Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Former White House counterterrorism czar warns about al-Qaida attacks at Bridges event

Yemen is now the largest hub of al-Qaida fighters, and those members are targeting the U.S., former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke warned some 700 people gathered at a DU Bridges to the Future event Nov. 4.

Al-Qaida leadership believes the U.S. is propping up governments in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Clarke explained, so to take control of those countries, al-Qaida’s strategy is to attack America.

“They’re still after the far enemy and that’s us,” said Clarke, currently the chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, a risk management firm. Clarke came to DU as the first speaker of the 2010–11 Bridges to the Future series titled 9/11: Ten Years After.

Al-Qaida isn’t comprised of uneducated, impoverished Muslims from the Middle East, he explained. In fact, many of its members are well-educated, middle class people and often, American citizens.

“There is a steady beat of Americans being converted,” Clarke said. The one thing they have in common is that they believe the U.S. is at war with Islam.

Clarke said that’s the very reason President Barack Obama made it clear that America is not at war with Islam — and never will be — during his Inauguration speech.

It was a message that needed to be delivered, Clarke said, but it only was effective for a short time.

While Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S., that fact receives little press in the Middle East. Instead, the message they get there is that Americans are burning the Quran or preventing mosques from being built.

“We’re not good at fighting an ideological battle,” he said.

What the U.S. has gotten better at, Clarke said, is working on counterterrorism. Law enforcement has improved since 9/11 and many attacks have been prevented. But he warned that may not always be the case and said Americans should not accuse the government of doing a poor job should an attack occur.

“We shouldn’t panic,” Clarke said. “We shouldn’t attack people who are trying to save us.

Clarke was appointed chair of the Counterterrorism and Security Group in 1992 and had a seat on the United States National Security Council. President Bill Clinton retained Clarke and named him national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and counterterrorism in 1998.

Bridges to the Future was created in 2002 to build a framework of programs that stimulate civic dialogue and discussion among Colorado communities. Events are scheduled in each of DU’s three academic quarters — fall, winter and spring. The events are free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required.

The next event will be Jan. 10, when Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations of the Middle East at the London School of Economics and Finance, comes to DU. Reservations will be open in late November. Visit the Bridges website for updates.

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