THE QUESTION that has been most asked ever since terrorists bombed a Bali nightclub on Saturday is also arguably the least relevant: Is al Qaeda responsible for the attack?
The impulse to find a connection between the latest act of Islamic terror and the world's most celebrated Islamic terrorist group is natural, but the relationship of Osama bin Laden or his heirs to the Bali blast is of little actual consequence. If al Qaeda is responsible, it must be destroyed. If it's not responsible, it must be destroyed. And while connecting the dots might serve some useful strategic interest or fulfill a public curiosity, the obsession with seeing what should be a war on radical Islam as simply a war on al Qaeda is destructive to the very purpose of the war itself.
Regardless of al Qaeda's complicity, which certainly seems likely, what we do know about the atrocity in Bali is that it was the handiwork of Islamofascist terrorists. The target, the Sari nightclub, is a spot frequented almost exclusively by foreigners — Australians, Britons, and occasionally Americans — in a predominantly Hindu area, most likely so as to minimize Muslim casualties. That the attack fell on the second anniversary of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole further points to a movement known for its fascination with calendrical symbolism.
Whether it's al Qaeda or some other branch of the Islamofascist enterprise that bears direct responsibility for this particular attack is largely of academic interest. Suppose, for example, it turns out that a conclusive al Qaeda link is established. How would such a relationship change how the U.S. or the rest of the civilized world should handle the threat posed by the uncivilized world's terrorist contingent? Would such a finding make al Qaeda any more repugnant than it already is? Would it make the imperative of decapitating and dismantling the organization — a national priority ever since 9/11 — any more of an imperative?
The establishment of such a link would serve only to inform the world that, the fall of the Taliban and the battles of Afghanistan not withstanding, al Qaeda remains capable of pulling off lethal, horrendous attacks — a fact that was never in doubt, given the outfit's far-flung and decentralized nature.
Now, imagine the alternative scenario: no connection to al Qaeda whatsoever can be established. How do the practical realities much differ? In either case, terrorists are still at large, and still capable of mounting attacks against Western interests. In either case, the Indonesian government bears some responsibility for failing to deal with terrorists on its soil. The difference is that, absent an al Qaeda connection, it becomes all the more clear that Osama bin Laden and his band of merrymakers are far from alone on the Middle Eastern terror scene.
This, too, should come as little surprise. Terrorists of various national origins, nominal identifications, and sectarian affiliations have been hijacking our airplanes, downing our airliners, and blowing and shooting up public venues world over for the better part of three decades. They have multiple state sponsors, and their efforts in Israel have been relentless. The Saudi-funded madrassahs that operate throughout the Middle East have produced militant foot soldiers not only for al Qaeda, but for sundry other terrorist organizations hell-bent on slaying the American Great Satan and purging the world of all other infidels. The Islamofascist order is as diverse is it is broad.
The breathless speculation about al Qaeda's involvement in the Bali attack seems to stem from a widespread failure to grasp that reality — a failure that is rampant throughout most of the establishment press and the "world community." It repeats itself every time a self-styled "peace activist" or spokesman for the "international community" demands "proof" of an Iraqi connection to al Qaeda to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The War on Terror is a conflict that is not limited to any one group or nation. It is a war on an ideology — an ideology that unfortunately permeates an entire corner of the world. Al Qaeda is but one head of the hydra. If the War on Terror is limited to a war on al Qaeda, there will be many more 9/11s, Bali bombings, and such to come.
Al Qaeda is distinct from its terrorist comrades only in its efficacy, but not in its aims or agenda. That makes it a logical place to begin the War on Terror, but certainly no place to end it, not when it only takes one successful strike to give the Islamofascists the sort of victory they crave, and most certainly not when nuclear weapons are reasonably within their grasp. The war will not be over — it should not be over — until every terrorist-sponsoring state is toppled or reformed, and the terrorist operations that feed off them are left without shelter or sustenance.
Whether it was al Qaeda or one of its many clones that sponsored the Bali massacre, the ultimate outcome should remain the same.