Jason Burke asks what exactly al-Qaeda wants (my emphasis) in the Observer today, but despite having written a book on the subject (Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror) fails to illuminate. He gets diverted by the many conflicting aims of different terrorists – disgust at Western hedonism, lust for notoriety – and quickly gives-up, preferring to switch questions to; ‘Why do they feel that they have to act in the way that they do?’.
This lack of an obvious coherent thread makes al-Qaeda ideologically similar to the anti-globalisation movement in that that has nothing to offer with which to replace the status quo. I found this attitude in Manchester’s Liberal Democrats too and left because the party refused to consider creating a positive vision for the city for fear that it would give Labour something to critique. The party’s campaigning technique – pavement politics – involves finding out what people don’t like by surveying an area with ‘crumble sheets’. Inevitably this builds a coalition of irritating whingers rather than a coherent political force.
Rather than politics, it’s psychology that unites all these groups. All their lives are blighted by a discontent that’s exacerbated by their inability to focus on positive goals.