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Al-qaeda: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization

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Al-Qaeda is a term used by Islamic radicals to describe the terrorist organization to which they belong. The term is not used to describe a single group or even a combination of multiple groups. Al-Qaeda is made up of several main bases in Afghanistan, Islamic political parties and it also has many remote locations worldwide and some control of other independent Islamic terrorist groups that it uses to strengthen itself (Gunaratna 54; Burke 1).

The objective of the terrorist group is deeply rooted in spreading Islam, installing sharia law and creating Islamic states. They want to rid the world of secularist and Western influences that non-Muslims and even moderate Muslims support. The men involved in the organization believe that they are engaged in a jihad. Jihad is a term which can be given two meanings: that there is an inner spiritual struggle or that there is a physical fight against the enemies of Islam. The members of al-Qaeda believe that they are fighting a “lesser jihad” or a war against the enemies of Islam (Gunaratna 84-85).

September 11, 2001, this day will live in infamy in the eyes of the American people. On this day, four terrorist attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda killed 2,996 people and caused over $10 billion in damage. Four planes had been hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Two of the planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York. The Towers and several surrounding buildings collapsed, killing thousands. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Fortunately, the plane flew into a wing of the building that was unoccupied and undergoing renovations at the time. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the passengers tried to reclaim control from the hijackers (Kleinfield, 2001).

This attack has been used to justify the “War on Terror,” an ongoing military campaign against terrorists organizations which is spearheaded by the United States, United Kingdom and their allies. Because of the attacks on September 11th, the United States has had troops stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. On May 2, 2011, nearly a decade after the attacks, the United States achieved a major goal in their “War on Terror.” A Navy SEAL team infiltrated Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, effectively killing him (CNN, 2014). This, however, still has not led to a full military retraction in the Middle East. The United States is still fighting al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda is still a major international terrorist threat and is growing in power.

One of the biggest reasons al-Qaeda has been seen as such a threat to world peace is because of how it targeted civilians in the attacks on September 11th. “Al Qaeda’s published doctrine maintains that there are no innocent civilians in Western society, and this tenet leads to the gravest of international crimes. In warfare, the principle of distinction requires that civilians never be singled out as targets” (Wedgewood 329). But this is exactly what al-Qaeda did in planning the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The hijackings were timed so that the most civilians would be in the area.

On January 7, 2015, twelve people were killed in a shooting at the headquarters of the Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, for publishing cartoons or comics satirizing the Prophet Muhammad. The suspects are said to be linked to al-Qaeda after one of the suspects told a witness, “You can tell the media that it’s al-Qaeda in Yemen” (Hinnant et al, 2015). This led a three day manhunt for the shooters, brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi. After the suspects fled the scene, five more victims were kill in a roadside shooting on Thursday, January 8th, and also in two police standoffs on Friday, January 9th. Elite police forces, heavily armed, stormed the countryside and towns surrounding Paris in search of the brothers. The search ended when the police cornered the brothers in the sleepy rural town of Dammartin-en-Goëlle near Charles de Gaulle Airport (Andrews et al, 2015).

Many have called this event France’s 9/11; however, this is a bit of a stretch. The shooting has put France in the spotlight because the attackers were French nationals and had been arrested on charges of suspected terrorism in the past. The brothers had both been to Yemen to train with al-Qaeda and then returned to France. The French are known for their detest of the Arab peoples. France has had issues integrating Arab immigrants into their society and many Arab immigrants live in the slums, unable to create a better life for themselves. To the French, even Arab people who were born in France are not French. This trend has caused much tension between the French people and Arab people living side by side in France (Bilefsky and De La Baume, 2015; Higgins and Bilefsky, 2015).

The attack on Charlie Hebdo will go down as one of the most horrific events in journalistic and modern French history. The attack on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo is the deadliest attack on journalists since 2009 when thirty journalists were killed in the Maguindanao Massacre in the Philippines (Ingraham, 2015). France, itself, has not seen a terrorist attack of this magnitude in half a century. This is the worst terrorist attacks in France in over fifty years and leads many to question France’s national security. If the brothers had been previously been arrested on charges of association with terrorist organizations, why weren’t the brothers more carefully watched?

Al-Qaeda has not issued an official statement on the attack but tweeted that the attack was “inspiring.” A member of al-Qaeda, claiming to represent the group, reached out to The New York Times and giving a statement that the attacks had in fact been arranged by al-Qaeda in Yemen. The statement read, “The target was in France in particular because of its obvious role in the war on Islam and oppressed nations,” in reference to the tensions between the French and Arab peoples (Hinnant et al, 2015).

To understand the way state actors interact with each other, there are sets of theories that attempt to explain state behaviors. In this essay, Secularist and Feminist international theories will be used to analyze reactions to al-Qaeda, terrorism and the marginalization of Muslims in the international system.

Secularism offers a different explanation of the current difficulties internationally than previously thought. Secularism recognizes the religious resurgence that is happening in modern society. Religious resurgence was not expected by academic scholars and does not fit into any traditional or existing theories of international relations. “Conventional understandings of international relations, focused on material capabilities and strategic interaction, exclude from the start the possibility that religion could be a fundamental organizing force in the international system” (Hurd 1). The problem with this way of thinking about the international system, Hurd argues, is that even though it is widely accepted in Western countries that religion and state are in theory separate, this is not the case in many developing countries, a prime example, states developing in the Middle East.

The classic theories of international relations, Liberalism, Realism and Constructivism, presume that religion is a private affair after the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. While operating under this assumption, Realists, Liberalists and Constructivists, to a lesser extent, believe that religion is irrelevant to state behavior. The influence of religion is largely ignored until “confronted with something inescapably religious, such as the Iranian revolution or the Taliban, they [foreign policy elites] begin talking of religious zealotry and fanaticism, which suddenly explains everything. After a few days of shaking their heads over the fanatics, they revert to their usual secular analyses” (Hurd 4). Secularism offers an alternative view of international affairs in which the dominant religion(s) of a state’s culture are present in their decision and law making practices.

When looking at cases of terrorism committed by members of al-Qaeda, like Charlie Hebdo and 9/11, it becomes increasingly clear that religion plays a large role in domestic and international affairs, even though traditional international theories tend to dismiss the concept. Members of al-Qaeda are overly zealous Islamic militants. These men have founded and are participating in al-Qaeda in an attempt to spread and forcibly install their version of Islamic values. The presence of such an aggressive religious state has negative consequences for the entire world. Western and secular states are the object of aggression of overly religious autocracies and are at risk of terrorist attacks orchestrated by zealots.

States that are heavily influenced by religion, such as Islam, tend to be autocracies. However, an autocracy does not have to have a heavy religious influence. It can be seen that many weaker countries in the Middle East, and elsewhere, are easily manipulated by the religious fanatics residing in there boarders. These religious fanatics take up residence within the borders of these weaker states for several reasons. First, the regime in power does not necessarily have the power to control outbreaks of religious zealotry, nor do they always care to provide basic human rights. Second, because there is such a weak or apathetic government in place, poverty is widespread. Widespread poverty, the negligence of human rights and lack of control leads to the birth and rapid growth of terrorist organizations within a state’s borders because the citizens residing within the state are more likely to look to other nongovernment organizations, like al-Qaeda, for the bare necessities and security their official government has failed to provide.

To address the problem of religious resurgence Secularists would examine the situation in terms of one of two trajectories. The Laicist trajectory and the Judeo-Christian secularist trajectory are the two branches of Secularist theory. Laicists view religion and religious fanatics as “an adversary and an impediment to modern politics.” Judeo-Christian secularists see religion as “a source of unity and identity that generates conflict in modern international politics” (Hurd 23).

A Judeo-Christian Secularist would take a more positive view on religion in general unlike a Laicist who would advocate for the abolition of religion especially in the realm of politics. The Judeo-Christian Secularist sees that the conflict in the Middle East is caused by ethnic conflict and the lack of Christian values in the region. Coupling secularism with a religion seems contradicting; however, as can be seen in the United States, “Christian values” have always played a role in representative politics because of a representative’s personal philosophies and the philosophies of his or her constituents. These “Christian values” that countries adopt under the guise of Westernization cause conflict and tension between non-Western Islamic states. This tension causes Islamic terrorists stationed in the Middle East to strike preemptively on Western countries.

A Laicist finds flaws with religious influences in politics regardless of denomination. He or she would recognize that the central issue causing conflict in the Middle East and the growing threat of terrorism is in direct relation to religious resurgence around the globe. A Laicist argues for a state free from religious influence, which is arguably not seen in today’s world even with France’s laicist policy. France has a policy of laïcité, which means that church and state are completely separate. The government does not even collect data about people’s religious preferences (Khosrokhavar 2015). However, if you ask the Muslims living within France’s borders the policy is not enforced to the extent that the government would like one to think.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, The New York Times ran an article by Farahad Khosrokhavar entitled “The Mill of Muslim Radicalism in France.” As stated previously, the French are known for having racist tendencies towards Arabs and Muslims. One could compare France’s prejudice towards Muslims with the American prejudice against African Americans. Muslims only account for 7-10% of the French population but about 50% of the prison population in France.

Even in prison, many Muslims feel persecuted against. Khosrokhavar interviewed a Muslim Frenchman who said, “Look at how a Catholic or a Jew is treated and look at how we are treated. They have their weekly prayers; in this prison we don’t have Friday prayers. Their rabbi can go to all the cells; our Muslim minister cannot. There’s kosher food, but no halal meat. They despise, us and they call that laïcité.” This is somewhat of a misconception. Muslim ministers are allowed in French prisons but often don’t visit; and halal meat is becoming more available but the French secularist policy and prejudices against Muslims make the young men on the streets and in prisons feel the need for retaliation. Another young Muslim man interviewed by Khosrokhavar said, “If you are a Muslim and ask to participate in the Friday prayers, they take your name down and hand it over to the Renseignements Généraux. (French equivalent to the FBI.) If I try to take my prayer carpet to the courtyard, they prohibit it. If I grow a beard, the guards call me Bin Laden, smiling and mocking me. They hat Islam. But Islam can take revenge.” This mistreatment of Muslim men in a secular society, like France’s, transforms even moderate or non-practicing Muslims into violent, revenge seeking extremists who then pursue international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda.

The Charlie Hebdo shooting and even the Boston Marathon Bombings that occurred in New York in 2013 are perfect examples of domestic policy affecting the international stage. These events were both carried out by homegrown Islamic extremists who felt that their respective countries were persecuting Muslims at home and abroad.

Feminism is a movement created to procure gender equality and equality for marginalized peoples. Feminists vary widely on beliefs and values; no one feminist is exactly the same. Feminist theory in international relations accounts for that. There are feminist Liberal, Realist and Constructivist theories. In general, though, “feminist scholars are interested in starting the study of IR [international relations] at the level of individual women’s lives” (Sjoberg 70). Feminism offers several critiques of terrorism and the way it is looked at in the eyes of the world.

First off, feminists look at the role women play in acts of terrorism. Generally speaking, women are not thought to be involved with terrorism but rather just affected by its results. In our world, men are generally viewed as the protector and women are viewed as the protected (Pala 1). This; however, is not the case. In fact, there are many terrorists who are women but much of the work that acknowledges the role women play in terrorism by calling them “women terrorists” thus “placing their gender at the forefront of accounts of their motivation” (Sjoberg 69). The role women play in terrorism is many times being downplayed because of her gender. The assumption is that a woman is incapable of such extreme bouts of violence because of her gentle and nurturing nature. Sjoberg explains that, “Feminist perspectives on terrorism would at once interrogate gender relations within terrorist organizations and the gender dynamics of terrorist attacks” (70). She goes on to explain that the study of terrorism in international relations does not pay enough attention to “women as terrorists” and overlooks affects terrorism has on women (70).

Secondly, feminists critique the current definitions of terrorism. Currently, terrorism can be simply defined as acts of violence committed by non-state actors targeting civilians and counterterrorist strikes are then committed by state actors in response to terroristic acts. Feminists are critical of this definition because this allows state actors to get away with the same types of violence that the non-state actors commit. Feminists studying international relations “critiqued the assumption that the state can be seen as a protector of those inside it—instead the state’s security is often won at the price of the security of its marginalized citizens. If that is true, the dichotomy between terrorists and counterterrorists is artificially stark” (Sjoberg 71). Feminism is for the benefit of all especially marginalized citizens. Feminists are critical of so-called “counterterrorism acts” committed by state actors because the violent acts committed are usually targeted at civilians just like the acts of terrorism the state actors are trying to combat.

Finally, feminists look at how manipulating the perceptions of gender and gender roles play into terrorism and counterterrorism. Sjoberg gives two examples of how states have manipulated the perception of gender and gender roles to get the response that they desire. The Chechen terrorist organization was nicknamed the “black widows.” Russia was able to gain support for “the prosecution of the conflict with Chechnya by telling Russians that Chechens sell their women into terrorism, and drug them to force them to carry out their missions” (Sjoberg 72). In this example, Russia used the Black Widows to manipulate the Russian population’s opinion on a foreign conflict. In a similar situation, the United States was able to gain the support of feminists for the war in Afghanistan when the government claimed that part of the reason for the war was to correct the sexist attitudes and behaviors prevalent in the Middle East (Sjoberg 72). This relates back to the idea that women must be protected by men to keep them pure and innocent. Sjoberg points to President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, “one of the things that separated good and evil in President Bush’s parlance was how civilized people treat women- which is not to involve them in terror.” This is an incredibly sexists stance for anyone to take in the 21st century and it reinforces the archaic notion that women are delicate and must be protected at all costs.

There are, of course many different ways to analyze terrorism and international relations. Feminism and Secularism each provide different insight as to the roots and effects of terrorism. Feminism looks at the effects of terrorism on women and marginalized people as well as the largely overlooked role that women play in terrorism. The world is still largely stuck in an outdated, sexist mindset that doesn’t allow for women to easily fit into any place in society. Women’s contributions to international relations and international terrorism are largely swept under the rug. Women around the world are still expected to be mothers. Their role is to birth strong sons to perpetuate the role of the very masculine soldier (Pala 2). Secularist theory in international relations puts religion at the forefront of international disputes and warfare like we see in today’s environment. Some argue that values based in the commonality of religion is unifying and that it is when people differ from each other that problems arise. Others argue that religion in general is to blame and is an adversary to all. In the world today, one does not see total secularism. There are still many prejudices with regards to religion. This hate in turn just breeds more hate.

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Al-Qaeda: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from
“Al-Qaeda: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019,
Al-Qaeda: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 7 Jul. 2022].
Al-Qaeda: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 26 [cited 2022 Jul 7]. Available from:
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