Sunday, October 31, 2004

Taking Bin Laden Seriously (Part I)

One thing that boggles the mind is the narrowness of the media’s focus in regards to terrorism. Certain facts are at the basis of all political dialogue and news coverage of terrorists. First, is that they are inherently evil. Second, is that they hate us for who we are, not what we do. Third, is that they are unreasonable and will not respond to anything other than force. While my research in the matter (limited as it is to sources available to the public) and my belief structure supports these statements conditionally, accepting them is not as obvious as media coverage would suggest.

The forced blindness of the media is apparent in how Bin Laden’s latest message was covered, as well as how each campaign responded to it. Bin Laden’s tone in the video was conciliatory and reasonable. When this fact was acknowledged in articles, it was quickly struck down as false, never allowing the reader to be confused for a moment. The headlines screamed that Bin Laden was threatening America; the campaigns responded as if Bin Laden was threatening attacks on them personally (as one report claims the unaired portions did.) Little was made of the fact that Bin Laden alludes to a proposal in the video: that if America withdrew from the Middle East, he would not attack America again as he has not attacked Sweden.

If Bin Laden’s proposal was genuine, it would directly contradict how Bush had described him. Bush said that Bin Laden and the terrorists hated freedom, democracy, and America—they hated us. Bin Laden comes out and says, first, that he does not hate freedom. Then he justifies his actions as exacting retribution for a bombing in Lebanon in 1982 and claims he will stop attacking America if we leaves the Middle East. No one makes a big deal out of the fact that Bin Laden explained one rationale for his actions while Bush attributed an entirely different one. Moreover, few mainstream media voices have pointed out that Bin Laden has consistently explained his actions in terms of history, rather than in terms of hating freedom and the American way. The author of Imperial Hubris, a CIA analyst who has studied Bin Laden for over a decade, thought that Bush’s description of Bin Laden and the terrorists was dangerous drivel, yet his book got little play beyond a vague hint that it attacked Bush.

Thus far, I have seen no one seriously look at Bin Laden’s proposal, to ask if it was worth American withdrawal from this far-off part of the world. If the price of staying in the Middle East was not knowing we were safe, would it be worth it? What if the price were a mushroom cloud in place of an American city? What price are Americans willing to pay? A thousand soldiers? A hundred thousand civilians?

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