What is al Qaeda?
Can anyone answer that question? To be sure, there are many interested parties that are very eager to do so. Junior Bush and the neo-conservatives have a neatly packaged definition of al Qaeda that they pitch to gullible Americans in order to reshape the United States into their idyllic totalitarian state. Rudy Giuliani is basing his entire presidential campaign on that definition.
But what is al Qaeda, really?
First, there is the history
We know that a group of militant Muslims, the mujaheddin, came into being back in the 1980s as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Using a program dubbed Operation Cyclone, the Central Intelligence Agency (what a nice group of people, eh?) armed and funded these Afghani mujaheddin, who were conducting guerrilla operations against the Soviets.
mujaheddin was Saudi prince Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, the son a a billionaire Saudi businessman, "made his bones" conducting military operations in the rugged Afghani terrain. (And, say what you want about him, Osama bin Laden showed a lot more physical courage fighting in Afghanistan than did Junior, getting drunk in the National Guard barracks in Alabama and staying far, far away from the war he claimed to support in Vietnam.)
But, throughout the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been an organization known as "al Qaeda."
When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was left with a structure and an army of followers. Rather than squander (from his point of view) these resources, or allow them to dissolve, like all power-hungry men, he looked for a new set of causes against which to direct them. It is hard to know his motivation, and impossible to know the secret alliances and betrayals that brought about the transition, but bin Laden eventually set his sights on Islamic resentment toward the United States for its imperialistic hegemony over the Middle East and its support of Israel, for which many Arab Muslims reserve their hottest hatreds.
The first time the name "al Qaeda" came to prominence in American public perception was in the trial of bin Laden and four other individuals for the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In order to try bin Laden in absentia, the US Department of Justice employed the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which required that there be a criminal organization of which bin Laden was the head. Prosecutors pointed to a loose association of veterans of the struggle against the Soviet Union who were attracted to bin Laden's anti-imperialist, pro-Islam message as evidence of such an organization. Voila! Al Qaeda was born.
Junior gets a royal gift
On September 11th, 2001, Osama bin Laden and his organization struck at the US again, killing over 3000 people in an horrific attack. It was at that point that "al Qaeda" was transformed from a nebulous and obscure entity used as a legal term to seek justice into a phantom threat, a bloody shirt, and a rally point for simple minds.
Junior and the neo-conservatives recognized that bin Laden had given them a royal gift. And what an apt gift between sons of privilege! Immediately Junior's gang began to use al Qaeda, that shadowy, undefined enemy that "hate[s] us for our freedom," to justify unprecedented powers for the executive branch of government, to curtail personal freedoms, and to bring about their wet dream of an invasion of Iraq.
And, boy, did it work! Look at where we are today: Junior has admitted to tapping phone calls in the United States without a court warrant, torture is now being debated as a legitimate interrogation tactic, ostensible members of "al Qaeda" (including American citizens) are being held in American military prisons without access to legal counsel or judicial review. And with over 600,000 people dead, we are still bogged down in the Iraq misadventure. All in the name of fighting "al Qaeda" and terrorism.
Politically, the term "al Qaeda" is used like a cudgel to beat cravens like Nancy Pelosi back into their corners whenever they start to display any signs of listening to their constituents. And "al Qaeda" is the verbal ejaculate that all Bush supporters spit out in their red-faced apologies for this disastrous presidency.
"Al Qaeda" has also been used to tag any number of the Bush gang's military adventures, stretching all the way from the Phillipines to Iran. Other countries have even gotten into the act. Marshal law in Pakistan, anyone?
And, every so often, a video tape of Osama bin Laden finds its way into the world media from some shadowy, unidentified sources, wherein he supposedly makes threats and denunciations. Often, these tapes appear at politically convenient times, from a Bush perspective.
But don't think that all the benefits flow in one direction. The Bush reaction to 911 and its hyper-vilification of bin Laden has endowed bin Laden with a heroic status among angry Muslims. Bush and bin Laden, brothers in privilege, are each empowered by the actions and banter of the other.
If we consider that the Bush administration consists largely of business executives and corporatists, it becomes all the more apparent: "al Qaeda" is just a marketing term that the neo-conservatives are using to sell fear.
To be sure, Osama bin Laden and his gang of criminals are still out there, doing whatever it is they are doing. But it is not at all clear, in fact, it's doubtful, that they have any real network that extends beyond their own petty but dangerous gang. They're just another gaggle of criminals that should be found and prosecuted. There is one thing of which we can be sure: Junior and the neo-conservatives don't want to catch him. (Case in point, Tora Bora.) If they did, it would rob them of perhaps the last arrow in their quiver of lies.
The hopeful factor in all of this is that Junior and his people may have gone too far. Indeed, there are some indications that terms like "terrorism" and "al Qaeda," having been so thoroughly over-used, they may be losing their effectiveness.
As Americans slowly awaken to the realization that they don't need to be afraid, there is going to be a reckoning. That's bad news for Junior, bad news for Osama bin Laden, and bad news for the plutocrats and corporatists that brought all this to pass.
Ultimately, the Bush gang's enthusiastic and greedy abuse of people's horror and fear will destroy them.