The “Al-Qaeda” fiction: How you’re being lied to about the world’s most feared group
This, of course, is not to say that terrorism doesn’t exist; it obviously does, and on a global scale. The world’s biggest terrorists are, of course, the U.S. and Britain, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people this century alone, and the intimidation and displacement of millions more. Terrorism also obviously exists on a much smaller scale from other groups too, but not as many of them are “al-Qaeda” as we are told, and indeed, their threat to “our very civilization” – even collectively – is greatly exaggerated (and pales in insignificance when compared with our threat to theirs)
By Jordan Pearson on Monday, November 30th, 2009 - 2,444 words.
On September 11th 2001, al-Qaeda replaced serial killers, killer bees and dangerous minorities as America’s greatest fear; its leader, Osama bin Laden, instantly propelled to the rank of “World’s Greatest Supervillain”. Since that day, the United States’ foreign policy has been officially structured around combating the “evil of global terrorism,” first under the reign of Bush the Terrible, with his “War on/of Terror,” and now continuing under the presidency of Nobel Peace Prize-winning warlord, Barak Obama.
For the best part of a decade, people in the West have been told that our very civilization is under threat from a ruthless terrorist organization, lead by a sinister bearded villain, with thousands of active members around the world ready to kill us at any moment — and indeed willing to die doing so.
As al-Qaeda supposedly struck from New York, to Iraq, to Bali, to Spain, to London, using weapons ranging from bombs to planes to shoes; the U.S. and its allies struck back, killing hundreds-of-thousands, and destroying entire countries, and governments all over the world tightened security and control in all aspects of our lives. We even managed to find terrorists in New Zealand.
But the more one looks into al-Qaeda, the less it starts to look like the “ultimate terrorist organization” and the more it starts to look like a Boogeyman used to justify military operations for control of resources “abroad” and the erosion of civil liberties at “home”.
Indeed, al-Qaeda could be one of the most incredible fictions of our time.
I by no means claim to be an expert on international terrorism, but the holes in the story are not too difficult to find. For example, we have heard a million times over that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were responsible for 9/11 — as is stated in the official 9/11 Commission Report — but even the FBI are doubtful of this. Take a look at their “Most Wanted Terrorists” page: none of the people they list as al-Qaeda terrorists are wanted in connection with 9/11, and Osama bin Laden’s page makes no mention of 9/11 at all.
Incredibly, there is also pretty much no credible evidence to show that Osama bin Laden and those around him even referred to themselves, or any group, as “al-Qaeda” until after 9/11 when the term started being widely used for them in the news. This is quite possibly because in Arabic “al-Qaeda,” as in the phrase “Ana raicha al-Qaeda,” is apparently a euphemism for taking a shit.
In economic and “risk management” terms, the War on Terror against al-Qaeda also makes absolutely no sense. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense received 161.8 billion dollars to fight terrorism. The National Counter-Terrorism Centre, however, reports that in the preceding year, 28 U.S. citizens were killed as a result of terrorism, and none of those on U.S. soil. Compare that to 631,636 people killed by heart disease the same year, or the approximately 6,620 people who died of chronic disease on the day of September 11th, 2001, the same day 2,819 people were killed by terrorism.
Needless to say, U.S. government spending on disease prevention pales in comparison to the billions spent fighting terrorism, a fact that magnifies in ridiculousness astronomically when you begin to consider that this money is spent fighting a largely imaginary enemy. Indeed, many have gone as far as to suggest that al-Qaeda doesn’t even really exist, at least in the way it has been presented to us, and while this itself may seem like a ridiculous statement to make, keep in mind we live in ridiculous times.
The idea of a fundamentalist Christian, right-wing military junta of Texan oil barons stealing the U.S. presidency in a rigged election may have once seemed like a ridiculous one. The idea of that same president invading a soverign nation in open violation of international law, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and thousands of his own troops, on a justification that turned-out to be a brazen lie not being prosecuted for war crimes or even impeached, but being elected to a second term, may have also once seemed ridiculous — but these things have come to pass with skillful manipulation of our opinions, and by propagating massive lies.
Today, “al-Qaeda” functions as a magic word with a lot of images, and mental associations attached to it, but very little understanding behind it. When most of us think of al-Qaeda we imagine a highly-organized, interconnected, centralized, international terrorist network lead by Osama bin Laden from caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, rather than being an actual concrete organisation, al-Qaeda, at best, seems to be a disparate collection of various people and groups, loosely sharing a common ideology, who are defined more by Western intelligence agencies than any functional or even declared unity amongst themselves.
Far from being an unholy army, the number of “henchmen” around Osama bin Laden at the time of 9/11 is estimated to have been, at most, a few dozen people, and bin Laden himself seems to have basically only been the wealthy billionaire several groups relied on for funding, the main one of these being Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which is the closest thing to an actual official or declared group associated with bin Laden around the time of 9/11. In describing al-Qaeda to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2002, Marion E. Bowman, Deputy General Counsel at the FBI, said that, “al Qaeda is far less a large organization than a facilitator, sometimes orchestrator, of Islamic militants around the globe. These militants are linked by ideas and goals, not by organizational structure.”
The best explanation of al-Qaeda I’ve found comes from Jason Burke in his book Casting a Shadow of Terror. He describes it as a “method” and says “profound misconceptions abound” regarding al-Qaeda:
“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 obviously comforting — destroy the man and his henchmen and the problem goes away — but it was clearly deeply flawed.”
This, of course, is not to say that terrorism doesn’t exist; it obviously does, and on a global scale. The world’s biggest terrorists are, of course, the U.S. and Britain, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people this century alone, and the intimidation and displacement of millions more. Terrorism also obviously exists on a much smaller scale from other groups too, but not as many of them are “al-Qaeda” as we are told, and indeed, their threat to “our very civilization” – even collectively – is greatly exaggerated (and pales in insignificance when compared with our threat to theirs).
Every “terrorist” action around the world (and by that I mean what the media defines as “terrorist”: namely those acts of politcal and economically motivated violence not committed by recognised governments) and every “terror suspect” arrested, almost without exception, is said to be “connected to al-Qaeda,” but, more often than not, these “connections” are tenuous, or even invented.
To look at a specific example, the March 2007 truck bombing of a marketplace in the city of Tal Afar, Iraq which killed an estimated 150 people, was instantly blamed on the terrorist group “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI). For a start, AQI doesn’t actually even refer to itself as an “al-Qaeda” group, instead, calling itself the less catchy “Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers”. And in terms of the bombing itself, despite U.S. officials in news reports immediately after the bombing blaming AQI outright, experts, including the U.S. Army’s own advisers, like Ahmed Hashim, suggested the bombing was far more likely perpetrated by Sunni Turkmen terrorists as revenge for being driven out of the area. A vastly more complex sectarian issue, created by the invasion, was reduced to another strike by the Boogeyman through selectively chosen soundbites using the magic word.
Tying everything in with the word “al-Qaeda,” and perhaps more importantly, selectively defining terrorism as “non-Western,” and always pairing the word “terrorism” with the word “Islamic” have been key in the construction of the idea of an epic “Clash of Civilizations” conflict, promoted so heavily by the Bush administration and neoconservatives over the past decade, used, of course, to create fear for political purposes that the Obama administration seems content to continue to use.
And this gains yet another dimension when you consider that many of the religiously motivated terrorist groups that do exist often have been, or in some cases still probably are, supported and funded by recognised governments and intelligence agencies around the world.
Of course, as most people know, Osama bin Laden and many others received billions of dollars of funding, weaponry and training from the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980′s. This money was channeled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), an organization whose officials have, at times, echoed many of bin-Laden’s ideas and goals, and whose chief at the time of 9/11 , Lt. Gen Mahmud Ahmed (who was actually in the U.S. that day), is reported to have ordered Omar Saeed Sheikh (a well-connected militant most famous for his alleged part in the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) to make a $100,000 wire transfer to Mohammed Atta, the supposed leader of the 9/11 terrorists, in the Summer of 2000, and possibly also in August, 2001.
The implications of the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency funding the 9/11 plot are cataclysmic, but were routinely ignored by mainstream media in the west. As were the similarly damning revelations of Michael Springmann, former head of the U.S. visa bureau in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from 1987-89, (the same office from which 15 of the 19 alleged 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas), that he was “repeatedly ordered by high level State Deptartment officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants” whom often had ties to terrorism. He claims his complaints to the government were “met with silence” and that “what [he] was protesting was, in reality, an effort to bring recruits, rounded up by Osama Bin Laden, to the US for terrorist training by the CIA”, who were then “returned to Afghanistan to fight against the then-Soviets.”
And this is just scratching the surface of the myriad of shady connections between “our” governments and the groups they prescribe as “terrorist”. The more one looks into it, the more George Bush’s line of “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” becomes thin, hazy and difficult to define, and basically, the more difficult it becomes to approach any “reality” at all.
Indeed, al-Qaeda starts to look like a case-in-point of Jean Baudrillard’s idea of a simulacrum: not “that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none.” And this is true right down to the very name al-Qaeda itself.
The origin of the word “al-Qaeda” in the Western public consciousness came from the testimony of Jamal al-Fadl, at a trial held in New York in January 2001, prosecuting individuals for the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 . Fadl, a Sudanese former associate of Osama bin Laden turned snitch for the U.S., fled to U.S. custody under the Witness Protection Program after stealing $100,000 from bin Laden, and he said that the name “al-Qaeda” was coined at a meeting held in Khost Afghanistan in late 1989. The meeting was attended by about 10 people, including Osama bin Laden, and was chaired by an Iraqi, Abu Aoyoub, who put forward the idea of a “new organization that would wage jihad beyond the borders of Afghanistan” following their success against the Russians. After some deliberation, Fadl said they decided upon “al-Qaeda” meaning “The Base,” as in “the solid base of fighters”.
As mentioned above, this solid base of fighters represented remnants of the mujahedeen who had fought the Soviets in the 1980s and had received extensive support from the CIA, and also from Britain’s MI6 and the SAS. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook (whose portfolio used to include these agencies) famously claimed that the name “al-Qaeda — The Base” was actually derived from “The Database,” a list of anti-Soviet intelligence assets kept by the CIA, MI6 and associates.
“The name ‘al-Qaeda’ was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia’s terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed.”
However, the only name that bin Laden and those around him definitely used for themselves as an organization pre-9/11 was the “World Islamic Front,” or the lengthier “World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders,” which was essentially a document expressing the commitment of a conglomeration of several murderous groups from around the world to kill “all Americans” and “Jews,” announced February 23, 1998. However, this name is obviously not quite as cool as “al-Qaeda” and doesn’t fit in a newspaper headline as easily.
I have found no mention of the word “al-Qaeda” in U.S. news or official statements before a 1996 State Department fact sheet released following information obtained from al-Fadl. But as mentioned above, the word first really enters public use in a small way in early 2001, after al-Fadl’s testimony regarding these bombings, which was basically an attempt by the prosecution to tie bin Laden to the crimes. Under RICO statutes used to try the mafia, if the prosecution could prove the existence of a “criminal conspiracy”, i.e. an organization, others in the hierarchy, i.e. bin Laden, could be convicted in connection with the crimes.
This attempt to construct Osama bin Laden and those around him into a hierarchical, centralized organization is key in the development of the erroneous picture of al-Qaeda generally accepted today.
The trial actually resulted in the conviction of four people for the embassy bombings, but lawyer for the defence, Sam Schmidt, later publicly called into question the reliability of Fadl’s testimony, saying that he felt Fadl “lied on a number of specific testimony about the unified image of what this organization was.” Said Schmidt: “It made al-Qaeda the new Mafia or the new Communists”.