Most of the work on terrorism says that al Qaeda is an intelligent, serious organization of dedicated loyalists deeply committed to the cause. In the language of Cindy Combs, AQ is not a crazy or a criminal but a crusader.
This is an important insight, as our reflex is to respond angrily by denigrating them as mad, crazy, nihilists. During WWII, we used to caricature Hitler as chewing the carpet in wild rages that almost certainly never happened. The reality is that AQ – and Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, and most of history’s horribles – are rational, strategic, and intelligent. These various opponents of liberal democracy have different values and pursue different (ie, awful) political goals, but they are rarely stupid or simply nihilistic.
So if AQ is rational, I don’t understand the value of attacking South Koreans. Why are the South Koreans, of all people, now ‘infidels’ too? I understand of course that in a maximal binladenist reading, a vast swathe of humanity, including Shiites, are the enemy. But if AQ is in fact acting strategically, can’t the Koreans wait their turn for elimination after the more proximate and threatening opponents (the West/Christianity, Israel/Jews, India/Hindus)? More practically, shouldn’t AQ just simply be trying to survive the GWoT right now, rather than adding another opponent?
AQ appears to see the world as a clash of civilizations. Islam, in this view, is encircled and already in conflict with errant pre-Islamic monotheisms (Christianity & Judaism), polytheistic Hinduism, and ‘pagan’ African animism/naturalism. Why open another potentially huge front by targeting Buddhist-Confucian states? It seems like a gigantic risk, especially if Japan and China read this as a religious assault on Confucianism and/or Buddhism (which seems to be the point, as AQ refers to the S Korean victims as ‘infidels.’)
The answer is likely that SK is a US ally, but this doesn’t seem like enough to explain 2 quick attacks and the infidel rhetoric. SK is an American ally, but it is hardly involved in the GWoT. Koreans know little about Islam, and there are less than 100 Muslims in the whole country. Given the NK menace, its forces can hardly deploy out-of-area anyway. Although it has a sizeable Christian population now, its deep religious roots are Buddhist-Confucian. And Buddhism and Confucianism are scarcely germane to the fiery theistic conflicts that divide deep partisans of Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
I suppose we can only hope that AQ and radical Islam are foolish enough to declare war on all the world’s (non-Sunni) non-Muslims simultaneously.