Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nir Rosen on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qa'eda

Nir Rosen, author and independent journalist, has published a new piece on the killing of Bin Laden that has been published various places under various titles, "Al Qa'eda was always a fringe group with no roots in the Arab world," is my personal favorite. Before I get any further, I have to give props to Nir Rosen on his newest book, "Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World." It's an excellent, thorough read, taken from Rosen's extensive work in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had the privilege of carrying Rosen's book through Israeli security and getting as many dirty looks for his title as I got for carrying Arabic language vocabulary lists. Rosen was previously writing for mainstream publications such as Rolling Stone, but has gone the independent route, apparently in an effort to stay true to reporting what he sees, hears, and believes. Some of Rosen's most recent long-form pieces are at Jadaliyya, here's his author page.

Go read his most recent Bin Laden piece, it's great. But for people who don't have 30 minutes to spare, here are some great excerpts. I had to stop taking excerpts halfway through because I realized I was taking a quarter of the article. The section of the article from which I did not excerpt deals with a favorite topic of mine: terrorism. Rosen deconstructs the definition of terrorism and differentiates it from resistance. Ok, without further ado, The Excerpts:
It turns out Arabs understand democracy better than we do in the stagnant west, they proved that leaders rule only with the consent of the governed and if the people demand their rights they cannot be stopped. On the other hand America, a nation in economic and political decline but perpetual war, was engrossed in right wing conspiracy theories about where President Obama was born only to receive a nationalist fillip by an assassination ten years and trillions of dollars in the making. 
...
The truth is al Qaeda was a fringe organization without roots in the Arab world, and it has barely had any successes since it got lucky on September 11. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were tragic and criminal. They were painful for the victims and their families and a shock to a powerful, arrogant and proud nation blissfully unaware that it was so resented. But other than the murders the attacks had little real impact on the American economy or way of life. It was the American response, both at home and abroad, that changed everything.  Al Qaeda used it’s “A team” on that day to attack a slumbering nation, and they got lucky. But could a few hundred angry and unsophisticated Muslim extremists really pose such a danger to a superpower, especially one that was now hyper alert to potential threats?
...
The Bush administration had to transform its response to the 9/11 attacks into crusade because when looked at in purely security terms the United States, the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, went to war against two hundred unsophisticated extremists. Looking at it like that diminishes the enemy and the threat to the absurd, but many were nostalgic for a real enemy, like fascism or communism, and so they made the conflict about culture. The United States adopted al Qaeda’s view of the world and it too treated the entire world stage as a battlefield.
...
Al Qaeda was not a villainous bad guy out of a Bond film or a comic book, determined to do evil for the sake of evil. It was a movement that arose in response to America’s imperial excesses. Many of its grievances were legitimate, even if killing American civilians is not the proper means of addressing them. If America ceased supporting the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, and if America ceased coddling Middle Eastern dictators, and if America ceased bombing Muslims, there would be little reason for Muslims to resent America, or retaliate against American civilians. 
...
There is no al Qaeda. It was not defeated by drones and “the quiet professionals” who can assassinate at will. It was defeated by its own excesses and by the millions of Arabs who have led a leaderless revolution, overthrowing dictators and ignoring al Qaeda’s view that a vanguard was needed.
...
Americans complain when others celebrate the killing of Americans, but the world watched Americans grotesquely celebrating an execution. While the Americans keep trying to present their violent acts as somehow sanctioned by notions of law and right and the “international community”, Muslim masses will continue to have the opposite view because of how ingrained their enmity to colonialism is. Decades of oppression, the recent occupation of Iraq and most recently with American support for Mubarak until the last minute mean that many Arabs will not trust the American account, they have been lied to before, and they will not sympathize with the American narrative, because Americans showed them only cruelty.
...
When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some ‘collateral’ civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to “shock and awe,” as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

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