Giles Foden writes in the Guardian:
In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov’s 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title “al-Qaida”. And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.
“This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov’s book and the events unfolding now,” wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article. He was referring to apparent similarities between the plot of Foundation and the pursuit of the organisation we have come to know, perhaps erroneously, as al-Qaida.
The Arabic word qaida — ordinarily meaning “base” or “foundation” — is also used for “groundwork” and “basis”. It is employed in the sense of a military or naval base, and for chemical formulae and geometry: the base of a pyramid, for example. Lane, the best Arab-English lexicon, gives these senses: foundation, basis of a house; the supporting columns or poles of a structure; the lower parts of clouds extending across a horizon; a universal or general rule or canon. With the coming of the computer age, it has gained the further meaning of “database”: qaida ma’lumat (information base).
Qaida itself comes from the root verb q-‘-d : to sit down, remain, stay, abide. Many people appear to think al-Qaida’s name emerged from some idea of a physical base — a command centre from where Bin Laden and other leaders could direct operations. “We’ve got to get back to al-Qaida on that one,” it’s possible to imagine a footsoldier saying. Bin Laden himself has spoken, post-September 11, of being in “a very safe place”. There have also been stories that his father had a vernal estate called al-Qaida in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. Could there be a sense in which the name of the organisation represents a notion of the eternal home in the consciousness of its fugitive leader?
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