Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Al Qaeda, Obama, and "House Negroes"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, Al Qaeda's #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has issued a video statement directed at President-elect Obama:

You have reached the position of president, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you. A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted.

The statement, as you might expect, also criticizes Obama for his support for Israel and for being "captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims." (Fox News has the full English translation here.)

Indeed, Zawahiri claims that Obama is the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, and that, using Malcolm X's own words, Obama, Rice, and Powell are "house slaves," or servants -- abayd al bayt in Arabic and translated by al Qaeda as "House Negroes":

You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America. And so you promised to back Israel, and you threatened to strike the tribal regions in Pakistan, and to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, in order for the crimes of the American crusade in it to continue.

Obviously, this is both bigoted and stupid, suggesting a lack of understanding of, well, pretty much everything. It indicates a regressive mindset rooted in the divisions of the past -- which of course is what al Qaeda, longing for the caliphate, wants to return to -- one that cannot, or refuses to, comprehend, the world as it is now, a world in which identity is far more complex than black and white. There are many reasons to be critical of the U.S. and its policies toward the Muslim world over the years, policies that led to a good deal of bloodshed and that, like it or not, contributed to 9/11, but attacking Obama as a traitor to his race (whatever race that is) and engaging in anti-Semitism and hatemongering generally is just reprehensible -- and just what you'd expect from al Qaeda.

Still, there's more to this, as Democracy Arsenal's Ilan Goldenberg explains:

More than anything [the statement] demonstrates that Al Qaeda is genuinely concerned about an Obama presidency and views it as a strategic threat to its existence... Al Qaeda's narrative is now under siege and it's clearly uncertain about how to react. The election of the first African American President, one with a Muslim father, flies in the face of this narrative. It shows America as an open and tolerant society -- not the oppressive empire Al Qaeda would like to portray. In fact, the overwhelmingly positive international reaction to Obama's election is proof of the the threat Al Qaeda faces.

In short, al Qaeda is afraid of Obama -- both because of who he is and because of what he represents, which is, I believe, America at its best, the America seeking to achieve its promise, its perfection.

That, and a much-needed change of course in the war on terror. Bush gave up on Afghanistan and entangled the U.S. in a disastrous war in Iraq. With Obama, the war will be waged as it ought to be, with a renewed emphasis on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, on international diplomacy, and, generally, on a sensible use of both hard and soft power to achieve America's objectives -- one of which is the resurrection of America's standing in the world, another of which is the destruction of al Qaeda and other such terrorist networks.

And so al Qaeda, with Zawahiri its supposedly erudite spokesman, can only, and pathetically, spew more of the same old propaganda, making the ridiculous claim that Obama is just like all who came before him, that nothing has changed, and that nothing will, that America is still just the devil its enemies make it out to be.

Al Qaeda remains a threat to America, and to its friends, and to freedom and democracy generally, but it is now up against stronger opposition. And it knows it.

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