Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Back to square one

The Boston bombing will complicate Obama’s strategy of developing pragmatic ties with Arab Spring Islamist governments, even though the perpetrators are unknown, writes Ezzat Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

For 12 years, the United States have been expecting another 11 September-like attack on American soil. Thus, the Boston marathon explosions evoked fears the US general public and US agencies worked hard to contain. A new phase of the war on terror has started, and President Barack Obama lost the edge of being the president who managed to keep the domestic front safe from terrorist groups.

“In a complex world of rapid geopolitical change, anger, disenfranchised groups and largely open borders, a likely terrorist bombing in Boston should not in and of itself be surprising. Rather, the length of time that Americans have not faced a major foreign-inspired or domestic terrorist event on their shores is perhaps more remarkable,” STRATFOR, the intelligence analysis firm, said.

Most analysts in the US acknowledge it is too early to tell who is responsible for the Boston carnage. But despite the fact that the US government is cautious not to jump to conclusions, the Federal Bureau of Investigations announced that there would be “a worldwide investigation”.

The New America Foundation and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School have examined cases of homegrown jihadist and non-jihadist terrorism in the United States since 11 September 2001, amassing significant statistics. First, at least 380 people were indicted on terrorism-related charges in the United States between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2012. Second, 207 of those people are identified as “jihadist” terrorists, and subscribe broadly to the ideology of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda. Third, 174 of those people are “non-jihadist” terrorists, who subscribe to violent, radical interpretations of one of the following ideologies: rightwing, leftwing, animal rights activism, environmental activism or anarchism.

In the wake of the Boston marathon attack, some US reports make reference to Abu Musaab Al-Suri, a leading Al-Qaeda ideologue, who advised fellow jihadists in America to “include sports events in their list of prospective terror targets”. Al-Suri wrote for the online magazine of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and listed what he called “the most important enemy targets”, insisting that civilians should be targeted “when responding to a brutal practice carried out by America and her allied forces”.

In his address to the nation following the explosion, President Obama warned against the dangers of rash judgements: “We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake: we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this. We’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.”

Almost certainly, Arab and Muslim communities all over the United States will come under suspicion because of the recent attack. In one of the first incidents, an American Airlines flight bound to Chicago was brought back to the gate because there were two men on the plane — not sitting next to each other — speaking Arabic. Security escorted both men off the plane.

The Boston attack comes at a critical time for the Obama administration in the aftermath of the so-called “Arab Spring”. After popular uprisings, mainstream Islamist groups have risen to power, allowing more room in turn for more radical interpretations of political Islam to enter the public debate. Against internal criticism, the White House has developed relationship with mainstream Islamists — including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — based on a nascent strategy that attempts to balance pragmatic US interests with recognition of electoral and referenda results. Many, meanwhile, on the political right are worried that Islamists do not share democratic rights aspirations.

The Obama administration has made up its mind to develop relations with political Islamic forces to keep a foothold in the Arab world for the pursuit of US interests. Tension with new Islamist powers in the Middle East would be a major concern for both the administration and Islamist forces, calling into question on of the foundations of the new working relationship: the ability of new Islamic governments to combat and check terrorism based on influence and moral weight. The Boston explosions surely make it tougher for Obama to develop strategic relationships with Islamists in power in Egypt and other Arab nations, and might complicate other regional issues, including US involvement in Syria and US drones used against terrorists in the Middle East and Central Asia.

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