A Green bin-Laden ?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 30 15:27:55 MST 2002

(In the recently published parody of "Animal Farm", the author portrays
beavers as the equivalent of Islamic fundamentalists who resort to
terrorism after their dam-based ecology is destroyed by greedy capitalist
pigs. Although it would be far-fetched to find any such analogy with the
clash occurring today, it is of some interest that bin-Laden's latest 4,000
word manifesto lashes out at the US's withdrawal from the U.N.-sponsored
Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming.)

bin-Laden letter: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/11-24-2002-30919.asp

Salon.com, November 28, 2002 Thursday

Osama broadens his pitch

By Michelle Goldberg

Bin Laden's alleged plea to the American people tries to co-opt every
anti-U.S. complaint on the globe.

There's no way to know for sure whether the latest missive ostensibly from
Osama bin Laden actually comes from the hand of the arch-terrorist. But
experts suspect that if the 4,000-word manifesto, published in translation
on Sunday in London's Observer, wasn't penned by bin Laden himself, it's
the work of one of his followers, and it shows al-Qaida again trying to
broaden its message, positioning bin Laden as some twisted Che Guevara of
the new anti-Americanism.

In bin Laden's alleged "Letter to the American People," he peppers his
complaints about U.S. foreign policy with a vast litany of American sins,
from dropping the atomic bomb on Japan to withdrawing from the
U.N.-sponsored Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming. The letter goes
beyond excoriating the American military presence in Saudi Arabia to indict
us for our drug habits, greedy corporations, exploitative advertising and
tawdry presidential blow jobs. Many of its criticisms echo those made by
reasonable people worldwide -- which is why some experts say it might
resonate in pockets of intense anti-American alienation.

And that's frightening, because the letter also contains al-Qaida's most
comprehensive justification ever for deliberately targeting American
civilians. According to the Observer, an Arabic version of the letter was
sent out on a list run by Saudi Arabian dissident Mohammed al-Massari.
Parts of it, if not the whole, are taken from a letter that Yosri Fouda, a
correspondent for the Al-Jazeera news network, received on Nov. 17 through
"previously tested channels" for getting al-Qaida communications, as he
told CNN Nov. 18. Neither the State Department nor the Defense Department
has commented on the letter.

"It certainly seems legitimate to me," says Peter Bergen, author of "Holy
War Inc.," who interviewed bin Laden in 1997. "It's of a piece with almost
all of his previous statements."

Others aren't so sure. Youssef Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations, doubts that bin Laden is particularly concerned with
Monica Lewinsky or the Kyoto treaty and suggests that the letter "might be
people taking the original Osama bin Laden messages and reconstructing
them, adding to them." Still, he doesn't think it's a joke -- merely a
reflection of the growing list of grievances against the United States
among those sympathetic to bin Laden. "It's serious in the sense that it
shows you how much of this sentiment is out there," he says.

Which suggests that someone connected with al-Qaida -- if not bin Laden
himself -- has systematically appropriated a whole globe's worth of
anti-American complaints. It wouldn't be the first time.

Initially, al-Qaida's major grievance was the U.S. presence in Saudi
Arabia. It said less about the plight of the Palestinians. "Bin Ladenites
have always failed to attract any following among Palestinians because they
are latecomers to the Palestinian cause," says As'ad AbuKhalil, a research
fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of
California at Berkeley and the author of "Bin Laden, Islam & America's New
'War on Terrorism.'" But by turning up his anti-Zionist rhetoric, bin Laden
has created the impression in much of the world that he's avenging
Palestinian suffering.

The same tack is likely to be taken if America attacks Iraq, even though
bin Laden is a fierce enemy of the secular Saddam Hussein. "You have
starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day," the letter
reads, going on to blame U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq for the death of
Iraqi children. "Yet when 3,000 of your people died, the entire world rises
and has not yet sat down."

"Initially, al-Qaida couldn't give a hoot about Iraqi children or the
Palestinians. Now they're going to use them any way they can to garner
sympathy," says Harvey W. Kushner, chairman of Long Island University's
criminal justice department and the author of "The Encyclopedia of Terrorism."

Al-Qaida seems to be hoping it can do the same thing with the unhinged
fringe of legitimate social-justice movements. "It's a very astute campaign
to flood the market with real and unreal statements that can have some
clout in winning people over," Kushner says. "Was it written by his hand? I
doubt it. But it's not a hoax. It would be a hoax if it was put out by a
bunch of college students from Nebraska, and I'd be very surprised if that
was who issued it. What matters is, it's out there."

What's out there is an eerie melange of conspiracy theory, religious
fundamentalism and utterly mainstream opposition to things like
globalization and American military hegemony.

"It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed
by the history of mankind," the letter begins. It launches into paranoid
attacks on Jewish domination and America's responsibility for the AIDS
virus, but then returns to earth, saying, "You have destroyed nature with
your industrial waste and gasses more than any other nation in history.
Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure
the profit of your greedy companies and industries." Elsewhere a paragraph
begins with "Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold
sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with
their gifts." That's a pretty common complaint. But it's immediately
followed by "Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media
and economy."

This combination of common sense with megalomaniac fantasy and incitements
to violence is what makes the letter so clever, says Nancy Snow, a
professor of communications at California State University at Fullerton and
the author of "Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America's Culture to the World."

"What's hard for Americans reading this is that there is a lot of truth in
it," she says. "A lot of similar criticisms have been waged by dissidents
or dissenters. These are not the ramblings of some lunatic. It comes across
as very well-reasoned, hitting the right hot buttons. This letter really
points to a sophistication of language and an understanding of what our
weak points are, where our vulnerabilities are in the world."

Meanwhile, she says, America is utterly failing in its attempt to get its
point of view across to the Muslim world. The U.S. government is airing
documentaries abroad about Muslim families living happily in America, but,
Snow says, "These ads are showing how great we live here. They're just like
Pepsi commercials. Everyone in the world knows how well we live here -- in
part that's what bin Laden is taking advantage of."

Indeed, part of what makes al-Qaida's letter so unsettling is that it
suggests just how much more they know about us than we know about them.
"You've got to understand about Osama bin Laden. He is quite widely read,"
says Bergen, the "Holy War Inc." author. "I was at a class in Georgetown
for foreign-service students. They were asked, 'Does anyone in class know
what Donald Rumsfeld did during the Vietnam War?' No one knew. He was
secretary of defense at the war's end . In the last bin Laden audiotape,
when he talks about Donald Rumsfeld being guilty of the killing of 2
million people, he makes a quite intellectually defensible point."

By interspersing his polemic with such defensible points, bin Laden
threatens to do two things: win a few converts and de-legitimize the issues
he's co-opting. Kushner worries more about the former, saying, "What
they're trying to do is develop a moral equivalency: Their ends justify
their means, the same as ours do." Already, Kushner says, posters that
replace the classic image of Che with bin Laden have been showing up at
anti-globalization rallies, which the right has had a field day with.
Kushner believes the new manifesto could broaden bin Laden's appeal.

Obviously, the overwhelming majority of anti-globalists, environmentalists
and antiwar activists aren't going to listen to bin Laden. His violence and
his injunction to "reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality
and intoxicants" are anathema to that crowd. "He is a legitimate leader to
many, but he's not a legitimate leader to those of us who care about the
nonviolent transformation of society," Snow says.

But that doesn't mean al-Qaida isn't hoping to skim off a few of the
movement's extremists. "I think he's trying to steal some of that oxygen
from the global civil protests taking place," she says. "He's very good
about playing on people's sympathies for those left behind. In part he's
trying to get new recruits, to manipulate younger minds who see him as
willing to take on the West."

And while a few such recruits may not mean much to al-Qaida's ranks, they
could be devastating to champions of the causes bin Laden is trying to
piggyback on. "It muddies the waters because there are legitimate
criticisms of corporate-driven foreign policy," says Snow. Activists "want
to be careful not to get thrown into the same category as bin Laden by
those saying, 'You're either with us or with the terrorists.'"

Yet according to Bergen, al-Qaida's forays outside radical Islam are the
least of our worries right now. After all, the main point to emerge from
the manifesto is a stark one: Killing American civilians is morally
justified. "There's a much more careful delineation of why American
civilians should be attacked" than in any previous communications, Bergen
says. Essentially, bin Laden argues that since America is a democracy, its
citizens are complicit in the actions of its government. According to the
letter, says Bergen, "we've freely chosen the government that is oppressing
the Palestinians and killing Iraqis, and since Americans have made a free
choice to elect the government that does these things, they should be

This argument matters for one simple reason. "When bin Laden said he made
no distinction between military and civilians targets in 1998, nine weeks
later the embassies in Africa blew up," Bergen says. "His statements have
been a very reliable guide to his actions."

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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