The purpose of Al Qaeda’s latest video message is to get Muslims to hate Barack Obama. It didn’t work.

NEWSWEEK: Ahmed Benchemsi

The video message from Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he called Barack Obama a “house Negro,” demonstrates, if anything, that the terrorists are always damn good in PR. You feel disgusted? Horrified? That’s exactly their aim. In this regard, Zawahiri’s diabolical comparison of Obama and Malcolm X (“an honorable American who converted to Islam,” as Zawahiri put it) is an even bolder move: not only do they insult the American president-elect, but they rub it into one of America’s deepest wounds—the racial divisions and the profound antagonisms generated by Malcolm X’s radical claims. In terms of “hatred arts,” this is just brilliant. Those who are shocked by Zawahiri’s words have merely to remember: spreading hate is the terrorists’ job. Hating you is not enough; they also need you to hate them, so the struggle goes on unchallenged.

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Al Qaeda and all its followers badly need to perpetuate Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” paradigm. The West and Islam are deadly enemies, in the radicals’ view. The more irreconcilable the former, the happier the latter. In this regard, the agenda of Bush and the neocons was a true blessing for the terrorists. Consider this: after 9/11 and the U.S. strike on Afghanistan, Al Qaeda was badly hit and its leaders were piteously hiding in caves. Later, by attacking Iraq for no valid reason–which caused, as a direct or indirect consequence, hundreds of thousands of deaths among innocent civilians–Bush’s administration provided Al Qaeda leaders with a new rationale. They reinvigorated, prospered and recruited hundreds, if not thousands, of brand-new adeptsfollowers, infused with a strong willingness for jihad. “War on terror”? If they could, they would just keep it on forever.

Al Qaeda’s true problem with Obama has indeed nothing to do with the color of his skin. By proposing to meet Iran’s Ahmadinejad without preconditions instead of just bombing him out, the American president-elect thinks outside of the confrontation box. The radicals just hate that. And above all, they hate the idea of the United States resuming the chase of Al Qaeda operatives in the mountains of the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders. He’s coming to them, how could they not react fiercely?

There is something else, which I witness everyday in the streets of Casablanca, where I live: Muslims tend to claim Obama as their own—because he’s black, because he comes from an oppressed minority, because his middle name is Hussein. I presume this holds true for all the nonradical Muslims (the vast majority of them) throughout the world. Not that they think Obama is a Muslim himself—he made clear that he was not. Yet he could have been. His father was. Anyway, this man looks like a “brother” to many Muslims, which is indeed a good thing for the prospect of global peace.

Not surprisingly, Zawahiri’s video message targeted this specific point: “Obama is not a Muslim, he’s a renegade who abandoned his ancestor’s religion to embrace the ‘crusaders faith’ and the ‘Zionists’ ideology’,” Zawahiri suggests. The genuine message being: please don’t like him!

Well, too bad for them: we do. We will like him more, of course, if he keeps his promise of backing out of Iraq within 16 months and putting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track. Meanwhile, let’s all of us, Muslims and Westerners, take advantage of the honeymoon period. And let’s enjoy the terrorists’ embarrassment: it’s a rare occasion.

Benchemsi is editor and publisher of the Moroccan newsweekly magazines TelQuel and Nichane

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