War is breaking out between the Yemeni military and a group called “Ansar al-Shari‘a” in the southern province of Abyan — and it is in danger of spreading. Somewhere between 100 and 200 soldiers are being buried after battles March 5 in the provincial capital of Zinjibar, and other soldiers captured are being paraded through the streets of the forlorn neighboring town of Jaar.
The 9/11 Commission Report is the closest thing in print to an official narrative of the events that gave rise to the “war on terror.” In American political culture, the Commission embodied a trans-partisan act of knowledge creation, handing down a narrative meant to establish treasured national consensus. Also, the Commission acted as a filter trusted to use classified information in a manner that educated the public without jeopardizing national security.
When 19 al-Qaeda hijackers attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States faced a strategic dilemma that was unique in magnitude, but not in kind. Terrorists had killed numerous civilians before, in the US and elsewhere, with and without state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda was not the first non-state actor to present no coherent demands alongside its propaganda of the deed or to have no single fixed address. Nor were Americans the first victims of unprovoked terrorist assault to set aside political differences, at least for a time, in search of a unified self-defense.
On January 24, the US launched a second round of airstrikes in Somalia against alleged al-Qaeda terrorists believed to be responsible for the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Intended to eradicate these extremist elements from the Horn of Africa, the airstrikes instead exacerbated the chaos brought on by the fall of the Union of Islamic Courts to US-backed Ethiopian forces late last year. Continued instability renders Somalia ripe for the reemergence of the same kind of militancy the US strikes aimed to eliminate. Limited military actions cannot prevent Somalia from reverting to militant haven status, but a comprehensive, three-pronged US approach could.
Forget for a moment how shamelessly President George W. Bush tried to manipulate Americans’ emotions by invoking September 11 six times during his recent prime-time sales pitch for staying the course in Iraq. There is no need to recall the reports finding no connection between that day’s terrorist attacks and Iraq, and no call for repeating that Iraq was not in danger of becoming a “safe haven” for al-Qaida until after it was invaded. The president doesn’t really claim otherwise.
If liberals and the left are united behind anything in our allegedly post-ideological age, it is that human rights and humanitarian considerations must always trump realpolitik. The left opposed the punishing economic sanctions endured by Iraqi civilians from 1991 to 2003, despite the sanctions’ undoubted success in “containing” the former Iraqi regime. The Bush administration, unable so far to detect a single spore of anthrax in Iraq, is now selling the invasion retroactively as a “humanitarian intervention,” mostly to well-deserved hoots of derision from left-liberals.
Tal‘at Qasim got his start in al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya  (the Islamic Group) in the 1970s when it took control of many student organizations in the Egyptian universities. He led the student union in Minya, a hotbed of the Islamist movement, and later was a founding member of the majlis al-shura (governing council) of the organization at large. Sheikh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman later became head of the majlis.