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)


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

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  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.

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  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 […]

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