Yemenis More Sensitive to Disinformation Than Americans

Cargo explosivesIt’s not entirely certain whether the two packages containing explosives sent to the United States were meant to explode at the Chicago synagogues to which they were addressed or in mid-air. But since then the United States has been leaning especially hard on Yemen to roust members (perceived or not) of al Qaeda in its midst. On Saturday a Yemeni judge ordered the arrest of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric active in terror operations in Yemen and elsewhere.

He’s been high on America’s s**t list since it was discovered he’d been a mentor (if you can call advising on terror operations mentorship) to the accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan and to would-be underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a jet liner last Christmas.

Because of the omnipresence of his sermons on the web, Awlaki is sometimes called the bin Laden of the Internet. Dangerous as bin Laden 2.0, his crimes pale before those of the original version. Though, in comparison with Yemen, the closest Pakistan, the country in which bin Laden seems to be hiding, has come to apprehending him was arresting the American who came in search of him earlier this year, Gary Brooks Faulkner.

Meanwhile, shortly before the order for Awlaki’s arrest was issued, the New York Times ran an article by Mona El-Naggar and Robert F. Worth titled Yemen’s Drive on Al Qaeda Faces Internal Skepticism. “As Yemen intensifies its military campaign against Al Qaeda’s regional arm,” they wrote, “it faces a serious obstacle: most Yemenis consider the group a myth, or a ploy by their president to squeeze the West for aid money and punish his domestic opponents.”

Turns out that (and this is a collage of quote from the article) “many Yemenis seem doubtful that Al Qaeda was guilty [of the killings attributed to them], which took place in the same southern parts of the country where a secessionist movement has been growing for the past three years [or that they were] an excuse for American military intervention. [Meanwhile] counterterrorist raids are often described as punitive measures against domestic foes.”

One’s first impulse is to suspect that some deny the existence of al Qaeda because they don’t want to let on that they’re either working with or sympathetic to it. But that seems unlikely. El-Naggar and Worth report:

Yemen’s tribes are often cast as the chief obstacle in the fight against Al Qaeda, sheltering the militants because of tribal hospitality or even ideological kinship. In fact, few tribal leaders have any sympathy for the group, and some tribes have forced Qaeda members to leave their areas in the past year.

Whether or not they may carry it too far, it’s funny how alert Yemenis are to disinformation from their government compared to the public of a country awash in information like the United States. For instance, some Yemenis, as Awlaki himself once claimed, no doubt believe that Israel was responsible for 9/11. Whereas despite all the revelations about the CIA that have been dug up over the years, including possible responsibility for the assassination of President Kennedy, few Americans subscribe to alternate accounts of key events such as that and 9/11. The typical American fears being marginalized as a conspiracy theorist, a death-knell to one’s credibility.

When it comes to taking what their government says with a grain — okay, a mine — of salt, Americans could learn a lesson from Yemenis.