Is al Qaeda racist?

Those familiar with the inner workings of jihadi circles will know that racism is in fact prevalent within al Qaeda’s ranks. But that makes the administration’s new line of rhetorical attack against the terrorist group — that it shows a disregard for African life — no less absurd. Jake Tapper reports:

In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist. Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself. They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.” … Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.”

To begin with, the claim that al Qaeda is racist because of its willingness to kill Africans ignores the fact that the terrorist group has shown a real lack of regard for the value of life of virtually every ethnic group and nationality on the planet. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) maintained by the University of Maryland’s START program attributes 105 terrorist incidents to al Qaeda through the end of 2008. These attacks struck Afghanistan (31 incidents), France, Great Britain, Indonesia, Iraq (24 incidents), Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan (18 incidents), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, the U.S., the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Yemen. This GTD list does not include attacks carried out by al Qaeda affiliates, nor does it include foiled plots, or the country list would be far longer. But one common thread that the various attacks have in common is the “willingness to sacrifice innocent life to reach their targets” and to “kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains”; in no way can it be said that al Qaeda is uniquely dismissive of the value of African life. (As a side note, the execution of al Qaeda’s Iraq campaign was in fact the product of unique bigotry. However, this too was not the result of racism but rather the group’s religious animus against the Shia, whom Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called “the most evil of mankind … the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.”)

It is doubly absurd to argue that al Shabaab is racist, since it is a Somali-led organization. Though it is true that virtually all of Shabaab’s brutality has been inflicted upon Africans, this is a matter of geography: when an insurgency is based in Africa, it is a certainty that the vast majority of its victims will be Africans.

Many strong lines of criticism can, of course, be directed at al Qaeda. I need not elaborate on the fact that the organization is brutal, reprehensible, imperialistic, and totalitarian. But the notion that its attacks are uniquely anti-African is spurious, and one hopes the administration will soon abandon this disingenuous claim.

UPDATE, 1:00 P.M.: One thing that I noted via Twitter this morning is worth reiterating here: that the administration’s “al Qaeda is racist” comments seem uniquely American in outlook. That is, one unstated assumption underlying these remarks is that being racists might be worse than being mass murderers.

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  • alexanderrcm says:

    Only in Obamaland can one think and say the stupidist things. I think Obama is racist. His adminstration has shown numerous times that he/they won’t prosecute any black groups accused of racial crimes (even when the charge is brought by his/their own DOJ). Right now our DOJ is actually the DOI (Department of Injustice). This appears to be a classic case of self projection.

  • Charu says:

    AQ is indeed racist; it is an Arab colonial organization with Saudi Arabians/Yemeni at the top of the pyramid, followed closely by Egyptians and other Arabs, and with “white” Muslims like Bosnians and Chechens next, and finally the darker-skinned converts from the region spanning AfPakistan and Indonesia (and the Uighurs) just above the base comprising of Africans. All converts are expected to acknowledge Arab superiority, and to sublimate their pre-colonized culture to that of Arabia. This is why Pakistan’s history begins with the Arab invasion of Sindh, or why the Sudan government commits genocide in Darfur, or why slavery still exists in the Gulf states like Dubai. There were reports of dissension among the AQ ranks between the Arabs and the Afghans even during the war against the Soviets.

  • DVA says:

    I give Obama a little more credit than you; I think he’s just tayloring his message to a society where racial divisions figured prominently into recent history (this is the *South African* Broadcasting Corporation). Think about it: he’s uniquely positioned as a black world leader to tell Africans that al Qaeda might pose as some sort of anti-imperialist hero-of-the-third-world thing, and try to cast its support for, e.g. Shabab in terms of supporting black Africa against the Uncle Tom regime in Ethiopia, but they’re basically just looking for cannon fodder to wear the suicide vests, and stoking civil wars that are costing black lives.
    Not his best propaganda work, but if a few more Africans hear it and look askance at the AQIM or the Shabab, I don’t see a problem here.

  • fuzair says:

    Just another example of American silliness; maybe a tad less dumb than Bush’s “they hate us because of our freedoms.”
    Remember, and this holds true of all people actually, that the mark of a barbarian is to think that the customs of your tribe are the laws of nature. 😉
    Racism, the most ‘natural’ thing in the world is to distrust those that are ‘different’ from you, is not a particularly nice trait but in most places of the world it is not a heinous offense as it is in the US.

  • rational enquirer says:

    Bush was right on when he said “they hate us because of our freedoms.” They think it’s a good idea to murder a crowd of civilians for watching a soccer game.
    The only freedom they respect is their own barbarity.

  • mike says:

    It was the departing Bush DOJ that decided not to press charges in the NBP case, and they did so because achieving a conviction would be nearly impossible, since not one voter claimed to have been intimidated by them.
    But yeah, other than that, the Obama White House is definitely out to get Whitey…

  • Graham says:



Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram