Will the recent killings of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri have any tangible effects on the “war on terror”? Vice President Joe Biden — who referred to the slayings as “devastating blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq” — certainly seems to think so.
This is reminiscent of when al-Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi was killed in early 2008. Then, Congressman Peter Hoekstra issued a statement saying al-Libi’s death “clearly will have an impact on the radical jihadist movement.”
And who could forget all the hubbub surrounding the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader notorious for decapitating his infidel victims. Then, almost every major politician, including President Bush and Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, exulted.
It is, of course, a good thing to kill terrorists. But will the deaths of individual Islamist leaders —even Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden himself — eliminate the ideology that creates them in the first place?
History provides an answer to this question:
Consider the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s largest and oldest Islamist organization. Founded in Egypt by Tariq Ramadan’s grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, in 1928, it originally boasted only six members. In the following decades, in part thanks to the radical writings of Sayyid Qutb — whom al-Qaeda quotes liberally in their many writings — the Brotherhood, though constantly clashing with Egypt’s government, grew steadily.
As leaders, both Banna and Qutb were eventually targeted and killed by Egypt’s government. Yet the Brotherhood continued thriving underground. Then, to the world’s surprise, the partially banned, constantly suppressed Brotherhood managed to win 88 out of 454 seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections — making them the largest opposition bloc in the government.
After two of its most prominent leaders were killed, after thousands of its members have been harassed, jailed, or killed, today the Brotherhood is stronger, more influential, and more secure than at any other time in its history.
Palestinian Hamas, itself an offshoot of the Brotherhood, furnishes another example. Founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas has since been labeled a terrorist organization by several governments, including the United States, most notably for its suicide operations against Israel. Yassin was eventually assassinated in March 2004.
The result? Far from fizzling away, Hamas, like the Brotherhood, went on to win a major landslide election in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, giving it even more authority than previously.