Oh, no he didn’t. Zawahiri actually used the “n” word.
Al-Zawahiri may like to refer to Malcolm X when it suits him, but apparently, he’s not as schooled in blackAmerican culture as he ought to be. If he had studied the life and work of Malcolm X, he would have known that attacking a beloved figure is not a wise move for anyone who is feared and despised by many. Barack Obama is admired by much of the world, including many in traditionally Muslim lands and the African diaspora and viciously insulting him might cost al-Zawahiri far more than the suspension and public gag that Malcolm officially received. But it was using the “n” word that may have been his worst mistake, for it will not endear him to the African disapora, who form a larger percentage of the world’s Muslims than Arabs. Referring to Barack Obama, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice as “abeed al-bait” or literally “house slaves” has the potential to do more damage to Zawahiri’s cause than any military offensive. People of African descent have objected repeatedly and publicly to the term “abeed”(slave), which some Arabs use to refer to all people of African descent. And in places where slavery has racial connotations, the comment has a highly personal sting.
To insult Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice was equally appalling and offensive, but as Obama is the most visible and admired of the three, al- Zawahiri shot himself in the foot by tarring them all with the same brush. Obama, Powell and Rice have come under similar criticism for being politicians that happen to be black, rather than participating in identity politics. These criticisms, however, generally came from the blackAmerican community. Zawahiri ought to know that while you can trash your group all you like, you circle the wagons the second an outsider echoes your complaint. But even Jesse Jackson lacked a free pass to trash Obama- that should have given Zawahiri pause.
Zawahiri’s comment may be a sign of what I’ve thought will be Al-Qaeda’s true end. Al-Qaeda won’t be defeated by bombs or imprisonment or investigating charities. Al-Qaeda will die by its own hand. Its ideals are ultimately unworkable and do not serve the real needs of most of its members. It is also comprised not of a hierarchy with uniform religious goals, but a ragtag coalition of groups with differing political aims. The infighting and disillusionment are already causing attrition. When you have a group that is highly motivated but naïve, and not discouraged by death or imprisonment, the best weapon is to deprive them of what they seek- glory and admiration. And it’s clear that Zawahiri does not return the admiration of his African supporters.
Does Zawahiri believe that any support he gets from the African diaspora will not waver, or that any support he loses, he can well afford? Or is it just taking advantage of the opportunity to talk smack while a lame duck is in office? Whatever reasons he may have for doing so, there’s no denying that Zawahiri isn’t in this for The Ummah(tm),or anything else but his own lust for power.