Al Qaeda, the Weak Horse

Al Qaeda released a new video on June 2. It is well produced and over one and one-half hours long. It features paeans to great jihadis of the past, but the video’s title, “Responsible Only for Yourself,” reveals the depth of failure to which al Qaeda has fallen. Stratfor has an interesting analysis”

[T]his video was the al Qaeda core’s latest attempt to encourage grassroots jihadists to undertake lone-wolf operations in the West, a recurrent theme in jihadist messages since late 2009. …
The grassroots threat is real and must be guarded against, but it is not nearly as acute as the threat posed by other, more skillful terrorist actors. Grassroots operatives do not often possess good terrorist tradecraft, and their attacks tend to be poorly planned and executed and susceptible to discovery and disruption.
However, killing people is not difficult, and even amateurs can be deadly. As we examine these repeated pleas by al Qaeda for grassroots jihadists to conduct attacks in the West, and then consider the ease with which such attacks can be conducted — evidenced by Hasan’s actions at Fort Hood — it raises an interesting question: Why haven’t we seen more of these attacks? …
[O]verall, the jihadist message urging Muslims to take up arms and conduct attacks simply does not appear to be gaining much traction among Muslims in the West — and the United States in particular. We have simply not seen the groundswell of grassroots attacks that was initially anticipated. …
In theory, these grassroots efforts are supposed to supplement the efforts of al Qaeda to attack the West. But in practice, al Qaeda and its franchise groups have been rendered transnationally impotent in large part by the counterterrorism efforts of the United States and its allies since 9/11. Jihadist groups been able to conduct attacks in the regions where they are based, but grassroots operatives have been forced to shoulder the bulk of the effort to attack the West. …
One reason for this paucity of attacks may be the jihadist message being sent. In earlier days, the message of Islamist militants like Abdullah Azzam was “Come, join the caravan.” This message suggested that militants who answered the call would be trained, equipped and put into the field of battle under competent commanders. It was a message of strength and confidence — and a message that stands in stark contrast to As-Sahab’s current message of “Don’t come and join us, it is too dangerous — conduct attacks on your own instead.” The very call to leaderless resistance is an admission of defeat and an indication that the jihadists might not be receiving the divine blessing they claim.

I think that is basically correct. There are a number of similarities between jihadism and Marxism, including an emphasis on the inevitability of victory. Extremists of both stripes realized that people are much more willing to sacrifice their liberty or even their lives if they are convinced that they do so in a winning cause. As the odor of defeat has increasingly clung to al Qaeda, most notably since the turning point in Iraq, enthusiasm for the jihadist cause appears to be waning, especially in the U.S.

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