COLUMN: Inside Bin Laden's Brain
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 00:03
I recently had to come up with a presentation for one of my classes on religious extremism. Naturally, the most obvious subject for a 21st century American such as myself is the most widely recognized face of religious zealotry and violence in this country and perhaps the world, Osama bin Laden. It was too easy. Slap together some PowerPoint slides on Al Qaeda and the Westboro Baptist Church and collect my A. But when I actually read a 2004 speech of bin Laden’s sent to Aljazeera addressing the American people, I was surprised at the relatively low levels of fanaticism and vitriol in contrast to the quotes plucked out of it by the American media. Furthermore, I was shocked at the level of—and I use this word very hesitantly—rationality behind his thinking.
Let me preface the rest of this column by making it clear that this is by no means an endorsement of his actions, nor is it a defense of his line of thinking. My intent is simply to share a different narrative behind the motives of Sept. 11 that has gone overlooked in an era of expensive and prolonged warfare in the Middle East.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor isn’t viewed these days through the lens of nationalistic patriotism as it was in the decade that followed it. Sure, we commemorate its anniversary and mourn those lost, but more out of tradition than any particular emotional considerations. Today it is looked at more objectively, in the context of a World War in which the Japanese attempted to temporarily knock out American forces in the region. Do we still revile the Japanese in the same way we revile the terrorists after Sept. 11? Of course not. As time marches on, events in history lose their personal meaning only to replace it with historical and circumstantial meaning. The name Osama bin Laden often elicits a knee-jerk reaction from Americans, and not without good reason. But if we step back and imagine ourselves 50 years in the future looking at bin Laden’s speech objectively, how would we react?
Bin Laden explains that his anti-American sentiments stem from when he came to the conclusion that “oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance.” He cites in particular America’s role in helping Israel invade Lebanon in 1982, where he witnessed “blood and severed limbs, women, and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy.”
He also states the goal behind the Sept. 11 attacks—to wake up the American people with an attack so violent that it would provoke them into questioning “why us?” and then come to realize that it was due to the over-extensive U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. “No one except a dumb thief plays with the security of others and then makes himself believe he will be secure. Whereas thinking people, when disaster strikes, make it their priority to look for its causes, in order to prevent it happening again.” He wanted Americans to respond by questioning the root cause of the attack and respond in kind by curtailing military involvement in the Middle East.
Interestingly, he accepts being labeled as a terrorist by saying, “so with these images and their like as their background, the events of Sept. 11 came as a reply to those great wrongs, should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary? Is defending oneself and punishing the aggressor in kind, objectionable terrorism? If it is such, then it is unavoidable for us.” Essentially he is explaining that he answered one great wrong by committing another, fought fire with fire, in order to defend his homeland, and that if that’s terrorism, so be it. Violent and callous yes, but also uncomfortably practical.
I don’t have room to include the entire speech here, but I would encourage people to read it. It’s clear that bin Laden was in fact a smart man with completely transparent intentions. If we’re looking at this from 50 years in the future, we see a man who has witnessed terrible atrocities committed against his people by a foreign government, (whether intentional or not), and who is willing to take any action necessary to prevent future suffering. Strip away your nationalistic inclinations and the motive (though certainly not the deed) becomes somewhat defensible. Though I disagree with Ron Paul on a number of issues, he had it right in the aftermath of the attacks when he repeatedly pointed out that the reason we were attacked was because we were over there, plain and simple. If more people could realize that nothing is completely good versus evil, that there might just be a motive behind horrific violence against the U.S. other than the fact that we’re free and (mostly) Christian, then maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we find ourselves in today.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.