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The Boston Globe

Ideas

What Al Qaeda learned from Mao

The surprisingly secular guerrilla strategy behind the would-be Islamist revolution

Twelve years after its horrifying attack on the United States and two years after Osama bin Laden’s death, Al Qaeda is still very much alive—dispersed, but with a critical role in the violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. Its leaders and locations have changed, but its ideology has proved tenacious and adaptable.

We often misunderstand what that ideology is. Americans generally discuss Al Qaeda chiefly as an Islamist group, one fanatically dedicated to imposing its harsh version of Islamic law on the Middle East and to extinguishing all American presence there.

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