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Teaching & Understanding Sept 11 Mark Hamm & Paul Leighton

Understanding anti-Americanism: A bin Laden Special on Al-Jazeera Two Months Before September 11

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Editor's updated Intro: with the war in Iraq, Al Jazeera has emerged as a powerful media outlet, while bin Laden has declined in importance (even though he's still alive). To accommodate this changing situation, this page has expanded its resources on Al Jazeera as well as anti-American sentiments not necessarily connected to bin Laden. Additional resources include syllabi on People of the Mid East (including the handout for week 1 on orientalism, etc) and Women of the Mid East and Understanding the Mid East through the writing of Hannah Arendt

Editor's [original] introduction: Studying serial killers is something of a trendy topic in Criminology, but mass murder – as in ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes and terrorism – is not seen as relevant to the discipline. Further, the idea of getting inside the head of a serial killer is the reason many students take up criminology, so they can become a ‘mindhunter’ or work doing profiles of serial killers. Having such an intimate understanding of terrorists is not nearly as popular, even though it is increasingly necessary. 

ruined congress building - in flames and with bomb damage

Congress in ruins, from Muhajiroun.com: The Voice, The Eyes and The Ears of Muslims

Unlike serial killers, terrorists engage in politically motivated violence, so getting inside their head and attempting to see the world through their eyes at times means understanding anti-American sentiments. This task is difficult enough at the best of times, but even more tricky in the wake of intense patriotism and nationalism. A major crisis promotes social solidarity and an emphasis on unity, so to many it seems unpatriotic, even dangerous, to see the world through different eyes and moral sensibilities. Patriotism, however, does not promote a deeper and more sophisticated view of global politics, nor an understanding of why many Arabs have anti-American feelings (even though they do not support the attack on innocent civilians). Perhaps a good starting point is a letter signed by 60 academics supporting military action following Sept 11. They noted: 

“We recognize that at times our nation has acted with arrogance and ignorance toward other societies. At times our nation has pursued misguided and unjust policies. Too often we as a nation have failed to live up to our ideals. We cannot urge other societies to abide by moral principles without simultaneously admitting our own society's failure at times to abide by those same principles. We are united in our conviction - and are confident that all people of good will in the world will agree - that no appeal to the merits or demerits of specific foreign policies can ever justify, or even purport to make sense of, the mass slaughter of innocent persons.”

The remainder of this reading provides a modest start to the task of understanding anti-American sentiment by examining a discussion of bin Laden that aired on the Al-Jazeera network, the television network that has been called the CNN of the Arab world. Even though this program was a debate, it represents a limited spectrum of opinion from a very diverse region and people. However, many of the points raised here are widely raised, including the relativity of terrorism, past U.S. actions that were violent, and U.S. support of corrupt Arab regimes and leaders. The discussion is also interesting for its attention to whether bin Laden’s support for Palestine is genuine or a political ploy to gain sympathy from a wider Arab audience

It's also important to put some perspective on the question, Why do they hate us? "Events since [9-11] have shown that this was too self-centered and exclusionary a reflex. Those who hate in this way hate much more than us. Their fury is part of a bigger picture that is succinctly and expertly treated by historian Bernard Lewis in his new book, 'The Crisis in Islam.' As Lewis points out, the radicals have an entire world to destroy before their apocalyptic design of restoring the Islamic caliphate can be realized." (From Jim Hoagland, Fighting for the Soul of Islam. Washington Post, 13 July 2003, p B07)

The Pro Cartoonists' Index has an extensive collection of commentary on Sept 11, drawn by artists from around the world
PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: The Problem of U.S. Credibility [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]

The United States must radically transform its public diplomacy to combat increased hostility toward America in the Arab and Muslim world, a U.S. State Department advisory panel report said. The report found that "hostility toward America has reached shocking levels" and called for U.S. public relations efforts, known as public diplomacy, that match "the gravity of our approach to national defense and state-to-state diplomacy." The panel, the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, conducted a three-month study before issuing its report, titled "Changing Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic Direction for U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World." Download full report (acrobat.pdf) ~ News report from CNN or article in Muslimnews.co.uk

Views of a Changing World 2003: War With Iraq Further Divides Global Publics. (Pew Research Center Poll) See also story on poll, "Arab Hostility Toward U.S. Growing, Poll Finds" (Washington Post, June 4, 2003; Page A18) 

A Muslim World Torn: Hatred of Hussein Limits the Willingness Of Many to Seek Vengeance Against West: "I prayed for the victims after the 11th of September," he said, " but today I would say if something like this attack happens again in the U.S.A., I would not pray for them."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said yesterday the war on Iraq would produce "one hundred new bin Ladens", driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy.

Outrage Spreads in Arab World: Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Market Called a 'Massacre' (Washington Post)  "Mr. Bush has lost us. We are gone. Enough," said Diaa Rashwan, head of the comparative politics unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "If America starts winning tomorrow, there will be suicide bombing that will start in America the next day. It is a whole new level now."

The anger was a clear sign that U.S.-Arab relations, despite the Bush administration's campaign to win hearts and minds, was at a low point. "Bush is an occupier and terrorist. He thought he was playing a video game," said George Elnaber, 36, a Arab Christian and the owner of a supermarket in Amman. "We hate Americans more than we hate Saddam now"

Channel-Surfing Carnage of War, Saudis' Anger At U.S. Grows: With Protests Prohibited, Emotions Flare in Private. (Washington Post)  "America is so unfair it makes people frustrated and they want to kill every American in the street," she says. "If America wants to step over everybody, then we will fight. I will kill Americans in the street."

Rich and poor, young and old, Saudis are seething over the war in Iraq. Many feel connections to the people across the border, sharing names with Iraqi tribes. It is virtually impossible to find a Saudi who has even a vaguely sympathetic word to say about American intentions. 

"I don't understand why Israel can have nuclear weapons and Saddam Hussein cannot"

"America now rules the world, either directly or by proxy; and there is nothing anyone can do about it," he concludes.

"Nothing, that is, but wait for history to take its course, for Fortune's wheel to turn as it inexorably does, crushing underneath those who once danced on top of it. But not in our lifetime. Yes, there will be more terrorism, and Osama Bin Laden - or at least his infamous voice - was heard once more yesterday, calling for suicide attacks and thus giving more easy justification, as he did on Sept. 11, to America's imperial ambition. Thanks, Osama, you've done us all about as much good as George W. Bush. Both are two sides of the same coin."

Arab media react to the 'fall of Baghdad' (Washington Post 9 April 03) ~ The BBC also did a story on Arab TV captures 'moment of history'


A bin Laden Special on Al-Jazeera Two Months Before September 11

This transcript is an edited version of a translation done by the Middle East Media Research Institute. © MEMRI 2001; full transcript available as part of their Special Dispatch archive, which is a rich source for reading about anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. Used by permission of MEMRI, which notes that the discussion here does not necessarily follow the order of the discussion on the program. 


ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND ON AL JAZEERA - [english.aljazeera.net is the official site, sometimes down because of hacking. also try aljazeera.info for English language version]

Al-Jazeera has been vilified for what its critics describe as its anti-American bias, particularly in its coverage of the Afghan war, and for fanning the flames of Islamic extremism.  But to many in the Arab world, it is seen as the only station that tells the story straight. It is hailed as a revolutionary force among Arab media, which has been shackled by state control. As a result, it has also drawn condemnation from Arab governments. (full story from BBC)

Al-Jazeera wins anti-censorship award: The Qatar-based channel won the award for the best circumvention of censorship at Index on Censorship's third annual Freedom of Expression Awards last night. The judges, including the former Channel 4 news presenter Sheena McDonald and the Daily Mail's veteran foreign reporter Ann Leslie, said: "Al-Jazeera's apparent independence in a region where much of the media is state run has transformed it into the most popular station in the Middle East."

Perceptions: Where Al-Jazeera & Co. Are Coming From (Washington Post) Some American commentators have dismissively attributed the violence of Arab television coverage to the nature of the culture. The truth, of course, is more complicated. To understand the coverage, one must take into account the narratives that have shaped the Arab worldview. As an Egyptian who has lived in this country for 18 years, and as a media critic with an eye on both worlds, I recognize the references that shape the Arab coverage of this war. They span historical events from the Crusades to the Mongol invasions of Baghdad to the colonial experience and the recent Arab-Israeli wars. 

In Indonesia, a Wary Worldview: Skeptical of U.S. Media, People Turn to al-Jazeera (Washington Post, 8 April 2003))

MORE ON BIN LADEN from this website (StopViolence.com). see also How is US image perceived in Muslim world? The Pew Global Attitudes survey of more than 38,000 people in 44 nations found that the US image was worse in 2002 than it was two years ago in 19 of the 27 nations for which data were available for both years.

In a comment on the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (see link above highlighted by small flag), the conservative Washington Times noted: "Osama Bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, now inspires more confidence than President Bush in Indonesia, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and among Palestinians. The al-Qaida leader, who is responsible for the death of some 3,000 Americans on 9/11, received a strong vote of confidence -- as the man most trusted to do the right thing in world affairs -- in these four countries and in the occupied Palestinian territories with a combined population of 430 million." (Commentary: Osama's global fan club. 5 June 2003)

On July 10, 2001, on the Al-Jazeera talk show "Opposite Direction," Dr. Faysal Al-Qassem dedicated a program to "Bin Laden - The Arab Despair and American Fear." According to the show's regular format, two guests with opposing opinions were invited. One, a critic of bin Laden, was London resident and Sudanese author Al-Hatem 'Adlan, leader of the Al-Haq Democratic Forces Movement. The other guest was Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, editor-in-chief of a pro-Iraqi London newspaper who had once interviewed bin Laden, and who since September 11, has been a regular guest in the Western media presenting the "Arab viewpoint." The majority of the show's callers, and the host, praised bin Laden. The following are excerpts from the program:


Host: Good evening, dear viewers. Do you know how much Osama bin Laden weighs? The answer is: No more than 50 kg [kilogram = 2.2 pounds] . In contrast, the average weight of the Arab leaders is at least 80 kg, not to mention the weight of the armies and the huge budgets. Nevertheless, the slender bin Laden has made the greatest power in history shudder at the sound of his name, [while] the physical and material heavyweights arouse only America's pity and ridicule.

Has bin Laden not become a worthy opponent, feared by America who moves its fleets and puts its army and embassies on highest alert? Who smashed one of its destroyers on the high seas? Who fought it in Somalia and caused its troops to run like rabbits? Who made its embassies throughout the world into fortresses [whose residents] fear even a light breeze? Who caused America to yelp in pain one hundred times? Who has become recently the No. 1 Arab and Islamic hero? Does the U.S. fear him because it sees him as a terrorist, or because he is the conscience of the Arab and Islamic world?

Terrorist or Jihad Fighter?

'Adlan opened the discussion by stating that he perceived the "bin Laden phenomenon" as "part of a broader phenomenon of international terrorism… the main goal of which is to seize power by violent means.”

'Atwan disagreed: "If you want to talk about terrorism against a legitimate government, fine. The U.S. dropped two atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the victims were innocent… This is the legitimate power you are defending. Didn't it kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people? Can we call this government legitimate? It is a terrorist regime that has killed innocent people in Vietnam. 

“The Arab Mujahideen were considered pure angels [when they were fighting the USSR]. Now, in most Gulf states, they are considered terrorists. Anyone who says 'No' to the U.S. is considered a terrorist…" 

“There is a difference between bin Laden and, the [Philippine Muslim] Abu Sayyaf organization. Abu Sayyaf kidnaps civilians and demands ransom… [Host: "While bin Laden is a legitimate Jihad fighter"] Bin Laden has a work plan. He was an ally of America and in the past he fought together with the U.S. You can't say that he's a terrorist now but wasn't a terrorist before. Either he was a terrorist when he fought the Soviets, so he is a terrorist now as well, or not. This is the American double standard towards the world. Whoever is with it, such as Israel, is above the law, does not stand trial, all doors open before it and the red carpet is rolled out; whoever is against it is a terrorist. 

A viewer called in from Amman: "Bin Laden is not a terrorist. In the eyes of Muslims throughout the world, bin Laden is fighting a Jihad for the sake of Allah. He is one of the drawn swords of Allah, brandished at the faces of the leader of the infidels on the face of the Earth - America - which is also the leader of terrorism. America today is arrogant, and its spokesman says: 'Who is stronger than me?' This America sucks the blood of the peoples, and anyone who challenges it or refuses to obey it is persecuted by the judicial system, becoming a terrorist, a violator of human rights, and a danger to world peace. 

“The bin Laden phenomenon is a natural phenomenon in this [Islamic] nation, after the rulers relinquished Jihad, as if Jihad were a political decision that could be rescinded. Jihad is a divine decision that no one can rescind. The nation awakens by means of Jihad, and the spirit of Jihad and martyrdom. When we relinquished Jihad and martyrdom, we were humiliated, and have begun to beg from America. America understands only the language of force. When bin Laden confronted it with the same logic the U.S. itself uses, it became horror-stricken.” 

The host then put Sheikh Yassin Omar of Beirut on the air: "I know bin Laden; he is a modest and good man. I know his family. I worked with his brother in the economic institutions in the Sudan and in other places. Bin Laden is from a wealthy family. He left everything and went to live this kind of life, as a fugitive… I want to address the talk about bin Laden being a terrorist. Was [Che] Guevera a terrorist? Guevera was an example for struggle in the world; shall we call him a terrorist? I think that Osama bin Laden is the same phenomenon as Guevara. He works towards liberation. The attacks carried out by some of bin Laden's men were not directed against the peoples or against innocent people. They were attacks on Americans at the heart of their interests. Now America is horror-stricken."

Bin Laden and Arab Regimes

'Atwan stated: "There is despair and frustration, because we must admit that we are ruled by tyrannical, corrupt regimes that plunder the resources of the peoples - regimes incapable of playing any genuine role in [solving] the nation's problems and that have completely surrendered to America and Israel. Change and democratization have reached the entire world, even the Socialist bloc, but when they come to the Arab region, they are denied entry. There must be no democracy in the Arab homeland; there must be no human rights, because America does not want democracy and human rights for the Arabs.” 

'Atwan explained that Islamic radicalism results from the lack of other options for change in the Arab world, and posited possible ways to bring about governmental change: "The first way is the transfer of power through peaceful means, democratic elections, and parliaments; all these do not exist in our countries. The rulers have begun to intervene in the will of Allah as well, setting their sons to take their places. Thus even death, in which we put our trust, does not release us from them. We are forced to live with them, their tyranny, and their corruption - and after [them] come their sons. Because change in the upper echelons is impossible in Arab countries, it is natural that movements such as bin Laden's arise, and that the people flock to them and try to strike the main country that supports those regimes - America…" 

The host told his guests that many viewers had sent faxes to the studio saying: "In light of the terrible Arab surrender and self-abasement to America and Israel, many of the Arabs unite around this man, who pacifies their rage and restores some of their trampled honor, their lost political, economic, and cultural honor. The nation thirsts deeply for someone who will confront America… not with words and slogans. [The nation thirsts] for someone who can prove in practice that he is a worthy opponent… Bin Laden [became] the right man for this important role in the confrontation with America, the enemy of the Muslims, which conspires with the Muslim rulers to hurt [the Muslim nation] and plunder its resources. Bin Laden is an ordinary man, like anyone else… he weighs little and his influence is limited… But America's arrogance and conceit prevent it from understanding the truth about the Islamic world and about how Muslims think.

"Now, when the Arab regimes are not fulfilling their role in Jihad and the struggle for liberation, and submit to humiliation at the negotiating table, and live off the crumbs of American aid under American protection, it is natural that the bin Laden phenomenon should spread. I predict that this phenomenon will thrive, and will be duplicated in many Arab capitals, and in Palestine.

Why Doesn't bin Laden Attack Israel?

The central issue of why bin Laden had not directed his efforts against Israel was also discussed in the program. A viewer from Syria who called in said that he "and all the Arabs and Muslims in the world, from the East to the West" were "bored by all the talk of Osama bin Laden and his dubious activity," and stated that if bin Laden were a real man of struggle, he would have "walked hand in hand with the fighting Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah [Hizbullah's secretary-general], and invested his money in Hizbullah.” 

'Atwan defended bin Laden. "This is a peculiar analysis," he said. "Poor bin Laden, [stuck] in Afghanistan, sitting in the mountains. I met him at an altitude of 3,000 [meters] above sea level at 20 degrees [Celsius] below zero, with snow half a meter deep. The man is in hiding, and moving from cave to cave. How is he supposed to plan and coordinate with other bodies? What terrifies Israel now is [the possibility] that the bin Laden phenomenon will reach Palestine." 

Host: "But Israel is the spearhead. Where is his struggle, his Jihad against Israel? Why are we not seeing it? Why, for example, did he go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and is not fighting the true enemies of the nation - the Zionists?" 

"That is a legitimate question, and I asked him that [when I interviewed him]," replied 'Atwan. "First of all, we must take into account that bin Laden is not a superpower; he has no armies, no tanks, no missiles, no central bank, and no petroleum… he has nothing, only a group of Mujahideen. I saw them myself, poor wretches, they have Kalashnikovs and a few missiles and they are on the run because the U.S. is pursuing them, the Arab intelligence apparatuses are pursuing them, and Arab spies are pursuing them, even some in Pakistan are pursuing them. Okay. We expect him to liberate Palestine for us. We are exaggerating the man's abilities. For that, he needs Al-Buraq [the winged horse who bore the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem on the Night Journey] to get him to southern Lebanon.

Violence Against America

Host: "Bin Laden thinks the Arab region is occupied." 

"It's not occupied," said 'Adlan. "Let's be clear about this. The Americans are not in the Gulf because they came as [occupiers]. They came because they were legitimately called in by the countries [to fight] a country that wanted to invade them. Bin Laden's political plan is different [than Saddam Hussein's]. It's a medieval, anti-democratic plan, a plan against justice, enlightenment, and all the achievements of human culture. This is what we have seen in Afghanistan, in the Sudan. He took these countries with him back to the Middle Ages, and [we] cannot agree to this. I am opposed to many things in the Arab regimes, but when facing the intentions of bin Laden and other organizations like him - I stand with the regimes. 

“Although America supports Israel, America cannot be seen only from this angle… We are opposed to the American position on Israel and fight it in this area. But we cannot, for example, fight trade with America; we can't try to topple the American government on behalf of the American people. This [would be] is a real mistake… let the American people topple whomever - Bush, Clinton - that's their business.” 

Host: "You present bin Laden as if he wanted to topple the [government in] America and take it over. All the man wants is to expel America from the region." 

"You called bin Laden 'America's oppressor,' and said that he made the Americans 'flee like rats,'" replied 'Adlan. "I think this is absolutely untrue." 

Host: "Can you deny that Osama bin Laden or his associates managed to destroy the American military bases… They hit a few dozen of them, making the Americans conceal their bases in remote places in the middle of the desert. [Look at the case of] the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen. As everyone knows, a green fly cannot get to these destroyers - not even mighty Russia can get to them - but he got to it [USS Cole] and destroyed it. Today, when two people talk on the telephone - and as everyone knows, the American satellites monitor even the crawling of ants - and one says to the other, bin Laden is going to carry out a bombing soon, all of America goes on high alert. What more do you want? The guy strikes fear into the entire world." 

'Atwan: "There is a phenomenon of Arabs and Muslims willing to die a martyr's death. They are willing to die, willing to blow themselves up, and this is what America fears. America has taken over the world with so-called globalization. It has taken over the world economically by means of the big banks; it has taken it over in the security sense by means of the treacherous regimes… and it has taken it over in the media sense by means of the mighty arms of the media, such as the Internet and satellite channels. 

"Bin Laden thinks the American forces in the Arab region, and particularly in the Gulf, are occupying forces just like the Soviet forces were in Afghanistan. These forces must withdraw, and he wants to carry out reform in the Arab regime in his own way. He wants to institute Islamic religious law according to the accepted standards. He doesn't want to defeat America in America. He wants to say to the American forces: 'Please, you came here on the pretext of liberating Kuwait; you liberated Kuwait, what are you [still] doing in our country? Go, and may Allah be with you.' Then, Arab regimes in accordance with Islamic religious law will arise; they will have justice, equality, and a fair distribution of wealth. That is all the man is asking for." 

A Phone Call from the Al-Qa'ida's Spokesman

The host put Al-Qa'ida's spokesman Sheikh Suleiman Abu Gheith on the air: 

"Osama bin Laden is an excellent example [of following] the right path in order to escape the pitiful situation and the nation's subordination [to the West]. America occupies the Arabian Peninsula, from one end to the other. This contradicts the religious writings that command the exclusion of Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula. As the Prophet Muhammad said, in the reliable Hadith [oral tradition] quoted by Ibn 'Abbas, 'Remove the polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula.'" 

"Warfare against the Americans, the Jews who are at their sides, and anyone who supports them, constitutes a 'fardh 'ayn' [a religious commandment binding on Muslims as individuals]. Fighting them is an obligation in which there can be no compromise, until they leave the Arabian Peninsula and all the Muslim lands they occupy. The clerics have reached a consensus… that Jihad is an obligation in three cases, one of which is when the enemy enters Muslim lands. What can we say when the Jews and Christians disseminate corruption in the holiest place on Earth - the land of the two holy places [the Arabian Peninsula], the land of vision and prophecy, and the land of Jerusalem…?" 

"They [the young people] are looking for advice on how to remove the Americans from this land - and this is clearly shown by the martyrdom operations [suicide bombings] they carry out, that doubtless constitute the most tremendous acts of obedience to Allah… Young Muslims today refuse to bow [their] heads to the Arab regimes' open conspiracy against the Islamic nation… The Americans must know, my dear brother, that Osama bin Laden is the symbol that the nation has been seeking for a long time. His ideology has already spread and taken root, and they mustn't think that his dying, or that killing him, will stop the Jihad and the resistance. This is an ideological issue, not contingent upon the life or death of one man." 

More on bin Laden

Al Qaeda taps Arab war fears: "Bin Laden is a dreadfully talented player," says a senior US intelligence analyst, also the anonymous author of the book, "Through Our Enemies' Eyes," an account of bin Laden's network and views. "He remains focused on three things that have the support, I think, of most Muslims, whether they're liberal or conservative. Many disagree with his tactics and actions, but almost no one disagrees with him that the US should get its forces out of Saudi Arabia, end sanctions on Iraq, and lean on the Israelis about their treatment of the Palestinians. These are apple-pie issues in the Muslim world."




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