Kill Al-Qaeda in Three Easy Steps

Aman Ali, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the co-author of 30 Mosques, a Ramadan adventure taking him to a different mosque in New York City every day for a month. It sounds like an infomercial. I can already imagine the voice of Billy Mays (RIP) booming through my television set. "Sick of fighting terrorists the old fashioned way with asymmetrical warfare? Hi, Billy Mays here, to talk to you about the one and only, Mullah Remover!" I just got done reading Howard Clark's new book "How You Can Kill Al-Qaeda (in Three Easy Steps). He's an ex-Marine and former Homeland Security adviser who says the way to win the war on terrorism is to help empower the mainstream Muslim community, who in recent years has been overshadowed in the public spotlight by fringe Al-Qaeda extremists. The whole idea of fighting terrorism with ideas and not weapons is definitely nothing new, but Clark's populist tone and foreign policy street cred was a refreshing perspective to have in the discussion. "Click on the link below in the next 30 minutes and I'll throw in this egg slicer absolutely free! Here's how to order!" Book's official site.


  1. That is the shittiest book website I’ve ever seen in my life. I love how the jacket quotes are from people like “Retired Lawyer, Washington, DC, 68 years old.” Also: photoshop disaster.

  2. I am all for combating extremism with ideas instead of weapons, for sure.

    I wonder, though, can western nations, overwhelmingly non-Muslim, actually support moderate Muslim voices in any credible way? If we’re seen as backing Muslim critics of Al Qaeda, doesn’t that undermine the criticism?

    Now if we’re choosing between cultural and military imperialism, I’m going to prefer the former, no question.

  3. Oh oh, I got one: Get the US government to abandon its 30+ year foreign policy of trying to gain dominance over middle eastern economies through international trade organizations, corruption, and war.

  4. @#1 Xeni: Unfortunately, it looks like plenty of other self-published books’ websites.

    I agree, the jacket quotes are a stitch. As though someone would say “Why, I am also 32 years old. This must be the book for me!”

  5. Sectarian violence is already widespread throughout the Middle East, but if we solve the Israel/Palestine problem and the average Muslim can no longer find common ground in mutual hate of Israel, you’re going to see a complete breakdown of Sunni and Shi’a relations.

  6. The book is too short. Look at the Koran, much longer. This is an insult.
    More pages please. How much is charging for this?

  7. …the way to win the war on terrorism is to help empower the mainstream Muslim community,…

    Really? You mean the power to stop this has always been with the mainstream? Where have they been all these years?

    1. You mean the power to stop this has always been with the mainstream? Where have they been all these years?

      Probably in the same place you were when you were busy not stopping the destruction of Iraq or the bombing of wedding parties in Afghanistan.

  8. Foetusnail, you are incoherent.

    If the power was already there you wouldn’t need to empower it, kapische?

    I know you become emotionally involved with any subject that can be even slightly connected to religion, and that’s got to be hard for you (it’s certainly hard on the rest of us) but please try to show the comprehension of written English that you display when you’re not on your hobbyhorse.

    Thank you, and God bless you.

  9. Empower the mainstream? Doesn’t the mainstream have power by definition? But somehow it’s us, the outsiders, who are needed to empower them within their own cultures and political systems? Because we’re so highly respected and have so much influence with what must be the minority who are holding them back despite their superior numbers?

    Many governments in the mideast are elitist, but the populist movements are more extreme, not less.

  10. Ahhh yes! The “Mainstream Muslim Community” also known as the “Moderate Muslim Community”. We hear so much about this group but so little from it.

    So the idea is that we should be super nice to the moderates (if you can find them) and all this goodwill will somehow trickle down to the extremists? Aren’t we building schools and highways and factories in Afghanistan and still being attacked over there on a daily basis?

    I believe that a big proportion of the Muslims who are not actively engaged in terrorism are sort of proud of the terrorists because they make them feel powerful.

    I do not doubt that there are some truly moderate muslims. I really feel sorry for these people because they are sorely outnumbered.

    1. Aren’t we building schools and highways and factories in Afghanistan and still being attacked over there on a daily basis?< ?i>

      So if the Russians or the Chinese invaded us, turned the US into a war zone and built some bridges, you’d be cheering them on? You must have loved Vidkun Quisling.

  11. I’ve always been wary of books that promise to teach you how to do something that the author has yet to accomplish themselves (like the spinster and the divorcee who wrote that bestseller about how to land a husband).

    If ANY part of bringing peace in Afghanistan and shutting down Al-Qaeda was “easy” then somebody would have done it by now.

  12. I don’t see how anyone will be able to take Al Qaeda seriously after their failed attempt to blow up a Saudi using a giant fart.

    Just think about this, and try not to giggle.

    Now imagine they’re trying to convince you that you should die for their cause.

  13. I’ve always been in favor of carpet-bombing the Middle East… with DVD players, PS3s, TGIFridays and The Gaps. After that even neo-cons will thing Shock and Awe is for pussies.

  14. I don’t know, can’t blame a man for choosing a catchy title for a book, I believe. And #21, he’s obviously asking for help via this book, that’s why he has yet to accomplish his objective.

    So, Aman, you’ve read it, what do you think of the content, populist tone aside? (Gotta love populists, they’re at least readable…)

  15. has it ever occurred to the author that destroying al-qaeda is not what the US governments wants? Do you think drug companies really want to cure all diseases? The stated objective isn’t always the real objective.

    another thought:
    “encourage the counter-violent voices.”
    That’s called the peace movement. You should join it.

  16. Aman OP: He’s an ex-Marine

    A former Marine of my acquiantance explained the difference between a former Marine and an ex-Marine:

    A former Marine is a guy who used to be a Marine.

    An ex-Marine is a guy who used to be a Marine and is a violent psycho.

    This is because too many violent psychos turned out to have been in the Marines at one point or another, and were called “ex-Marines” in the press. Guys who used to be Marines and are not, you know, nutjobs prefer to be called former Marines.

    Or so I’m told.

  17. Aren’t we building schools and highways and factories in Afghanistan and still being attacked over there on a daily basis?

    Ignorance is the deadliest weapon of mass destruction.

    Which might explain why the US are so powerful.

  18. If you remove the occupying troops, you possibly run the risk of more roadside bombings. So here is my question: is there any way to focus on cutting the supply of chemicals that are used to make IEDs? If there was some way to really cut that at the source, maybe that would be a good place to start. If the country continues to fall apart, okay, but at least maybe there will be fewer mass casualties in the streets every day if bomb making apparata were dismantled. And I don’t mean bombing factories, I mean cutting the supply of the chemical materials used to make bombs. Would that be at all possible?

  19. Actually, asymmetric warfare and the use of ideas as weapons are not mutually exclusive. Winning hearts and minds has always been a key feature of sound counterinsurgency doctrine.

    In fact, I’d argue that if you include aid/education/diplomacy in your scope, asymmetric warfare is actually a game that the West can play and win. In conventional warfare, you fail if it takes you $100 to destroy $1 of enemy material. Yet, in this fight that sort of tradeoff (say, $100,000 in education and humanitarian aid to convince villagers to pocket their $1000 in donations instead of pitching in to send a local kid off to a training camp) can be a win.

    I’ve seen estimates that it cost about $40,000 to fiance the 9-11 attacks. Even the most tightfisted bureaucrat would agree that $4M (or $40B) would have been worth it to stop it.

  20. I’m not sure it’s the mainstream who need to be empowered, it’s the extremists.

    Or rather, the impoverished children whose only education comes from schools run by fundamentalist political organisations. It’s these environments where terrorism gains traction, they need to be provided with alternatives.

    It is certainly sobering to reflect on how western foreign policy and trade pratice could effect the spread of wealth in many Islamic countries, but their Governments need to buy in too.

  21. Yale! That’s all you have to say. Marketing works. I don’t think it’s by chance that he was an adviser.

  22. So here is my question: is there any way to focus on cutting the supply of chemicals that are used to make IEDs?

    The esoteric chemicals involved are fertilizer and fuel oil. These people are farmers. You can’t cut the supply of bomb-making material without destroying their livelihoods. I know it’s tempting to just deal with the inanimate object because humans are so unpredictable and messy, but there’s no shortcut here. (Or anywhere else.) You have to either kill your enemies or make them your friends. Or at least respected business partners. There’s no other option.

  23. Please, everyone knows the mainstream everywhere is always complicit in the atrocities of the times, either by direct support, tacit approval, or, as some have mentioned, inaction.

    Things are the way they are, because this is the only way they could have been, if things could have been different, then things would be different.

  24. My two qirsh on the matter:

    Talking about “empowering the Muslim mainstream” is a bit misleading, because (A) it papers over a great deal of diversity amongst Muslim nations; and (B) it leads to comments like the ones we see above.

    The first thing to understand is that we are, in general, talking about the *Arab* mainstream, with a lesser focus on Iran and Central Asia. Most Muslims are in fact Asian and African and, though they certainly have their share of terrorist movements, those populations are generally less congenial to Salafist ideology and its carriers.

    The second thing to realize is that Arabs themselves are not too keen on the idea of living under Salafist rule, although religious conservatism has certainly increased since the end of Pan-Arabism as a viable ideology, helped in no small part by American-encouraged Sa’udi missionary work. Nonetheless, conservatism in the Arab world is more cultural than ideological.

    However, Salafism today represents the only viable oppositional ideology in the Arab world, ironically in large part because America, Israel and local Arab regimes spent the bulk of their efforts on squashing secular opposition and encouraging religious conservatism in the assumption that the latter would be quiescent. And, while some Islamist groups have moved to the center (such as the Ikhwan splinter Hizb al-Wasat), they suffer the same weaknesses as secular liberal groups: because they play within the electoral rules, they have no independent base of political support. Groups like Hamas, the Ikhwan, and Hizb Allah have grassroots support that can be used either within or without the political system.

    Thus, if you want to demonstrate opposition to local regimes (and, by extension, Israel and America), you can either join up with an ineffectual movement that’s likely to get you arrested, or you can go underground with the right-wing Islamists.

    What this means — and this is the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion — is that “empowering the (Arab) Muslim mainstream” doesn’t mean helping them stand up to Islamist extremists, but helping them stand up to America — that is, to us.

    In the short term open societies, as one poster mentioned above, pose a problem: the most popular non-establishment parties are also the most radical and, as we have seen in a number of states recently, authority does not always confer responsibility. Yet empowering political moderates to take stands against America (and, sadly — at least for pro-Zionists like me — against Israel) and American-supported regimes may be the only effective safety valve we have.

    The alternative looks a lot like 1978: repression, radicalization, revolution. And in a complex, interconnected, and fragile world, we can’t afford that pattern again.


  25. @17

    Hi, moderate Muslim here. I live in the pacific northwest and our community holds rallies all the time, we form peaceful protests and peaceful marches in Seattle. The local news organizations never bother covering our protests that we hold because we aren’t violent and therefore not “newsertainment”.

    Just because you can’t see and hear us on the news doesn’t mean we aren’t there.

  26. I’ve always been in favor of carpet-bombing the Middle East… with DVD players, PS3s, TGIFridays and The Gaps. After that even neo-cons will thing Shock and Awe is for pussies.

    You joke, but I would be willing to bet that you can probably a non-trivial portion of the credit for European unity goes to the Goliath that is the American entertainment industry. I am not saying that Star Wars brings universal peace love and happiness. I am saying however that it does give a common frame of reference. If two people can of different languages can talk about the same shitty Hollywood blockbuster, you are half way to universal peace.

  27. So the US might be best served by helping someone get in power who will insist on doing things without the US? Fair enough but as we’ve seen in the dealing the US has even with friendly nations (Canada and Britain for example) the US traditionally doesn’t like that very much. they like the “we say jump you say how high”

    The real question is how do you pressure someone into thinking for themselves?

  28. Ito, once again you have me at a disadvantage, and sent me on another chase for knowledge and understanding, thank you.

  29. Oh, you’re welcome, I didn’t realize you’d gotten that independently! The Internet likes to show me that thinking people constantly reinvent worthy ideas and rediscover interesting arts.

  30. What really confuses me is the constant need to send people into the Middle East on the claims that “the West truly has the best intentions of the Middle East at heart.” If that were true the West might, just might, focus more on fixing the standard of living of Arab countries instead of blissfully gaining not only from the State of War in the Middle East but also from the G.D.P’s of Arab nations. While everyone is aware that the United States jumped into Iraq for the oil are people aware that it’s not the first nations they’ve happily jumped into? The United States of America is responsible for the 28 years of tyranny that Egypt has faced with Husni Mubarak in power, in return for roughly 10% of Egyptian exports going to the United States of America. The ‘Al Qaida’, as the US like’s to call them, were initially set up by the CIA to create a pro-Western government, similarily to their attempts in both Latin America (the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961) and currently in Europe with a non-Democratic unification of the region (Lisbon Treaty)… If people really want to do anything why not exercise the right to just say no? Obama has sent more troops into Afghanistan recently while he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, refused to meet the Dalai Lama, is NOT pulling troops out of Iraq and has STILL not shut down Guantanamo nor released a majority of the prisoners.. You want to know who the true terrorists are?

    terrorist [ˈtɛrərɪst]
    (Government, Politics & Diplomacy)
    a. a person who employs terror or terrorism, esp as a political weapon
    b. (as modifier) terrorist tactics
    terroristic adj

    According to

    If you look at the definition which government is currently attempting to use Terror, or the threat of Terror, to achieve a political gain? The leader’s in the Middle East aren’t terrifying the rebels to fight! They’re convincing them of their duty, or the honour of fighting! The only nation that is currently using any sort of terror to achieve a political gain is the United States of America’s own government.. American media is not only filled with sex and violence (as Family Guy so correctly puts it) but also with the constant threat of Terror… There are video’s on the Internet that supposedly define the 8 ways to spot a terrorist..


    One of their signs is if you see someone taking notes or drawing! Another sign to look out for is large creates of weapons lying around… Forgive me for my cynicism but if I noticed a large create of weapons lying around you damned well think I may call the authorities to find out whether it just happens to have been abandoned by someone or if it belongs to an insurregent organisation.. You don’t need to tell people something like that!! All those videos will do is increase the American public’s belief in these Terrorist organisations, when to be frank they don’t exist! There is no vast conspiracy against the American people.. There’s merely a global dislike for the American governments methods of “Diplomatic resolution” specifically within International boundaries.. The American government even publically states the use of assassination of the head of the Al Qaida… How long ago was it that the heads of the CIA had to be sneaky when assassinating people? Not too long ago… In the 60’s you heard of assassinations in a bad light, today it’s a gift.. Furthermore should the United States of America wish to actually actively assist the Middle East why not start with a much smaller yet honestly much deeper impacting issue of Women’s rights in places like Saudi Arabia? In Saudi Arabia there are seperate doors for men and women to enter both in public and in one’s own home; women are not allowed to leave the house without a male chaperone; women cannot drive nor vote (for whatever reasons a Monarchist government would allow the people to vote of course) and the so forth… Should the United States want to assist the world as opposed to assisting it’s already failing economy (oh yeah the United States is roughly 11, 961, 295, 831, 024.40 dollars in debt) then they might actually make an effort to assist rather than take oil and claim that everything is fine… Iraq, during Sadam’s reign, had a higher standard of living then it does today!!

    Educate yourselves people, the world isn’t what they’re telling you it is!!

    Take it from a non-Muslim-non-terrorist-Arab who still gets every article of clothing and baggage checked everytime I leave an airport even though not only do I have the physical characteristics of a European (namely white with green eyes; very non-Arab) but an English passport…

    Everyone in the world is guilty of discrimination, the only issue is when it stops being a personal discrimination and turns into a very public, national or global discrimination!!

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