Adding “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)