Al-Qaeda, in the person of #2 man Ayman al-Zawahiri, has broken its silence on the United States Presidential election. In 2004, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden made a notorious statement in advance of the voting between President George W. Bush and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. That statement is thought to perhaps have pushed the election in Bush's favor. This time, al-Qaeda waited until after election to make its statement - and with this statement may have committed a major strategic error - one that in time might be known as Zawahiri's Macaca Moment.
Among other things, Zawahiri - who is himself Egyptian - referred to President-Elect Barack Obama by a term that was translated into English as "house Negro" or "house slave." While this observer is not knowledgeable in Arabic, I am willing to venture that the true connotation of this phrase is more like "house ni**er."
Experts say that one of al-Qaeda's goals is to provoke conflict between the West and Islamic world. Calling the incoming President of the United States a "ni**er" is certainly provocative, but perhaps not in the way that Zawahiri might want it to be. It is obvious that many Muslims of African descent around the world - in Africa, in America, and elsewhere - have a special place in their hearts for President-Elect Obama. I cannot imagine that Zawahiri's statements will play well in African nations with large Muslim populations such as Senegal, or Burkina Faso, or Nigeria, or Kenya for that matter - where the nation just celebrated a national holiday to honor a son of Kenya on his ascension to the most powerful office in the world.
In his "holy" war, Zawahiri may just have kissed away major possible sources of support.
In this way, Zawahiri may resemble the perpetrator of the original Macaca Moment - former Virginia Sen. George Allen. During the 2006 campaign, Allen was holding a lead in a race with former Navy Secretary James Webb until Allen singled out a Webb campaign worker named S.R. Sidarth, who was videotaping Allen at a campaign event. Sidarth is a native of Virginia who happens to be the son of Indian immigrants. Allen referred to Sidarth as "Macaca," which is a type of monkey.
Allen never recovered from the effects of this insult - Jim Webb went on to defeat Allen.
The point here is that terrorists - like other practitioners of power politics - need to win hearts and minds. I don't think Ayman al-Zawahiri was too successful this time. We can hope that this will be his Macaca Moment.