by Bruce S. Thornton
Al Qaeda headman Osama bin Laden recently released yet another of his promotional communiqués, and like the last decade’s worth of his propaganda, this one too is designed not so much to appeal to his fellow Muslims, but to exploit the received wisdom and political fashions of the American left and its reflexive hatred of its own culture.
For half a century now, much of the West’s intellectual class has transformed a suicidal failure of cultural nerve into an emblem of intellectual sophistication. The quality of critical consciousness, the willingness to question even one’s own way and beliefs, was indeed instrumental in the remarkable political and material progress of the West. Yet after modernity cut this mental habit loose from the non-negotiable first principles once sanctioned by religion, it became mere nihilism disguised as an idealistic striving for improvement. Now everything was to be destroyed that did not fulfill the utopian fantasies of absolute justice and equality in a world where suffering is abolished, material goods equally distributed, and happiness is a right.
As its name attests, progressivism fomented these unrealistic political ideals. The failure of the West to achieve them, despite the astonishing progress that has been made in the human condition, then became the warrant for the hatred of Western culture that oozes from progressive politics, and that is eager to make the West the arch-villain responsible for global failure and suffering. As our cultural elite wallowed in this masochistic guilt, the enemies of the West —Nazism, fascism, communism, and now jihadism — understood that this self-loathing was the sign of cultural exhaustion, the dying spasms of a civilization that no longer had faith in the goodness of its foundational beliefs, and so no longer knew what to kill and die for.
From al Qaeda’s beginning, bin Laden has shrewdly directed his communications at these ideological tics and obsessions of the progressive consensus. As he has said repeatedly, bin Laden is fighting a war against our morale, an assault on our confidence and willingness to endure that, if weakened, would negate our enormous military and economic power. Hence, bin Laden argues, kill enough Americans and they will retreat even at the expense of their own interests, as they did in Vietnam, a continual theme in bin Laden’s sermons.
This estimate of our weakness was repeatedly confirmed by our failure to respond to al Qaeda’s attacks against us in the Nineties, as bin Laden himself said in a sermon from 2003:
We can conclude that America is a superpower, with enormous military strength and vast economic power, but that all this is built on foundations of straw. So it is possible to target those foundations and focus on their weakest points which, even if you strike only one-tenth of them, then the whole edifice will totter and sway, and relinquish its unjust leadership of the world.
As part of this war on our morale bin Laden focuses on those issues that are matters of indifference to a traditional jihadist, but are central to the hatred of their own country that typifies the progressive elites. A brief survey of bin Laden’s communications to the American people reveals the old leftist indictments of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and the “military-industrial complex.” He is also fond of citing the control of big business over politics, fomenting neo-colonial wars and to increase profits at the expense of the environment and the Third World.
For example, in his 2002 address “Why We Are Fighting You,” bin Laden chastised the U.S. for refusing to sign the Kyoto agreement “so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries,” stated that “your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people,” and accused Americans of using “your power to destroy more people than any other nation in history –– not to defend principles and values, but to hasten to secure your interests and profits.”
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, bin Laden told American soldiers that they were “spilling [their] blood to swell the bank accounts of the White House gang and their fellow arms dealers and the proprietors of great companies.”
Before the 2004 elections, he spoke to the American voters, warning them not to support a war “in order to give business to their [the Bush administration’s] various corporations — whether in the field of armaments, oil, or construction.” And bin Laden claimed that President Bush brought “tyranny and the suppression of freedoms to his own country — and this they called the ‘Patriot Act,’ implemented under the pretext of combating terrorism.”
All these statements would not be out of place in the writings of Noam Chomsky, the movies of Michael Moore, the press releases of the ACLU, or for that matter the editorial pages of The New York Times and the commentaries on MSNBC. So we shouldn’t be surprised that bin Laden is an ardent promoter of Noam Chomsky’s books, or William Blum’s anti-American screed Rogue State. He knows that the more such writings gain traction, the more our resolve to resist his aggression weakens, and the attraction of appeasing policies grows stronger.
This is the context in which to understand bin Laden’s latest audio recording, which highlights the floods in Pakistan and preaches the need “of a big change in the method of relief work, because the number of victims due to climate changes in modern times.” Aside from the preposterous shamelessness of this concern for dead Muslims on the part of someone who is responsible for killing thousands of them, the idea that bin Laden cares about something as mundane as global warming is ludicrous.
Osama bin Laden cares about jihad, the spiritual war between the believers and the infidels, and the fulfillment of Allah’s injunction to “fight all men until they say there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet.” Like his earlier allusion to the Kyoto agreement and his mention of global-warming fundamentalist James Hansen, bin Laden’s talk about climate change is for the benefit of American progressives, who have found in apocalyptic environmentalism a way to attack and weaken modern capitalism now that the old Marxist analyses have been exploded by history.
In this use of left-wing criticism of the West, bin Laden follows the pattern set earlier by modern jihadists like Sayyid Qutb, who echoed the communist critique of liberal capitalism in his own arguments for a return to the totalizing political-social order of traditional Islam.
“Look at this capitalism with its monopolies, its usury,” Qutb wrote, “at this individual freedom, devoid of human sympathy and responsibility for relatives except under force of law; at this materialistic attitude which deadens the spirit.” So too the Ayatollah Khomeini, who salted his jihadist tracts with anti-colonialist rhetoric from the pages of Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, which explains the support Khomeini enjoyed from fashionable left-wing intellectuals like Michel Foucault. Just as jihadists use Western political mechanisms like democracy to acquire power, only to discard the vote later; just as they exploit Western freedoms and civil liberties to plan and execute terrorist attacks within the West, so too they are using the ideological nostrums of the progressives to undermine our morale and convince us that we are guilty and worthy of punishment.
The more we assent to these stale ideological lies, the more we confirm the jihadists’ estimation that our country is built on “foundations of straw” and so is worthy of destruction. That’s what much of our cultural elite has been telling the world for half a century, so why are we surprised that the jihadists take us at our word and want to punish us for our self-confessed sins?
©2010 Bruce S. Thornton