At least he didn't ram a gay bar!

I'm intrigued by Ayman al Zawahiri's latest remarks:

Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said offences against Prophet Mohammad were part of a "crusader" campaign led by the United States, and he urged Muslims to conduct new strikes on the West.

In a video broadcast Saturday on Al-Jazeera Arab satellite network, Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader criticized the West for insulting Islam's prophet.

Referring to cartoons of the prophet that have been printed in European newspapers, Zawahri said: "They did it on purpose and they continue to do it without apologizing, even though no one dares to harm Jews or to challenge Jewish claims about the Holocaust, nor even to insult homosexuals."

(Via Joe Gandelman.)

Really? As if to underscore al Qaida's new hardline policy, Zawahiri repeated the anti-gay message, while throwing in an oddly gratuitous reference to "Jesus Christ":
Zawahri, wearing a black turban -- a symbol of war to Muslims -- and seated in front of a curtained window, waived his right hand while speaking, emphasizing his message.

"The insults against Prophet Muhammad are not the result of freedom of opinion but because what is sacred has changed in this culture,'' he said.

"The Prophet Mohammed, prayers be upon him, and Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, are not sacred anymore, while Semites and the Holocaust and homosexuality have become sacred.''

I don't know whether he really said "Jesus Christ" but if he did, the "Christ" term is not merely a name, but has distinct religious significance, and I'm wondering what the old coot is up to.

Why add the homos all of a sudden and throw in Jesus? Might this be a crude way of attempting to broaden the message? As to what Zawahiri wants his loyal supporters to do, he emphasizes economic losses:

Zawahri added: "(Muslims have to) inflict losses on the crusader West, especially to its economic infrastructure, with strikes that would make it bleed for years."

"The strikes on New York, Washington, Madrid and London are the best examples," he said.

Would he be happy with something small and spontaneous in North Carolina as a sort of appetizer? I note that the video was aired by al Jazeera on Saturday, but the audio track was "posted on the Internet earlier." I certainly hope there's no connection between Zawahiri's exortations and Friday's terrorist attack at the University of North Carolina in which an Iranian student rammed his SUV into a crowd of students to "avenge the death of Muslims around the world." Students are planning to protest today University's cowardly attempt to deny it's terrorism.

According to UNC's student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, the protest targets "the news media's reluctance to label it terrorism."

Is the reluctance based on the fact that an SUV was used and they don't want to "cause a panic"? What are the qualifying attributes of an act of terrorism these days?

Do you have to use a plane?

Parenthetically, I think it's worth noting that not only was alcohol not involved, but as of last Spring, the SUV-wielding Iranian "lived up to the religious ideals of being a good person," "had begun studying the Quran," and "completely swore off alcohol and drugs."

While I don't know what goes on at "the Pit" the Iranian's target was described as "a sunken, brick-paved area surrounded by two libraries, a dining hall and the student union."

Probably a place where students enjoy having fun -- precisely the sort of thing guys like Zawahiri want to stop.

(The best way to defy these assholes is to keep right on doing it.)

MORE: God and Taliban Man at Yale? Say it isn't so! Sigh.

The diversity of denial is a common thread these days.

AND MORE: In another must-read essay, Jeff Goldstein really lets Yale and the multicultural left have it, arguing that feminists are laying the groundwork "for the deconstruction of western feminism itself" and concluding:

....over the last few years, I’ve come to recognize that America is battling for its very soul—and the battle is between those who promote liberal founding principles, and those whose learned relativism has taken a turn toward Machiavellian power politics and the attempt to wrest control over metanarratives, and has done so while, ironically, clinging to the liberal label.
I agree. This is not to defend Machiavelli, but I think "Machiavellian" may be too kind (at least, too Western) a word for people who seek destruction of not merely liberal founding principles, but of all Western philosophical systems -- including Machiavelli's -- which factored into the founders' thinking. (The harsh and ruthless Machiavellian concept of virtue, while certainly at odds with our democratic tradition, is under assault along with the American concept of individuality.)

MORE: The Jawa Report has two posts up on the UNC attack. (I guess it's safe to call it an "attack," even if it turns out that the attacker attacked because he "snapped.")

UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): Michelle Malkin links to this post stating that the attacker's drug use caused him to be rejected from a fraternity:

The guy I spoke with said Taheri-azar pledged his fraternity, Sig Ep, and that the frat "blackballed" him, meaning kicked him out because he was such a recluse and antisocial. They referred to him as "Mo."

He said that Taheri-azar was from a wealthy family, a frequent marijuana smoker and "most always high" and that he drank heavily as well. So much for being religiously pious.

My first conclusions were that it's highly unlikely he's related to any type of "cell." First of all, his actions show that he's a complete novice, that he had no operational funding, and that the attack was not well planned (although he did rent the Jeep from Enterprise). Further information continues to corroborate this.

Interesting. That conflicts with the report I cited earlier, and I'm wondering what the relevant time frames are. I think it's very unlikely that he's connected to any organized terrorist group, and this looks like a "do it yourself" lone man op. (It's fortunate he didn't use explosives -- although lone terrorists inside Israel use anything they can get their hands on, including knives.)

MORE: The defendant's statements at his arraignment make it clear (to me at least) that the man had a religious motivation for his crime, and sees his own trial as a propaganda opportunity:

Judge Patricia Devine asked if he had any questions at this morning's arraignment.

"I actually don't have any questions," said Taheri-azar, clad in a long-sleeve orange jumpsuit and leg shackles. "I am thankful you are going to hear this trial to learn more about the will of Allah, the creator."

After police arrested Taheri-azar Friday, he told them he acted to "avenge the American treatment of Muslims," an FBI spokesman in Washington said.

Six of the victims in Friday's attack were treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. Afterward, Taheri-azar called police and waited on a side street near campus. A police bomb squad also searched his apartment but would not say what was found.

This is not looking like a personal grudge involving a depressed student who snapped.

MORE: An anonymous commenter below states:

I didn't say he was rejected because of his drug use. There are plenty, plenty, of frat boys who smoke marijuana. This was not your service fraternity. They rejected him because he didn't get along well, didn't fit in, and kept to himself all the time, which goes against the point of a frat.
I appreciate the correction. What I'm especially interested in is when the marijuana and alcohol use occurred. Is The Daily Tarheel report (from a named source) correct in its portrayal of him as "reformed"? Or is that old news from last Spring? Has he been drinking and smoking pot since then?

MORE: As to the definition of terrorism, there are many, but I'm inclined to agree with UNC student Stephen Mann

Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.

"When you think in terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said Khurram Bilal Tariq, a 22-year-old junior.

Stephen Mann, an 18-year-old freshman, said he wasn't singling out Islam with his call to label Friday's incident terrorism. He said a member of any religion who did what Taheri-azar is accused of doing should be called a terrorist.

"If you try to hurt someone in the name of a cause, that's terrorism," he said.

That would include people like Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, and, yes, Mr. Taher-azar (if he is convicted).

MORE: According to a police recording Taher-azar told a dispatcher that he wanted to "punish the government":

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A University of North Carolina graduate accused of running down nine people on campus told an emergency dispatcher he wanted to "punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world," according to a 911 recording released Monday.

IMPORTANT NOTE: By referring to Zawahiri, I do not mean to suggest that he is directly in charge of individual acts of terrorism. Rather, he is (a bit like Zerzan and others, discussed infra) a sort of philosophical inspiration:

Instead, we need to face up to the simple truth that bin Laden, Zawahiri et al do not need to organise attacks directly. They merely wait for the message they have spread around the world to inspire others. Al-Qaeda is now an idea, not an organisation.

We now have a situation where autonomous cells carry out attacks on targets and at times of their own choosing, which are then applauded by al-Qaeda leaders of global infamy but limited practical ability to execute or organise strikes. This is exactly as Zawahiri and bin Laden had hoped. This is a virtual terrorist network, not a real one.

UPDATE (03/07/06): Today's Philadelphia Inquirer (on page A7) has picked up the story, headlined "Graduate held in SUV attack cites Allah at N.C. bail hearing."

UPDATE (03/09/06): Glenn weighs in:

There's no question that this [Islamist] angle is being downplayed. But it's arguable that the papers are doing this to reduce the likelihood of copycats. This doesn't appear to have been any sort of organized attack, just a lone-wolf effort by a guy who's not too sharp. It's still terrorism, of course, of a sort -- after all, Eric Rudolph was a lone-wolf guy who wasn't too sharp, though he seems to have been considerably sharper than Taheri-azar -- but in some ways it's more like the school shootings of the 1990s than real Al Qaeda type terrorism. Hyping those shootings led to copycats, and made the killers look like martyrs to disturbed potential imitators. There's a pretty good argument that the same applies here, and that it's more responsible to address this in fairly muted tones.
If these things are philosophically inspired, the less inspiration the better.

posted by Eric on 03.06.06 at 07:48 AM


I'm not sure that it's correct to use the terrorism label on this act. It's an act of revenge; it's violent; but if we choose to define as terrorism any act that is part of the cycle of violence in the conflict between the West and Islam, then should not our own violent acts also be included in that definition?

I am concerned that the term "terrorism" is being applied increasingly to "any act that I don't like". It should be confined to murderous acts intended to frighten a population. Even then, there are problems -- would not an operation with the explicit purpose of creating "shock and awe" fit this definition?

Erasmussimo   ·  March 6, 2006 11:22 AM

I didn't say he was rejected because of his drug use. There are plenty, plenty, of frat boys who smoke marijuana. This was not your service fraternity. They rejected him because he didn't get along well, didn't fit in, and kept to himself all the time, which goes against the point of a frat.

Anonymous   ·  March 6, 2006 3:21 PM

Anon -- I appreciate the correction. What I'm especially interested in is when the marijuana and alcohol use occurred. Is The Daily Tarheel report (from a named source) correct in its portrayal of him as "reformed"? Or is that old news from last Spring? Has he been drinking and smoking pot since then?

Eras -

You don't think driving a vehicle into a crowd is a murderous act intended to frighten a population? I do.

Terrorism is defined as "...the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).

Revenge or retaliation are classic motivations of terrorists, and have been given as reasons for innumerable terrorist attacks.

Military operations conducted by governments in response to terrorism, whether you like them or not, are not terrorism. The definition you propose makes little distinction between a terrorist act and a military response to it by the victims' government. I think there's all the difference in the world.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2006 3:39 PM

OK, I can agree that, since the state has by definition a monopoly on the use of violence, and the exercise of that monopoly is considered a legitimate exercise of state power, there is in fact a significant distinction between terrorism and the use of military force.

But I have two quibbles. Terrorism is usually a planned act by an organization; this looks more like one nut case going off his rocker. If some American nut case murders a Moslem, is that terrorism?

My other concern is the black-and-white differentiation between black-hat terrorist and white-hat Americans. It's seems too facile to apply the label "terrorism" to the actions of one group and "military operations" for the actions of another group. I agree that there's a big difference between the two morally, but I am uncomfortable treating them in such black and white terms. We've killed civilians, tortured prisoners, and other nastiness. Our hats are a lot whiter than theirs, but let's not polish our apples too brightly.

Erasmussimo   ·  March 6, 2006 4:16 PM

I think you have to be careful when you attempt to define terrorism, because parsing the word takes away its strength.

Very simply, terrorism is targeting a baby carriage to get your way.

It isn't an act of violence for a cause, 'cause soldiers do that. A civiliann of some sort must be involved. It isn't accidentally killing people or even knowingly killing people as in collateral damage. It isn't even trying to get your way by causing fear, because school yard bullies do that, and that isn't terrorism because terrorism has a requirement of scale built into it.

It is targeting a baby carriage. This is one of those deals where you can't take the aesthetics out of the definition without losing the definition. You can't denote without the connotes.

Harkonnendog   ·  March 6, 2006 4:37 PM

Well, I think the IRA bomb blast which murdered Lord Mountbatten and targeted his family was a despicable act of terrorism, even though the IRA expressed "regret" for the loss of innocent civilian life. (An Irish boy was also killed.) Simply calling something a "war" (or "jihad") does not make it so.

I think that killing Danish cartoonists would be terrorism too.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2006 4:53 PM

The British press (and nearly everyone in England) had no problem calling the Mountbatten attack terrorism either.

But in 1998, they released the terrorist who did it!

Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2006 4:59 PM

Uh, a black turban is reserved for a descendant of the founder - has al Sadr taken offense?

teqjack   ·  March 6, 2006 5:55 PM

That is true for Shia, but Zawahiri is Sunni:

The difference in dress code is even more obvious among clerics. Shiite holy men wear either a black or a white turban (depending on their lineage) and a robe. Sunni clerics would never don a black turban, and the white headpieces they do wear look markedly different from the Shiite versions.


Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2006 10:12 PM

Another black turban war reference:

The black turban — a change from the white turban he has worn in past videos — is "a sign that it's time of war," said Montasser el-Zayat, an Egyptian attorney who defends Islamic radicals and who spent three years in prison with al-Zawahiri. The prophet Muhammad and his followers wore black turbans during their invasions in the Arabian Peninsula, he said.,2933,164707,00.html

Ditto Richard Clarke:

Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterror chief who is now an ABC News consultant, said the setup of Zawahiri's latest video contains possible hidden messages.

'Propaganda Video'

For one thing, Zawahiri wore a black turban, rather than the white one worn in his prior videos since 9/11. To Sunni Muslims, Clarke said, a black turban means "somebody is making jihad," or holy war.

"This is a very carefully staged propaganda video, in which things like this are supposed to have meaning," Clarke told Diane Sawyer on ABC News' "Good Morning America." "He's trying to align himself, wherever he was, with the people fighting in Iraq."

Might be trying to show solidarity with Shia, I suppose....

And yet another theory -- support for the Taliban:

The black turban like that worn by the Taliban suggests a concern to show solidarity with the rump of the movement still fighting, just about, in Afghanistan.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2006 10:20 PM

I would add that there is a difference between violence as part of a state-run military campaign to take and hold territory, establish physical control of people, or destroy enemy military assets; and violence knowingly directed against civilians with no foreseeable military/political gain.

Terrorism is hard to define, but we need a definition -- even a baised and clumsy definition is better than the nihilistic know-nothing leftist sloganeering we've been hearing since the '70s (i.e., "terrorism is the poor man's war and war is the rich man's terrorism").

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 11:42 AM

Just so everyone knows, I was misquoted in the Washington Post. My definition of terrorism in this case is any intentional violent act taken against innocent people to further a personal, religious, or political cause and to attempt to coerce a group of people through these actions.

Stephen Mann   ·  March 9, 2006 8:44 PM

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