Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Osama bin Laden Rises from the Dead

In the comments to my original post on Osama bin Laden's death Eldritch provided a lengthy and rather heated disagreement.  He raises several points that deserve an answer and so I thought I would respond here. Criticism is always more useful to a craftsman than praise.

This a terrible and a naive entry in an otherwise excellent blog. The idea that A-Q was simply a reaction to US foreign policy and alleged atrocities against Muslims is absurd; if that were the case why were over 80% of A-Q's victims Muslim? Why do they support Indonesia on the Timor question? Like most saudis A-Q and bin laden didn't care about Palestine, according to Arafat they "never tried to help us" saudis generally look down on palestinians. 
We have various "patriot militias" in the United States preaching violent overthrow of the government in the name of one cause or another: we have ethnic mafias from all over the world operating within our borders.  To date nothing has unified these groups into a coherent opposition: no charismatic leader has found a mythology that can unify various divergent, contentious and explosive fringe movements toward a common cause and common enemies. Perhaps we should explore how bin Laden succeeded where many a wannabe demagogue has failed. 
In the 1970s and early 80s the US helped fund and arm the Muslim resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan: we gave Osama bin Laden his breakout role. Unfortunately, our onetime allies turned against us: it seems they were no more impressed by Free-Market Capitalism than by Marxist-Leninist Communism.  And the mythology which united a resistance in Afghanistan - the tales of heroic Muslim martyrs rising up to fight infidels and Crusaders - gained an audience in Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and points around the world.
Neither bin Laden nor his audience need give a damn about Palestinians as people: they are far more important as symbols than as individuals. The sufferings of the Palestinians become a focal point for the Jihadi's own pain.  The Jews who oppress the faithful in Gaza and Al-Kuds provide a template by which the petty bureaucrats and tyrants who rule much of the Islamic world can be judged.  America's continuing support for Israel is criticized, along with its post-9/11 funding of every bloody-handed dictator who promises to keep their country (and the US) safe from al-Qaeda.  
You may argue that 9/11 forced our hand and demanded armed intervention: I think at the very least it made it inevitable. You can state that al-Qaeda does not offer a viable solution to the problems facing the Islamic world, and I would agree. But I don't see how you could dispute that our reaction to terrorism has helped to spawn more terrorists, or that our Realpolitik has had real consequences.  
I don't wish to act as an apologist for bin Laden and his ilk. Obviously I disagree with murdering civilians, stoning rape victims, defiling corpses on camera and similar antics. If I didn't make that clear last time, it was because I would have thought it self-evident. That regularly gets me into trouble: one of these days I will learn my lesson.

However, I also think it worthwhile to consider the environment which allows a bin Laden to succeed, and acknowledge our role in creating that environment.  They were not "simply a reaction to US foreign policy." But a large part of their success comes from their ability to game US foreign policy and force our hands. We can't stop every visionary in every village who wants to claim the world for Jesus or Allah or the Proletariat.  But we can work to eradicate the conditions which bring them to power. 
" Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, perhaps as many as 900,000"
Utter nonsense, Fred Kaplan - a critic of the war - debunked 100,000 plus numbers, wikileaks shows that the total civilians killed by all sides is under 67,000. Most Afghanistan civilians were killed by the taliban and the US saved the hazaras from genocide; which brings to mind a question, if these guys are just stewing with Chomskyite rage why the program of a genocide for a peaceful minority? That doesn't fit in with counterpunch rants so its ignored.
The story went on to point out that the Taliban was culpable for "more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties" 
"The policy of the Taliban is to exterminate the Hazaras"  
Maulawi Mohammed Hanif, Taliban Commander, Announcing their policy to a crowd of 300 people summoned to a mosque [after killing 15,000 Hazaras people in a day] 
This article by Fred Kaplan states that "[a] secret Defense Department report estimated that just over 100,000 noncombatants were killed between 2004 and 2009." So though Kaplan may dispute the findings of the Lancet study and even have some reservations about the DD report, it would appear that the Wikileaks documents actually supported the 100,000+ figure. And I think we can all agree that the Iraq conflict is a continuing tragedy with bloodshed, losses and atrocities committed on all sides, and that our continuing battle against "Islamic fundamentalism" has become a PR disaster for us and a PR windfall for anti-Western Muslims.

The plight of the Hazaras is largely ignored because most Westerners, certainly most Americans, know very little about the cultural patchwork which is the Middle East.  Demagogues regularly tap into ethnic and cultural disputes for their own ends. It's no surprise that an ambitious Taliban member might play on Farsi/Pashtun and Sunni prejudices against the Mongol and Shi'a or Buddhist Hazara peoples.  And while I am happy that the Hazaras were saved by American intervention, I'm hardly naive enough to believe that the Army was actually there for the purpose of saving Hazaras or other oppressed Afghan minorities.

Even assuming they were, that would bring us to another set of questions.  What do you think America as a nation should do to prevent genocide whenever and wherever it occurs? Do you think we should come in with guns blazing to protect villages in Darfur or Yezidi strongholds in Kurdish Iraq? Should we defend the oppressed indigenous peoples of South and Central America by going to war with Brazil or Colombia?  How many resources should we devote to this Anti-Genocide Squad and how many American lives should we be willing to sacrifice to stop genocide?  You appear to be laboring under the illusion that our military might is omnipotent and we are capable of enforcing our vision of human rights and democracy on the rest of the world, no matter where they are.
"It is comforting to think bin Laden and his compatriots hated us because they hate our ideals of freedom." 
It's more accurate to say that A-Q hates us because the US is a main obstacle to a wahabbi caliphate. 
Far from being their main obstacle, I'd say we're their best hope. The Ummah needs an enemy and we've happily played Darth Vader & Co. to their Rebel Alliance.  When your secular government is hopelessly corrupt, brutal and inefficient (read: most of the Islamic world),  and when the "First World" funds military oppression against you and your Muslim brothers, heroic militants preaching salvation, righteousness and a return to the glory days of the Caliphate look a lot more enticing.  So long as we can be cast as crusaders, we're a great target for the five minutes hate: we can either be capitalist devils or infidels pillaging the righteous and supporting the Zionist conquest of Palestine.

FWIW, I am a Zionist, albeit one who supports a two-state solution based on real compromise from both sides. I do not question Israel's right to exist - and they aren't going anywhere even if I do.  But I also recognize that our support of Israel is going to make us unpopular in some quarters of the world, and may even lead to real dangers for our citizens. I recognize that real excesses have been committed on both sides in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and that powerful people on both sides have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. And if we are going to find a peaceful solution to that crisis -  the best means, IMO, of preventing future bin Ladens from arising - we are going to have to find some way to get past that.

In the meantime, we should understand that by taking one side in this conflict we are going to incur the continuing enmity of the other.  Whether or not their/our cause is valid is subject to debate.  The fact that our actions in this arena have consequences is not.
"The uncomfortable truth is that they hate us because we have betrayed those ideals in our foreign and domestic policy." 
As I have shown that simply isn't true and your comment implies they love those ideals, very repulsive.
We have given money to tyrants to prop up their creaky regimes: we have supplied despots with arms that were used to put down pro-democracy protestors. And we have done this in the name of promoting "freedom." I don't know about you, but I'd call this  pretty clear-cut betrayal of MY American ideals.  To add insult to injury, this betrayal has not served to make me safer or to advance any of the causes which I hold dear.  So if you're feeling a bit repulsed, you can join the club.