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Code Orange: The Reason Why By: Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 22, 2003


As soon as Homeland Security officials declared the Orange alert level yesterday afternoon, many in the U.S. rushed to assess the "necessity" of such an elevated warning. Unfortunately, most considered the evaluation self-centered. One main sound bite ruled the airwaves: "Beware of crying wolf." The concern that repetitive calls for Orange alert may well weaken the whole system is a glaring consumer-driven fallacy. One of the strategic tools in the War on Terror is popular mobilization, which, combined with such an alert, can deter a terrorist strike by threatening to expose terrorist networks and their operations.

Because of our failing intellectual elites, we are having a hard time situating terror threats as they unfold. Many journalists perceive the Jihadist threat according to their own standards. In reality, however, we need to evaluate al-Qaeda's intentions based on their own mindset, not ours. We are facing a terrorist threat produced by a different political culture. The way it thinks, perceives its surroundings, and reacts to its environment is far from identical to ours, and the division is not religious or economic as much as it is ideological.

So why are we in Orange alert again?

First, the term "again" is somewhat indicative of our misperception of the Jihadist terror. Let it be clear, we do not choose the color-code, al-Qaeda does. In the current War on Terror, there are two camps, two armies and two decision-making centers. We simply don't move to a higher level by ourselves.

In this war, the camp that wants the destruction of national economies, free cultures and human rights is certainly not the one produced by democracies. The international society, particularly the United States is -- in the eyes of al-Qaeda -- in a constant state of Orange warning, if not red. In a few words, and as once declared by the terrorist organization, America's security is a constant target.

Why the current alert?

There are multiple reasons for why an Orange Alert was issued yesterday, but they may not be comprehensive:

1) Al-Qaeda has a pattern of menacing Americans at home the closer they are to holidays -- or important national dates such as the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. That pattern was tested and is ideologically grounded. The war is against the "infidels." For international Jihadists, it is crucial to strike fear in the heart of the enemy during its peak celebration of happiness and religious fervor. And on more practical realms, the launchers of the 9/11 attacks are still banking on its dividends. They know that the horrific images of that day of infamy are still present in the minds of all Americans. The terrorists continue to use the psychological interests of the "big day." If they have a greater weapon, they would use it while preemptively terrorizing their victims.

2) Over the past few months, al-Qaeda has already issued at least two major threats against the U.S. and Americans overseas: one by the voice of Osama bin Laden last October and the other just a few days ago by Ayman al Thawahiri. Both audio tapes threatened the homeland with terrorist strikes. The first call made it into a strategic must; the second made American civilians responsible for what will "ensue." These two declarations must be taken seriously, even if no attacks materialize. This is an enemy that killed 3,000 men and women in twenty minutes. So when the enemy articulates its intention of resuming the massacre, we need to stand up. By doing so, we extract from our enemy the total effect of surprise.

3) Al-Qaeda delivered strikes in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, demonstrating that it is attempting to widen its hits regionally and internationally. That is meaningful and strategically important. The leadership of the organization is trying to deliver a message to the world wide web of jihad: we are alive and well. It is also sending out the information that it is engaging in the second wave of the war, after Tora Bora and Baghdad. The jihad logic makes it impeccably rational to order strikes within the U.S. Those calls for painful hits within the homeland were part of all al-Qaeda declarations systematically since the fall of the Taliban.

4) Al-Qaeda wants to send a message to the radicals in the region and in the world that the capture of Saddam Hussein is not a setback in its struggle against the U.S. While many Western critics of this theory see no basis for such an assertion, most Middle East analysts see a deep connection.

Our mindset in this part of the world searches for causality between two propositions: "How can al-Qaeda react to the fall of Saddam and prepare an attack against the U.S.?" asked one of the former intelligence analysts yesterday. He argued: "Bin Laden doesn't care about Saddam, and besides al-Qaeda cannot prepare for such a short range strike in few days!"

It is in heeding words such as these that we fall into our own self-built trap. First, bin Laden doesn't care about the presence of Saddam, but he cares about his absence. Who will inherit the zaama (leadership) of the jihad? To us, it doesn't seem important. To the Sultan of the holy war, it is crucial. Osama needs to strike at the heart of the enemy, to harvest the anger produced by the "dishonor" of the captured Arab dictator.

Psychologically, and by jihad logic, bin Laden has to do something, and something big. Did al-Qaeda wait until last week to plan the potential inland attack? Not at all. The cells have mandated the planning ages ago. The decision to use their resources was made based on Jihadist strategic needs.

5) Al-Qaeda wants to send a message of comfort to its supporters: the Qadhafi decision to disarm Libya is not a setback to the Caliphate to come. Al-Jazeera showed quantitative frustration with this decision. It runs polls condemning Qadhafi's decision to "surrender." Bin laden will go farther his own way. First he will threaten, and then, if possible, harm America. If you were this man, you would want to reestablish some respect in your region. Saddam is captured, Qadhafi relinquishes his Weapons of Mass Destruction. The ambiance is not so good in the neighborhood. Ayman al Thawahiri said, "We are taking over." Think of it from his perspective: how could he assert such a leadership other than by challenging the great devil, the enemy that is causing such a collapse in his camp?

6) All of this translates into an increasing al-Qaeda chatter. Communications have augmented in a manner that leads many to believe that a strike is possible, or in the making. All of the above five points are the subjective components that constitute the background. The chatter, intelligence and other types of gathering are in the hands of able government agencies. And the decision to mobilize is in the hands of the national security team – headed by the U.S. President.

But do we mobilize?

A) Mobilizing the public has a deterring impact on the terrorists. It is basic. If you are the jihad terrorist, or any other type of infiltrated enemy, you would feel weaker and unstable if you knew that your targeted enemy knows you're coming. It would be worse for you if you knew that you were under government surveillance. Therefore, mobilizing is a counter-strike, a preemptive one at least.

B) Raising the level of alert doesn't mean that the strike will necessarily occur. In our society, this may seem difficult to absorb. But if you borrow from the experiences of national communities that have faced jihad terrorism for years, such as the Israelis, the Turks and the Lebanese Christians, you would benefit from the legacy. Americans must come to realize that going up on alert levels is not a guarantee for a strike, merely an indicator of the existence of the terrorists' intent to strike. We need to realize that victory against terrorism comes after we mobilize to deter the enemy, not after the enemy strikes.

C) From here, what should we do? Above all it is important to continue with our normal lives, but at the same time to send a message to the terrorists: the U.S. is ready. The real transformation has to take place inside our society, a mutation in the opposite direction of what the terrorists have designed. That alone would ensure small, but continuous victories in this war. If al-Qaeda has already introduced its human weapons among us, then at least by mobilizing, we will create that moment of hesitation in its midst that can save American lives, and other lives around the world.


Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.


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