Monday, May 19, 2014

Al Qaeda after Al Qaeda

Boko Haram has done what most people once thought impossible - got the American media to care about missing black girls. Granted, these are foreign black girls and they're missing in a place that can be easily exoticized so that Fox and CNN can titillate their tame audiences, but at least it's progress. Of a sort.

Unfortunately, it means you get a lot of professional commentaters trying to make sense of the world outside the Great Media Mind Warp - as the late Joe Bageant called it. Boko Haram, a whacko reactionary militia more similar to the Minutemen, is being presented as a variation of or successor to Al Qaeda and this just ain't right. But it's a trend that's been going on for over a decade now, American journalists unable to discern the difference between a serious, international operation and a smattering of short burning franchises in distant Third World hell holes.

Let's go all the way back to 2004 and Al Qaeda in Iraq. That was it's actual name, to differentiate itself from Al Qaeda Original Recipe and also because it did not exist until after the US invaded. That was headed by by a guy calling himself Zarqawi, a professional hot-head from the town of Zarqa in Jordan. It's an Arabic naming convention that never gets any airplay and it's important to understanding what's been going on.

Zarqawi, and the Al Qaeda spin-off he headed, were never the real driving force of the Iraqi insurgency. The Bush Administration wanted him to be, as did Al Qaeda proper, because that fits both their narratives - "See? We're totally fighting terrorists that were totally in Iraq!" "See? We're totally leading the charge against the Great Satan!" The truth of the matter is the truth of any insurgency, that the local population didn't like being occupied by a foreign army.

With Zarqawi gone, Al Qaeda in Iraq soon morphed into Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. That's the ISIS you may have heard about in the context of the Syrian civil war, namely as one of the major foreign jihad groups fighting Assad. Last year when the royal baby was popping out of Duchess Whatsherface, ISIS staged a massive jailbreak in Iraq and smuggled everyone into Syria.

ISIS, despite its Al Qaeda (in Iraq) origins, is very much a local operation. It's right there in the name and there's the simple matter that they lack the logistical capability to mount an operation in the US or Europe. Al Qaeda Classic could do that, owing to Osama bin Laden's massive family fortune - thanks, House of Saud! - and a ready crop of dedicated operatives who could pass in Western cultures long enough to get into position. Those mostly Saudi highjackers on 9/11 were the Muslim world's equivalent of hiptsers, more money than brains and following the latest trend. Things have changed in the past dozen years and now all the cool kids are jihading at home against their own oppressive governments.

ISIS, for all its rhetoric, is a very local operation. As is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Provo Al Qaeda that hit Mali two years ago... and Boko Haram.

In fact, the Mali AQ team and Boko Haram share a common origin in Libya. Politico has a rare insightful article about this but, being infested with Beltway thinking, can't look cold and analytically at this.

The simple, gruesome fact is that Boko Haram and all the other Al Qaeda spin-offs popping up in Africa since the Libyan war are just leftover mercs. Gaddaffi never had a proper amry and so had to rely on hired guns and those same hired guns have now spread out into the rest of Africa with no skills but shooting civvies and generally being evil bastards. Like all other mercenaries ever.

But the Islamic angle is just that. They're claiming to be on a mission from God for the same reason as the Blues Brothers - it sounds badass. Their real motivations are as local as ISIS if not more so. Boko Haram in particular is a holdover from when the inland Muslims ran Nigeria as proxies for the British. When the Brits landed, they didn't care for the congenial Igbo and Yoruba with their proto-democratic culture, but the inland Hausa displayed proper Anglo values with their tribal kingships and viciousness. The Nigerian Islamists are almost all Hausa, owing more to the long history of the spread of Islam throughout North and West Africa and how it's now just as anti-modern as Southern Baptists.

And that's about all that connects Boko Haram with the larger Al Qaeda movement. Against the modernity embodied by the West. And not one of these franchises has the logistical capability to mount another 9/11. The most Boko Haram can do is murder doctors administering vaccines and kidnap school girls. Assholes but inconsequential assholes.

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