Are al-Qaida’s aims negotiable?

In a recent post on his blog, Owen Barder has (rightly, in my view) criticised Messrs Bush and Blair for asserting that the aims of al-Qaida and its sympathisers are to "impose their dark vision on the world". However, Owen takes a more limited view than I do of what al-Qaida’s actual objectives are and the extent to which they could legitimately be discussed and negotiated. He noted after the London bombings,

there is no suggestion that the muslim extremists want to change the way western countries are governed (or as George Bush put it, that "they hate our freedoms"); rather, if the statement is to be believed, the fundamentalists have a much more limited goal of encouraging western countries to stop interfering in the Middle East.

Owen sums up:

…if the agenda of muslim extremists is to cause western powers to stop supporting Israel and to withdraw their armies from the Middle East: well, you might not agree, but you can hardly say that it is a demand that no sensible person can negotiate on.

In reply to this, I have posted the following dissenting comment on Owen’s blog (here slightly expanded):

I believe that your (Owen’s) interpretation of al-Qaida’s ultimate aims is too optimistic. The goal as expressed in the al-Qaida scripture (Osama bin Laden’s and his lieutenants’ occasional pronouncements plus some of the extreme Islamicist websites, such as that of Hisb ut-Tahrir) seems to me to be the extinction from the Muslim lands comprising the Caliphate, and especially from the countries hosting the holiest Muslim shrines, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, of the entire western presence and all cultural influence — not just ‘armies’. It’s true that in his recent pronouncement, al-Zawahri referred to the demand that "all infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad", but he also says that "Your salvation will only come in your withdrawal from our land, in stopping the robbing of our oil and resources, and in stopping your support for the corrupt and corrupting leaders [my emphasis]". I take the western presence and cultural influence to include the presence of all businessmen and other western citizens, western investments, the availability of western products (especially such iconic products as Coca-Cola, mini-skirts, pop music and Macdonalds) together with western magazines, newspapers and websites, non-Muslim places of worship and clergy, and freedom to advocate such western heresies as the emancipation of women, separation of church and state, exclusion of religious leaders from political roles [something we could usefully introduce in the UK!], abortion rights, secular education, interest-bearing loans, and so forth, ad infinitum.

In short, they want the core Muslim countries to become a chasse gardée under a Shari’a law régime broadly akin to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan (first major host to al-Qaida, not by chance). And once that is established, they want to extend it bit by bit to other countries with a significant Muslim population (including millions in Africa) — and after that to yet more countries on an opportunistic basis, although I don’t think that’s a really serious aspiration.

If that’s right, and there’s plenty of evidence for it, then it doesn’t seem to me that there is any scope for negotiating or compromising with the sponsors of this programme, still less for making concessions to them. It also follows that immediately withdrawing our forces from Iraq (which I strongly favour on quite different grounds) won’t even begin to meet al-Qaida demands, although it should have the limited and incidental effect of reducing the scope for the issue to be exploited by Muslim radicals in order to aggravate ‘anger’ and promote further terrorism.

But even on your much more limited interpretation of basic al-Qaida goals, they certainly include the extinction of the state of Israel and the occupation of its present territory, including that internationally recognised as lawful Israeli land, by the Palestinians. I recognise that there are a few people in the west who would favour this (and that not all of them are motivated largely by good old-fashioned anti-semitism, although most certainly are), but I hope most of us realise that it’s completely off the map — and, again, non-negotiable. Even Bush is committed to a two-state solution, which would never be acceptable to the al-Qaida camp. (And any further ‘concessions’ would have to include the removal of the Indian presence from Kashmir, secession and independence for Kosovo and Chechnya, installation of Muslim Shari’a law in southern as well as northern Sudan, etc., etc. Negotiable? I think not.)

This is a gloomy reading, but I’m afraid it’s all too plausible. Hence my assertion that it’s necessary to distinguish between terrorists with inherently negotiable aims, or at any rate aims that are capable of rational political discussion, and those whose aims simply can’t be reconciled with the real world of varying cultures and interests.

PS: In all this I haven’t mentioned oil (although it’s significant that in al-Zawahri’s pronouncement quoted in your blog post (and quoted above), an objective mentioned is "stopping the robbing of our oil and resources”). It’s legitimate, and quite possibly right, to see the current issues as part of the early stages of a huge international conflict over control of access to oil, on which no western country — or other: think China and India , however high-minded, is going to have any room for compromise for as long as our economies and way of life remain dependent on the precious black stuff. And it needs to be said that secure access to oil is an entirely legitimate and fundamental national and western interest which it is wholly proper to defend, indeed which it would be a criminal betrayal not to defend, and not a secret and reprehensible goal that dare not speak its name.  Again, a gloomy view.  But the old are entitled to be gloomy.


14 Responses

  1. Brian,

    … occasional pronouncements plus some of the extreme Islamicist websites, such as that of Hisb ut-Tahrir) seems to me to be the extinction from the Muslim lands comprising the Caliphate, and especially from the countries hosting the holiest Muslim shrines, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, of the entire western presence and all cultural influence — not just ‘armies’

    I don’t suppose for one moment those peddlers of mini skirts in Bahrain’s Duty Free Shop or Cheeseburgers and McFlurrys from McDonalds in Córdoba will be over concerned by Hisb ut-Tahrir.
    You would never guess from your post that not only is this organisation losing members hand over fist, but according to its website, it does not support violent means to achieve its objectives.

  2. Brian says:


    I don’t think I suggested anywhere even by implication that Hisb ut-Tahrir enjoyed widespread or growing support; I cited it simply as a source of evidence about the proclaimed objectives of extremist Islamicists. As for its attitude to violence, the website says that Hisb ut-Tahrir itself doesn’t employ violence, but it makes it explicitly clear that this doesn’t mean that the party disavows or condemns violence when the circumstances require it:

    The fact that the Party does not use material power to defend itself or as a weapon against the rulers is of no relevance to the subject of jihad, because jihad has to continue till the Day of Judgement. So whenever the disbelieving enemies attack an Islamic country it becomes compulsory on its Muslim citizens to repel the enemy. The members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in that country are a part of the Muslims and it is obligatory upon them as it is upon other Muslims, in their capacity as Muslims, to fight the enemy and repel them. Whenever there is a Muslim amir who declares jihad to enhance the Word of Allah (swt) and mobilises the people to do that, the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir will respond in their capacity as Muslims in the country where the general call to arms was proclaimed.

    The reference to ‘the general call to arms’ disposes of any suggestion that ‘jihad’ in this context need not include violence, and although the first section of the passage refers only to a situation where ‘disbelieving enemies attack an Islamic country’, the remainder concerns any circumstances in which jihad has been declared ‘to enhance the Word of Allah’. So while Hisb ut-Tahrir itself doesn’t employ violence in pursuit of its political objectives, it certainly has no problem with the resort to violence by Muslims generally, including members of Hisb ut-Tahrir, in pursuit of their religious objectives. You are strictly speaking correct, therefore, in saying that Hisb ut-Tahrir ‘does not support violent means to achieve its objectives‘, but it would be wrong to infer from this that Hisb ‘does not support violence’. It does.

    In any case, none of this affects the point I was making about the basic objectives of Islamic extremists as reflected in the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and in such Islamicist websites as that of Hisb.

    I stand by my story!


  3. Patrick says:

    I have posted a small piece on bombers’ motivation, strategies and options for dealing them on my blog (I can’t seem to get trackbacks working). If you have a minute you may wish to read it.

  4. Brian says:


    I have indeed spent rather more than a minute reading your ‘small piece‘ on this subject and I warmly commend it to anyone interested in these issues. I have also ventured to offer some comments on it. I hope it will generate yet more productive debate. Thank you.


  5. Patrick says:

    Many thanks for your generous comments on my post, I wrote it to inform the debate occurring here & on Owen’s Musings. I shall join the debate here, answering your comments made elsewhere in this thread, to prevent this debate fracturing over too many blogs. A re-direct statement has been posted on my post to that effect.

  6. Patrick says:

    WhenBrian asks ‘Are al-Qaida’s aims negotiable?’, is that question asked in the light of the recent London bombings? If so then one presumably assumes that al-Qaida was the most-likely organisation behind the recent atrocities. Is there any evidence to suggest this? If one agrees with the taxonomy of Pape† then it could be expected that there is a suicide-bombing campaign in operation and the World Trade Towers attacks along with the Bali, Madrid and London bombings support this hypothesis. While there has been no clear evidence of any testament left by the London bombers on either occasion, I have argued in favour of presuming the underlying motives were Islamist. There have been no statements from al-Qaida claiming direct responsibility for the World Trade Towers attacks or Bali and Madrid bombings either, although evidence suggest substantial links at the very least to al-Qaida. It is most likely the aims of the recent suicide bombers were generally in accord with, and possibly supported by, al-Qaida.

    The recent statement by al-Zawahri does not claim responsibility for the London atrocities but reiterates the demands of al-Qaida/Bin-Ladin that have been made in the past, back to 1996. These demands are consistent:

    O nations of the crusade alliance, we proposed that you at least stop your aggression against the Muslims. The lion of Islam, mujaheed sheikh Osama Bin Laden, may God preserve him, offered you a truce to leave the house of Islam.Has sheikh Osama Bin Laden not informed you that you will not dream of security until we live it in reality in Palestine and before all infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, may peace be upon him?

    These demands are the same as those made 9 years ago. Further on in the statement one can see additional, possibly new, demands:

    Our message to you is crystal clear: Your salvation will only come in your withdrawal from our land, in stopping the robbing of our oil and resources, and in stopping your support for the corrupt and corrupting leaders [my emphasis].

    It is not clear as to the degree of withdrawal required, the area from which withdrawal is required is also not specified, but one can at least assume the Arabian Pensinsula is involved; the State of Israel is also implicated. Prior demands have explicitly mentioned ‘the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque’.

    If one accepts there are consistent al-Qaida objectives, the question ‘Will al-Qaida negotiate?’ needs consideration. There has been no explicit statement from al-Qaida about negotiation but the al-Zawahri statement has some clues:

    O nations of the crusade alliance, we proposed [my emphasis] that you at least stop your aggression against the Muslims. The lion of Islam, mujaheed sheikh Osama Bin Laden, may God preserve him, offered you a truce [my emphasis] to leave the house of Islam

    I may be clutching at straws but the terms emphasized suggest the possibility of negotiation.

    Negotiation implies concession, do governments negotiate with, or make concession to, terrorists? Of course they do, especially democracies. As Pape† states:

    …of the 11 suicide terrorist campaigns that were completed during 1980–2001, six closely correlate with significant policy changes by the target state toward the terrorists’ major political goals. In one case, the terrorists’ territorial goals were fully achieved (Hezbollah v. US/F, 1983); in three cases, the terrorists territorial aims were partly achieved (Hezbollah v. Israel, 1983–85; Hamas v. Israel, 1994; and Hamas v. Israel, 1994–95); in one case, the target government to entered into sovereignty negotiations with the terrorists (LTTE v. Sri Lanka, 1993–94); and in one case, the terrorist organization’s top leader was released from prison (Hamas v. Israel, 1997).

    The odds are better than 50:50 in favour of terrorists who utilise suicide-bombing campaigns. This is significant if one considers Pape’s† next statement:

    Coercive success is so rare that even a 50% success rate is significant, because international military and economic coercion, using the same standards as above, generally works less than a third of the time (Art and Cronin 2003).

    Brian states:

    It also follows that immediately withdrawing our forces from Iraq (which I strongly favour on quite different grounds) won’t even begin to meet al-Qaida demands, although it should have the limited and incidental effect of reducing the scope for the issue to be exploited by Muslim radicals in order to aggravate ‘anger’ and promote further terrorism.

    I think Brian is wrong on two counts. Firstly, the withdrawal from Iraq is a part of the objectives of al-Qaida, since the withdrawal of Spain from the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ there have been no threats made by al-Qaida against Spain. Secondly, withdrawal from Iraq would now be seen as a concession, and therefore success due to the suicide-bombing campaign, even though the British government plan may not have envisaged long-term occupation. Withdrawing from Iraq now, during a suicide-bombing campaign, would be ambiguous. Pape† states:

    Standard principles from social psychology suggest how terrorists are likely to resolve these ambiguities. Under normal conditions, most people tend to interpret ambiguous information in ways that are consistent with their prior beliefs, as well as in ways that justify their past actions (Jervis 1976; Lebow 1981). Suicide terrorists, of course, are likely to have at least some initial confidence in the efficacy of suicide attack or else they would not resort to it, and of course, the fact of having carried out such attacks gives them an interest in justifying that choice. Thus, whenever targets of suicide terrorism make a real or apparent concession and it is a plausible interpretation that it was due to the coercive pressure of the suicide campaign,we would expect terrorists to favor that interpretation

    It is my belief that al-Qaida/terrorist cells have seen the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq as success due to the above mechanism, although others may argue that it was the democratic process and not suicide bombing that led to the withdrawal. What matters, however, is what the terrorists perceive. As Pape† states: ‘…during the past 20 years, suicide terrorism has been steadily rising because terrorists have learned that it pays.’

    As to the matter of oil one just needs to consider the volume of US imports (May 2004–April 2005) from the Persian Gulf: 20.5% of total net imports or an average of 2.49 million barrels per day.
    Pape, R. 2003. The Strategic Logic of Suicide. American Political Science Review 97(3):1–19.

  7. Patrick says:

    To develop the argument further, this interview of Robert Pape is informative, especially concerning al-Qaida strategies:

    Al-Qaeda appears to have made a deliberate decision not to attack the United States in the short term. We know this not only from the pattern of their attacks but because we have an actual al-Qaeda planning document found by Norwegian intelligence. The document says that al-Qaeda should not try to attack the continent of the United States in the short term but instead should focus its energies on hitting America’s allies in order to try to split the coalition.

    What the document then goes on to do is analyze whether they should hit Britain, Poland, or Spain. It concludes that they should hit Spain just before the March 2004 elections because, and I am quoting almost verbatim: Spain could not withstand two, maximum three, blows before withdrawing from the coalition, and then others would fall like dominoes.

    That is exactly what happened. Six months after the document was produced, al-Qaeda attacked Spain in Madrid. That caused Spain to withdraw from the coalition. Others have followed. So al-Qaeda certainly has demonstrated the capacity to attack and in fact they have done over 15 suicide-terrorist attacks since 2002, more than all the years before 9/11 combined. Al-Qaeda is not weaker now. Al-Qaeda is stronger.

    Pape’s answer to Islamic-based suicide bombing is interesting:

    For us, victory means not sacrificing any of our vital interests while also not having Americans vulnerable to suicide-terrorist attacks. In the case of the Persian Gulf, that means we should pursue a strategy that secures our interest in oil but does not encourage the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists.

    In the 1970s and the 1980s, the United States secured its interest in oil without stationing a single combat soldier on the Arabian Peninsula. Instead, we formed an alliance with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which we can now do again. We relied on numerous aircraft carriers off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and naval air power now is more effective not less. We also built numerous military bases so that we could move large numbers of ground forces to the region quickly if a crisis emerged.

    That strategy, called “offshore balancing,” worked splendidly against Saddam Hussein in 1990 and is again our best strategy to secure our interest in oil while preventing the rise of more suicide terrorists.

    and argues for withdrawal offshore with naval power being used to safeguard American oil interests.

  8. Brian says:


    More interesting and relevant material, for which thanks. But I’m puzzled by the two counts on which you think I’m ‘wrong’. I agree that if we now started to withdraw our forces from Iraq, for whatever reason, al-Qaida (which, remember, I simply use as short-hand for the loose groupings of Islamic extremists who use and encourage violence in pursuit of their aim of removing the western presence and influence from the Muslim lands of the middle east and beyond, and denying middle east oil to the west) would of course claim the credit, asserting that the London bombings had forced us out. This likelihood paradoxically makes it more difficult for any British government to withdraw its forces from Iraq, since it will not wish to give any excuse for al-Qaida to claim that terrorism pays. But in a further paradox, this also suits al-Qaida, since their demand for us (and above all the Americans) to remove our troops from Iraq is, on all the evidence, mainly tactical: in practice, it would represent such infinitesimally small progress towards their core goals as defined above that in fact their aims are better served by continuation of the western occupation of Iraq and of the insurgency, since these can be usefully exploited in the recruitment of suicide bombers and the radicalisation of Muslim opinion in western countries against their governments and foreign policies. So they are in the fortunate position of benefiting if we withdraw militarily from Iraq, and benefiting if we don’t. On balance my fairly confident guess is that they would prefer us to stay for quite a lot longer while they reap the benefits of the effects of the occupation on Muslim opinion world-wide.

    On the possibility and desirability of negotiating with al-Qaida, I don’t think it’s relevant that a few phrases in recent al-Qaida statements could be interpreted (at a considerable stretch) as an indication of al-Qaida’s willingness to negotiate with the west. The issues are rather (1) whether there is any scope for the west to negotiate with al-Qaida, given the character of its core aims and the impossibility of reconciling them with fundamental western interests and values; and (2) even if some of its aims were inherently negotiable, whether on balance it would be more harmful than beneficial to negotiate about them, given that any movement which could be interpreted as ‘concessions’ to or compromises with al-Qaida aims would encourage further violence and murder in the hope of winning more concessions. I need not repeat the arguments in my original post above for the view that al-Qaida’s aims are not in fact reconcilable with core western interests and values; that even if they were, it would not be in the west’s interests to make any concessions to them; and that accordingly there is no scope for negotiation with al-Qaida. (n.b.: I am not saying that ‘it is always wrong to negotiate with terrorists’: the arguments here are specifically related to al-Qaida.)

    Pape’s analysis of the success rates of earlier terrorist campaigns and his rather elaborate proof of the (pretty self-evident) truth that if al-Qaida can plausibly claim that any western move is attributable to the success of its terrorist campaign, it will do so, also seem to me, with respect, beside the point. Comparisons between IRA or Palestinian terrorist campaigns and that of al-Qaida are of little or no value since the aims of the different campaigns are entirely different. A better comparison might be with the anarchist bombings of the 1890s and later, when anarchist aims (to abolish government, money, etc.) were so manifestly dotty that there was no scope for concessions or negotiation, and the campaign eventually fizzled out (only after having claimed some extremely high-profile lives) because it obviously wasn’t getting anywhere, and police action against the anarchists became sufficiently effective for many of them to lose heart. Graham Stewart’s article in the Times of 5 August on this is very compelling.

    [Continued in next comment]

  9. Brian says:

    [Continued from preceding comment]

    In this context it’s sad to see the last of your Pape quotations, about what would constitute a western ‘victory’ over Islamicist terrorism, seeming to advocate making every possible concession to al-Qaida so long as it would not damage ‘any of our vital interests’, especially including oil interests. This seems to me profoundly and dangerously wrong. We should pursue policies at all times that serve our interests, probably including the kind of military withdrawal to sea-borne or out-of-area bases that he envisages, if a cool and objective calculation confirms that this is desirable in its own terms and likely to be effective. But we should never act in a way which is justified only by the hope that it will appease al-Qaida and that it might therefore reduce the risk of terrorist attack on us. Appeasement is a sure route to further violence, further demands, and yet more extreme ambitions on the part of the terrorists. There are echoes of this everywhere:

    The government is at a critical pass in its relations with the Muslim community. Either it embraces the totality of its views in the interests of a genuine partnership that aims at, among other things, combating extremism in a holistic manner that includes a reassessment of foreign policy, or it continues to alienate ever more members by listening to those miming from their own hymn sheet.

    That’s from a letter in the Guardian of 5 August from a group of moderate Muslim leaders (and a lady representing the Galloway party ‘Respect’), calling for a ‘reassessment of foreign policy’ not on policy grounds but in order not to alienate Muslims. British Muslims, like any other people in Britain, are free to argue against government policies that they dislike, to write letters to the newspapers or articles on their blogs setting out their objections to specific policies and advocating alternatives, to join or form political parties in which to seek to influence those policies, to lobby their MPs and ministers, to march and demonstrate. What they should not do, in my view, is to call for a change of foreign policy not because of its defects but purely so as to avoid ‘alienating’ Muslims — and, by obvious implication, thereby fostering terrorism. There’s a big difference.


  10. Patrick says:

    For definition purposes, I agree with you on the use of the term al-Qaida to refer to the presumed collection of groups motivated by a common Islamist agenda. Prior to answering some of your comments I first wish to address Pape and his work.

    For us, Pape’s work is important for several reasons: it is relevant to the situation now facing the British at home, it is quantitative evidence upon which one may base conclusions and it is in the public domain. I have searched the social- and political-science literature, using a wide-ranging Athens Eduserve account, and have found no comparable articles examining suicide terrorism in a quantitative manner. The security services and other agencies probably have facts & figures on such topics but I cannot find evidence of public accessibility. Thus we are stuck with Pape. However, while quoting liberally from his article to inform the debate, I am mindful that it is a single source, from a journal of which the editorial & peer-review policy I am ignorant and I have reservations about being too conclusive from a survey study. The article itself is not clearly presented, in my opinion, although such differences between social- and political-science research and the research I am more used to may be normal.

    In your final paragraph you address the difference between changing foreign policy due to defects or terrorist coercion. You use the example of ‘…calling for a “reassessment of foreign policy” not on policy grounds but in order not to alienate Muslims’; it is undeniable that muslims, both at home and abroad, have been alienated by British foreign policy as the London suicide bombings and the suicide terrorism in the Republic of Iraq attest. The evidence suggests that alienation, or the outward manifestation thereof, is increasing especially in Iraq:

    One of the most chilling aspects of the Iraqi conflict is that suicide bombings have now become a matter of everyday routine. During April there were 67, a new record. On Wednesday there were no less than five separate suicide attacks across Iraq, killing 71 people and injuring scores of people.URI: Honour and martyrdom (Guardian Saturday May 14, 2005)

    Whilst I agree with you that foreign policy should not be changed due to terrorist activity, due to the reinforcing nature of such change on terrorist behaviour, I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that this stance is not absolute. At some point the adverse consequences might outweigh the benefits of the policy. I am not suggesting appeasement but is not foreign policy mindful of the consequences? If Pape is to be believed, the presence of occupying troops leads to suicide terrorism in certain circumstances and one conclusion from the above may be that continuing occupation leads to increasing attempts at violence, either in nature or amount. The statement in an interview on 60 Minutes II by Islamist Fazlur Rahman Khalil of Pakistan’s Harkat ul-Mujahideen, broadcast by CBS on October 15, 2000, is worrying: ‘God has ordered us to build nuclear weapons.’ The obvious question is — how much terrorism do we take for this current foreign policy towards Iraq and the Middle-East?

    I posted Pape’s answer to the current problem of al-Qaida terrorism because I think it is inconsistent with his findings about terrorists learning that suicide terrorism works because of concessions, not because I agreed with it. Perhaps I should have described it as inconsistent instead of ‘interesting’.

    I have provided evidence for the al-Qaida aims on this blog and they are consistent throughout their campaign. All terrorist organisations make demands yet where campaigns have finished one finds that negotiation has taken place with compromises made. One could negotiate with al-Qaida on the basis of troop withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula, strengthening regional governments sympathetic to Western values and projecting power from offshore bases and naval forces to cover legitimate interests. The reality, on average, is that governments tend to negotiate with terrorists, either overtly once cease-fires have been announced or covertly during campaigns. One concern is whether the degree of muslim alienation is widespread and strong enough to create self-sustaining suicide terrorism despite negotiation and concession (with thanks to Retired Rambler):

    So, what of the initial question regarding the role of the Iraq episode in the bomb outrages in London? The main contribution of Iraq is in reinforcing the ideological picture of the universal Islamic community doing battle with Christians and Jews. Withdrawal of British or American troops from Iraq would not alter that picture, nor diminish the momentum of martyrdom now established.URI: The London bombs: Iraq or the “rage of Islam”?

    Of interest is that whilst al-Qaida’s aims may be inimical to core Western values, there is some evidence to suggest that these aims do not completely coincide with muslim societies’ aspirations:

    Despite soaring anti-Americanism and substantial support for Osama bin Laden, there is considerable appetite in the Muslim world for democratic freedoms. The broader, 44-nation survey shows that people in Muslim countries place a high value on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, multi-party systems and equal treatment under the law. This includes people living in kingdoms such as Jordan and Kuwait, as well as those in authoritarian states like Uzbekistan and Pakistan. In fact, many of the Muslim publics polled expressed a stronger desire for democratic freedoms than the publics in some nations of Eastern Europe, notably Russia and Bulgaria.

    The postwar update finds that in most Muslim populations, large majorities continue to believe that Western-style democracy can work in their countries. This is the case in predominantly Muslim countries like Kuwait (83%) and Bangladesh (57%), but also in religiously diverse countries like Nigeria (75%). There are no substantive differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in Nigeria on this point. Only in Indonesia and Turkey do substantial percentages say democracy is a Western way of doing things that would not work in their countries (53%, 37%).URI: Views of a Changing World 2003

    The above suggests that al-Qaida may be marginalised if its support and the conditions sustaining its existence can be destroyed.

  11. Brian says:


    Interesting facts, figures and quotations, as always. Just a few random reactions:

    1. Pape’s analyses of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism in numerous diverse campaigns are valuable only on the assumption that they have more in common than the issues on which they differ. I don’t believe this is the case. It’s misleading to extrapolate from (say) ETA or the IRA to either Iraq insurgency or the London bombings. Having accumulated this huge terrorism data-base, Pape naturally can’t accept this. But I fear it largely invalidates his findings. In particular, it’s essential to distinguish sharply between terrorists/insurgents in Iraq, who mostly have one set of aims, and al-Qaida elsewhere, which has quite different aims, although the latter is confusingly exploiting the situation we have created in Iraq to promote its own aims, taking advantage of the differently motivated campaign of the former.

    2. The question whether terrorism in the UK might at some stage reach the point at which its effects on our way of life are so damaging as to justify changing our foreign policy in order to try to reduce it is, fortunately, academic: there are so many other compelling reasons for changing our middle east policies, especially in Iraq, that it’s really a waste of time speculating about whether we should change them in response to terrorism. On some of the other issues exploited by al-Qaida for terrorist recruitment, fund-raising, etc., there’s really no room for manoeuvre: clearly we’re not going to hand over Israel to the Palestinians or Kashmir to the Pakistanis, even if we had the power to do either, and nothing less will appease the ‘Muslim rage’.

    3. You write:

    One could negotiate with al-Qaida on the basis of troop withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula, strengthening regional governments sympathetic to Western values and projecting power from offshore bases and naval forces to cover legitimate interests.

    But, as I have written boringly many times, al-Qaida demands a much more far-reaching western withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula than just the removal of western troops (and it includes denying oil to western countries): a western policy of ‘strengthening’ pro-western governments in the region would be anathema to al-Qaida, one of whose principal complaints concerns western support for régimes that are resistant to fundamentalist Islamic theocracy — genuine democratic régimes enjoying widespread local support and resistant to fundamentalism would be even more objectionable to al-Qaida than the present monarchist or other dictatorial régimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. And al-Qaida will strenuously resist the projection of western power in the region regardless of whether it is land- or sea-based, although the stationing of western troops on Arab or other Muslim soil is of course more useful to them for propaganda purposes. In other words, your formula seems to me most unlikely to form the basis of any kind of compromise or deal.

    4. The statement in the last of your quotations that “Despite soaring anti-Americanism and substantial support for Osama bin Laden, there is considerable appetite in the Muslim world for democratic freedoms” seems on the face of it to demonstrate that the people of these countries have very little understanding of the kind of régimes that Osama bin Laden and his supporters would install if they had their way. There wasn’t much evidence of “democratic freedoms” in Afghanistan under the Taliban/al-Qaida régime.

    5. Following on from (4), one of the grimmest conundrums facing western policy in the middle east is that if we try to force the pace of democratisation in countries like Saudi Arabia, the outcome of genuine popular elections in a number of key countries could well be extreme, violently anti-western, Islamic fundamentalist régimes on Taliban lines, as nearly happened in Algeria. The spread of such regimes would clearly pose an unacceptable threat to core western interests. If on the other hand the west continues to support existing undemocratic, repressive, pro-western, anti-fundamentalist régimes, thereby implicitly colluding with them in their resistance to democratisation, local resentment of the denial of democracy plays into the hands of the fundamentalists. A true no-win situation.

    Conclusion: I have so far seen nothing that refutes the arguments in my original post in this thread: that there is no scope for negotiation with al-Qaida, because [a] there’s no-one to negotiate with, [b] even if there was, al-Qaida’s core demands are wholly inimical to fundamental western interests and offer no opportunities for concessions or compromise, and [c] even if it were to be possible to identify scope for partial concessions, it would be counter-productive to make them because concessions would encourage further and more extreme demands. So we should approach al-Qaida in much the same way that we approached the Kray gang, not the way we approached the IRA. We should make policy changes that are justified and desirable in their own terms, but no others, and certainly not make changes in the vain hope of appeasing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.


  12. Brian,

    It also follows that immediately withdrawing our forces from Iraq (which I strongly favour on quite different grounds) won’t even begin to meet al-Qaida demands,

    There’s a piece in Nieman Watchdog putting foward an “almost” unanswerable case for immediate US withdrawal.

  13. Patrick says:


    I have taken some time to consider my reply to your latest comment as I do not wish to induce more boredom for you. In part 1 you state:

    It’s misleading to extrapolate from (say) ETA or the IRA to either Iraq insurgency or the London bombings. Having accumulated this huge terrorism data-base, Pape naturally can’t accept this. But I fear it largely invalidates his findings.

    Where in the journal article by Pape (2003) does this extrapolation occur? While Pape’s article is lacking in a Methodology and Methods section, Pape (2003:3) has excluded ‘the Orange Volunteers (Northern Ireland)’ by classifying them under the term Demonstrative Terrorism and ‘the Irish Republican Army’ by classifying them under the term Destructive Terrorism. The focus of the study is Suicide Terrorism and this can be seen from (Pape 2003:5):

    To characterize the nature of suicide terrorism, this study identified every suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to 2001 that could be found in Lexis Nexis’s on-line database of world news media (Pape 2002).

    Further clarification of the focus of the study is available from Table 1 Suicide Terrorist Campaigns, 1980–2001 (Pape 2003:6) in which he lists the suicide-terrorist campaigns under examination. The IRA and ETA campaigns are not examined by his study, they are excluded.

    The problems that may invalidate Pape’s findings are:

    The use of the Lexis Nexis’s on-line database of world news media. This means Pape’s study is only as accurate as this database.
    The design of the study. It appears that Pape’s study is a retrospective survey and therefore does not enquire into causation, only association.
    The comprehensiveness of Pape’s enquiry. By not focussing on Islamist-based suicide terrorism Pape may be missing findings that are relevant to our situation today.
    Relevance. Pape’s study examines suicide terrorism up to 2001. The more recent suicide bombings, if qualitatively different, could invalidate his findings.

    Also of importance is the ‘So what?’ test that anyone reading original research should ask. With all the above caveats this study still passes my ‘So what?’ test.

    In Part 2 you characterise the points I made as ‘academic’, to which I agree. I also agree with you about the need to change Middle-Eastern foreign policy

    In Part 3 you demonstrate a degree of boredom to which I do not wish to add. We should agree to differ on the character, scope and consistent nature of al-Qaida’s demands. This relevant newspaper article on the strategies of al-Qaida might be of interest; a commentary on the ‘Norwegian Document’ can be read here. I quoted a proposed solution which I initially described as interesting and subsequently as inconsistent. I should have made it clear it was not ‘my formula’ or one with which I agreed.

    In part 4 you write:

    There wasn’t much evidence of “democratic freedoms” in Afghanistan under the Taliban/al-Qaida régime.

    Which doesn’t negate any popular desire for democratic freedoms but demonstrates the repression of the Taliban/al-Qaida régime. To make a comparison: democracy in Eastern Europe occurred due to the collapse of the repressive Soviet régime, not the other way round.

    I agree with Part 5 about the conundrum facing the West

    In your conclusion you state ‘…certainly not make changes in the vain hope of appeasing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists’. I also do not wish to appease terrorists. The points I made, however inadequately, were to inform the debate.

  14. Brian says:


    Thanks once again. Your contributions certainly do inform the debate and I never find them boring. My fear is that I shall bore visitors to this blog by constantly repeating myself. So I shall just content myself here by saying that the whole methodology employed by Pape seems to me misconceived. To draw almost any conclusions from this monster database covering “every suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to 2001 that could be found in Lexis Nexis’s on-line database of world news media” is to ignore the vast and material differences between these attacks: differences of purpose, motivation, national and religious culture of the terrorists, nature of targets, degree of negotiability of aims, and so on. And then to try to apply these inherently flawed conclusions to the al-Qaida-type attacks of more recent years compounds the error. Each campaign is sui generis and each demands a different response. Some things demand political and ethical judgement, case by case, not scientific analysis of dubiously relevant data drawn from wholly different events, however accurately assembled.

    But I certainly don’t want to close the discussion, and I hope you and others will continue to expand and inform it.


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