Osama Bin Laden’s Interesting Argument (1)

leviathanAdding “vile” and “execrable” to Jenan Moussa’s “horrible” and Joshua Foust’s “astonishing,” James Downie joins other first responders to Thane Rosenbaum by focusing on a parallel between his argument and an argument of Osama Bin Laden’s in defense of the 9/11 attacks and of Al Qaeda.

Downie cites Matt Bruenig, whose post “Osama Bin Laden in the Wall Street Journal” quotes Bin Laden as follows (pasted as found):

(3) You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake:

(a) This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.

Neither Bruenig, nor Downie, nor anyone else whom I have seen accusing Rosenbaum of Binladenism addresses the argument on its own terms. Nor do they pause to mention that the logic has also been Hamas’ logic in its existential war with the Zionist state. It is enough for Rosenbaum’s critics to dismiss the thinking as Bin Laden’s. In other words their point is pure ad hominem in the classic sense: What Rosenbaum said must be wrong, not to mention vile, execrable, horrible, and astonishing, because the astonishingly vile, execrable, and horrible Osama Bin Laden said it, too.

Aside from being a bad argument or not much of an argument at all against Rosenbaum’s thesis, it is an impoverishing argument, since, in dismissing Bin Laden’s theory simply because Bin Laden uttered it, we neglect its interesting further implications. We might consider, for instance, that, according to the same unforgiving theory of popular accountability (or collective guilt), what Bin Laden calls “persecution” of the Palestinians in previous decades may also have been in some part deserved. If so, then Bin Laden’s justification subverts itself, not simply by presuming American democratic legitimacy, but because, by Bin Laden’s rationale, the crime to be punished or avenged may not be a crime at all, but rather a species of the same just punishment or just vengeance. To whatever extent the American conduct was thus excusable, punishment for it would become inexcusable.

One would need to examine the brief against America for traces of mitigation, and therefore of an enhanced indictment of a false avenger. Yet even if, or perhaps indicatively because, Bin Laden’s logic may tend to undermine itself applied to Bin Laden’s project, it might remain good logic.

(to be continued)

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution.

Posts in this series

15 comments on “Osama Bin Laden’s Interesting Argument (1)

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. Bin Laden clearly swallowed a chunk of propaganda as if it were fact, and over interpreted the meaning of US elections with regard to foreign policy. The US government has a record of actions that rightfully angered people in that part of the world most of which we were kept in the dark about at the time.

    If the average American had such power, if people power within alleged representative government were true and the result were STILL empire? Then fine, we’re damned. But in reality we generally don’t matter much and tend toward incoherence the rare times otherwise.

    The responsibility factor to me sounds like what Obama’s spokesman said about Abdurrahman Awlaki being murdered — and is equally as absurd.

    • My dear psycho, it would be interesting to ask Mr. Bin Laden whether he really believed that American democracy worked so efficiently, or wasn’t really more interested in winning the argument, but he is not available for comment.

      b-psycho: If the average American had such power, if people power within alleged representative government were true and the result were STILL empire? Then fine, we’re damned.

      Are you saying that you believe that at some point of expressed, recorded, or otherwise verified consensus, the representational fiction would be or become valid or simply have to be considered valid?

      If you’re not saying that, then I don’t understand what your statement means. On the other hand, what kind of particular power is any “average American” supposed to have in a country of over 300 million people? How would I know if my fair 0.0000000003333 share of 1 Total American Power Unit had been properly accounted for?

      OBL may in his description express more confidence in American democracy than most Americans do, but, for his logic to work, you need only to assume that there really is meaningfully an American nation-state, whether or not faultily or unjustly conceived, and that the policy developed, executed, experienced, and re-confirmed in poll after poll and election after election over generations as “American policy” can be taken to represent a fair approximation of what Americans overall prefer or at least find acceptable in the world.

      The alternative entangles you in various problems and absurdities, some of which will be the subject of the next posts in this series.

      • Are you saying that you believe that at some point of expressed, recorded, or otherwise verified consensus, the representational fiction would be or become valid or simply have to be considered valid?

        If the decisions & procedures of the US government were thrown completely naked for the entire populace, and it were expressed clearly, directly, that if a threshhold were not met of explicit, knowing support, then they would drop the proposed ideas — basically “we will have empire, we will be the largest arms dealer on the face of the earth while complaining about others arming themselves, we will back Israel regardless of whatever they do up to and including damn near genocide, we will interfere in other nations on the basis of politically connected domestic and/or corporate interests, etc” — entirely, and this were directly, knowingly, agreed to…

        If that were what America agreed to unquestionably, then 1) yes, and 2) we would be marking ourselves as parasites the world would have no hope whatsoever of living in peace with. I could no longer blame the rage of others on a misinterpretation of the US then, and would have to conclude that a critical mass of my fellow citizens were simply terrible people who the world needs to defeat, rather than naive people who just need to learn.

        • basically “we will have empire, we will be the largest arms dealer on the face of the earth while complaining about others arming themselves, we will back Israel regardless of whatever they do up to and including damn near genocide, we will interfere in other nations on the basis of politically connected domestic and/or corporate interests, etc”

          Seems to me that there’s no need for some bald act of revelation, since all of those facts are well known, assumed, and accepted by everyone with any more than passing interest in the topics, though naturally we can quibble about terminology. As for your conclusions at “2” and following, they seem to be judgments based on unclear moral and practical presumptions.

          • Initiation of force is wrong. Holding others to standards you yourself constantly violate is conduct to be ashamed of. There is never a legitimate reason to manipulate people, foreign or not, for the monetary gain of your friends.

            Clear enough?

            • Initiation of force is in the eye of the beholder. Holding others to standards you yourself constantly violate is universal. Manipulating people, foreign or not, for the monetary gain of one’s friends (and oneself) is what makes the world go round.

            • Or to put it in your previous terms: All nations are parasites in a state of life and death competition with each other; same goes for people – which isn’t to say that’s all there is to nations and people: I wouldn’t say that at all. All the same, being the economically and militarily most powerful nation, or a citizen of its state, isn’t the same as moving to another planet or gaining membership in a different species.

  2. Did we miss what Hamas’s charter is, all they do is murder and maim, and train their children, to do the same. Has this not been
    made clear for eight years now,

  3. You do understand the difference between propaganda and reality,
    Bin Laden was a warlord who wanted to recreate what Ibn Saud had done almost a century earlier, topple the regime, the US stood in his way, Ali Mohammed’s papers, showed the belief that the first WTC attack, would cause the US to retreat, having failed the first time, they redoubled their efforts,

  4. Hamas and OBL are not the same “thing” and it’s maybe surprising that those who want to criticize current Israeli aggression make that conflation. (There’s lot’s of twisted pretzel logic here in “justifying” anything.) Hamas, though Islamicist and having engaged in “terrorist” methods, (as did the elements in the Yishuv), is attached to a national-ethnic project. (And it’s not quite beside the point that they were assisted in their formation by the Israeli security apparatus in the 1980’s as a counter to the P.L.O.) OBL was a sheer religious nihilist, and his “global” agenda was not a means to any possible end, but the obliteration of any political rationale. Hence while there is a clear asymmetry of power between Hamas and Israel, there is a certain symmetry of “justifying” arguments. I don’t think Netanyahu quite understands the alternative nihilism he is courting.

    • Well close enough, John, Hamas’s charter is dedicated to the destruction of the Zionist state, a nihilist project, if ever there was one, Bin Laden’s were from my earlier interpretation. a little more limited, yes Shin Bet did work with Hamas, as undoubtedly the CIA worked with the members of the Peshawar council of Mujahadeen,
      like Hekmatyar, Khalis, Raisul Sayyaf, whose cadres would later comprise AQ and the Taliban,

  5. Clearly not the same thing, but in key regards, for the purposes of this discussion, an overlapping thing. To some extent Hamas has the same problem as its MB forebears as recently in Egypt, since it remains Islamist enough to be stuck trying to serve two masters, and eventually to sacrifice one, its ethno-national sovereignty project, on the altar of the other, a transnational Islamist revolutionary identity.

    In looking OBL’s interesting argument on democracy and collective accountability, I am mostly leaving Gaza and Israel behind, though not completely behind. I think I should note that the people bringing up OBL do so in order to criticize Israel or more specifically for criticizing a would-be defender of Israel, not in order to criticize Hamas.

    What OBL, Hamas, and, according to Rosenbaum’s depiction, Israel have in common is a refusal of the civilian-combatant distinction under special circumstances. The particular pretexts will necessarily differ, though, as you note, there is a certain symmetry between Hamas and Israel, in that each is pursuing its national project in a way that tends to exclude the other’s. The difference seems to be that, while Hamas excludes the Jewish state conceptually, the Jewish state excludes the Palestinian state practically.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Osama Bin Laden’s Interesting Argument (1)"
  1. […] Bin Laden-Rosenbaum concurrence on that logic as typical for Just War theories in general, Bruenig poses two questions that we should now be prepared to […]

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins


Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins