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Mona Charen
Mona Charen
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How Bin Laden Resembled Michael Moore


In those harrowing first days and weeks after the 9/11 atrocity, Americans were traumatized — but also bewildered. What vicious hatred was this? Who was this new and terrifying enemy? What could possibly motivate people to sacrifice their lives for the honor of killing innocent American civilians — and cause thousands of others to cheer mass murder?

Naturally, some Americans couldn't resist the temptation to ride their own hobbyhorses. We had it coming, said the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, for tolerating abortion and gay unions. (Falwell later apologized.) On the left, a veritable chorus of "blame the victim" analysis explained that America's crimes had driven our enemies to terrorism. The Nation magazine declared that America was "the world's leading rogue state."

Noam Chomsky offered his own twist, calling the U.S. the world's chief "terrorist state." Michael Moore, who held a seat of honor at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, offered that we shouldn't be surprised by the attack because "we have orphaned so many children ... with our taxpayer-funded terrorism."

The rest of us wondered how Muslims could be so fired with hatred of Americans considering that the last three wars we had fought had been on behalf of suffering Muslims: in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

The usual suspects blamed Muslim hatred of the U.S. on our support for Israel (though that issue ranked below "infidel" troops on Saudi soil on bin Laden's list of grievances). The rest of us have undertaken, during the past decade, a crash course in Islam, Islamism, the history of the Levant, al-Qaida, the clash of civilizations, and jihad. No sooner had we defeated communism than the scourge of Islamism seemed to reach straight out of the Middle Ages — a death cult promising its killers 70 virgins in paradise, and warning the faithful that only the strictest adherence to the Quran would bring salvation.

Osama bin Laden, with his talk of the Caliphate and regaining Spain for the umma, seemed a figure of the 9th century himself — an image carefully cultivated with stories of living in caves surviving on goat's milk.

But as the years have passed, it has become less and less clear that Islamism is just a throwback, or that the zealots who fantasize about killing ever larger numbers of Americans are acting on their interpretation of ancient dogmas.

The 9th century does not coexist with the 21st.

A camera panned the room where Osama bin Laden died — a room in a multi-level mansion in the suburbs of Islamabad, not a cave in a hillside near the border — and lit upon the quotidian paraphernalia of his life. On a shelf lay a jar of Vaseline, bottles of what looked like vitamins, and a prescription box that seemed to be for a nasal spray. On the floor lay a vacuum cleaner. Next door were the computers.

It's no revelation, of course, that bin Laden was conversant with modern technology. But just as bin Laden's home held modern products, his mind held modern prejudices. By allowing ourselves to be too distracted by the turbans and the pietistic language, we may have missed that — and in the process overestimated the role of Islam in Islamism.

In 2007, in his longest videotaped message to the world, bin Laden mouthed some of the familiar invocations of "Allah, the most high," but much of his message to the American people could have come straight from the pages of the Nation. He decried global warming, the "greed of major corporations and their representatives," "globalization," and "capitalism." Here's his explanation of the war in Vietnam:

"In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Rumsfeld and his aides murdered 2 million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed ... those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing."

Oliver Stone couldn't have said it better.

Yes, the late Osama bin Laden was a religious fanatic. But if religious zeal were his only motivation, he might have turned his hatred toward China — a consistent persecutor of Muslims (and others) or India (which some Islamists have attacked — though without justification). But bin Laden's garrulous videos reveal someone who had drunk deeply from the well of hatred for America that nourishes everyone from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin. It's a well with springs that originate right here.

To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Okay, so how did bin Laden resemble Michael Moore? Your silly column offers no answer to the question posed by its headline (except for the superficial similarity that they were both critical of U.S. foreign policy). Exactly what point are you struggling to make here?

Nobody who'd been following the news was "bewildered" after 9/11, and bin Laden was not a "new and terrifying enemy". I'd been aware of him for years. The Clinton White House was on top of the matter, but when the reins were turned over to Bush's team, Condoleezza Rice ignored Richard Clarke's warning to keep her eye on al-Qaeda. (It's quite possible that if the 2000 election hadn't been stolen, the Gore administration would have kept 9/11 from even happening. We'll never know.)

Our greed-driven, corporation-serving, short-sighted Middle East policies helped create fertile ground for organizations like al-Qaeda. Sorry if you don't like people saying that, but I'm not seeing a cogent refutation.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Steven Doyle
Tue May 3, 2011 5:18 AM
Funny, Steven Doyle, how you just proved her point. A rabid, tunnel-visioned view of America and "greedy corporations" at the root of all evil spouted by an American - like Michael Moore. Doesn't matter how twisted Bin Laden's view of American history was, if it serves the purpose of American hatred, it must be true.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Tue May 3, 2011 7:11 AM
Steven, you mentioned in a previous letter, I forget which, that you hoped one day to be rich. I hope that for you too, but when you are it won't be pleasant to be labeled greed-driven or corporate-serving. Will you be deserving of such villification if you attain your goal? Middle East policies are directed by the government. If the government is playing footsies with corporations the fault lies with government greed because you can't be above it if you are in it. Perhaps if Gore, the inventor of the internet and profiteer for carbon credits, had been granted the presidency by judicial fiat we would all have sprouted wings and the ability to fly. We'll never know. But there is a definite corollation between the words used by internal and external faux intellectuals.

The point is that both Mooristas and Bin Laden spread the same manure and therefore create the fertile ground for atrocity. I'm not sure which one is the useful idiot, but one has to be. I do know which one was the more dangerous idiot. Maybe Bin Laden was the muscle and Moore the capo de tutti capi, but that strikes me as backwards.

When real, large scale, horrifying atrocities occur they are always state-sponsored. Hitler was driven by power, not greed. Stalin, who makes Hitler look like a piker, the same. Always the same. Loathe corporations if you must, but fear the power seekers. They want more than your money.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Tom
Tue May 3, 2011 10:02 AM
Maggie, you seem to be referring to something that either exists in your head, or was written by someone else; I can't find any relevance in your comments to anything I wrote. You seem to think I made absolutist statements that I clearly didn't; possibly this reflects your own thinking, but not mine. Good luck.

Tom, I'm not a big fan of Michael Moore, but it's both disingenuous and patently absurd to pretend that secular bleeding-heart liberals who present opinions you don't like (people like Moore and myself) are substantively similar to a billionaire terrorist dreaming of a pan-Islamic theocratic Caliphate. It makes too little sense to even be insulting.

Note that "judicial fiat" describes the process that denied Gore the election he'd won. Your idiotic strawmen aside, it's reasonable to assume Gore, his NSC, and his AG would have continued the security operations that were following al Qaeda during the Clinton administration. (At least, he probably wouldn't have picked an AG who would say he didn't want to hear any more about terrorism, as Ashcroft did in 2001.)

I don't loathe corporations; don't put words in my mouth, don't throw up strawmen, and don't commit the childish fallacy of the excluded middle. When corporations were first chartered in America, the idea was that their existence should somehow serve the public weal, or at least not harm it. Nowadays, they're given all the rights but virtually none of the accountability of persons; they're allowed to operate with absolutely no moral or ethical principles except for accumulating money; and some of them hold more wealth, property, and, arguably, power than many sovereign nations.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Steven Doyle
Fri May 6, 2011 5:22 AM
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