Osama's Book Club


Osama bin Laden’s most recent message contained any number of fascinating insights into the elusive al-Qaeda leader. Not least was his recommendation of a book, Rogue State, by Washington DC writer William Blum. ‘If Bush carries on with his lies and oppression, it would be useful for you to read Rogue State,’ bin Laden said.

In response, Blum told the Washington Post, ‘This is almost as good as being an Oprah book,’ and said on a New York radio station, ‘I was not turned off by the endorsement. I am not repulsed and I am not going to pretend I am.’

Bin Laden quoted a passage from another Blum book, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire:

If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologise – very publicly and very sincerely – to all the widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism.

William Blum

Blum, a former employee of the US State Department, has spent much of his life railing against the American Empire and its brutal suppression of democracy around the world. It is a largely hidden history and includes support for Middle Eastern dictators, overthrowing democratically elected governments, favouring the Israelis over Palestinians, and bullying any number of nations into accepting military bases.

Soon after the bin Laden endorsement, Rogue State rocketed up the Amazon bestseller list and Blum, hitherto a fairly marginal commentator, received attention from the mainstream media. Interviewed on MSNBC by incredulous host Keith Olbermann, Blum was asked if somebody could read Rogue State and not ‘be in bed with Osama bin Laden.’ Blum later explained the fallacy of the position:

Well, what I suggest is that you use that knowledge to rectify the situation because basically it’s US foreign policy that creates anti-American terrorists. It’s the things we do to the world. It’s not, as the White House tells us, that they hate our freedom and democracy. That’s just propaganda. They hate our foreign policy. They hate what we do to them. The bombings and the invasions and the occupations and the torture and a whole bunch of other things. And if what I have in my book can lead to changes in our foreign policy, that would be the purpose I’m looking for.

Days after the bin Laden speech was released, leading conservative commentator and Islamophobe Daniel Pipes expressed outrage in the New York Sun that Blum could be pleased with the endorsement. More importantly, he suggested that the ‘Left’ were no better than radical Islamists:

Elaborate conspiracy theories cannot undo the fact that the Islamist-Leftist alliance, burgeoning for years, has now reached the point that the far Left constitutes al-Qaeda’s new mujahideen. After having failed to mount a massive terrorist operation in the United States in over four years, bin Laden’s early but very public Valentine to the far Left suggests that he sees it as a critical ally. And he is entirely correct to do so.

Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media, went even further:

The fact that bin Laden would cite the Blum book demonstrates that bin Laden is counting on a fifth column in the US to undermine the war on terrorism and hand him a victory on the battlefield.

Not satisfied with illegally invading a sovereign nation, Kincaid argued that the West needed to accelerate its propaganda efforts:

Considering that Al-Jazeera does work hand-in-glove with the terrorists, why is bombing the place such an outrageous thought? Al-Jazeera employees could be given advance notice to vacate the premises so innocent lives would not be lost, but its equipment would be destroyed.

His message is clear. In a war, entirely created and subsidised by governments desperate to use fear as a political weapon, alternative opinions were legitimate targets of military action, subjugation, or, presumably, torture.

The response to Blum’s book was instructive and reflected the kind of attention and hate-mail I increasingly receive due to my commentary on Iraq, the ‘war on terror’ and Israel/Palestine. I have lost count of the number of comments on my blog that have said ‘we are at war’ – and therefore, probing questions about the conduct or morality of war, its profit-driven agenda, civilian casualties and geopolitical realities are best not asked.

Thanks to Scratch

Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that in these times, ‘people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.’ In other words, your government knows best. It was a warning taken up by any number of embedded journalists in Baghdad, Washington, London and Canberra.

Blum’s thesis should, in fact, be remarkably uncontroversial. He methodically details the covert and not-so secret campaigns of successive US governments around the world. He paints a foreign policy dictated solely by self-interest. In Rogue State, Blum catalogues the countries bombed by the US since World War II, and indicates why many people may hate the super-power for what they do, rather than what they ‘are.’ The bombed countries are:

China 1945-46
Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)
Guatemala 1954
Indonesia 1958
Cuba 1959-1961
Guatemala 1960
Congo 1964
Peru 1965
Laos 1964-73
Vietnam 1961-73
Cambodia 1969-70
Guatemala 1967-69
Granada 1983
Lebanon 1983, 1984
Libya 1986
El Salvador 1980s
Nicaragua 1980s
Iran 1987
Panama 1989
Iraq 1991
Kuwait 1991
Somalia 1993
Bosnia 1994, 1995
Sudan 1998
Afghanistan 1998
Yugoslavia 1999

The list doesn’t indicate the amount of ordnance used. According to former US Attorney-General, Ramsey Clark, the Iraqi bombing of 1991 alone exceeded the entire tonnage dropped in all theatres of World War II.

When the New York Times recently released information about the Bush Administration illegally spying on US citizens, a number of conservative commentators questioned the paper’s right to report the story, claiming national security was being breached. (The fact that the Times delayed the story for a year, after Government objections, is equally concerning.)

If we are ‘in a time of war,’ then questioning everything our government tells us simply seems like common sense. Full transparency scares those closest to State power – journalists, politicians, commentators and PR hacks – and they will do almost anything to avoid any real examination of its motives and purpose. It is imperative that we don’t ignore attempts to silence dissent and fight them as strenuously as possible.

We are indeed at war.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.