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Victoria Pynchon

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Al Qaeda: Understanding the Bean-Counter Next Door

(pictured:  papyrus scroll)

It was with more than a little relief that I read today's L.A. Times article on Al Queda's internal organizational memoranda -- Penalty for Crossing an Al Qaeda Boss?  A Nasty Memo.

They are, after all, not so different from us as people, however far their ideologies radically depart from our own.  And if they are not so different from us, we might be able to negotiate -- or at least have a conversation with --them -- rather than, say, torture their members to obtain the information we seek.   

Why?  Because conversation reveals interests which can then be served, traded, haggled over, bargained for and, for the peace-niks among us, actually understood. (See Negotiating with Terrorists here).

As the Times article reports this morning, Mohammed Atef, who died in the raid on Osama bin Laden's Afghan refuge in 2001, wrote many memos to the militants under his command, including one that accused a member of "misappropriating cash, a car, sick leave, research papers and an air conditioner during 'an austerity situation' for the network [and] demanded a detailed letter of explanation."  As Atef wrote: 

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family's trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

The Times reports that a study of the captured documents issued by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point paints a

picture of internal strife that . . . highlights not only Al Qaeda's past failures but also -- and more importantly -- . . . offers insight into its present weaknesses[.] Al Qaeda today is beset by challenges that surfaced in leadership disputes at the beginning of the organization's history.

The documents reveal Al Qaeda as having an "egalitarian veneer" that   

coexisted with the bureaucratic mentality of the chiefs, mostly Egyptians with experience in the military and highly structured extremist groups.

"They may have imposed the blindingly obdurate nature of Egyptian bureaucracy," said a senior British anti-terrorism official who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "You see that in the retirement packages they offered, the lists of members in Iraq, the insecure attitude about their membership, the rifts among leaders and factions."

For the full Times article click here.

Comments (4)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Christopher Annunziata - April 18, 2008 9:08 AM

You are not actually suggesting that radical Islamic terrorists can be reasoned and/or negotiated with, are you?

Vickie - April 18, 2008 10:34 AM


What I am suggesting for starters is that some people in these movements would respond better and
more accurately with conversation than by way of torture.

The problem with a question like - can "they" be reasoned with - is that I genuinely do not know who "they" are. If the atrocities of the 20th century taught us anything it is that we are all capable of committing atrocities.

Giving the "enemy" a human face -- which is what these Al Qaeda memos do -- is the first step necessary to ensure that we do not become monstrous in response to our fear of an enemy incapable of reason or ordinary human feeling.


Noa Zanolli - April 23, 2008 8:23 AM

Victoria-I am (as a mediator)convinced that one needs to talk with enemies..I wrote a just (self)-published booklet--though "crazy" and a bit of a satire--to bring my message through: A Conversation between President Bush and
Osama bin Laden. I thought you may be interested to read it, and I am sending you the information below.
Greetings, NZ

I Have a Dream: A Conversation between President George W. Bush and Sheikh Osama bin Laden

Book Description

Framed in a night dream—all is possible in a dream—President George W. Bush and Sheikh Osama bin Laden sit down and talk like two human beings. In their conversation they discover that they have quite a bit in common. At the end they decide to work together to bring justice to the world. The fictitious conversation, structured as if professionally facilitated, advances a possibility, a vision. Its aim is to provoke and to trigger something in the minds of people who grapple with the question: What could we do other than to resort to war, terror, and violence because of ideological differences? How can we construct a new reality-peacefully? The dialogue revolves around one of the most pressing and serious issues of our times. Yet, the material is presented as a satire. The text is addressed to persons interested in politics, conflict management, and peacebuilding. It can well be used as a teaching tool. It will also contribute to many spirited conversations.

Ordering Information

The title is listed at www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-50299-7

It can also be ordered at: www.amazon.com (www.amazon.com/Have-Dream-Conversation-between-President/dp/0595502997/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208881762&sr=1-1)

and at Barnes & Noble www.barnesandnoble.com (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ean=9780595502998):

Title: I have a Dream: A Conversation between President George W. Bush and Sheikh Osama bin Laden

Publisher: iUniverse

Price: USD 8.95 (Paperback); USD 6.00 (eBook)

Published: April 2008; Pages: 60

ISBN: 978-0-595-50299-8 (Paperback)

ISBN: 978-0-595-61455-4 (eBook)

International orders (non U.S. orders) call: 00-1-402-323-7800

support.minilotomate.com - May 4, 2013 11:12 PM

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