Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bin There, Laden That

[posted by Callimachus]

I often urge people to read the writings of Bin Laden. In fact, I think it would be a valuable exercise to have the whole nation take a day off work and read what the man has said and written about us and what he plans to do to us and why.

But the next question is, where do I get them; and the answer to that is surprisingly difficult. There is one published collection in English that I am aware of, Messages to the World. It's a good collection, but it has problems.

The problems in the book are not so much in Bin Laden's words, but in the surrounding material. The introduction by Bruce Lawrence (a professor of religion at Duke) seems to bend over to present Bin Laden as an honorable man reacting to legitimate grievances with appropriate resistance that he perhaps takes a wee bit too far.

This is repulsive to me, but perhaps the editors thought they were counterbalancing the hyperbole that the demon evoked from us. Bin Laden certainly is not a madman, and he often uses reason in parts of his arguments and he has a highly developed sense of honor.

But was it necessary to present so many encomiums of praise to the architect of 9/11? If this introduction is merely an attempt to balance other writings, why not say so, and what exactly are those writings? He's also a liar and a mass-murderer and a racist and an implacable enemy of Americans. This is glossed over in the introduction, and at the top of the list of the "further reading" section at the end is Tariq Ali's "Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq."

Not America, Americans. Just take the man at his word:

Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion. For as long as I can remember, I have felt tormented and at war, and have felt hatred and animosity for Americans.

That's from an interview aired on Al-Jazeera in December 1998. The quote is on page 87 of the book.

But, curiously, if you look in the index under "bin-Laden's anti-Americanism" or "Jews," both of which have separate headings in the index, there is no reference to page 87, either alone or in a sequence. The whole index is highly curious in this regard. Certainly if you wanted to know what Bin Laden has said about Jews and Americans, that quote is pertinent. But the compilers of his writings have seen fit to steer their readers away from it.

The footnotes are just as deceptive. The editors jump in with a footnote every time they find a chance to bolster one of Bin Laden's points. But on his errors, they are silent. Why have footnotes at all if all you wish to do with them is legitimatize Bin Laden?

Example: In the 1998 Al-Jazeera interview, Bin Laden says America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki "after Japan had surrendered," a gross error that is allowed to stand without comment by the editors [p.67].

But in Bin Laden's more carefully crafted open letter to Americans (posted on the Internet on Oct. 14, 2002) he wrote "You dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, even though Japan was ready to negotiate an end to the war" [p.168].

Here the editors jump in with comments from "several high-ranking US military commanders" and one post-war military report to support Bin Laden. Nowehere do they add that there are as many comments to the opposite effect, and the topic is hotly debated among historians even today, and that the whole business of speculative history is far from certain.