02 August 2004

The War of Ideas and the Ideas of War

This would be elsewhere if Scott provided the facility to comment on his website entries. As is, I'll continue the discourse originally prompted from his thoughts on terrorist grievances in this forum.

In the post Scott outlines his belief that President Bush is out of touch with the reality of the so-called "War On Terror". He supports this opinion by contrasting a statement by George W, which in part reads:

"They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

He then goes on to quote from Osama's 1998 letter to Al-Quds al-Arabi, a London based Arabic newspaper. His point is to show that Al Qaeda lays out several grievances via bin Laden's ltter which have nothing to do with the President's contention that this war is between Freedom (as represented eloquently by the Bill of Rights) and Oppression.

I think George W. Bush (for all his failings) manages perfectly to capture the essence of this war.

Let's begin with the document used to infer Al Qaeda's true grievances, the 1998 communiqué titled, "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders." Given that mouthful of a title and the Qur'an quotation which begins the piece:

"I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but God is worshipped."

It is immediately clear that Osama defines this as an us-versus-them conflict between Islam and the infidels. Osama goes on to lay out "three facts that are known to everyone," including accusations that the US is "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, and terrorizing its neighbors," and bemoaning "the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million." This is not a rational statement of purpose, but a wholesale distortion of reality. The presence of the United States in Arabia represents a challenge to the hegemony of radical Islamist governments in the region. This is a declaration of war on the fundamental beliefs that accompany Americans on every overseas deployment. Osama isn't saying, go home and we'll return to contentedly surpressing and murdering our own people, he's saying, "I'm going to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, then I'm going to come and stomp you out in America too." He calls his fighters in February 2003 to fight "to establish the rule of God on earth," commenting, "take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other."

Let's go further and validate President Bush's representation of this conflict. It's pretty much summed up by Osama's "Letter to America" of November, 2002:

"It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind:

You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. You flee from the embarrassing question posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation, grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge of the laws which govern their lives?"

He derides all the things that Bush claims separate us from the evil-doers: freedom of speech, separation of church and state and the idea that our government is the people's government, not God's.

Not only are Al Qaeda's aims much deeper than stated in Osama's original fatwah, but the claims he makes in same are in such unabashed contradiction of reality that they are nearly meaningless. George Bush and his handlers love painting this picture as a very stark battle between the forces of Freedom and Chaos. He loves using freighted words like "evil" to stir up public fervor on his behalf. But in times of widespread moral tergiversation we need to occasionally stand up and declare, "We believe that our system is the best there is in an imperfect world, and if you choose to try to impose your despotic 11th century ideals on us, you're in for one hell of a fight."

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