In a not-so-appealing appeal, Mr. bin Laden, son of the master builder of most of Saudi Arabia's modern infrastructure, offered westerners two choices, as follows:
“One is from our side, and it is to escalate the fighting and killing against you. This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out," bin Laden said.
"The second solution is from your side. ... I invite you to embrace Islam," he said.
One result of that, bin Laden said, would be an end to the Iraq war. He said "warmongering owners of the major corporations" would rush to appease voters who showed they are looking for an alternative, "and this alternative is Islam."
While Mr. bin Laden's message can be read at many levels, I believe that a literal reading of his statements is in fact the most meaningful, as well as the most revealing, method of interpretation.
Bin Laden's words are a source of insight into the mind of a true believer for whom the slaughter of innocents is a glorious means to the celebration of his vision of a totalitarian God of death.
Interestingly, bin Laden repeatedly derided the capitalist system, the source of his and his father’s wealth – in fact, the source of essentially all the monies funding bin Laden’s intended worldwide terrorist crusade. Were it not for capitalism, bin Laden's father would have remained a migrant Yemeni worker in Saudi Arabia, and bin Laden certainly would not have enjoyed the opulent Saudi lifestyle that was laid at his feet from birth.
Yet, in spite of his twisted mental attitude – which insists that death is life, and that terror is the most blessed avenue to glory – bin Laden is quite astute in many aspects of his worldview.
He argues convincingly that the US presence in Iraq has created a haven for his movement, and in that statement, he is exactly correct. He argues that US president Bush is as weak a strategic thinker as was former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. Once again, bin Laden's analysis is perceptive and accurate.
Much in bin Laden's words reveals that he is a smarter man than his nominal adversary, US president George W. Bush. Of course, intelligence alone has few ethical implications, and bin Laden's morality is as twisted and defective as any human worldview can possibly be.
In fact, bin Laden’s present position remains strategically weak, propaganda to the contrary, and that has been a recurring theme throughout his career as a terrorist ideologue. Bin Laden is a single-minded and viciously sincere individual who in this respect is very much like his nemesis, Mr. Bush.
But, no matter how much I disagree with Mr. Bush, bin Laden’s despised enemy, it is clear to me that Mr. Bush has, at least from his own perspective, a positive program that he is seeking to promote, however ineffective his means of achieving it may be, and no matter how flawed the program itself may ultimately prove in its final execution, should that ever come to pass.
Mr. bin Laden, on the other hand, is entirely devoid of a positive program. His interest is in destruction, and destruction alone. Unfortunately for the entire narrative of human history, destruction is all too easy to accomplish. It is quickly achieved, and lasting in its impact. Building anything positive is difficult, whereas destroying any arbitrarily-chosen target is deceptively simple.
There are no brilliant destroyers – only brilliant builders. And from this elite group, bin Laden will be permanently excluded by history, regardless of who, if there are survivors, ultimately writes the historic texts.
A destructive agenda serves only the intellectually lazy and the morally destitute, and Mr. bin Laden has confined himself forever to membership in this inferior assemblage.
Mr. bin Laden has chosen the easy but unproductive path by setting himself against not only the US, but in fact against modernity itself. An anti-modernist perspective on its own merits might be a valid ethical stance. But as we all know, bin Laden's next step is to impose his view of a purified Islamic caliphate on all those who do not share his vision of a murderous, death-loving God.
I will close by returning to a theme I have developed earlier.
In my view, the rise of Islamic extremism represents, at its heart, a shrinking back in the face of opportunity. The tragic aspect of Islamic extremism is that, by and large, for the tribal peoples of the world, there is no road back. This is not specifically because subsistence is no longer practicable In the modern world, but in fact because those who have made the transition, however partial, from subsistence to modernity, do not choose to surrender everything modern – no matter how practically or ideologically irksome and difficult – to return to the rigors of a traditional subsistence lifestyle.
Bin Laden is a prime exemplar of this principle. While the man is wholly sincere in his desire to practice austerity and extreme self-denial for the sake of his twisted God, he is in fact entirely dependent upon the modern (capitalist) financial system to fund his terrorist project, and he is also a committed consumer in the globally-inter-connected technological marketplace.
Why then, is Mr. bin Laden inviting those of us in the west to convert to his phantasy of Islam?
Having no vision of how to live freely in a world far more complex than that which his ancestors inhabited, and privileged beyond the imagining of even his grandparents’ generation, he has found his salvation in rigid adherence to a totalitarian formula. Beyond that, he has discovered ultimate meaning and vindication in seeking to impose this crippling and inhuman program on others.
What then is Mr. bin Laden’s ultimate goal? Without exaggeration, I submit that his program is to liberate us from our humanity – a burden that he himself finds unmanageable. Unable to separate himself entirely from his own human qualities, Mr. bin Laden's efforts to maim and kill his fellow humans wholesale and indiscriminately are – from his perspective – an act of supreme blessedness and liberation – and this accounts for his liberal salting of his speech with “God” language.
Mr. bin Laden is neither a strategist nor a tactician, but a visionary. His aim is to bring to nonbelievers the blessing of death and the final liberation of ultimate destruction. It is to this glorious vision that bin Laden, the visionary sheikh, has called us in his recently released video.
What if we in the west were to take up Mr. bin Laden’s altar call? If I read the man correctly, he would embrace us, but he would also press us, cult-like, into his militarized, weaponized eternally warlike way of life. It would then be our role to convert our brethren in the west to the same violent religious vision, and through the same brutal and anti-human means, to spread the religion of death to every land of the globe.
Mr. bin Laden’s brilliant mind is fascinating to plumb, but the final barrenness of his crusade of death is frightening to confront. At his core, Mr. bin Laden is an entirely empty man. There is nothing there, nothing at all. It is tragic, terrifying and revealing to contemplate that this is who he is – in the final analysis – a non-person – the embodiment of a man without any shred of remaining humanity whatsoever.