Beside the recurring theme during the 2008 US Presidential election that Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim (or merely a terrorist sympathiser), everyone was on the lookout for an 11th hour message of support from Al Qaeda, similar to the one that arguably helped George Bush during his successful 2004 run only days before the election. It had already been floated by the John McCain camp that Hamas and Iran preferred Obama to McCain (because Muslims like each other, of course) and that Al Qaeda would be seen as no different. But to Obama’s benefit, not a word was heard from the two chief Al Qaeda leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, before the election took place.
So did Zawahiri and Co. resort to some reverse psychology, perhaps noting how their endorsement of Bush in 2004 killed the campaign of the Iraq War opponent John Kerry? Considering the symbiotic relationship Al Qaeda has had with the Bush administration, that seems unlikely. The relative absense of commentary from Zawahiri during the campaign probably indicated some confusion on what Obama really represented (a key McCain-Palin allegation, of course). But now that one of Al Qaeda’s chief arguments has been neutralised with Obama’s election – America’s alleged antipathy towards non-whites – Zawahiri has responded with some race-baiting of his own, calling Obama a “house negro,” unlike the honourable Al Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz (that’s Malcolm X to you).
For the many non-Arab Muslims who have noticed the Al Qaeda leadership as being near Arab supremacist, this is a bit much (not to mention the widespread third-world joy at seeing a person of colour take over the “White” House). Malcolm could at least get away with such a description of subservient blacks (which he later rescinded, by the way) because he shared their race. For the Arab-dominated Al Qaeda to play this card speaks of their ever-growing irrelevance and the potential ascendancy of a “third way” that neither whitewashes Western imperialism (don’t screw this up, Barack) or resorts to the violence, polarisation, and authoritarianism inherent in Al Qaeda itself.
The bilateral neocon-Al Qaeda alliance is ending. Savour it.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.