Back in November of 2009, I recounted my befuddlement by the perspective that al Qaeda is inherently weak because it utilizes a strategy of ‘leaderless resistance.’ The government advisor who expressed this view seemed to think that because al Qaeda cells did not have leaders following the Great Man archetype, boldly marching on the field of public consciousness, that they were weak and easily eliminated.
On the contrary, I mused. Perhaps these terrorist cells have selected a strategy of great strength and endurance. After all, as Lao Tzu said,
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him… But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”
A 2009 analysis published in Security Studies, which the aforementioned government advisor must have missed, seems to support my view that this strategy of ‘leaderless resistance’ may be stronger than it appears to the casual observer. This article, by Jenna Jordan and aptly titled “When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation,” states that
“despite a tremendous amount of optimism toward the success of [leadership] decapitation, there is very little evidence on whether and when removing leaders will result in organizational collapse.”
In fact, Jordan goes on to say,
“The marginal utility for [leadership] decapitation is actually negative. Groups that have not had their leaders targeted have a higher rate of decline than groups whose leaders have been removed. [Leadership] decapitation is actually counterproductive particularly for larger, older, religious or separatist organizations.”
Perhaps, anticipating the incredibly predictable strategy of eliminating the ‘man at the top’, al Qaeda took heed of some ancient Tao wisdom and integrated it into their organizational culture.
If only Taoism was more widely (and thoroughly) followed.