Ali Soufan Op-Ed in The Atlantic: How Al-Qaeda Benefits from America’s Political Divisions
September 11, 2017

How Al-Qaeda Benefits from America’s Political Divisions

The Atlantic
By: Ali Soufan


As someone who has dedicated years to fighting terrorism, both before and after 9/11, I find the anniversary of the attacks a moment for reflection. Amid the tragedy, 9/11 prompted heartening displays of unity. At home, left and right joined hands—literally, in the case of the members of Congress who came together to sing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. Social cohesiveness is one of the best predictors of a society’s resilience to terrorism; and our sense of common purpose and shared values in the weeks after the attacks helped preserve our commitment to free speech and the rule of law in the face of huge pressure.

By contrast, the principal goal of terrorism is to create and capitalize on disunity within the target society. Al-Qaeda has long sought to do this with respect to the United States: In 2010, from his Abbottabad lair, Osama bin Laden studied the American people’s dissatisfaction with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving orders to his commanders to seek ways of exploiting the discontent. Around the same time, Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American preacher who made English-language propaganda videos for al-Qaeda, declared with evident relish that “The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!”—a quote that began trending once again in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from Muslim countries …

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