Peter Bergen vs. Bruce Hoffmann FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT
Here’s Peter Bergen, author of two books on Al Qaeda and the only man in this room who’s met Osama bin Laden. Yet he doesn’t take on Hoffmann.
Instead, he muses on the “underlying causes of Al Qaeda.”
It’s not poverty — “terrorism has been a bourgeois endeavor… if you’re poor, you’re too busy to be a terrorist.” (Later on, Marc Sageman, formerly of CIA, will speak, and his new book “Leaderless Jihad” suggests this is changing somewhat.) Disagrees that “weak or failing states cause this,” since most of the 9/11 plot was hatched and worked out not in the training camps of Afghanistan, but in Germany. So what is it?
“Radicalization caused by the Afghan jihad” was a huge contributor to 9/11. Bergen invites everyone to think about how many of these conditions, in different circumstances, still hold today.
“Let’s not be PC,” he adds, “it has something to do with Islam.” He says there’s enough “ammunition, selectively” in the Koran for jihad for it to be hijacked. “The decline of the Middle East… this feeling of humiliation, with Muslims being attacked by infidels.”
An observation: “the spread of communications technology,” without which bin Laden would just be “an angry men.” Muslim immigration to the West; authoritarian regimes in the Middle East; “U.S. foreign policies in the Middle East,” including support for Israel — Bergen is clearly a grown-up here; bin Laden has a strategy to “attack the far enemy [the U.S.] in order to get the near enemy [Mideastern autocratic regimes] to fall,” though it’s been “a total dud.”
We should still see an Al Qaeda threat in 2012, but probably not in 2016, Bergen says. Al Qaeda is losing popular support “and that does make a difference.”
There’s the rejoinder to Hoffmann, with Bergen citing stats on diminished Muslim support for suicide bombings. Also: too little bin Ladenist focus on a positive vision — a hazy “Caliphate” won’t do — and it’s making too many Muslim enemies.