BIN LADEN'S BIZARRE BATTLE
San Diego, Calif.
Dilip Hiro makes many perceptive observations in "Bush and bin Laden" [Oct. 8], but the article is just as notable for what he chooses to leave out. Hiro's thesis is that "for bin Laden and Al Qaeda, attacking American targets is a means, not an end, which is to bring about the overthrow of the corrupt, pro-Washington regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan through popular uprisings."
If that is indeed his goal and these are his means, then bin Laden goes about his business in the most wrongheaded way. Most likely he would be effective if he targeted Arab regimes, but he chooses not to. Nor does it seem that he puts much trust in popular uprisings. And even if he did, he would probably not be satisfied merely with overthrowing the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian regimes. Hiro makes bin Laden look like a conventional Arab nationalist, but his goal is far more ambitious: the replacement not just of regimes but of all Arab nation-states with a pan-Islamic state based on an extreme version of the Sharia.
The full name of bin Laden's organization, of which Hiro lists only the first three words, is World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. In a February 23, 1998, declaration, bin Laden and his associates issued a fatwa making it the individual duty for every Muslim anywhere to kill Americans and their allies–civilians and military–in order to liberate the al-Aqsa and Mecca's mosques and have their armies depart all the lands of Islam (see www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm)
Bin Laden does view as his foremost enemy the United States and is even willing to hurt Muslims in order to humiliate it. He took great pride in his May 1998 interview with John Miller (see www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html) for attacking the US servicemen who sought to restore order and distribute food in Somalia, a Muslim nation, and for bringing about the collapse of their humanitarian mission. Nor is he just complaining about Israeli oppression of the Palestinians but rants about killing Jews. His support for Islamicist terror organizations from Kashmir through Chechnya shows the breadth of his ambitions. In this old-new worldview, bin Laden is still fighting the Crusaders of yore, even if in a bizarre twist he now counts Jews among the Crusaders.
Hence, the remedies Hiro suggests–withdrawal of most US troops from Saudi Arabia and addressing urgently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a worthy goal in itself–will never satisfy the bin Ladens. Even if the just solution of this conflict was reached, bin Laden could not be appeased. He would still have to be defeated.