Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We Have Met the Enemy . . .

. . . and he is [some of] us. (Apologies to the late Walt Kelly.)

UPDATED BELOW (12/15/05 @ 5:06 p.m.)

Brendan O'Neill, writing at Spiked, opines that bin Laden's script is written in the West:
Why has Verso brought out a book [link added] of bin Laden's statements and why is it being treated so seriously, complete with a promotional push in Waterstone's in Piccadilly, one of the biggest bookstores in Europe? . . . . Is it that the dumbing down of public life is now so complete that even a loon like bin Laden can get five stars from literary pundits for saying things like 'kill the Americans and seize their money wherever and whenever [you] find them' (December 1998) and 'My kidneys are all right' (November 2001)?

I think there's more to it than that. I reckon the reason why some commentators in the West seem drawn to bin Laden's prose is because at times - and I'm not going to beat around the bush here - he sounds an awful lot like them. Seriously, it is uncanny. What comes across most clearly in this 10 years' worth of rants is the extent to which bin Laden borrows and steals from Western media coverage to justify his nihilistic actions. From his cynical adoption of the Palestinian issue to his explanations for why he okayed 9/11 to his opposition to the American venture in Iraq, virtually everything bin Laden says is a rip-off of arguments and claims made in the mainstream media over here. He has taken the justifications offered by left-leaning pundits for al-Qaeda's existence and actions (in the words of one commentator: 'There is a simple reason why they attack the US: American imperialism') and made them his own (2). And now these pundits have returned the favour by giving him his own book and glowing reviews to boot. It is the unholiest of marriages. . . .

Take Palestine. It is widely assumed that al-Qaeda's violence is primarily motivated by Israel's oppression of the Palestinians and will continue until that issue is resolved. Yet bin Laden's nods to Palestine over the past 10 years tell a different story.

. . . Bruce Lawrence, editor of this collection, has given bin Laden's first major public pronouncement - made on 29 December 1994 - the heading 'The betrayal of Palestine'; but when you read it, Palestine is cynically mentioned as part of bin Laden's spat with Saudi rulers. . . .

Bin Laden sounds like a spoilt middle-class brat sticking two fingers up at his family and former friends (he was once close to various Saudi rulers) for getting all money-obsessed, dude. In fact, that's exactly what he is: the son of a Saudi billionaire who in the 1970s made a fortune from running one of daddy's construction firms and drove a white Chrysler, but then went all religious and decided that capitalism is not very nice. If he'd been born in the Home Counties instead of Riyadh, he would probably have been one of those Eton-educated types who turn their backs on privilege and piss off their parents by becoming smelly hippies who smash up McDonald's. . . .

. . . Even when bin Laden's statements are liberally peppered with references to Palestine (as often they are), he only mentions it opportunistically and symbolically; there is no real or practical input into Palestinian politics. In 2001, his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri said: 'The fact that must be acknowledged is that the issue of Palestine is the cause that has been firing up the feelings of the Muslim nation from Morocco to Indonesia for the past 50 years.'

Likewise, bin Laden's justifications for 9/11 are continually moulded and shaped by Western media coverage. At first - on 28 September 2001 - he disavows responsibility for the attacks, instead trying to pin the blame on some dastardly conspiracy within America itself. . . . Then there are intelligence agencies in the US, which require billions of dollars of funds from the Congress and the government every year. . . .

A secret government that may have executed the attacks itself in order to get more funding for foreign wars of intervention…sound familiar? Bin Laden could have lifted these explanations from any number of blogs or conspiracy sites that swung into action in the days and weeks after 9/11. Later he claims that 9/11 was in retaliation for Palestine (see above). Later still, he starts banging on about 9/11 as part of a bigger 'plan to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy, with God's will'. And guess how he tries to prove that this plan has been a success? Yes, by once again pilfering Western media coverage. On 21 October 2001, he says:

'I say that the events that happened on 11 September are truly great events by any measure…. The daily income of the American nation is $20 billion. The first week [after the attack] they didn't work at all as a result of the psychological shock of the attack, and even today some still don't work because of it. So if you multiply $20 billion by one week, it comes to $140 billion…. The cost of building and construction losses? Let us say more than $30 billion. So far they have fired or liquidated more than 170,000 employees from airline companies, including airfreight companies and commercial airlines…. One of the well-known American hotel companies, Intercontinental, has fired 20,000 employees, thanks to God's grace….'

And on it goes. Can you see what bin Laden is doing here? He has not been 'wonderfully briefed' by al-Qaeda's resident economist, if it has such a thing; rather, he is cherry-picking from the various scare stories and predictions of doom - and indeed real job losses - that were splashed across the media in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and claiming ownership of them, as if they were all part of his plot. . . . He attempts to attach meaning to his nihilistic assault retrospectively - first by borrowing the Palestine explanation from Western commentators, and then by citing the economic handwringing that also was widespread in the Western media. . . .

Bin Laden's parroting of Western views is most stark in his later statements about Iraq. Here, he sounds like a cross between Michael Moore and Robert Fisk, with a bit of Koran-bashing thrown in for good measure. In a statement dated 29 October 2004, one bit in particular made me laugh: bin Laden seems to suggest that the weapons inspectors in Iraq should have been given more time before the rush to war! He says:

'…American thinkers and intellectuals warned Bush before the war that everything he needed to guarantee America's security by removing weapons of mass destruction - assuming they existed - was at his disposal, that all countries were with him when it came to inspections, and that America's interest did not require him to launch into a groundless war with unknown repercussions. But the black gold blinded him and he put his own private interests ahead of the American public interest….'

The above statement is like a microcosm of the trendy liberal argument against the war in Iraq: we should have let the weapons inspectors continue their job (bin Laden for Blix!) but because Bush is so addicted to oil (the 'black gold') he went ahead with the war anyway. Bin Laden even worries about the war having 'unknown repercussions', an echo of debates in the West about the unpredictability of war in Iraq and the concern that it might make all of us less rather than more safe. No wonder bin Laden namechecks 'American thinkers and intellectuals' - he got his political position on Iraq directly from them.

By the time of Iraq, bin Laden - who started out as a Saudi obsessive who wanted to make Saudi society even more chokingly religious - has become a fully-fledged Bush-basher, virtually indistinguishable from a new generation of journos and bloggers who see Bush as the most evil president ever and Iraq as the wickedest war of all time (they have short historical memories). He rants that 'this war is making billions of dollars for the big corporations, whether it be those who manufacture weapons or reconstruction firms like Halliburton and its offshoot and sister companies'. Halliburton has, of course, become the bete noir of the anti-capitalist-cum-anti-war movement. Bin Laden says: 'It is all too clear, then, who benefits most from stirring up this war and bloodshed: the merchants of war, the bloodsuckers who direct world policy from behind the scenes.' This is also a popular idea on today's anti-war left: that a wicked cabal led by Paul Wolfowtiz and Dick Cheney (both of whom have big business links) is leading America to war. (Indeed, I tried my best to find some differences between that sentence uttered by bin Laden and this one uttered by anti-Bush actor Woody Harrelson - 'the epidemic of all human rights violations all stems from the same sick source, and that is The Beast: these giant frigging industries that control the body politic, our society and certainly our economy' - but I had no luck.) . . .

In [a] statement ( . . . on 29 October 2004) bin Laden chastises Bush for leaving '50,000 of his citizens in the two towers to face this great horror on their own', because he considered 'a little girl's story about a goat and its butting [to be] more important than dealing with aeroplanes and their butting into skyscrapers'. What is he rabbiting on about? You'll know if you've seen, or read about, Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11, which opens with painful footage of Bush reading a story called 'My Pet Goat' to a classroom of kids on the morning of 9/11 while the planes hit the twin towers. Maybe bin Laden watched a pirate DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11; maybe he just read about the opening scene somewhere on the web. Either way, he seems yet again to borrow from an anti-Americanism that has its origins in the West. . . .

In a nutshell, bin Laden steals from and quotes Western commentators in his justifications for al-Qaeda violence, and then Western commentators re-quote bin Laden's rehashing of their own arguments as evidence that al-Qaeda is a rational political organisation. Talk about a vicious cycle. In the process, some commentators get dangerously close to being apologists for al-Qaeda. In the introduction to this collection, editor Bruce Lawrence asks 'Should bin Laden…be described as a contemporary anti-imperialist fighter adaptive to the Information Age?' He answers his own question by quoting Michael Mann (whom he describes as 'one of the most level-headed of sociologists'). Mann says: 'Despite the religious rhetoric and the bloody means, bin Laden is a rational man. There is a simple reason why he attacked the US: American imperialism. As long as America seeks to control the Middle East, he and people like him will be its enemy.'

What these commentators don't seem to realise is that they provided bin Laden with the cloak of rationality and political reasoning. Their own arguments, often cynically made, about al-Qaeda being an understandable (if bloody and murderous) response to American imperialism have been co-opted - explicitly so - by bin Laden. . . .

Instead of exposing the glaring contradictions in bin Laden's statements - all the better to undermine al-Qaeda's violent outbursts and put the real case for a Palestinian homeland and an end to Western intervention in the Middle East - too many on the left read meaning and consistency into his statements, projecting their own political prejudices on to the ranting of a bearded man in a cave. As a result, what is in truth a disparate nihilistic campaign, an incoherent lashing out against modernity, is given the cloth of 'anti-imperialism' with which to dress up its crimes.

. . . This collection of bin Laden's statements reveals that al-Qaeda is the bastard child of a fearmongering right and an opportunistic left.

Enough said, except to point you to some related posts:

Getting It Wrong: Civil Libertarians and the War on Terror (A Case Study) (05/18/04)
The Illogic of Knee-Jerk Privacy Adocates (10/06/04)
Treasonous Blogging? (03/05/05)
Absolutism (03/25/05)
Shall We All Hang Separately? (08/13/05)
Foxhole Rats (08/14/05)
Treasonous Speech? (08/18/05)
Foxhole Rats, Redux (08/22/05)
The Faces of Appeasement (11/19/05)

UPDATE: There is one more thing to say: This woman typifies the enemy within. She hates America because it isn't perfect and isn't "run" the way she'd like to run it. Typical adolescent, leftist whining. I'm sick of it.