Thursday, November 04, 2004

Learning Osama bin Laden:

Patrick Henry? Mahdi? Or, Hitler in the Making?

In my original post Love Thine Enemy, I put together the premise that one is able to destroy the thing that you love easily because you understand their weaknesses and strengths. You know where to hit them at their most vulnerable spot. So, I decided that I would dedicate a series of posts to looking at bin Laden and trying to understand him.

In this endeavor, we may actually accomplish two things:

1) We will know what drives him and we will better understand what moves he may make better to counter them and possibly capture or kill him.

2) By understanding Osama, we may understand the ideology that drives many like him to seek such a nihilistic life. The better to counter their creation or, if necessary, capture or kill them as well.

When Osama was standing before the lectern in his most recent speech, he seemed to address us as if he was a teacher taking us to task for not learning the lessons he was trying to teach. As much as one might resent his arrogance, he does have a lesson for us. Let's learn another together. We here maybe just as intelligent as any analyst in our intelligence agencies. We may be even better because we don't approach it from a preconceived notion of what drives OBL and his ilk that colors our opinion. I think too much time inside the rarefied atmosphere of an intelligence think tank can be bad for our people. Doesn't give them the right perspective on human psyche and their causes.

Having said that, let's read the first part of Osama's speech:

Oh the American people, I address these words to you regarding the optimal manner of avoiding another Manhattan, and regarding the war, its causes and its consequences. But before this, I say to you: Security is one of the important pillars of human life, and free men do not take their security lightly, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom. Let him explain why we did not attack Sweden, for example. Clearly, those who hate freedom have no pride, unlike the 19, may Allah have mercy on them. We have been fighting you because we are free men who do not remain silent in the face of injustice. We want to restore our (Islamic) nation's freedom. Just as you violate our security, we violate yours.

Now, on to the inner sanctum for discussions about Osama and freedom:

Remember, in my original post on this subject, I said Osama thinks he knows what motivates us and he attempts to use it against us. He knows that we had a revolution to free ourselves from our oppressors and they we believe ourselves to be the very arbiters of freedom around the world. Here, he tries to make some common ground with us. Tell us that he is us:

But before this, I say to you: Security is one of the important pillars of human life, and free men do not take their security lightly, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom (...)Clearly, those who hate freedom have no pride, unlike the 19, may Allah have mercy on them. We have been fighting you because we are free men who do not remain silent in the face of injustice

He could have almost taken that out of the Declaration of Independence:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (...) But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

In establishing common ground with average Americans, he believes that he can persuade us to leave off of our foreign policy with the Middle East which he believes is oppressive and interferes with their rights to live as Muslims. He is making a plea to us as if he were the old revolutionary and we were the old despotic oppressor. Normally, as freedom loving people, we may have once identified with his cause. We did actually. The American public would have never bought into assisting him and his kind in Afghanistan during the 80's, fighting against the anti-freedom forces of the USSR, if we had not styled the mujihadeen as freedom fighters. The underdog, if you will, against a larger and more hostile enemy.

We want to restore our (Islamic) nation's freedom.

The main problem with his plea is that his version of "freedom" does not equal ours. Let's look at what "freedom" he is talking about and why he sees us as the main oppressors.

First it is to understand, during the cold war with the USSR, we made a number of deals with the devil in order to counter the USSR. We supported the Shah of Iran who was very pro-western to the point where he persecuted the ultra conservative religiosos of his country. Mostly out of fear. He was right to fear them, but definitely took the wrong tact in countering them. He was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini and the "revolution" of the students in 1979.

We also supported the usurpation of the Ba'athist in Iraq 1978 because the original government seemed to favor the USSR and we were attempting to wean them away. It would be a bit of a fallacy to say that we supported Saddam's eventual usurpation of the President's chair. But certainly our actions preceding that led up to the eventual installation of Saddam. And still, trying to counter the USSR, we made deals with that devil, little understanding then the make up of Saddam or, possibly, little caring as he served his purpose in balancing out the powerful Iranian influence in the area that was threatening to export Islamic revolution to the region. And like the Shah, in his zeal to create his vision of an Arabic state, he oppressed his people, in particular, the religious conservatives of his country.

It wasn't until much later, the late 90's to be exact, that Saddam realized his vision and attempts to create a great national Arab state would not take place under his socialist ideology and he began to take regular prayers and give the appearance of a man of Islamic faith, hoping to hook his plans to the tail of the Mujihadeen's cause. To be certain, according to the 9/11 commission and internal documents captured during this last war, Saddam had made several attempts to communicate and coordinate with Al Qaida and OBL through out the 90's. However, they were not as inclined to cooperate as they saw him an apostate and an oppressor as much as the US or other western powers. Again, this is why, in the late 90's, when he was being threatened again with things like the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (pdf) he began to make a conciliatory movement toward the religious conservatives, mainly Sunni, in his country. The sufferers were the Shi'a and other religious minorities of course.

I believe it was these actions and the intelligence indicating his overtures to Al Qaida, in a post 9/11 world, which prompted the US to attack Saddam along with his long history of obstructing the investigation and destruction of his WMD programs.

The other "crime" would be the sanctions, in bin Laden's mind. He saw these acts as acts against the Muslim people directly and not against the state. In his usual failing, he failed to put the blame of the sanctions and the deprivations of the people on the correct culprit. Mainly Saddam Hussein and all those, including Arab Muslims and European power houses, who took advantage of the system and used it for their own benefit and not that of the Iraqi people. Possibly, he didn't care as much at the time as it is a fact of the current investigations that some of the money from this corruption made it's way to front companies for the Muslim Brotherhood which supports Al Qaida financially. Just a reminder that brother bin Laden is not innocent nor without deaths of Muslims on his hands. Not withstanding that of the Muslims killed in Afghanistan for not being "Muslim" enough.

Of course, one cannot forget that the west, particularly the US has been, for decades, putting money in the pockets of the Saudi leaders through oil deals. Money that did not actually go into the pockets of the common Saudi citizen although, it would be remiss to mention the number of mosques, hospitals and universities that were built with that money. This was largely in the form of alms or charity. But it is without saying that the conservative Muslims of the country felt and feel under attack from western culture. With the influx of money, came the influx of foreigners and foreign ways. Many of which were totally opposite of the conservative Muslim majorities beliefs. These things include such innocuous items as cameras that took pictures of both men and women. They felt this was an intrusion of their privacy as well as against the basic tenets of their religion which forbid images of man as idolatry.

Even today, you can see the effects of western civilization on the Arab/Muslim world and the struggle to keep their conservative lifestyle against the influx of technology. In this article, posted at Victor David Hanson's site, there are new incidents all over Saudi Arabia where people are able to take photographs with their camera phones and, with a technology called "blue tooth", do wide span broadcasting of photos to any camera phone within a certain radius of the originating phone. It gives an idea of why western morality is so bizarre to the conservative Muslim world:

Apparently things weren't as innocent as they seemed at this particular wedding party. Reports began leaking out of young Saudi women surreptitiously snapping photos of unveiled guests. Worse, some of the guests were dancing! Then the women began transmitting the photos and videos to unscrupulous males with voyeuristic tendencies who would otherwise never lay eyes on such prancing pretties.

It's difficult for a Westerner to grasp just how shocking all of this is. In the Magic Kingdom modesty is a must. Human faces on billboards are digitally altered to blur facial features. (...)

In such a camouflaged environment, taking photographs of unveiled women dancing at wedding parties is beyond outré. It's tantamount to having your Western mother strip naked for the gawking world of Internet porn.

To us, even as puritanical as the European world would like to make us, this is not so shocking. But in the conservative world of Arabia, it is an outrage. I really suggest that you read the whole article so you can understand the concept and differences of American western culture and that of the Arab/Muslim world.

To someone like bin Laden, who became ultra religious during his time in the Afghan mountains, this is tantamount to warfare on the very fabric of Muslim life.

He took these in roads on their civilization very seriously. It became ever more apparent that his vision of an Islamic conservative society was under attack when, in 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait and his offer to bring the mujihadeen to Saudi Arabia to fight against the apostate Saddam was turned down by the Saudi rulers in favor of US and UN coalition armies. He took this as an affront and believed that the Saudis were being driven even further into an intemperate alliance with the western world that would eventually lead to the demise of the conservative Islamic culture. He went back to Afghanistan to stew and to plan.

One doesn't really blame the Saudi rulers for their decision. While the mujihadeen might have been effective against the greater forces of the USSR fighting from mountain strongholds and using guerilla warfare within the populace, it is quite another to rely on such forces to go up against an established army, like Saddam's, in a desert warfare that does not offer much concealment or other avenues of attack other than force on force. A plan which is doomed to failure unless the mujihadeen were able to establish themselves inside Kuwaiti cities and fight a bloody war of attrition as they did in Afghanistan. This would of course set the region into a long drawn out war, interrupted the flow of oil, commerce and money, not to mention upset the ruling powers' status quo in a number of states.

Further, once having accepted such forces within their borders, it is a fact that mercenary forces, once completed of their task, are unwieldy and fractious and would be looking for their next battle. Not conducive to peace and commerce at all. Might even lead to the toppling of many governments and the institution of Taliban like government across these countries. Possibly even a civil war between the ultra conservatives, the nationalists and the liberals. Saudi society is already repressive by many standards, much less if a Taliban style government was introduced. We already know the effects of this on Afghanistan. The area would be lost for decades and the international community and finances would be in a world altering depression.

But I digress. We are looking at bin Laden and Islamic freedom. You may wonder why I leave the next topic for last. Bin Laden says in his little lecture:

The events that had a direct influence on me occurred in 1982, and the subsequent events, when the US permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon with the aid of the American sixth fleet.

First, I will point out that he is wrong about the reasons for the US being in Lebanon, but I won't go into the details as yet. We can discuss that at another time. Suffice it to say that this is an interesting comment. First, he would have you believe that he saw the terrible destruction of some Lebanon apartments during this incident and decided right then that the US was an enemy. As I pointed out in "Love Thy Enemy", he waited ten long years to enact his revenge (1993 bombing of the world trade center), or did he? He had no compunction about taking assistance from the US during the struggle with the USSR.

From my perspective, I don't think bin Laden really gave a damn about the Palestinians until much later when it became convenient to hitch his cause to theirs. Particularly after it became so popular in the 90's with mainstream Saudis. My reasons go beyond the fact that it took him ten years to glom on to it.

First, one must realize that the Palestinians are considered second class humans to mainstream Arabs. They are uncouth, uneducated and worse, they are largely Shi'a. Their only importance exists in their opposition to Israel. If the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was so important, why then didn't he go to Palestine and assist with the PLO uprising? One which was taking place quite some time before the USSR invaded Afghanistan. From the pieces of information that he has let out, oh so slowly, it is apparent that he was still ambivalent about the US/Israel alliance, at least until after that incident, but probably more so after he went to Afghanistan, got his ultra religious induction and then, the final coup d'etat was his rejection at the hands of the Saudis in favor of the US.

This must have sunk into his mind that the US was really trying to take over the middle east and not just protect Israel. It was the final inroad on holy land. Until then, we were just an outside force like all the others, wheeling and dealing, but we offered something more than his ragtag band of guerilla holy warriors could offer: real protection.

What must have been the ultimate grievance of the rejection was the fact that his family had supported the royal family, literally, for a decade or more until it finally became financially solvent. This was a slap in the face of all of his fantastic ideas of Islam and the greater Arabic nation. You have to understand, by this time while living in relative seclusion of the Afghan mountains, OBL had imbibed a huge dose of Islamic romantic religion in the form of teachings by Sayyid Qutb delivered to him by he who is now his second in command, Aiman al Zawihiri, who was a contemporary of Sayyid Qutb in his last days before his execution in 1966. Zawihiri himself spent time in prison and was finally exiled from Eqypt in 1969 for espousing the same violent over throw of the secular Egyptian government.

The short article above concerning Sayyid Qutb and his adherence to Taymiyya's rule of law (very close to Wahhabi/Sunni practices) is the entire influence on bin Laden's ideology, which we will discuss in the near future. A thought, the reason I mention Hitler in the title, beyond the obvious connotations of Islamic fascism. Qutb, Zawahiri and bin Laden share a similar experience with Hitler (and for that matter Stalin). Each were imprisoned for some time for espousing the violent over throw of their governments (except bin Laden; he was not imprisoned, but he was exiled). Each was allowed time in prison, or in exile, to write their manifestos and consolidate their ideology. Each were allowed to go free after their time in prison (including Qutb, although he was later executed; read the story, it is eerily similar to Hitler's development and writing of mien Kampf) because the governments they opposed were weak and afraid that their execution under normal laws would cause great unrest within society and the ruling powers would lose control. Not to mention, they all shared the fact of a benefactor high up in government that intervened on their behalf. Hitler in the making.

What have we learned?

1) Osama styles himself a freedom fighter. Al Jazeera and other media outlets oblige him. He attempts to use this to gain respect within the US populace for his grievances.
2) His accusations have merit although he may have given more weight to some of them than was warranted
3) He believes himself the protector, if not savior, of the Islamic world as he knows it. The "mahdi" or the savior of Islam. You should understand that this does not always translate to a "savior" as figured in Christian belief, but one who leads or renews Islam. His modesty and his refusal to accept the title does not make it less of a fact. Particularly as he is looked upon in this manner by many in the Arab/Muslim world. It is only out of some respect for the Qu'ran which prohibits him from taking the title directly. It can only be conferred not self anointed.
4) Like Hitler and other potential despots, his creation and existence can be directly related to the weak response of his government, his ties to certain government figures and the condition of the populace which was ripe for such a "savior".

Some critics of the current war on terror may not be completely wrong when they question the movement by the US government as setting OBL up as a direct enemy of the state, giving him more prominence than he may deserve or actually assisting him in drawing recruits. In this manner, we may have added directly to his consequences as the next "mahdi". Further, the critics were also concerned that the advent of Iraq would be one more reason du jour for the Islamic militants to coalesce and make war on the western world as well as destabilize the Middle East.

However, that would be the view of a pre-9/11 view of the world. Once the 9/11 attacks were successful along with his message, his prominence in the world of Islam was assured. From this point on, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism took on the appearance of all ideologies of that nature. Repressive. Nihilist. Destructive. A world view of global domination by militant Islam in the manner of the Caliphate. Something that he has been espousing for years, but seems interestingly missing from his latest message.

What must be acknowledged is the part of American global politics in creating the atmosphere in which bin Laden could be born. The sins of the father, so to speak. However, it is without a doubt that I say bin Laden is no "freedom fighter". Many of his issues are actually his own issues with the development of the global world, particularly it's inroads on traditional Muslim life. He fails to see that, regardless of his passing time in the never, never land of Afghanistan, Islam has come face to face with a global, liberal world and it can never go back to where it came from. Afghanistan was an aberration, allowed to him by a world that paid little attention and cared little as long as he stayed there.

He has also failed to put the blame for certain actions on the actual parties responsible. Partly because they are Arabs and Muslims and the Qu'ran insists on standing with them first against the infidel. The other part is because he sees America as the largest, wealthiest and strongest of the nations involved. America leads and the others follow. Some even espouse solidarity with the Arab/Muslim such as France.

One must wonder if Osama understands that France's solidarity with the Arab's and the Palestinians is a part of their own power play in hopes of influencing the region. If he does, it is certain, should bin Laden force a change in American foreign policy to be one of withdrawal, France and any country like it, will become his next targets. All until he has cast off any interference in his version of an Islamic nation.

On the other hand, France's engagement with Iran and one's of Osama's ilk serves as a back door to information on the movement and the Arab body politic. This is eerily similar to the cold war chess game we played in the last century, where similarly, France was a battle ground of minds and spies.

Next subject will be about his ideology, it's origins and influence on Arabic/Muslim culture as well as how the culture is changing, radicalizing some parts and liberalizing others.

Please feel free to put your ideas about OBL in the comments. Anything you think I am missing. Your thoughts are important to the rounding out of review and development of my own personal NSC plan for reduction of OBL and Islamic terrorism. Something that a commenter "Donal" believes is missing from the current administrations plans.


The G-man said...

First, one must realize that the Palestinians are considered second class humans to mainstream Arabs. They are uncouth, uneducated and worse, they are largely Shi'a. Their only importance exists in their opposition to Israel.

Sam from the Hammorabi blog smacked me on the fingers for claiming that the Palestinians are Shi'a. In fact they are Sunnis. The rub lies in the "flavor" of Sunniism. The difference is that the Palestinians (believe it or not) are a more moderate sect of Sunniism than the Saudi Wahhabi's. This "more moderate" stance of course may have changed over time as they became embroiled with the Israelis until they now are just as fanatical as the Wahhabi's, but Wahhabi's seem to never forgive anyone for past sins.

Kat said...

I think I am thinking of Hezbollah as an Iranian backed terrorist/political group. I assume that is Shi'a although I can't find the information directly on google as to what their religious make up is.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Hezbollah are Shi'ah, and yes, they are uncouth bastards.

Think of the Serb bad guys in the movie "Behind Enemy Lines" and you've got Hezbollah as caucasians.

Palestinians are more like the IRA. When they're bombing you or attacking you, they'll kill you and themselves and whoever else gets in the way. But you can sit and have coffee with them on their non-fighting days and have very interesting conversations, and many of them are very well-educated.

Wahabbis are... Bin Laden.

Tom said...

Hey Kat

I think you hit it pretty accurately. The Islamists cannot for the life of them understand how the infidels have been able to best them these past few hundred years. As they see it, by all rights they should be the ones with world-wide hegemony. He wants to reestablish the Caliphate.

They want to be "free" to live in accordance with Islam as practiced in the old dynasties, as it was in Damascus and Baghdad.

Right now they're frustrated, and look at what they have to put up with; secular authoritarian governments that can barely provide basic services, the usual third-world corruption, military impotence, and the knowledge that everything they use(from their cars to TVs to weapons to toothbrushes) was invented in the West. Imagine how it grates on them, especiallyconsidering how they believe that Islam is superior(no muliculturalism for them!). They ask themselves "how has God allowed this to happen?"

Like many extreme religionists, they blame themselves. "We must not have been good Muslims." The answer presents itself; become more fundamentalist and reestablish the old-style Caliphate that Allah wanted.

You are dead-right about his not caring about the Palestinians. When he first started issuing fatwas in the early '90s they were way down on his list of greviances. Even by the late '90s they had only climbed to #4, as I recall (I'm going off memory). Only when he saw that the Palestinians were useful politically did he make a big issue out of them and their problems.

But what really set him off was the sight of US troops in Saudi Arabia during and after the Gulf War. The Saudi regime was corrupt enough to him, but infidels in the hold land? Insult of insults!

Anyway, those are my thoughts, Kat. Great post of yours, and as you can see you got my intellectual juices stirred.

The G-man said...

Wahabbis are... Bin Laden. is al-Zarqawi, hence his naming of his group "Talwid and Jihad". "Talwid" or "monotheism" is the halmark of Wahhabism as it considers worship at shrines, revence of Mohhamed and use of the Hadith to be the idolatry. Since the Hadith is Mohhamed's interpretation of the Koran (which actually moderates some of the Koran's harsher passages), they consider it not to be "inspired" by Allah like the Koran.

Zarqawi's choice of names also hearkens back to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab's book Kitab at-tawhid that detailed the aforementioned beliefs and in that way pays hommage to the sect's founder. (Al-Wahhab was the guy who was helped out by the Brits in the 1700's when they wanted to stir things up for the Ottoman's BTW.)

Kat said...

Well, now that we have some idea about what he thinks and says, we need to look at his ideology and then look at a plan by which to reduce it to ashes.

I think some of it is happening now. While some people decry the president's repeated insistance that Islam is a religion of peace, they don't get the concept of "divide and conquer". to me, OBL needs to be divided from the base of Islam, even the fundamentalists. He must be left on the edge as the extreme of the extreme.

There is a message that needs to be crafted and it needs to be stronger and better executed in my opinion and that includes the message of Americans expressing solidarity with the 'real' freedom loving Muslims of the world. Those that want freedom from oppression and the ability to practice their beliefs without instruct or demand from the government. Any government because governments are made by men, laws interpreted by men. God is the arbiter of faith and morals that helps guide men (remember we are talking about how to support them in their religion, but separate them from the lawless) he did not create governments and institutions.

Something along these lines may help solidify the separation of "mosque and state" and the eventual demise of state created terrorism.