ideal and a function. He, and subsequently bin Laden too, saw the role of al-Qaeda, the vanguard, as being to radicalise and mobilise those Muslims who had hitherto rejected their extremist message. . . .

Bin Laden's group was formed with the aim of rousing Muslims, through active campaigning or "propaganda by deed", to create an "international army" that would unite the umma or world Islamic community against oppression. The group was small, comprising not more than a dozen men, and there was little to distinguish it from the scores of other groups operating, forming and dissolving in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

. . . claims of any links between Saddam and al-Qaeda were based on a fundamental misconception of the nature of modern Islamic militancy.

. . . This ideology, a composite of the common elements of all the various strands of modern Islamic radical thought, is currently the most widespread, and the fastest growing, element of what makes up the phenomenon currently, and largely erroneously, labelled "al-Qaeda". . . .

In the weeks immediately following the tragedy of September 11th there was a genuine interest in understanding: why?. Why "they" hate us, why "they" were prepared to kill themselves, why such a thing could happen. That curiosity has dwindled and is being replaced by other questions: how did it happen, how many of "them" are there, how many are there left to capture and kill. Anyone who tries to "explain" the roots of the threat now facing all of us, to answer the "why", to elaborate who "they are", risks being dismissed as ineffectual or cowardly. To ask "why" is to lay oneself open to accusations of lacking the moral courage to face up to the "genuine" threat and the need to meet it with force and aggression. Many characterise this threat, dangerously and wrongly, as rooted in a "clash of civilizations."--Jason Burke, "Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror," Guardian, July 13, 2003]

[Burke's thesis is that a basic misunderstanding about the nature of al-Qaeda is hampering efforts to deal with it. In Arabic, al-Qaeda is simply an abstract noun, meaning network or base. Far from being a disciplined, structured terrorist organisation, Burke believes it barely exists. It is merely a very small, amorphous hard core of violently nihilistic Islamists who have married bin Laden's financial resources with an ability to tap the skills and support of a vast and diverse network of freelance Islamic radicals.--William Dalrymple, "Who is the real enemy?,", July 20, 2003]

[Al-Qaeda is not a traditional terrorist organisation. It does not have a clear hierarchy, military mindset and centralised command. At best, Al-Qaeda is a network of affiliated groups sharing religious and ideological backgrounds, but which often interact sparingly. Al-Qaeda is a state of mind, as much as an organisation; it encompasses a wide range of members and followers who can differ dramatically from each other.--Dr Andrew Silke, "Profiling terror," Janes, August 7, 2003]

Maureen Dowd, "The Bush team has now created the very monster that it conjured up to alarm Americans into backing a war on Iraq," New York Times, August 20, 2003

Syed Saleem Shahzad, "Brothels and bombs in Saudi Arabia," Asia Times Online, December 9, 2003

"Secret FBI Report Questions Al Qaeda Capabilities: No 'True' Al Qaeda Sleeper Agents Have Been Found in U.S.," ABC News, March 9, 2004

[Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist group; it's an insurgency that is extraordinarily well structured in terms of succession for leadership.--"Q&A with 'Anonymous'," USA Today, July 18, 2004]

Pascal Riche, "Al-Qaeda, a Social Movement, but not a Hierarchical Group," Liberation, August 17, 2004

VIDEO 1, VIDEO 2, VIDEO 3: Wherever one looks for this al-Qaeda organisation, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the "sleeper cells" in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy.--Adam Curtis, "The Power of Nightmares," BBC2, January 14, 2005

Matthew Parris, "I name the four powers who are behind the al-Qaeda conspiracy," Times, July 23, 2005

Adam Curtis, "Creating Islamist phantoms: We dreamed up 'al-Qaida'. Let's not do it again with 'evil ideology'," Guardian, August 30, 2005

[Shortly before his untimely death, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that "Al Qaeda" is not really a terrorist group but a database of international mujaheddin and arms smugglers used by the CIA and Saudis to funnel guerrillas, arms, and money into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.--Pierre-Henri Bunel, "Al Qaeda -- the Database," Global Research, November 20, 2005]

[Al-Qaeda is not only attempting to destabilise the western world, but the whole of the stagnated Middle East.--Abdel Bari Atwan, "Total war: Inside the new Al-Qaeda," Sunday Times, February 26, 2006]

Craig Whitlock, "Architect of New War on the West: Writings Lay Out Post-9/11 Strategy of Isolated Cells Joined in Jihad," Washington Post, May 23, 2006

Enver Masud, "FBI: Bin Laden Not Wanted for 9/11," The Wisdom Fund, June 8, 2006

[The reality, as we have learned since . . . is that al-Libi made up that story of Iraq connections, probably because he was tortured by the Egyptians (or possibly Libyan intelligence officers who worked with them). But there's even more to this strange tale that hasn't been revealed. According to Numan bin-Uthman, a former fellow jihadi of al-Libi's who has left the movement and is based in London, al-Libi was never a member of Al Qaeda at all.--Michael Hirsh, "The Myth of Al Qaeda: Before 9/11, Osama bin Laden's group was small and fractious. How Washington helped to build into a global threat," Newsweek, June 28, 2006]

Robert Dreyfuss, "There Is No War on Terror,", September 13, 2006

[During the Reagan administration, Osama, who belonged to the wealthy Saudi Bin Laden family was put in charge of raising money for the Islamic brigades. Numerous charities and foundations were created. The operation was coordinated by Saudi intelligence, headed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, in close liaison with the CIA. The money derived from the various charities were used to finance the recruitment of Mujahieen volunteers. Al Qaeda, the base in Arabic was a data bank of volunteers who had enlisted to fight in the Afghan jihad. That data base was initially held by Osama bin Laden.--Michel Chossudovsky, "Pakistan and the 'Global War on Terrorism'," Global Research, January 8, 2008]

VIDEO: "Al Qaeda Doesn't Exist," Corbett Report, January 11, 2008

[America seems much in need of Roosevelt's maxim to stop fearing fear itself.--Simon Jenkins, "America, cowering to an imaginary enemy, is not the country I once knew," Guardian, December 5, 2008]

Paul Craig Roberts, "The War on Terror is a Hoax - Endless Propaganda,", February 4, 2009

[Robin Cook, a former British MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote that Al-Qaeda, "literally 'the database', was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians." Thus, "Al-Qaeda" was born as an instrument of western intelligence agencies. This account of al-Qaeda was further corroborated by a former French military intelligence agent, who stated that, "In the mid-1980s, Al Qaida was a database," and that it remained as such into the 1990s. He contended that, "Al Qaida was neither a terrorist group nor Osama bin Laden's personal property," and further: "The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaida. And any informed intelligence officer knows this."--Andrew Gavin Marshall, "The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda: The CIA's Drug-Running Terrorists and the 'Arc of Crisis'," Global Research, September 5, 2010]

Richard Norton-Taylor, "Al-Qaida and Taliban threat is exaggerated, says security thinktank: Strategy institute challenges idea that troops are needed in Afghanistan to stop export of terrorism to west," Guardian, September 7, 2010

Greg Miller, "U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda on brink of collapse,", July 26, 2011

RT, November 9, 2011

Ken Dilanian, "With Al Qaeda shattered, U.S. counter-terrorism's future unclear,", April 14, 2013

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, "Why was a Sunday Times report on US government ties to al-Qaeda chief spiked?,", May 16, 2013

[Al-Qa'ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources, and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.--Patrick Cockburn, "Why Washington's War on Terror Failed,", August 21, 2014]

[Special Operations forces, now at almost 70,000 and growing. . . . our secret "warriors" now outnumber the military contingents of major nations.--David Vine and Tom Engelhardt, "Enduring Bases, Enduring War in the Middle East,", January 15, 2016]

[Michael Scheuer ... CIA's Chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station ... Washington's enemy is an enemy that doesn't exist. It didn't exist when Bin Laden was alive, it doesn't exist now.--Arjun Walia, "Chief of The CIA's 'Bin-Laden' Unit Tells The World That Al-Qaeda Never Existed,", May 30, 2016]

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