'Bin Laden never used the term al-Qaeda prior to 9/11', Dolnik tells me. 'Nor am I aware of the name being used by operatives on trial. The closest they came were in statements such as, "Yes, I am a member of what you call al-Qaeda". The only name used by al-Qaeda themselves was the World Islamic Front for the Struggle Against Jews and Crusaders - but I guess that's too long to really stick.'
Having given bin Laden and his henchmen a name, Western officials then proceeded to exaggerate their threat. 'In the quest to define the enemy, the US and its allies have helped to blow it out of proportion', wrote Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud of the Monterey Institute in 2002. They pointed out that after 1998, US officials began distributing posters and matchboxes featuring bin Laden's face and a reward for his capture around the Middle East and Central Asia - a process that 'transformed this little-known jihadist into a household name and, in some places, a symbol of heroic defiance'
See also: locally-printed "Osama Bin Laden World Hero" T-shirts selling like hotcakes in markets all over the Islamosphere.
In fact, I have been wondering whether or not, within a decade, "al-Qaeda" will morph into an umbrella term for any resistance to neo-liberalism/globalisation/capitalism/The Man, with Latin American (non-Islamic) qaedistas waging guerilla war against US-installed authoritarian governments and right-wing death squads, whilst their French comrades torch McDonalds restaurants, and dreadlocked Nu Marxists all over McWorld replace their Che T-shirts with Osama ones.
According to Dolnik: 'In a world where one email sent to a news agency translates into a headline stating that al-Qaeda was behind even the blackouts in Italy and the USA, anyone can claim to be al-Qaeda - not only groups but also individuals'.
Sajid Badat, the 24-year-old student arrested by British police in Gloucester yesterday, on suspicion of planning to carry out a terrorist attack, was immediately referred to in media reports as a 'suicide bomber' and 'al-Qaeda terrorist' - after it was revealed that he had boasted to college mates and neighbours: 'I'm in al-Qaeda.' Whatever the truth of the allegations against him, however, it is clear that anybody can make an impact today by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda.
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