Thursday, September 11, 2008 9/11/08-Recruiting for Al Qaeda

In today's encore excerpt--Abdullah Azzam recruits teenagers and young men for Al Qaeda's battles in Afghanistan during the mid-1980s, taking full advantage of their vulnerability born of oppression and deprivation:

"It was death, not victory in Afghanistan, that summoned many young Arabs to Peshawar. Martyrdom was the product that Azzam sold in books, tracts, videos and cassette tapes that circulated in mosques and Arabic language book-stores. ... He told stories of the mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handedly. He claimed that some of the brave warriors had been run over by tanks but survived; others were shot, but the bullets failed to penetrate. If death came, it was even more miraculous. ... Bodies of martyrs uncovered after a year in the grave still smelled sweet and their blood continued to flow....

"The lure of an illustrious and meaningful death was especially powerful in cases where the pleasures and rewards of life were crushed by government oppression and economic deprivation. From Iraq to Morocco, Arab governments had stifled freedom and signally failed to create wealth at the very time when democracy and personal income were sharply climbing in virtually all other parts of the globe. Saudi Arabia, the richest of the lot, was such a notoriously unproductive country that the extraordinary abundance of petroleum had failed to generate any other significant source of income; indeed, if one subtracted the oil revenue of the Gulf countries, 260 million Arabs exported less than 5 million Finns. Radicalism usually prospers in the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities. This is especially true where the population is young, idle, and bored; where the art is impoverished; where entertainment--movies, theater, music--is policed or absent altogether; and where young men are set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of women. Adult illiteracy remains the norm in many Arab countries. Unemployment was among the highest in the developing world. Anger, resentment and humiliation spurred young Arabs to search for dramatic remedies.

"Martyrdom promised such young men an ideal alternative to a life that was so sparing in its rewards. ... And for those young men who came from cultures where women are shuttered away and rendered unattainable for someone without prospects, martyrdom offered the conjugal pleasures of seventy-two virgins ..."

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, Knopf, 2006, pp. 106-107.


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