Peace Porridge #24: The Elvis of the East|
30 Dec 2001
I've been resisting writing about Osama bin Laden; but after hearing Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, (US Navy, Retired) refer to him as "an Elvis Presley of the East," I knew the time had come. Presley and bin Laden would not seem to have much in common. But, like Elvis, bin Laden's followers aren't sure whether he is dead or alive; and those who know, aren't telling. Like Elvis, we hear numerous reports of "bin Laden sightings."
The ambiguity serves both sides well. To one side he is an inspiration in their battle to free Islamic lands from western domination. He is the super-hero that the United States with all its power and might could not kill or capture. To the other side, he is an excuse to carry the "war on terrorism" to even greater extremes, a reason to carry the bombing to Somalia, Iraq, or some other hapless part of the globe.
This obsession with bin Laden was noted by investigative journalist William Blum in his book, "Rogue State." Speaking of the 1998 cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan, he wrote:
"Something fundamentally peculiar has
happened when the U.S. government fires
cruise missiles at an individual, Osama
bin Laden. When has a government ever
declared war on an individual?"
Actually, bin Laden has proved extremely useful to his counterparts in Washington. CIA asset Manuel Noriega provided a great excuse to bomb Panama, killing a few thousand civilians. But languishing in jail, he's not much good to anyone now. Saddam Hussein, also a CIA protege, was much more useful. He provided the excuse for killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the Gulf War. But by then the CIA had learned a thing or too, and left him in power where he has provided an excuse for murdering well over a million more Iraqis through deadly economic sanctions.
But the greatest drawback of a Noriega or a Hussein is that they provide an excuse for terrorizing only one country. Bin Laden, who cut his teeth in the CIA sponsored Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, now provides the United States with an excuse to terrorize any country in the world. All that is needed to begin the bombing is the belief that bin Laden or his supporters might be hiding there. The outright murder of close to 4,000 Afghan civilians, the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the likely death of perhaps millions from starvation, disease and cold this winter are only a start. Dead or jailed, bin Laden would be just another has been like Noriega.
Recently, two alleged video tapes of bin Laden have surfaced. The first, which the Pentagon released on December 13, is almost certainly a fake - perhaps produced in some high-tech clandestine laboratory. When I saw snatches of it, I said to myself: "I hope none of my former students had a hand in producing anything this bad." (Before retiring, I taught computer science.)
Why do I feel so strongly it's a fake? First it just happened to be found, in itself suspicious. Second, it didn't sound to me much like bin Laden. Third, it just happened to have him say he was behind the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center, something that the U.S. and British governments had been alleging all along, without producing a shred of hard evidence. And finally, the U.S. government has told so many lies that they probably couldn't tell the truth if their existence depended upon it.
Consider the following comments on this alleged bin Laden tape by Yusuf Agha:
"A paraplegic Sheikh visits bin Laden.
'We came from Kabul', he tells his host.
'We asked the driver to take us, it was
a night with a full moon.' Later, he
places the conversation in context to
'this holy month of Ramadan'. The full
moon of Ramadan occurred around the 30th
of November, not mid-November - exactly
around the time the tape was allegedly
"The transportation service in war-
ravaged Afghanistan must be
extraordinary. First, the tape moves
from Kandahar to Jalalabad at a speed
that would make Fedex envious!
"Then, our paralyzed tourist, who
regrets he could not move between
mosques in Mecca to gauge reactions
because 'My movements were truly
limited,' conveniently transports
himself from Kabul to Kandahar at a
most inconsiderate time for travelers
"Mazar-i-Sharif has fallen, Kabul has
been captured, and the world reacts
with horror at the great massacre at
Qala-i-Jhangi. But while both CNN and
Fox blurt out 24 hours on news of the
war, Osama appears calm and unruffled
- and the historic conversation does
not drift to the war at all! ...
"Can it be entirely coincidental that
the tape was found so shortly after
the US government sought the
cooperation of Hollywood to assist it
in its War on Terror?"
Now to those in Washington who disagree, I offer a challenge. Submit the original tape to a team of internationally recognized experts, who have no stake in the outcome. Let them analyze the original and decide.
This isn't the first challenge I've offered in this e-letter. I challenged senator Joe Lieberman and Ms. Lynne (Dick) Cheney of ACTA to put me on their blacklist of academics who speak out against making war, ( Peace Porridge #14 ) so far they have not responded. I challenged the pollsters to ask the American people a simple question, "Do you want perpetual war?" (Peace Porridge #18) So far they have declined. I doubt this challenge will be accepted either. Guess why.
The second tape, recently aired by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, sounds a lot more like bin Laden. To my knowledge, nobody has questioned its authenticity. Washington has brushed it off as "terrorist propaganda." After all, what if someone were to compare the two tapes?
Bin Laden echoes the familiar themes that he has stated many times over: freeing Islamic lands, particularly the Islamic holy lands, from the domination of the United States and its Middle Eastern allies; and an end to U.S. sponsored terror, in particularly, U.S. support for Israel.
But, perhaps bin Laden has hardened in the past two months. The themes of U.S. terror and revenge against it seem stronger in this latest tape. After two months under perhaps the heaviest bombing the world has ever witnessed, this should not surprise us.
"We have witnessed the true crimes of
those who call themselves humanists and
claim to be defenders of freedom. Those
who lived under continuous US raids for
the past months are aware of it.
"How many villages have been destroyed
and how many millions have been pushed
out in the freezing cold? These men,
women and children who have been damned
and now live under tents in Pakistan,
have committed no sin. They are
innocent. But on a mere suspicion, the
United States has launched this fierce
And bin Laden makes no secret of his admiration for those who carried out the September 11 attacks.
"Terrorism against America deserves to be
praised because it was a response to
injustice, aimed at forcing America to
stop its support for Israel, which kills
I suspect that if he had been involved in carrying out the attacks, bin Laden would make no secret of that either. What has he to gain from hiding it? He is already the world's most wanted man, with a price of $25 million on his head. Would the price go up to $50 or even $100 million, if he were to say that he was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center?
So, is Osama bin Laden dead or alive? To me it is not an important question; and apparently not to bin Laden either, who remarks:
"God willing, America's end may be near
and it doesn't depend on my continued
The important question for us is, are we going to continue to allow our government to commit terror throughout the world in our name?
Al Qaeda and the United States government respond to each other in a cycle of violence and terrorism. Palestinians and the Israeli government respond to each other in a cycle of violence and terrorism. Meanwhile, it is the innocent on all sides who pay the price.
But there is no equality here. The terrorism of the stronger parties, the United States and Israel, came first, and far exceeds the terrorism of the weaker. It is up to the stronger party to take the first steps toward peace, justice, and mutual understanding.
As long as we continue on our present course, it is safe to say that if bin Laden is alive, we will be hearing from him again. And if he is dead, perhaps we would do well to reflect on the immortal words of Brutus to Caesar's ghost:
"O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet.
Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails."
Julius Caesar, Act V, Scene 3