Liberia: Why a Terrorist Command Post Is a Bad Idea

By Jefferson F Cooper

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 9, 2007


President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia invited the United States to build its Africa’s terrorist command center in Liberia to deter alleged terrorist organizations from operating in Africa. The oral invitation was made at the U S Embassy in Liberia’s capital Monrovia during America’s 225th Independence celebrations on July 4th..

Like that country auditor John Mulu’s remarks that the Sirleaf’s government is three times more corrupt than its predecessor, an invitation extended by the president to the U S to built a terrorist command post in Liberia has drawn firestorm from many Liberians with knowledge in international politics.

Some argued that terrorism has become a new reason for the United States to reinforce domination and exploitation of resources of weaker nations. United States foreign policy is rooted in its primacy - the notion that United States must use its overwhelming military power to command compliance from other countries. Thus if Liberia will serve as a command post for terrorist activities in Africa, it will do so not by its choice but rather by coercion – although Madam Sirleaf would have us believe otherwise. Whatever the case will be, Liberia must remember that an overt alliance with the United States on this so-called war on terror has far reaching political and economic ramifications especially for a country like Liberia.

The war between the Islamist Al Qaeda and United States is a revolution. Political science tells us that the first prerequisite for a revolution is the presence of subjective conditions - social inequalities, corruption, dictatorship, control of national resources by few etc. Al Qaeda claims these are the conditions it seeks to eradicate. It hopes to realize these by replacing secular governments in the Muslim countries with Shariah laws as in the Sudan and Iran. Whether this strategy is right or not is open to debate. The point is that historically force has been the only means of bringing about desired ends. Allied Forces use of unparallel force against Hitler’s Germany and Japan during World War II is a classic case point: Americans use of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 that killed more than 70,000 Japanese civilians was in response to Japan’s surprise attack of December 7, 1941 on Pearl Harbor that killed more 3,000 U S servicemen.

The September 11 2001 terror attack on the United States was an act of war and an unjust war as far as the civilian targets were concerned. But it was also a change in strategy by Islamists predicated on the prevailing Islamic belief that Muslims who challenge secular governments, especially the United States and those long discredited by decades of corruption, political oppression and economic meltdown as were the case in Egypt and other Muslim countries are seen as legitimate leaders of the global Muslim community. That belief and a gradual loss of support among locals for Islamists in the Arab world due to violent murders historically associated with the Brotherhood of Egypt formed the central belief of Al Qaeda. In this way, Al Qaeda’s new strategy moved from attacking the ‘near enemy’ or secular governments in the Muslim world to the ‘far enemy,’ or the United States according to terrorism experts.

If America cannot find the key leaders of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there is little chance that building a command center in Africa especially Liberia to coordinate terrorism activities would change the equation. Perhaps the central question Liberians in particular should be concerned with is what does their country have to show as a result of 160 years of dealing with America? When did Liberia first produce a cooking pot or a car tire? Isn’t the Liberia home to the world largest rubber plantation, Firestone? How about LAMCO? My point here is that America is not interested in the welfare of Liberia unless the national security of America is in imminent danger. President Sirleaf knows this. America only takes care of its own. It is ludicrous therefore for Sirleaf to say that Africom will be an asset to Liberia.

How many Liberians knew that former President Charles Taylor now accused of war crimes and standing trial in the Heague remained on the U S Defense Department pay roll until he was forced out for fear that he might become an African Osama bin Laden? Has any one bothered to ask why the U S waited for good 14 years before it acted to end the Liberian civil war? What is the real connection between 9/11 and Taylor removal from power? Interestingly enough too, The 9/11 Commission Report that investigated the terrorist attack upon the United States found no connection between Al Qaeda and the alleged terrorist activities in West Africa – something Taylor was linked to.

Since African governments appear to be dancing to America’s primacy ideals of foreign policy at the expense of misleading their people, this piece attempts to throw light on Al Qaeda followed by an overview of the organization as a non state actor. The article then discusses what moved Al Qaeda to attack the United States on 9/11/2001. The piece ends with a look at Al Qaeda’s support within the Muslim world and factors that still motivate individual Muslims to support Al Qaeda and its affiliate movements. I hasten to say that it is not an attempt to cast Al Qaeda as a good or bad organization but simply an effort to increase or create political knowledge in global current affairs especially among Liberians.

Revolutionary theorists contend that revolutions do not occur without objective and subjective conditions. Historically these objective and subjective conditions have existed long enough in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia just to name a few under dictatorial regimes that paved the way for the emergence of radical fundamentalism leading to the (1) emergence of Al Qaeda and (2) the 9/11 attack on the United States. Thus, the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are direct result of the 9/11 attack. Long before this sad chapter in the U S history, United States foreign policy had been one that supported brutal dictators in developing countries Liberia included covertly overthrew regimes that did not agree with U S position. Arab countries cited above were especially impacted by this policy during the Cold War. Decades of political oppression, military defeats as was the case in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, secular nationalism and economic meltdown in these countries forced Muslims to respond to demands by Islamist movements like Al Qaeda and Hamas to demand reform so that the common citizens can benefit from their governments.

Although there is a religious element running through Al Qaeda, it is dangerous to use religion in understanding the true nature and character of Al Qaeda. “The key to understanding Al Qaeda does not lie in religion but rather in politics,” Fawaz Gerges, an expert in Middle Eastern Studies said in his recent book, Journey of the Jihadist (2006). Lawrence Wright, the author of The Looming Tower (2006) argued that the defeat of Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Egypt, the lost of their land, and armies at the hands of Israel in the 1967 war birthed a jihadist “revolution.” Muslims in the Middle East had lost faith in their secular governments (32-8). The lost of faith and confidence in the secular Muslim governments in the Middle East due in part to corruption and Communist Russia’s role heightened social inequalities and injustices among ordinary the people.

A 13-nation Pew Global Attitude Survey (2006) found that both Westerners and Muslims agreed that Muslim nations need more economic power. This research supports the Islamists’ charge that part of the problem fueling radical movements is the support of corrupt secular governments by the United States. In addition there is ample literature in political science suggesting that United States has openly sought to impose Western democracy on the Muslim world. The Islamists have tried at various historical points to resist western culture. Among these are the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat by the Egyptian Brotherhood in 1981, the Soviet’s defeat in Afghanistan in the hands of Arab fighters, the 1993 World Trade attack, the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, and the September 11 2001 attacks – these events reinforced Al Qaeda as a revolutionary force. This brings us to the basic tenets of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda operates on four central beliefs, according to the Institute for Foreign Policies Analysis. Foremost among these is the belief that jihad is just, moral, dutiful and a responsibility of every true Muslim. This jihad must be against United States, Israel and those that identify with them because these two nations constitute and represent a threat to Islam, its people and values. They therefore must be destroyed at any cost to liberate the Muslim lands from the infidels. Al Qaeda followers believe that the continuous United States military presence in Saudi Arabia since the end of first Gulf War in 1990 is an affront to Islam and that it is the duty of all Muslims to fight until US forces vacate Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites of Islam. This call by Al Qaeda, for Muslims to see to it that American soldiers leave the birth place of Islam has been most effective because it resonates with millions of Muslims around the world. But this ideology was not birth by Al Qaeda. It was birthed by the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt, in the 1950s.

All Islamists, including Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri and their foot soldiers were influenced by the writings and teaching of Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb, whose radical ideas birthed the “formation of the nucleus” of the modern Islamic jihad movements. Qutb loathed secular Arab nationalism, democratic values, particularly capitalism, which he believed were up to corrupt and eventually destroy Islam. To Sayyid Qutb, the only way to protect Islam from “moral decadence” was instituting Sharia laws or Islamic governments like the ones in Iran and the Sudan in all Muslim countries.

The second central belief of Al-Qaeda is that the organization seeks a global Muslim community known as the ummah. This Muslim community will control all Arab oil resources and bring all Muslims into a single political force, like the old a caliphate before the rise of the Roman Empire. Corrupt and Western-backed governments such as Jordan and Egypt will be overthrown while emerging regional power such as Iran will come under the new caliphate. To achieve this goal, Al Qaeda believes supporting the Sunni Insurgency in Iraq and maintaining a split between the Shite and Sunni versions of Islam is crucial. In addition, supporting border conflicts in places like the Horn of Africa between Christian Ethiopia and Muslim Somalia are crucial and essential, according to Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.

Al Qaeda believes in Tawhid the restoration of “pure Islam.” The Organization argues that the Quran forbids infidels stepping foot in Mecca and Medina, the two holy places in Islam. Therefore it is a duty of every true Muslim to fight Americans, Jews and other Westerners from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Palestinian lands. Realizing that the chances of realizing such goal were slim, Al Qaeda would fight on two fronts: the Arab secular governments and United States and allies - constituting what political scientists call near and far enemies. Martyrdom through suicide is tied to this strategy. No doubt, as a revolutionary force, Al Qaeda has been very effective in its propaganda for the rise in anti-Americanism. Osama bin Laden has successfully tied the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to United States’ arrogant and imperialist unilateral foreign policy in the Middle East. In so doing Bin Laden succeed in his claim that United States and Israel do not care about Muslim lives.

This claim resonates well with the Muslim community. In this sense, the continuing violence in Iraq and the Palestinian Territory between American forces and insurgents on one hand and Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas’ militants seems only to vindicate Al Qaeda thereby giving it some credibility for leadership among Muslims according to James Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose, authors of Understanding the War on Terror (2006). In this sense, it seems a right for Muslims to force Americans out of Medina, Mecca and all Muslim lands if restoring pure Islamic world must become a reality.

The fourth tenet of Al Qaeda’s ideology called for Muslims to be governed by Shariah. In the mind of Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden the world is seeing in two dimensions: one based on values and religion (Islam) which is his envisioned world and the other based on materialism and immorality as a consequence of capitalism. In this second dimension, Al-Qaeda placed United States, Israel, Britain, France, among others.

In this sense, I argue that the so-called world on terror is actually a war about values, culture and the need for humanity to survive in peaceful coexistence. I think it is fallacy and arrogance for the United States to force Arab countries to accept western democracy as a solution to eradicating radical militants and Islamic fundamentalism. United States needs to understand that democracy, freedom and free market economy cannot substitute for humanity basic needs.

United States must be reminded that democracy is all about the right to choose. That is freedom. What is wrong with a people choosing to live under their cultural values – in this case Islamic shariah? America must also begin to understand that Al Qaeda as a non state actor operates on a long term basis. America cannot afford to operates or behave like Al Qaeda because while Al Qaeda is accountable to a non-state ummah America is accountable to taxpayers. Implicit in Al Qaeda’s strategy is the concept of causing the United States’ economy to bleed into bankruptcy. This strategy is already having its desired effect. Over $700 billion has been spent and more than 3,600 American servicemen killed in Iraq while an estimated 650,000 Iraqi civilians have loss their lives.

According to President Bush, Al Qaeda attacked United States because they hate American values – “ours freedoms.” Bush said terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. The paper has already elaborated on the reasons Al Qaeda attacked united States on the September 11 2001 as described in the organization’s four tenets. But the fundamental reason was in twofold: to gain legitimacy in the Muslim world and make a case that even United States is not immune from attack. Al Qaeda argued that because capitalism had found expression in many leaders in Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon among others, taking jihad to the enemies abroad is a just cause.

In the minds of Al Qaeda’s leaders and their followers attacking or taking jihad to the United States would reverse the humiliation Muslims suffered in the 1967 Arab war and restore respect and dignity in the ummah. Al Qaeda would argue that United States was responsible for the death of its citizens the same way it was responsible for the death of thousands of Japanese when it dropped an atomic bomb in that country hoping US would be forced to leave from the Persian Gulf. It was wrong. Al Qaeda as revolutionary force has evolved in a unique way. By that, I mean, since it central leadership structure has largely been destroyed with many of its senior officers either killed or captured according to U S officials but the organization has become something of a franchise. Any one or group believing in Al Qaeda’s stated goals can take up arms against US and others Western interests.

Interestingly while United States has so far failed in its stated goal of going to war against Al Qaeda, which is to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, growing anti-Americanism, global jihadist movements have multiplied. Thus Al Qaeda continues to gain popularity and legitimacy in the eyes of the ummah and some Muslim leaders just as it predicted. Their continuing existence therefore is a set back for the United States.

Support for Al Qaeda in the Muslim world has increased since the 9/11 attack due in part to the “franchise” nature of the organization and failed US Foreign policy in the Middle. One counterterrorism expert has described Al Qaeda as a “virus” or an “amoeba” that mutates in various parts of the globe. This complex nature of the organization coupled with the damaging image United States suffered as a result of the infamous Abu Graib prison scandal and inhumane treatment of captured prisoners at Guantanamo. These negative developments and continuing violence in Iraq and Palestinian Gaza between American and Israel forces is serving as a magnet for radical jihadists who often fall prey to Al Qaeda’s stated goal of ending western occupation of Muslim lands.

Liberia must avoid been linked to this war. Washington and Al Qaeda are seeking variant political systems that guarantee their strategic, cultural, political and economic needs and interests. What is needed is a social and economic empowerment in the Middle East to help quench the Islamist youth’s desires for a borderless revolution. A command post for terrorism in Liberia or anywhere in Africa does not help in this direction. Although I think there is little chance that United States would take President Sirleaf’s invitation seriously, Liberia will be making a suicidal error to join a war of this nature overtly.

Author: Jefferson F Cooper studies journalism and politics at the University of Minnesota. He is a former correspondent for Inter Press Service and Gemini News Service (1995-99). Contact:

© 2007 by The Perspective

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