Media metastasis of “Al Qaeda”

networksWhat is Al Qaeda, and what does it matter? Cardozo Law Professor Deborah Pearlstein took on those questions in an Opinio Juris post yesterday, “Al Qaeda in the Headlines.”
Deborah notes the media fondness for attaching labels like “Al-Qaeda-linked” to a range of militant groups – a practice, she writes, that

a much more complicated reality than the one conjured by the brand name “Al Qaeda.”

Her post discussing the consequences of that blanket label, not only as a matter of law but also as a matter of international and domestic politics. (Calls to my mind a post I did a few years back on another at-times-uncritically-accepted label, “returned to the fight.”) The successful labeling – and with it the public perception – of an insurgent armed group as “Al Qaeda” is more likely to build in the United States “pressure to use force” in response. That is not a good thing, Deborah writes, if the label’s wrong, if the group is not really to a terrorist menace to the United States:

‘If it’s something else – a group with different aims, a different focus – then our strategy may well and wisely be quite different.’

A timely call for precision in a crucial policy debate.

(credit for diagram of mesh network)

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