“Al Qaeda is motivated more by modern economics and politics than by religion”.
Al Qaeda is a term, a name, a reference, we hear constantly in the media. Most people in the West associate it with a terrorist organization of militant Islamic fundamentalists, who carry out evil acts of violence on innocent western civilians (Burke, 2004). But what is really Al Qaeda and what drives it? It is important to know ones enemy, but even today most people in the West do not understand what this movement is about (Burke, 2004). This essay will demonstrate that although on the surface Al Qaeda might seem to be motivated by Islam, the religion is in fact only a symbol through which frustrations with political and economic inequality between the dominant attitude of the West and the Islamic world is released.
To make the connection more obvious, firstly one must understand what Al Qaeda is. The U.S and the Western world have long perceived it in terms that are understandable to them- as an organization (Burke, 2004). According to this view there is hierarchy, a chain of command, it works like a mechanism and therefore if you take out all the high command, it will seize to exist. However, this view is inaccurate, Al Qaeda is more an ideology than it is an organization (Burke, 2004). The main principle and vision underlying Al Qaeda is based on vanguard individuals fighting against oppressors and by that setting an example to the whole of Islamic world, awakening its collective consciousness (Burke, 2004). Furthermore, even though its main philanthropist Osama Bin Laden sis manage to organize some militant groups in Afghanistan he never organized anything on wide global scale on which Al Qaeda is perceived to be on (Burke, 2004). In fact, these militant groups that Bin Laden managed to organize are long gone, yet “Al Qaedaism” still exist and is growing (Burke, 2004). It thus is immaterial whether bin Laden and his closest associates are dead or alive because the idea and their example continue to provide inspiration to millions of people. This internationalist radical ideology based on anti-Western, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment is close to many people all over the world, and thus many current militant groups using the name of Al Qaeda have actually no direct relation to Bin Laden (Burke, 2004). Therefore, Al Qaeda should not be seen as an organization but as an organism, a collective consciousness.
What would it take to awaken this collective consciousness? The main objective of the Islamic militants contrary to the popular belief is not to destroy the West for the sakes of destroying it but to fight back its conquest (Burke, 2004). The relationship between Islam and the West has been a difficult one through out history; the situation has not much changed. Thus, the question of what is the driving force behind Al Qaeda can be answered through examining of this difficult relationship between the two.
Firstly, economic inequalities in the world provide a fertile ground for Al Qaeda. This is so because while globalization unites us on technological and media level, it also divides us using one part of the world to serve other. In this world of globalization, many do not have the luxuries the West takes for granted, for many, stability is a dream never achieved. In a world were so much uncertainty prevails individuals seek meaning and the sense of belonging. There is a western misconception that the militants reject modern ideas. On the contrary, they had no issue with using modern tools in their struggle. In fact, on the level of ideology they use same tactics as leftist movements, which uses unfairness of conditions and treatment that third world countries have to take, on both economic and political levels (Burke, 2004).
Furthermore, today’s political inequalities contribute further to Al Qaeda’s agenda. Current political system separates those who have the power and those who do not (Bauman, 2001). The later are disempowered, treaded worse when they move around outside their hoe country, resented when they try to change the situation and strive for recognition (Bauman, 2001). It is amplified by the refusal of the West to tolerate views and ideologies other than their own, constantly interfering in affairs of those who cannot oppose them. Israel and Palestine, is most vivid but by no means the only conflict, which strikes a sentiment with the Islamic world. The unconditional support of the U.S. to Israel and their branding of Palestinians as rebels is seen as a humiliation by many Muslims around the world. It is perceived collectively, and contributes strongly to inspiring militant struggle, because it is seen as a direct attack on Islamic world. Bauman (2001) points out that tolerance would diminish the importance of identity; therefore it is logical to believe that this intolerance would ignite it.
From examining the above discussion it is possible to see that the underlying economic and political inequalities lead to resistance. In such uncertain climate some cultural markers will be invested with heightened meaning in order to tolerate hard working and living conditions along with miserable incomes and lack of hope for an political and cultural involvement (Wieviorka, 2004). In case of Al Qaeda, religion is such symbol that allows participation in the world, and gives meaning to the people otherwise excluded and made irrelevant.
Therefore in conclusion while religion is perceived by many to be the obvious motivation of Al Qaeda, it is in fact the deeper underlying economic and political instability that turn people to the extremist world view, making it the only way to find reason and goal in life for many and be able to fight back.
Bauman, Zygmunt 'The Great War of Recognition' Theory, Culture and Society, 18(2 & 3), 2001
Burke, Jason 'al Qaeda', in Foreign Policy, No.142 May/June 2004.
Wieviorka, M 'The Making of Differences' International Sociology, Vol. 19 No. 3 2004, pp.281-297.