Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ann Applebaum on Bin Laden's Recruiting Video

From today's Washington Post:
Al-Qaeda's long-term goal is to convert Americans and other Westerners to its extreme version of Islam.

Before you fall over laughing, think again. It would only take a very few such converts to do a lot of damage. The results of the Soviet Union's massive propaganda campaign on behalf of world Marxist revolution were also numerically small but at the time were considered quite effective: the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Italian Red Brigades, the Weather Underground. There are always disaffected young people -- Gadahn himself is a former fan of "death metal" rock bands -- and they're always looking for a cause. Conversion in general is increasingly common across Europe. Some 4,000 Germans were recently found to convert annually, and if only 0.1 percent of them choose the militant version of Islam, that would be enough to cause trouble.

For, as news from Germany well illustrates, there is no one quite so passionate as a recent convert. At least two of the men recently arrested and accused of plotting to bomb American interests in Germany were converts. So were Richard Reid, the failed shoe-bomber, and Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen who was suspected of planning to construct a dirty bomb.

It is legitimate to ask whether it matters what is said by a man who is no longer thought to be in control of his organization, even if he still has access to a video camera inside his cave. Yet that's precisely the point. Bin Laden will sooner or later die or be captured. But he, or someone close to him, is trying to ensure that his ideology lives on. And he, or someone else, wants it to survive in a form that will appeal to Americans and other Westerners disillusioned with their own political systems.

To put it bluntly, someone with an Irish or Hispanic name could have a better chance of slipping past the FBI, or through airport security, than someone named Mohammed. In a world in which counterintelligence and security procedures will slowly, slowly improve -- that's the future.