Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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2.3 What is al-Qaeda?

Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, set out his organisation’s principal objectives in a 2002 broadcast.

Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot [the West led by the US]? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb. And expect more that will further distress you. The Islamic nation, thanks to God, has started to attack you at the hands of its beloved sons, who pledged to God to continue jihad, as long as they are alive, through words and weapons to establish right and expose falsehood. In conclusion, I ask God to help us champion His religion and continue jihad for His sake until we meet Him while He is satisfied with us. And He can do so. Praise be to Almighty God.

(bin Laden, 2002)

Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism (and, more specifically, the terrorist threats posed by individuals and groups who associate themselves with – or are inspired by – the group) claims Islamic legitimisation for its actions. For President Bush, however:

Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; its goal is remaking the world – and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere. The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics – a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam

(Bush, 2001)

Of course the descriptions we apply to terrorist groups can be culturally loaded and are often contested. Some suggest that we should describe terrorists as ‘militants’, not necessarily as ‘extremists’ or ‘fundamentalists’; others strongly disagree. Some suggest that the links terrorist groups claim with political Islam should be highlighted so as to better understand the problem; others argue that the links should be disregarded and that terrorist activity be characterised as ‘anti-Islamic’ activity. The choice of terminology is, of course, a choice for each citizen to make.

Jason Burke on al-Qaeda and terrorism

The Observer’s Jason Burke is a leading expert on al-Qaeda. In the interview below, he provides some useful background on the nature of the terror threat posed by al-Qaeda, which he describes as a ‘label’ or a ‘franchise’, not in itself an organisation.

Activity 3 Interview with Jason Burke

Now read the interview with Jason Burke. When reading this, you should note:

  • the conversational, and therefore discursive, nature of the piece
  • how Burke distinguishes the nature of al-Qaeda, how he questions the use of the very term, and why he places the threat associated with al-Qaeda in a wider context
  • his observations about how the West should engage with terrorism in both military and political terms.

Click to view An Interview with Jason Burke [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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