Al-Qaeda – The Most Impactful NGO of the 21st Century


SEGOVIA – On the 10th of October, the PLE Society held its launch event. Since the weather was ideal, instead of meeting in the Sala capitular as was first intended, the event was moved to the exterior part of IE’s cafeteria. Attendees were greeted with popcorn and seated outside, overlooking the campus’s beautiful natural scenery. 

The Politics of Generation Z – Terrorism, political instability and even climate change policies, guest speaker Ibrahim al-Marashi (a PLE history professor) explained, were determined in the year 1979. Indeed, that year, a new form of government unseen in the world emerged: Iran became an Islamic Republic. Pakistan was Islamized, and for the first time, a group of armed militants took over the grand mosque of Saudi Arabia, criticizing the Saudi royal family for not being religious enough. 

Al-Marashi then submitted the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR was another essential developing event. During that time, Pakistan financed the resistance to the soviets led by the afghan mujahideen rebels, and Bin Laden created a base to help the rebels, an “Al Qaeda” in Arabic. In sum, the birth of Al Qaeda was enabled by the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Bin Laden agreeing with the takeover of the mosque in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s religious turn, and the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 

These factors, al-Marashi stipulates, contributed to several successive conflicts – the 1990 Gulf war, the 2003 Iraq war, even 9/11 – the professor described Bin Laden’s outrage with the Saudis for refusing his offer of support against Iraq as being a catalyst to target their backers in Washington. This attack shaped the politics of generation Z; the violence was designed for the camera, for mass media coverage. Unlike times like the cold war where the aim of violence was to show military might, the point of terrorist attacks was – and is – to generate a spectacle, something visually shocking in order to efficiently attack symbols. 

Climate change policies were also affected by the year 1979 – by the oil crises. The two oil crises of 1973 and 1979 had forced the US on the path to a “greener” economy. The second crisis was an opportunity to further the nation’s green policies; Jimmy Carter even put solar panels on the White House and America could have [potentially] gone green. However, the drop in oil prices of the 80s stopped these potential changes and the solar panels on the White House were removed.

On a lighter note, prof. Ibrahim al-Marashi also talked about his own experience with the UK government. How an article he wrote about Iraq during the Gulf War, that he believed was only destined to an online journal,  got plagiarized by the UK government to justify their involvement in the 2003 Iraq war. How he had to testify against them in Parliament. And how he gained the wrong status of “The Man who finished off Saddam Hussein and started the Iraq war,” which put him in an understandably uncomfortable situation when he started a new job as a professor in Turkey.

During the closing Q&A session, when asked about the future of international politics, prof. al Marashi admitted to being worried – between environmental change, psychological trauma of an entire generation of Syrians that lived under ISIS and the two governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran that are unlikely to ever reconcile, stability seems improbable. ISIS’s fate is unsure: it could be destroyed or could make a comeback. Its survivors will most probably turn to Al Qaeda but the important difference between both groups is that ISIS was accessible to everyone while Al Qaeda wants to be kept “small and elite.” He added Al Qaeda can never be defeated because it is an idea, a network, not a state – there is no country that can be invaded and it isn’t defined by any nationality.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway from the event comes from its start. At the very beginning of his speech, prof. Ibrahim al-Marashi had asked, “what is the NGO that has had the largest impact in the 21st century,” to which he answered – Al Qaeda. By showing the transitions in international politics that our current generation is experiencing, the shift from state to non-state actors, and the impact of terrorism in IR, he displayed a chilling but effective argument for his case.

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