Al Qaeda Hostage Release, & Lantana Weed Control

The NY Times quotes Rick Brennan of RAND. “Qatar has an interest in making certain it is seen as an ally in the war on terror. And beheading Americans or Westerners is not in Qatar’s interest.” Qatar negotiated with Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, for the release of journalist Peter Curtis, who was held somewhere in Syria. According to the media, no ransom was paid.

Until the advent of ISIS, Al Nusra was perhaps the most effective Sunni opposition group in Syria. The NY Times has claimed that Qatar funds Al Nusra, and has transferred MANPADs (shoulder fired AA missiles) to them.

Although open sources on this subject are a minefield of kooks with agendas, there is perhaps one more reasonable fact: the philosophic inspirer  is Abu Musab al-Suri, described by some as the most sophisticated jihadi thinker. It seems that he is the creative author of some ideology compatible with Al Qaeda, and a motivator as well — enough for a group of fanatics to assume his teachings as their mantle.

As the West is hostile to the notion of overthrowing legitimate governments and replacing them with caliphates, the Western definition of “terror group” is more inclusive than that of the Qataris. The Qataris, on the other hand, have less concern about genuine acts of terror — although, if asked, a Qatari would probably not condone all of the acts of Al Qaeda, or even condemn. In juxtaposition with the way Qatar has made facilities available for western military projection of power, this presents a very complex picture that is probably worthy of extensive psychoanalysis. But as far as the human mind is concerned, we must remember that internal contradictions are surprisingly easy to live with. We just happen to recognize them more easily in others, and be more puzzled.

There might be a tendency to tokenize the Qataris with a blip like “actor”, and assign to them a few characteristics for simulation, such as “interests”, “activities”, and “likely response”. But actually, they are just as complex as we are, and in this area, perhaps more so. They are probably wondering, just as we are, what they can do to right the ship. They are not passive, nor are they impeded by bulk.

Here we should note that many “experts”, consultants to the West, who are still part of the decision process, declared the demise of Osama bin Laden to be the end of Al Qaeda. This was attractive because of the apparent finality, and because it is an antidote to the assertion that the West created Islamic terrorism.

We did not create the problem. A vulnerable culture was exposed to the wealth of oil. The delicate skin of Arab isolation was ripped off by cultural abrasion, exposing a culture gap of eight centuries. An ideological vacuum filled with a lantana of the spirit. Lantana is an invasive, noxious weed that kills livestock.

The experts who mistook the capitation strike for the solution are still part of the very bulky decision process that has evolved as an inferior replacement for human judgment and intuition. Paraphrasing the NY Times article by Philip Tetlock, debunker of political expertise , we mistake the process for the solution. And the “process” has become so elaborate, and so prolonged, the events of the past several years have repeatedly outrun it. It would be the stuff of jokes if it weren’t so tragic.

Now for the speculation.  Since the Qataris are closer to the problem, they may already have this intuition. They are not blameless, but as a much smaller ship, they can turn around before we even adjust the rudder. They understand that to displace lantana, one has to plant something that can stand up to it, something that itself might be quite noxious to us. Abu Musab al-Suri is such a seed, and he languishes in a Syrian jail. As an ideological fountainhead, he may offer the prospect of a less pathogenic organism than ISIS.

This kind of action could not pass our decision process. But while we unaccept, the world turns. In the past, other unseemly acts have devolved to proxies. But the Qataris are not proxies.

The lantana metaphor, of the need for an ecological approach to the human spirit, may actually be more useful than the typical literary analogy. The Cold War was a cool, quiet game of chess. Now we’re all farmers. It’s time to get dirty and sweaty.