The first person I asked was a reporter. He laughed at my question and said, "If you want a good answer to that one, just go ask any person working for Blackwater. Or for Triple Canopy." Yeah right. Like I'm gonna pop right over to Area 51 and chit-chat with those boys? What else have you got?
"The next approach I would take would be to ask, 'Does Al-Qaeda attack the West because they don't like Western values and who the West is or do they attack the West because of what the West does?' I think that Al-Qaeda is on the offensive because the West has done so many horrible things in the Middle East over the years. Terrorists don't attack somebody because of who they are." Sorry, guy, but I can't quite imagine Alex Trebeck asking all that.
I then talked with another reporter next -- hey, there are a lot of reporters staying here in the Green Zone and not that many Iraqis. I do what I can -- and asked him the same question.
"Al-Qaeda seems to be composed of foreign-led Iraqi Islamic fundamentalist insurgents with access to deep pockets who use threats to keep their areas under control. People here are afraid of them because they have power and money and if you disagree with them, they tend to steal your car, kidnap your children and chop off your head." Oh.
"Because of Al-Qaeda's violent behavior, Iraqis are starting to turn away from this group. One interesting result of Al-Qaeda's over-the-top behavior is that American troops are now actually being considered the lesser of two evils." That's good for the US military. George Bush is a totally corrupt fool who is ruining both Iraq and America but I would like to see American troops succeed in establishing the rule of law over here and this reporter's insight sounded hopeful. We're the lesser of two evils! That's progress!
Then I realized that I was in the Green Zone right now, staying right next door to the Iraqi Parliament and could go over there and interview some actual Iraqis. But that was not to be because the next day was Eid, a very sacred religious holiday for Muslims, and the Parliamentarians would not be in session. And I'd be sitting here all by my lonesome in the CPIC press room feeling all sorry for myself that I only had Alex Trebeck to keep me company on this holy day. "Religion for $500. A celebration following Ramadan." What is Eid?
But then I remembered what the Parliamentarians had said to me last time I interviewed them. "Everyone with guns and mortars and bombs here are shooting at everyone else with guns and mortars and bombs here -- and we innocent Iraqi civilians are all caught in the middle. It doesn't matter if they call themselves Al-Qaeda or the Army or terrorists or the Iraqi Mafia! We only just want ALL of them to stop shooting at us." Or words to that effect.
Then my friend Stewart threw in his own definition of Al-Qaeda. "In one way, Jane, Al-Qaeda is like the Boy Scouts. It takes just about anyone who wants to join. Well, except for gays."
One Army officer defined Al-Qaeda as a world-wide movement. Another defined Al-Qaeda as a fundamentalist terrorist organization working under bin Ladin. "But most of Al-Qaeda here are actually Iraqis." Hummm. There were NO Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq before Bush worked his magic and now there are thousands of them all over Iraq, making money for Blackwater and Halliburton hand over fist.
But basically Al-Qaeda's one uniting characteristic appears to be that it uses punishment as a means of control. Geez Louise. These guys must have had violent, control-freak parents when they were growing up! I bet they got sent to the woodshed a lot. BTW, the three things to look out for when trying to identify adult psychopaths are histories of bed-wetting, arson and animal abuse when they were kids. I know that Bush started fires and blew up frogs when he was a kid, but did he wet the bed? We'll have to ask his nanny about that one. And the next time I meet a member of Al-Qaeda, I'll be SURE to ask him, "Did you ever wet the bed?"
So. Have I sucessfully answered the question, "What is Al-Qaeda?" Yes. But have I also successfully answered the question, "What are we going to DO about Al-Qaeda?" No.
What would a contestant on Final Jeopardy answer if Alex Trubeck had asked him or her, "For a priceless amount, see if you can tell me the right question to this answer: 'The use of diplomacy instead of force, the use of carrots instead of sticks and the use of other conflict resolution tools besides war.'"
Perhaps the best question to ask would be, "How can human beings finally begin to use their brains instead of brute force, stop killing each other and finally evolve?"