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August 10, 2005
Al-Qaeda Tries To Split The West

After seeing the effect that the Madrid bombings had on the Spanish electorate, it appears that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda have gone on a public-relations campaign to undermine Western resolve in the war on terror. In today's Daily Standard, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross points out the changing rhetoric of AQ leadership that now seems tailored to the tastes of the war's critics, promising a truce (hudna) for the simple act of abandoning Southwest Asia and North Africa for good:

AFTER AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI released a new videotape on August 4, the media focused on how he placed the blame for the last month's terrorist attacks in London on Tony Blair's shoulders and threatened even greater carnage in the future. Less noticed but no less important is al Qaeda's changed tactical approach to the West: They are now attempting to convince Westerners that they are worth negotiating with and can be appeased.

Zawahiri put forth this idea in a section of the tape where he speaks directly to Americans. In it, he mentions the hudna, or truce, that Osama bin Laden offered last year in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Muslim world. Zawahiri asks, "Didn't Osama bin Laden tell you that you would never dream of peace until we actually live it in Palestine and before all foreign forces withdraw from the Land of Muhammad?"

In arguing that Westerners can buy peace through accession to al Qaeda's demands, the group's leaders emphasize three issues that they believe will have traction in the West: withdrawal from Iraq, ending support for Israel, and military disengagement from the Middle East.

Obviously bin Laden and Zawahiri have studied the reactions of the West through our media, and likely their own as well. Like most of our enemies over the past century, they have analyzed dissent as weakness and intend to exploit it. The only difference in this war is that their analysis may not be in error.

The war on Islamofascist terror has as much of a propaganda component to it as any we have fought in the past, and arguably more critical. Our intention to convince the Muslims of the region that democracy will allow them their best opportunity for hope and prosperity has to compete with the entrenched tyrannies and kleptocracies that would much prefer to continue oppressing and exploiting them. George Bush and Tony Blair have repeatedly and passionately made that case to Muslim moderates -- but whether the message reaches beyond the filters of state-run media in those areas cannot be known.

On the other hand, the media in the West appears all too eager to pass the propaganda of AQ to its consumers, usually without any accompanying context. As Gartenstein-Ross points out, the many messages of AQ do not at all point consistently to terms for peaceful co-existence with the West, regardless of retreat. More than a year after 9/11, bin Laden issued a set of demands for peace: "disallow interest-bearing loans, ban the production and consumption of alcohol, punish sex out of wedlock, ban gambling, and sign the anti-global warming Kyoto Accords."

That message will hardly garner sympathy on either side of the political divide in America or anywhere else. By April 2004, he dropped all of those demands and substituted withdrawal from Iraq. In the video he released just before the presidential election, bin Laden insisted that support for Israel and the American military presence in the Gulf states caused al-Qaeda to attack America and the West. Further communiqus from Zawahiri have continued their attempts to woo Bush critics with promises of truce and peace as long as we abandon our interests on their turf.

All this proves is that AQ understands the value of public relations. None of this makes any sense, especially when one considers the wide-ranging targets selected by AQ operations over the years. Who could claim that Saudi Arabia, for instance, supports Israel over the Palestinians? Did the Moroccans come out in favor of Ariel Sharon, or even of our invasion of Iraq? Hardly. However, bin Laden and Zawahiri hope that they can take advantage of short Western attention spans and a media that has repeatedly demonstrated its sympathy with just such an approach as demanded in AQ's most recent propaganda.

Tomorrow, my Daily Standard column will review a case that the media has ignored and that the 9/11 Commission never bothered to include in its "comprehensive" analysis of the attacks. (DS postponed it from its normal Wednesday slot so it could follow this excellent column.) The case of Mohammed Afroze demonstrates the lies of AQ propagandists and calls into question how the media and our elected representatives have made us more vulnerable to their suggestions.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 10, 2005 12:00 PM

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