The biggest misconception about Al-Qaeda is that its members are politically motivated. Of course, political Islam plays a role (especially in radicalizing future members). But Al-Qaeda is very much a medieval Doomsday cult with surprisingly little politics in it.
If you really want to understand what Al-Qaeda is all about, you have to step away from politics, away from life in the 21st century. Al-Qaeda is all about religion (rigidly imitating the Prophet Muhammad), cultural elements (keeping the Arab world and muslim South Asia as backward as possible) and an immense fear factor (for Western-led globalisation and its effects on the muslim mind).
It may sound a little cheap or simple, but basically Al-Qaeda consists of a bunch of madmen. Please read the follwing article I wrote on Al-Qaeda. It is based on a long article I wrote in 2004 for a Dutch magazine. I've added some new material. Due to its length, I will publish the text in four or five parts (otherwise it gets all too long - nobody will read it). Please find below, part one of:
INSIDE AL-QAEDA'S BRAIN
It may sound strange, but I can visit Al-Qaeda on foot.
Whenever I leave my street in the F-8 sector of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, I can either take a right or left turn. Going right leads me, within 500 meters, to the house of Sultan Bashir Uddin Mahmood, a nuclear scientist who once headed Pakistan’s nuclear programme but started freelancing for Osama bin Laden. Taking a left gets you, within 300 meters, to the apartment of Khalid Khawaja, a personal friend of Bin Laden and a suspect in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Left or right - a former head of Al-Qaeda’s nuclear unit or a personal friend of Bin Laden? Not an easy choice.
Many times I have taken the right turn and visited Bashir Uddin’s house. But he, a friendly looking elderly man, isn’t the most talkative person in the world. Because not long after 9/11 he was picked up by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, after the Americans found out that this nuclear scientist had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (In the meeting Bin Laden had asked Bashir Uddin to build a nuclear device). During weeks of interrogation the ISI made it very, very clear Bashir Uddin should refrain from contact with the outside world. Since his release, he has, more or less, been placed under a light form of house arrest.
But I kept trying to interview him. I would knock on the gate of Bashir Udin’s property, but every time his servants told me to leave. Or I would approach him while Basir Uddin drove his car in or out of his compound. Again to no avail. He never said a word.
Basir Uddin was not only Al-Qaeda’s main nuclear specialist (it kind of helped that he had been the director of a nuclear power plant in Pakistan), but he was a writer too.
Mainly, his topics dealt with three things: God, the sun and pseudo-science. God – because Bashir Uddin was obsessed with God and seemed in love with the prophet Muhammad (He of course had written a book about the prophet). The sun – because, fascinatingly, the bringer of life was basically a star where thousands of hydrogen bombs exploded every second. Bashir Uddin had written a book about his theory that increased sunspots create war and violence in this world. And pseudo-science – because Bashir Uddin strongly believed in a combination of Islam and science, also called Koranic science. For instance, he suggested that energy could be extracted from Jinns (ghosts). This because, according to the Quran, Jinns might appear in the form of fire. And since fire is energy, Bashir Uddin was convinced that Jinns could be used to solve Pakistan’s energy problem. The Jinns, using special energy tapping machines, could as well fight along the Pakistan Army in a war against India.
His theories, especially the one with the Jinns, let other Pakistani scientists to the conclusion that religion had made Bashir Uddin barking mad. They called him professor crackpot.
At one afternoon though, a car stopped in front of my house and somebody stepped out carrying a couple of books. This person approached me and said: “Please take this as a gift from Mr. Bashir Uddin.”
I was given three books, all written in English by Bashir Uddin. One of them was called: Doomsday and life after death. According to the preface, the book is "A systematic study of the complex realities of life, life-after death and Doomsday; the ultimate faith of mankind and of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe, in the light of the Holy Quran and the latest scientific findings; pointing out new horizons of thought for science; and developing a conprehensive understanding of the future, for believers and non-believers alike."
In the book, Bashir Uddin had written a message for me: “May Allah guide us on the right path”. Below the text, he had placed his signature.
After I received his books, I took a right turn, and visited – again – his house. He just had visited the mosque (something he very frequentely did) and I thanked him for his books. He never said a word. He only smiled and nodded.
Tomorrow part 2