Sitting on the dusty flightline at Forward Op erating Base Lagman in the Afghan hinterlands, what could make better leisure reading than the November issue of Inspire—the English-language magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?
The lavishly illustrated, 23-page PDF, is a “special issue” devoted to the attempted toner-cartridge bombings via UPS deliveries from Yemen. Besides a page taunting Yemen’s president, the issue focuses on how the explosives were prepared, how difficult they are to detect and how economically the plot was accomplished.
Of course, none of the bombs mailed to out-of-date addresses for Chicago synagogues actually made it anywhere near Chicago.
Inspire explains the elaborate allusions to Crusader history behind the fake names on the labels (“Reynald Krak” and “Diego Diaz”). The bombmakers even dropped a copy of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” in one of the packages.
This self-congratulatory spiel gets at just what is wrong with the general jihadi enterprise, and even more broadly, with much of the Islamic world. There is a combination, odd to Western eyes, of a veneer of sophistication about how Western society works, along with profound misunderstandings that lead to dysfunction.
First, someone who had spent some time in the West and kept his eyes open would know that packages to synagogues are apt to get more attention than those sent to most offices or private addresses. Second, the names don’t jibe with the addresses. “Abe Cohen,” yes; “Diego Diaz,” try again.
Finally, and most interestingly, the time spent on masturbatory pursuits like selecting a Dickens novel for the package might have been better put to work ensuring the scheme actually worked.
But this method of operating is typical of the inward-turning, self-involved culture of jihadis—and more broadly, the Islamic world. Perhaps it explains why there has been no successful attack on the American homeland since 9/11. Plotters are too busy nursing grievances from the Crusades to get the details right.
The Inspire writers also view Western economies as a zero-sum game. The magazine says that the toner plot “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage. A $4,200 operation will cost our enemy billions of dollars.”
First off, the sum of $4,200 is probably a gross underestimate, made possible only by counting at zero the labor rate of the plotters. If they’re the geniuses they seem to think they are, they could have been earning $4,000 a week or so apiece in some high-tech industry rather than filling toner cartridges with PETN.
Second, even rounding down the hysterical “billions” to “millions,” the authors forget that new screening and security measures also provide work. Ultimately they spur innovations, not only in security but probably in related fields. Detecting chemicals more precisely is a useful technology to hone.
What’s tragic about the culture Inspire reveals is the sheer waste of human ingenuity and effort. The cleverness that went into the toner plot isn’t of the level, say, of inventing a new software program or chemical process, but it’s still impressive. Have the plotters ever thought about using their skills to start new businesses in the Arab world’s slagging economies?
In Israel—second only to the United States in number of patents granted each year, and with an economy larger than all the Arab states combined—the plotters would be mulling an IPO and fantasizing about the uses to which they would put their windfall. A boat, even a plane, a new wing of the hospital with Dad’s name on it—or maybe just sink the proceeds back into the business, like the folks at Facebook.
But the culture of resentment that cradled al Qaeda is turned fatally in on itself.
Here in dirt-poor Zabul—a historic bastion of Taliban support, where perhaps 1 percent of the male population is literate, where the last culturally important native son, the poet Sheikh Mati, has been dead 700 years—the bankruptcy of fundamentalist Islam is glaringly clear. And we truly have a lot to be thankful for, in being born Americans, with the culture that entails.