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Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. Sabit also works as a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Close.

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. more »

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Lest We Forget Al Qaeda

Cairo, Egypt - The significance of this latest terrorist plot is in its timing. Hezbollah's successful efforts at confronting and surviving Israel's military onslaught in Lebanon over the past six weeks has provoked Al Qaeda to attempt to divert attention to itself.

Hezbollah is an ideological rival to Al Qaeda, and has sent a powerful alternate ideological message to the Arab and Muslim peoples. Hezbollah is a Shia'a organization in the Arab Middle East. Al Qaeda pursues a rabidly anti-Shia'a policy, which has been eloquently demonstrated by their former operative in Iraq, Abu Musa el Zarqawy, who considered Shia'a and occupation targets both equal enemies.

Hezbollah is closely connected ideologically with the Shia'a political parties in Iraq. Therefore, any success that Hezbollah is able to achieve in militarily confronting Israel is a challenge to Al Qaeda's position -- a challenge that cannot go unanswered. Staging a large, spectacular terrorist attack is their way of regaining their waning "credibility."

In reality, Al Qaeda itself has gone a long way in blotting its copybook in the Arab world. Its addiction to indiscriminate civilian slaughter and its hyper extremist, nihilistic message has gone far to render them irrelevant in terms of grassroots ideological support. This recent plot to destroy a dozen airliners with their passengers flying from London to the United States was a comeback effort on their part, a desperate attempt to rally Muslim and Arab support, a reminder that they were still a force to be reckoned with. With Hezbollah's recent successes, Al Qaeda needed to issue a shrill reminder. Al Qaeda's operational credibility and their ability to execute highly complex, sophisticated terrorist operations was part of their former attraction. The sheer ingenuity in pulling off "impossible" operations had formerly been important in mustering the low level of support that they had been able to elicit in the past.

Hezbollah's actions in Southern Lebanon have concentrated on confronting the Israeli military in a toe-to-toe slug match. This was a confrontation for which they had obviously prepared for, a confrontation that would inflict high casualties on the much-vaunted Israeli military machine. Hezbollah's missile attacks on Israel's civilian population served a dual function. First it was a matador's cape to provoke the infuriated Israeli bull to charge headlong into a complex and lethal ambush. Second, it illustrated that Israel is unable to defend itself from attacks on its civilian population - this was in retaliation to Israel's callous treatment of the Palestinian civilian populations in Gaza and on the West Bank, and now in Lebanon itself. Hezbollah stated that Israel's acts in indiscriminately targeting civilian populations would not go unpunished. Hezbollah has chosen the hard target, whereas in the past Al Qaeda has opted for soft targets.

Both parties are appealing for support in their ideological struggle from the same constituency. Hezbollah is so far ahead in the polls that Al Qaeda had to find some way to answer its "insolent" challenge - insolent because Hezbollah is a minority Shia'a Muslim sect within a majority Sunni Arab World.

The only way in which such terrorist outrage can begin to be addressed, in the short and long term, is by finding a different way in confronting terrorism. The prevailing official attitude, that terrorism is some sort of virus that can be spontaneously caught and has emerged from no discernable cause must be discarded. Dealing with terrorism in punitive ways, rather than dealing with its root cause almost guarantees that terrorism will continue unabated, and so long as these root causes are ignored they will only serve to exacerbate the situation.

It is significant that the alleged bombers involved in the London airline plot were British Muslims, some of them recent converts, others of South West Asian descent. What could possibly provoke them to attempt to commit the sort of horrific outrages? After all, they had been born in Britain, they enjoyed educational advantages not shared by many in the Muslim world. They lived in a liberal democracy, and enjoyed its associated benefits.

Certainly the most important factor in their becoming murderous extremists was that they were 'turned' by Al Qaeda recruiters who had infiltrated their communities in the guise of religious preachers. There these recruiters had been able to spread their poisonous message on already fertile ground. That ground had already been prepared as a result of a number of recent events. For British Muslims, their wake up call came with the Bosnian War, where the European community, of which Britain was a part, allowed murderous Serbian nationalists to slaughter two hundred thousand Muslims in the name of ethnic cleansing.

They viewed the imposition of sanctions on Iraq in the 1990's by the United Nations, sanctions that caused the Iraqi people untold hardships, sanctions that had been the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths of fellow Muslims. They had seen the callous disregard for human life in the expressions of U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright when she was quoted saying that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was justifiable if it meant achieving U.S. policy objectives. They witnessed massacres and atrocities on a massive scale by the Russian military on the people of Muslim Chechnya and had seen their government in alliance with the rest of the European Community watching Russian excess without lifting a finger.

The situation in the Middle East has been allowed to fester for almost sixty years where a whole predominantly Muslim people were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland. This situation until today is the main cause of strife and war in the region. It is a crisis that has seen countless UN resolutions ignored, unlike those UN resolutions the Iraqis endured in the 1990's. They have seen their government in alliance with the United States unilaterally invade Iraq in 2003, without UN sanction, and preside over a situation which has now has become a vicious sectarian civil war. The recent events in Lebanon, where an Israeli military has deconstructed an entire country, where four weeks were allowed to pass before there was any serious efforts to impose a cease fire, where Israel seems to have indiscriminately targeted the civilian population, has fostered no friendly feelings for the U.S. or its ally the United Kingdom. In short they have seen a blatantly one sided policy being adopted by their government in alliance with the U.S. They see it as the most flagrant example of racial and religious prejudice based on a peoples' ethnic origin and religious affiliation.

Yes, these British Muslims were ripe for the ministrations of Al Qaeda agitprop ideological propagandists, and yes they were convinced that they had to join the Jihadist 'Caravan of Martyrs' in order to wage global Jihad on what they perceived to be a predatory, murderous West. These acts were being allegedly contemplated by British Muslims to be in solidarity with and in support of the Muslim world. Imagine the possible reactions of those who are actually on the receiving end of all this death and destruction?

If one is to combat terrorism of the ilk that was almost perpetrated at Heathrow this last Wednesday one has to begin to rectify the issues that injustices are provoking. A good start is to impose a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. This will draw out much of the poison that infects the relationship between the Western world and Islam. A second good step is to begin to consider that the lives of Muslims are as valuable as the lives of anyone else's. A good third step would be attempting to understand and respect the cultures from whence these peoples originate.

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