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How al-Qaida won the West

Public Policy

With the 9/11 anniversary upon us, we can pat ourselves on the back. Osama bin Laden was killed seven years ago, and his beloved creation, al-Qaida, is a spent force — thoroughly defeated in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and on the run in Yemen and Somalia. Legions of other al-Qaida leaders have been killed and imprisoned while its titular head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, hides out in caves in the tribal territories of Pakistan. That’s assuming he is even alive. The organization has not committed a spectacular terrorist attack in years.

Al-Qaida had several messages for the West throughout its campaign of terror. One was that Muslims did not belong in the West because of their vastly different cultural and religious values, and that a civilizational clash was inevitable. Two, democracy was a false hope that did not truly give freedom and obscured God’s word on Earth. And three, that Western societies were paper tigers that could be terrorized into submission and forced to retreat from their mission to spread freedom and liberty the world over.

In light of this, one has to question whether we have lost the war of ideas to al-Qaida. Are we the ones who actually are in retreat? Have we conceded that our uniquely Western belief that there is a universal system of values that applies the world over is null and void? Have we instead bought into al-Qaida’s belief that the globe is really just a conglomeration of mutually incomprehensible and stovepiped civilizations?

From my vantage point — as a former intelligence analyst who studied terrorist organizations for nearly a decade and who has traveled the world as well as the vast breadth of my country — I have to bluntly state that we are on an exorable march toward adopting al-Qaida’s own value systems. We just don’t realize it.

Politicians, conservative activists and pundits have fearfully pointed at their Muslim populations and said they do not belong here, validating al-Qaida’s point of view. This has not made us safer. The only thing this has accomplished is it has made young Muslims more susceptible to Islamic extremism. A self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

Governments and their populations around the Western world have cast aspersions on their democratic systems and the institutions that preserve them. In Donald Trump’s America, insults are regularly hurled at the free press with cries of “fake news” and “enemy of the people,” despite the fact there is no other institution better able to keep our politicians accountable. In Hungry, a former dissident leader has turned into a budding dictator determined to build a one-party state. And in Italy, the civilian population regularly denounces their elected leaders as cheats who are only focused on lining their pockets. As if a neo-Mussolini is the better alternative.

We are also a more fearful culture. Across the Western world, politicians talk with foreboding about coming technological and global change. Here in America, we are increasingly segregating ourselves, not by race or class, but by our political affiliations. We can barely even muster shelter for those who are fleeing genuine persecution and, yes, terrorism, in their homelands.

So did we win? Did we lose? Al-Qaida, as a threat to our lives, is largely gone. But what has it left behind? Did it leave behind its ideas of how our lives should be ordered and how the West and democracy are inherently weak? Did our firepower win but our ideas lose? Perhaps that’s a conversation worth having at this point in our history. Seventeen years after 9/11, I think we have lost our soul.

John C. Sweda is a former CIA analyst and is a small business owner in New Mexico.


18 Comments on "How al-Qaida won the West"

  1. dave thompson on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 11:25 am 

    Terrorism is all made up bull to fuel the military industrial complex and the US police state to steel the rights of the people.

  2. Cloggie on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 11:55 am 

    Der Spiegel:America’s failure, the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan

  3. Boat on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 12:12 pm 


    Russia and China are more into grabbing land using their militaries. The US like the Chinese and many other countries are fighting a sect of Muslim Religion. Keeping extremism at bay is what’s going on in Afghanistan.

  4. Boat on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 12:17 pm 

    The idea of winning and losing misses the scope and type of battle going on. Your playing ignorant word games because your far right ideology is a similar problem.

  5. onlooker on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 12:37 pm 

    By now,one would think even the most uninformed would know that ISIS, Al’Queda etc. are just surrogates for the US doing basically their bidding. What extremists they’re are, will be furthering the agenda of the US empire, to create chaos in the ME, then in the vacuum from this chaos, swoop in to get the ruling structures, infrastructure and ultimately the resources of that region. Same as its always has been. Except now pushback is happening.

  6. Davy on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 1:30 pm 

    “Al’Queda etc. are just surrogates for the US doing basically their bidding”

    A little more complicated than that, onlooker. It has been a marriage of convenience.

    “create chaos in the ME, then in the vacuum from this chaos, swoop in to get the ruling structures”

    Overly dramatic and colorful verbiage that demonstrates your emotional attachments.

  7. onlooker on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 1:40 pm 

    Emotional attachments? Yes to my family and friends. Not to some abstract notion we call a country or Govt. And certainly not to people who wage War on others for their own venal interests and others who profit being part of the ruling structure that has so let down the well intentioned aspirations of so many. And I just do not mean the US Govt rulers but every other Govt and the big money people bestriding the world and happy to nurture an unjust world order for their own benefit.

  8. Cloggie on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 2:11 pm 

    “Russia and China are more into grabbing land using their militaries. ”

    Russia only “grabbed” land that wanted to be “grabbed”, exactly as the Gernans did until 1939.

    America doesn’t grab land indeed, instead it expands its empire by organizing regime change, eighter by invading these countries on a pretext or by organizing a proxy war. The US is very good at regime change but not at instally a friendly regime afterwards.

  9. Davy on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 2:20 pm 

    How about the truth, onlooker. You are upset which is understandable but allowing that anger to cloud a complicated messy picture even more does nothing for the truth.

  10. Plantagenet on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 3:55 pm 

    How can someone write an essay claiming Al Qaida and its Islamist ideology are dead without mentioning the Islamic State and the ongoing war in Syria?

    Could it be this person hasn’t read a newspaper since bin Laden was killed? Doesn’t he know that where Al Qaida is dead in Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. — it has been replaced by Islamic State?



  11. deadly on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 7:34 pm 

    Remember when Theo Van Gogh had two cutlasses driven to the hilt into his lungs?

    Those people from the Middle East know how to have fun.

    Over at Save My Sweden, you can get a glimpse of what is really going on.

  12. Eyes Wide Open on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 7:48 pm 

    Look at how many US soldiers committed suicide while deployed – yeah, looks like losing to me.

  13. Theedrich on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 11:13 pm 

    America is absorbed in contemplating its navel.   Thus is it going to lose the Afghan war (not least by producing immense corruption — and opium production — there through massive financial aid to top-level criminals, according to the SIGAR), being more chaos to Yemen and Syria, and lose more lives and treasure in supporting IsItReal and Araby.  Never mind driving millions of Negroid and Mohammedan sludge into Merkel’s Europe.

    Stateside, the idea that orchestrating a Putsch against Trump and installing some socialist queenie of the Demonic Party is going to bring about a millennium is typical U.S. fantasy.  Russian and Chinese efforts are concentrated on what matters:  military and technological superiority.  The Yankee elites have no idea of what it means to lose a war, even if by being militarily outclassed without actual battle.  But after Afghanistan falls, the rest of the world will recognize the “indispensable nation” as an arrogant has-been, good only for vultures to scavenge what the globalists have not already carved out for themselves.

  14. Theedrich on Sun, 9th Sep 2018 11:18 pm 

    “bring,” not “being.”

  15. fmr-paultard on Mon, 10th Sep 2018 8:08 am 

    master race the edrich, thank you for confirming my assertion that our adversaries are adhereing to shogun policy whihc failed for NK. they do this while deficating in open cespits. when are you moving there? i’ll be here enjoying my supertards’ safe electricity and indoors plumbing thanks

  16. DerHundistLos on Mon, 10th Sep 2018 9:51 am 


    Thanks for posting a fascinating Der Spiegel article. Keep ’em coming.

  17. Boat on Mon, 10th Sep 2018 5:00 pm 


    The battle will go on for decades. The life style of the so called winners seems guaranteed short.

  18. joe on Tue, 11th Sep 2018 11:20 am 

    Yeah, what to say? Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, neoconservatives, etc. They promised a ‘multigenerational’ war. We aren’t even through the first gen and there’s more muslims in the west than ever. The west is fucked because it’s wealthy, decadent and atheist. Islam is the first two only. We killed Jesus the Massiah as the one who was raised up from the dead and can save us from evil. Now we will embrace Him as the slayer of Dijal, in the muslim Armageddon. The west will loose because Saudi Arabia pays western political figures to destroy the west.

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