The more I think about this new world
the more I think that the only rational response is to fear. Osama bin Laden
as a media celebrity
in our world (on our cable
networks and website
s and in newspaper
s) and in the Muslim
world (through word of mouth
more than any other medium) is a curious phenomenon. Here we have a guy whose fame is almost entirely a result of western policy, both when we aided him in fighting the Soviets and now as our "Mad Mullah
" du jour
. Yet he is also an example of a religious extremist
's ability to interact extensively with secular culture
and emerge entirely unchanged, or even strengthened, in his resolve. Osama is not unique in this respect - nearly every one of the nineteen suicide bomber
s lived in the United States
for extended periods of time, and Europe
before that, with little contact with the rest of their network
, and fully immersed in western culture
- even joining the barcrawling
set at times. And when they got a message telling them what to do, it doesn't seem like anyone blinked. Nor were many of these men typical suicide bombers - who are usually very young men from refugee camp
s and squalid economic conditions. Rather, many of them were in their late 20s and early 30s and had extensive Western education beyond flight school
What they are telling us here is that they have patience. Immediately after the bombings, polls showed that most Americans thought this attack would be followed by more in coming months. But that would run counter to everything we know about how September 11 was carried out. If there are more saboteurs lined up for the next wave (and likely there are, any organization that uses an independent cell structure uses wave patterns of attack. The US military is structured similarly) you can bet they won't be in the States now, or anywhere else where scrutiny is likely to fall. The next wave is not likely to come for at least a couple of years and probably more like 10 to 20 years. What they're doing now is waiting for us to overplay our hand, and despite the admirable restraint shown so far regarding military action, all indications are that we still don't see the situation correctly. The only worthwhile goal right now is to subvert the next attacks before they happen. We must act to do that now, and I only see one course of action that may do that.*
It is a reasonable statement that Osama bin Laden is a hero to vast populations within the Muslim world, and it would be dishonest to attribute that entirely to the western media - the poorest quality black and white newspaper photograph cannot fail to convey his charisma. If he lives, and continues to evade his enemies, he does not need to do anything else to effect the kind of loyalty he needs to inspire. He does not need to issue any orders, personally run training camps, or even be in regular contact with his network anymore. All of that groundwork has already been lain, and subordinates will pick up essential duties. Osama's job now is to be the inspiration, the proof that this can be done and gotten away with. And as long as he can do that, others will be motivated to carry out the rest of the plan.
Clearly this is a state of affairs that cannot, and must not, be tolerated. But I think George W. Bush makes a huge mistake when he says that bin Laden should be brought to justice dead or alive. While the importance of martyrs is often overstated, in this case a dead Osama will not be significantly less dangerous than a live Osama - he has reached that plateau of idolization. The only path to victory that I can see is to capture him alive and bring him to trial in the World Court. However, all indications point to a lack of sufficient evidence to convict him by any accepted legal procedure; therefore I don't believe that this is the course that will be taken. But I still believe it is the only correct action.
If you have not read the Ladenese Epistle, I strongly suggest that you do so right now. If you are an American or Israeli citizen, you must understand that war has been declared against you, and that you, personally, have been deemed an acceptable target in that war. Surely you must wish to understand why. Once you get through all of the repetitions of "praise be" and "Allah's salutations upon him" and "no power and power acquiring except through Allah," you will find that the declaration focuses far more on politics and economics than it does on religion, and at least pays lip service to the idea that the preferable way to address these grievances is through political means when those means are available.
The capture and trial of Osama bin Laden, while it may not accomplish the goal of conviction, may be used to accomplish an alternate and more effective goal. Many a revolutionary leader in captivity has switched from advocating armed action to more peaceful means of accomplishing his aims. If a trial can be dragged out over five or ten years, and if vested western interests in the Muslim world can be made to see the importance of compromise; if we give some indication that reasonable issues (like American support of corrupt Arab governments in exchange for favorable oil policies) can be addressed productively, I believe that Osama bin Laden can be transformed into an effective agent for change. I also believe that in doing so much bloodshed would be averted.
I fear that western economic interests will not favor this course of action, rightly believing that it would threaten them more than terrorism.
But I pray and I hope that our leaders use this opportunity, for the first time in two and a quarter centuries, to place greater value on long term planning than on short term concerns.
*-But I'd like to hear your ideas too. No, really, /msg me!