The terrorism that we have come to associate with Al Qaeda is special in many ways. It is global, technologically sophisticated, but, above all, it is not about an achievable political objective.
It is not aimed at creating a united (Catholic) Ireland, an independent Basque country, or even a Palestinian state, but at a particular worldview and those who represent it. It is aimed at what used to be called the West, that is, a liberal order of things, a free world. Because the United States is the most visible and powerful representative of that free world, it is aimed against America and its closest allies in Europe and elsewhere.
This is a critical fact to remember. What we describe under the heading of Al Qaeda is an essentially negative, destructive movement. It does not offer an alternative view of the modern world other than the implicit claim that modernity is neither necessary nor desirable.
Moreover, that claim, when made by men who appear to be religious leaders, is almost certainly dishonest. Such leaders are using religion for their own highly modern political purposes; they use it to organize and mobilize their supporters - to commit individual or collective suicide, if need be. In this they are not entirely dissimilar from the totalitarian leaders of fascist movements, who likewise built on popular frustration to pursue an essentially destructive purpose in the name of anti-modern beliefs and promises.