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.
Gershon Shafir should read my Nation piece "The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory'" [Feb. 15, 1999]. It has a fuller analysis of the February 1998 fatwa (religious decree) by bin Laden, who, by the way, is not a qualified Islamic religious-legal scholar (alim) and therefore not entitled to issue a fatwa. That article also examines the basis for the presence of US troops on Saudi soil and rejects the rationale provided by the Pentagon on three counts.
Regrettably, more than ten years after the liberation of Kuwait, what is missing is an official statement by Washington along the lines of, "On such and such day we signed an agreement with Riyadh whereby US troops are to be stationed in Saudi Arabia for a period of x years with the following aims..." If Shafir, or some enterprising American journalist, were to extract this information from the White House or the Pentagon, we will all be the wiser.
The rationale of bin Laden and his cohorts for attacks on US targets is to highlight to the pro-American regimes in the Arab world that they are resting on a foundation that is vulnerable. But the means they have employed are loathsome and inhuman, and they should be brought to justice.
Unlike Shafir, I am not privy to bin Laden's plans after he succeeds in securing the withdrawal of US troops from the Saudi kingdom. Here again, were Saudi Arabia a country where public opinion polls were allowed, we would know what sort of support or opposition there is among Saudis on the issue of US forces on their soil. Perhaps the Bush White House--that font of democracy and freedom of speech--would urgently advise the Saudi monarch to conduct such a poll so that we could all, Shafir and me included, debate the matter in an enlightened way.
LAW ENFORCEMENT: 'DISMAL FAILURE'
I count myself fortunate to be the target of one of Alexander Cockburn's milder forays into his favorite domain of slash-and-burn journalism ["Beat the Devil," Nov. 12]. His mixture of dismissive invective and anecdote leads nowhere, and when he proposes as a response reliance on law enforcement via the United Nations, without giving any indication that it has the slightest prospect of success, it seems reasonable to question his seriousness. The law enforcement model has been a dismal failure even with respect to familiar forms of terrorism, but to suppose that it can address such a massive challenge to the basic security of the leading state in the world is at best diversionary.
Come on, Professor Falk, the stakes are large and my tone was appropriately judicious. Whining about an entirely imaginary "slash and burn" onslaught is no way to defend your odd rationales for Bush's "just war." In fact I gather that you've become a tad uncomfortable with a position that has required you to cheer on the B-52s as they showered cluster bombs on "Taliban villages," as one Pentagon newsnik termed them, and with what Stephen Shalom, in an excellent demolition of your arguments on ZNet (www.zmag.org/shalomjustwar.htm) has called "Falk's strange moral logic: the U.S. war in Afghanistan is 'truly just' because the UN is incapable of acting by virtue of the U.S. unwillingness to go to the UN."
A notice ["On the Web," Nov. 5] refers readers to the "Chomsky-Hitchens debate on the roots of the terrorist attacks" on the Nation website, one of several such misleading references. There is no such debate. I responded to specific false charges on various topics, unambiguously refusing to enter into a debate in that context. The roots of the September 11 attacks were scarcely mentioned, with no disagreement that I can perceive.
'HIDING BEHIND THE SOFA'
I am surprised that Victor Navasky, in "Profiles in Cowardice" [Nov. 5], didn't mention an interview that had many of us here in Europe hiding behind the sofa in embarrassment and disgust: the Letterman/Rather interview. While not doubting the genuine emotion of Dan Rather, we were shocked at his answer to the all-important "Why?" It went something like, "These people are losers, Americans are winners, and they are jealous of our success, that's why they do these things..." What?!
The American public has trusted this man to tell them how it is for years; they look to him to inform, to educate and guide them through the difficult issues. Does this man not understand the amount of influence on public opinion he has? Much of the US media, with the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, have done the public a disservice over the past weeks.
NO TOAST TO GHOST WORLD
New York City
Much as I hate to disagree with B. Ruby Rich ["Films," Sept. 3/10], I regretted the time and money I spent on Ghost World. Endowed with consumer spending power and youth, the two attributes our culture admires most, Enid and Rebecca can find no other way to entertain themselves than to pour derision, and then inflict actual harm, on those less well endowed. I agree with Rich that "if teenagers are a society's truest barometer, then Ghost World offers a rather worrisome forecast." If wishing that the filmmakers had cast a colder eye on Enid is a wish for "prefab cynicism," then number me among the cynics. But I'd rather see the movie as the best argument I've come across for community service as a high school graduation requirement. Perhaps if Enid had spent time with some AIDS babies, she might have acquired a wider focus, one that takes in problems more serious than her own boredom. But if nothing has given her this by the time she hits high school, I think we as a culture have something serious to worry about.
POWER TO THE PUPPETS
I am 16 and have worked with the Bread and Puppet Theater for many years. I was angered by Katha Pollitt's depiction of the theater in "Subject to Debate" [Nov. 5]. The presence of Bread and Puppet would not indicate how "depressing" an event is, nor is it grounded in the 1960s. This is evidenced by its involvement in the antinuclear movement in the 1980s and its extensive global justice work in the 1990s and 2000s. The theater has continued to grow and, in fact, the time of the theater's greatest following has been in recent years.
Alexander Cockburn and Dilip Hiro and Our Readers