Monday, November 25, 2002

Maybe it's just me, and maybe it's the translation, but... the Osama letter doesn't smell right to me. Now we're supposed to believe that the Michael Moores had it right all along, and bin Laden's mad about Kyoto? Kyoto? Maybe he'd decided to deploy some Euro-lefty rhetoric in order to gain sympathy from that segment, but... has there ever before been any indication that he wanted European support? Cared about it in the least?

To accuse the United States of hypocrisy, betraying its principles, and so on, to say that it has violated the human rights principles it is supposed to stand for, is to give moral credence to human rights and American principles to begin with. (Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, which implies that the principle being betrayed is really a virtuous one.) Even the moral vocabulary of human rights is alien to bin Laden's conceptual system; the complaints about Guantanamo just don't ring true to my ear.

The "tragedy of Andalusia" speech last year was filled with deluded grandeur and lies of breathtaking historical scope. This statement is filled with... jabbering about Monica Lewinsky. This seems like a bad internet joke-- either a dimwitted lefty trying to tar "Clinton-haters" and "the Taliban wing of the Repblican Party" with the bin Laden brush, or a dimwitted righty trying to embarrass the left by saying, "see? You have to choose between loving Arabs and loving Clinton."

The Benjamin Franklin myth is one circulated online, and not one we have any reason to think bin laden would have a) come into contact with or b) cared about.

Or take this paragraph:

The freedom and democracy that you call to is for yourselves
and for white race only; as for the rest of the world, you impose
upon them your monstrous, destructive policies and Governments,
which you call the 'American friends'. Yet you prevent them from
establishing democracies. When the Islamic party in Algeria wanted
to practice democracy and they won the election, you unleashed your
agents in the Algerian army onto them, and to attack them with tanks
and guns, to imprison them and torture them - a new lesson from the
'American book of democracy'!!!

In other words, winning elections and practicing democracy are good things. Any sign that bin Laden has ever thought this?

And--- "white race???" Saudi Islamists have no conspicuous history of claiming to be non-white. Nelson Mandela said that Israel is white and Iraq is black; but this is not a view widely accepted among Arabs, to the best of my knowledge...
Much of the document is vintage bin Laden... and I do mean "vintage." The jurisprudential arguments about the legitimacy or targeting American civilians are from his fatwa of the mid-90s. Much of the rest of this sounds like someone who is much more familiar with European or American-leftist complaints about the U.S. government than bin Laden is-- albeit not someone so familiar as to speak that language without an accent. I think this pastiche is the product of a British Islamist surrounded by conventional European anti-Americanism and trying (none too successfully) to blend it with al Qaeda's ideology. [NB: I am not comparing European leftism to Islamism; just the opposite. I'm saying that the presence of so much Euro-leftism in the document should lead us to doubt that it's really bin Laden's.]

As I said, maybe it doesn't matter. The core ideology is unchanged, and as vicious as always. But the tone of the historical indictment is much, much different from bin Laden's past statements, and deploys arguments that I would think are alien to that ideology.

Or am I missing something?

UPDATE: The Weekly Standard online has a piece saying much the same.

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