Sp!ked Online Essay
13 December 2005
Bin Laden’s script: ghost-written in the West
One thing is clear from the new book Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden – the al-Qaeda leader doesn’t have an original thought in his head.
by Brendan O’Neill
Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence, Verso, 2005.
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.
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…. he rather bizarrely calls ‘upon just men [in Europe], especially scholars, media and businessmen, to form a permanent commission to raise awareness among Europeans of the justice of our causes, primarily Palestine, making use of the enormous potential of the media’. That sentence sums up how cynical is bin Laden’s focus on Palestine: it’s an attempt to make an impact on the Western consciousness rather than on the ground in Ramallah. It also shows how much he’s driven by Western-style lingo and politics: he wants a ‘commission’ to ‘raise awareness’ about Palestine through the ‘media’….just what kind of warrior for God is he?
So many of bin Laden’s statements are peppered with references to ‘intellectuals’, ‘thinkers’, ‘analysts’, ‘diplomats’, ‘writers’ and so on – most of them Western, rather than Eastern mystics, and all of whose work he has ripped off….this Islamic warrior doesn’t encourage the White House to read the Koran if they want to know the truth, but Robert Fisk: the Independent columnist who is known for his (often shrill) anti-war arguments.
Bin Laden is not an ‘eloquent preacher’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘wonderfully briefed politician’: he is a glorified blogger – a blogger with bombs on, if you like. Like bloggers he is parasitical on the media (while at the same time slating ‘big media’) and he’s always commenting on others’ comments rather than saying anything original or distinct; where bloggers spend too much time in their bedrooms and communicate with the world through proclamations on their websites, bin Laden spends his days in a cave or hovel somewhere and communicates with the world through video or audio messages (which often are reproduced on pro-al-Qaeda websites).
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.
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…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.
It is no longer enough to see al-Qaeda as the creation of the pro-war right, who blew the group out of proportion and gave it a place on the world stage. Al-Qaeda is also sustained by sections of the anti-war left who provide it with moral and political substance. This collection of bin Laden’s statements reveals that al-Qaeda is the bastard child of a fearmongering right and an opportunistic left.
The whole phenomenon of modern terrorism is about public relations. Propaganda. Mob psychology. Parasitical pundits who piggyback on real-world events to make their own social reality. And the American phony conservatives are a big part of this reality-redefining process. They aren’t conserving anything, because their political house is built on shifting sand. Notice how the “liberals” totally accept the “conservative” paranoia about a devious, worldwide conspiracy of hooded assassins; likewise, the “conservatives” totally accept the “liberal” nonsense that the only rational response is to increase the power and scope of the federal government.