ABC News called it “rambling.” Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney dismissed it as “deluded.” But Osama bin Laden’s September 8 videotaped message was neither. It was instead a carefully constructed attempt to appeal to Western opponents of the “war on terror,” both on the Left and the isolationist Right.
On the Left, bin Laden’s message is already finding a receptive audience. On September 9, a “diarist” on Daily Kos using the handle FMArouet insisted that the terrorist chieftain should be taken seriously. According to FMArouet, “bin Laden is not a raving religious fanatic.” On the contrary, bin Laden actually had much in common with Daily Kos readers. “He is fundamentally a political revolutionary with a strong sense of suffered injustice,” the blogger explained, adding that these were feelings “shared by much of his audience.” Nor did FMArouet have any sympathy for the idea that bin Laden was a terrorist. Rather, the al-Qaeda leader saw the “conflict from a more global perspective.”
Michael Dickinson, an artist based in Turkey, also applauded bin Laden’s performance. Writing on the far-Left website Counterpunch.org, Dickinson declared himself impressed with bin Laden’s message. “After examining the transcribed text of Osama's address, I found much of what he said made sense to me.” Dickinson added that if others would only give bin Laden a chance, his “speech might make sense to you too.”
Dickinson was not optimistic on this count. He explained that it was “unlikely that many, if any, American TV channels or popular newspapers will present their listeners and readers with the most urgent part of Bin Laden's message. God forbid! It might make sense to them. It might make even them think.” Dickinson’s suspicions of censorship were particularly ironic, since he himself has been the victim of free-speech abuse -- not by the America media, but by Turkish authorities, who sentenced him to a stint in prison for the crime of drawing a cartoon of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister as a dog. Evidently, Dickinson has learned little from the experience.
To understand the antiwar Left’s enthusiastic response to bin Laden, it is useful to go back to the videotape. Although bin Laden has included statements designed to influence Western leftists in other videos, the September 8 statement goes much further. In it, bin Laden refers to “major corporations” ten times, to “capital” five times, and to social classes twice. Echoing Marx, he calls for the West to be “liberated” from the “shackles and attrition of the capitalist system.” In a line lifted almost directly from Noam Chomsky, bin Laden further states that “the capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization’ in order to protect democracy.” For good measure, bin Laden even stops to flatter Chomsky by name, calling him “among the most capable of those from your own side….” As if all this weren’t enough to endear him to the average leftist, bin Laden even complains about global warming.
For years, the radical Left has been relegated to the political fringe. Now the most notorious man in the world is taking them seriously.
On the surface, bin Laden’s embrace of the anti-globalization movement would seem to have little to do with Islamic theology. But on closer inspection, bin Laden seems to be applying the Islamic doctrine of al-Taqiyah, which allows Muslims to do or say anything—even to pretend to be Marxists—so long as it advances the power of Islam. Bin Laden appears to have calculated that sounding like leftwing protestors is a small price to pay for recruiting them to al-Qaeda’s side.
To be sure, bin Laden’s useful idiots are not found on the Left alone. In his remarks, the al-Qaeda head also singled out for praise the ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheuer. A darling of the isolationist Right -- Scheuer is a frequent contributor to Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative -- Scheuer is the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a polemical assault on the “war on terror,” and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, a primer on bin Laden’s life and ideology. Once the head of the CIA’s al-Qaeda desk, Scheuer now makes a living by peddling the theory that Islamist attacks are a logical response to US policy in the Middle East—in particular, to U.S. support for Israel. Small wonder that bin Laden finds much to admire in his work.
But why would bin Laden reach out to the kinds of people who would have no place in his dreamed-of global caliphate? An answer can be found in bin Laden’s pre-2002 letter to Taliban dictator Mullah Omar. “It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods [to accomplish al-Qaeda‘s goals],” bin Laden writes. “In fact, its ratio may reach 90 percent of the total preparation for the battles.” Bin Laden’s calculated appeals should thus be seen as his attempt to win the “media war” by shaping public opinion, starting with the most sympathetic audience: the antiwar and anti-globalization Left.
This is not the first time that some on the Left have taken bin Laden’s bait. In August of 2006, Counterpunch.org published an English translation of a Turkish newspaper’s interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Editor Alexander Cockburn explained at the time: “Of interest to us was the very radical timbre of Nasrallah’s language and his remarks about the struggle against imperialism.” As it turned out, the interview was ultimately acknowledged to be a fake by its original publisher, the Turkish Labor Party newspaper Evrensel. Nevertheless, the episode revealed that there were those on the Left willing to suspend all disbelief in the interest of solidarity with Islamic terrorists like Nasrallah. Now, just over a year later, Counterpunch, joined by at least one writer at Daily Kos, has found a friend in Osama bin Laden.
It’s doubtful that Laden’s message will hold any appeal for those outside of the margins of the Left and Right. But the warm reception that his remarks have already received from these quarters suggests that, at minimum, the “Unholy Alliance” is alive, well, and ready to make common cause at the highest levels with the man directly responsible for killing 3,000 innocent civilians.