Conventional wisdom says that al Qaeda is slipping because Ayman Zawahiri is becoming the face of the organization, and he simply doesn’t have the presence of an Osama bin Ladin.
Marc Lynch, the Middle Eastern media expert and publisher of the superb blog, Abu Aardvark, cites a number of Arab commentators on the subject. (Apparently, this has been a hot topic since the January 6th release of the latest al Qaeda tape.) One source, speculating on Zawahiri as al Qaeda heir apparent, says that he lacks the charisma, credibility and conviction of OBL, and would end up crippling the organization. Lynch cites other observers who assert that Zawahiri tapes are now showing up more frequently because al Qaeda perceives itself in a popularity contest with the Muslim Brotherhood as well as with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Certainly, appearance and attractiveness play a role in rallying the
troops. (Perhaps AZ might consider new eye wear, though I assume a
cultural or religious explanation exists for the mark on his
forehead.) Of course, Zawahiri’s personality must certainly be a
liability. As the strategist, of course, he’s more of a heavy — cast
in the Dick Cheney kind of mold.
What if the perceived unattractiveness speaks to a development
transcending personality politics, however? As trends go, could it be
that the days of the outlaw hero, along with the undisclosed locations,
the anonymous backdrops, the need to prominently display scary weapons
(as if "top management" really carried these things around at every
minute), and the sanctimonious pointing and lecturing are winding
down? I can’t speak for Zarqawi, but perhaps radical groups like Hamas
and Islamic Brotherhood understand that you have a lot more to gain
these days by promoting populism and a common face rather than an
outlaw aesthetic and any single face.
(image: AFP/Al Jazeera/File. January 6, 3006. Undisclosed location. Via YahooNews)