Bin Laden’s Reading List for Americans
While Oprah’s seal of approval on a book cover is sought after in America, Osama Bin Laden’s is, to put it mildly, not. On Monday, the authors of three books apparently recommended to American readers by the leader of Al Qaeda in his latest communique might be wondering how one goes about returning an unsolicited endorsement to a shadowy militant who has been in hiding for eight years.
As our colleague Mark McDonald reported on Sunday, Mr. Bin Laden apparently released a new audiotape, entitled “An Address to the American People.” According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist Web sites, on the tape, a voice claiming to be that of the Qaeda leader described three books that he says support his analysis of global politics and the systematic maltreatment of Muslims at the hands of America and her allies.
Here is the blurb from hell the books’ authors will not want to see printed on their jackets above Mr. Bin Laden’s name: “After you read the suggested books, you will know the truth, and you will be greatly shocked by the scale of concealment that has been exercised on you.”
On the list:
1. “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and John J. Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Published in 2007, the book argues that uncritical American support for Israel, shaped by powerful lobbying organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, does grave harm to both American and Israeli interests. The voice on the tape gives the title of the book as “The Israeli Lobby in the United States,” according to the SITE translation.
The book develops themes first explored by the authors in an essay published in 2006 by the London Review of Books, which generated a strong reaction from some Jewish groups. Tony Judt defended the authors against charges of anti-Semitism on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times the following month. Later that year, The London Review hosted a panel discussion in New York on the questions raised by the essay. A complete transcript of that discussion and video of the the event are available online.
2. “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” in which former President Jimmy Carter gives his views about how best to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and criticizes Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the territories. While the voice on the tape does not mention this book by name, it calls on Americans to “read what your former president, Carter, wrote regarding Israeli racism against our people in Palestine,” in a characterization of the book that goes beyond Mr. Carter’s own language.
In his review of Mr. Carter’s book in The New York Times, Ethan Bronner wrote:
This is a strange little book about the Arab-Israeli conflict from a major public figure. It is premised on the notion that Americans too often get only one side of the story, one uncritically sympathetic to Israel, so someone with authority and knowledge needs to offer a fuller picture. Fine idea. The problem is that in this book Jimmy Carter does not do so. Instead, he simply offers a narrative that is largely unsympathetic to Israel. Israeli bad faith fills the pages. Hollow statements by Israel’s enemies are presented without comment. Broader regional developments go largely unexamined. In other words, whether or not Carter is right that most Americans have a distorted view of the conflict, his contribution is to offer a distortion of his own.
Much of the criticism of Mr. Carter’s book focused on the title, which evokes the idea raised by some supporters of the Palestinian cause who have compared the situation in Israel and Israeli-occupied Palestine to that of apartheid-era South Africa. For instance, in an article published in the London Review of Books in 2003, Virginia Tilley proposed a one-state solution which would still “preserve Israel’s role as a Jewish haven while dismantling the apartheid-like privileges that presently assign second-class citizenship to non-Jews.”
3. The third book referred to on the tape is called “The Apology of a Hired Killer,” according to the SITE translation. The book is said to have been written by “a former CIA agent who lived in two cultures, whose conscience was awakened in his third decade and decided to say the truth despite threats.” The voice on the tape says that this author is “the best to clarify to you the causes of the eleventh,” apparently meaning the attacks of September 11, 2001.
While there seems to be no book of that title and description, at least one analyst has suggested that Mr. bin Laden may have been reading “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins.
In the book, Mr. Perkins writes that, recruited by government agencies and an international consulting firm, he traveled the world for a decade convincing governments in the developing world to take on loans from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other international organizations they could not handle. Our colleague Landon Thomas wrote in 2006:
Mr. Perkins’s coup has been to overlay a dry, mainstream notion — that American companies and multinational institutions were less than discriminate in lending to third-world nations — with sex, confession and fiery plane crashes.
In 2006, the State Department posted a reply to the book headlined: “Confessions — or Fantasies — of an Economic Hit Man?” asserting that “Perkins claims that all this was done at the behest of the N.S.A., although he offers no evidence that this was the case.”
The State Department rebuttal dismisses the claim — “Perkins is apparently not aware that the National Security Agency is a cryptological (codemaking and codebreaking) organization, not an economic organization” — and concludes this way:
Perkins has written several other books, which include:
• Psychonavigation: “first hand accounts of how diverse tribal cultures travel beyond time and space by means of visions and dream wanderings;”
• Shapeshifting: “shamanistic techniques for global and personal transformation;” and
• The World Is As You Dream It: “shamanistic techniques from the Amazon and Andes.”
As to whether Perkins was acting at the behest of the U.S. government, the world is not “as he dreams it.”
Addressing suggestions that some of the book may have been fictionalized, the book’s publisher posted a statement on its Web site that began:
Some people have found John Perkins’ accounts in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to be so shocking and troubling that they have questioned whether his accounts are true. John himself has been absolutely unequivocal that everything written in the book is factual and is the true story of his life.
According to Jarret Brachman, the blogging former director of research at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Leah Farrall, a fellow “cyber monitor” was the first to spot this new audio message on a jihadist Web forum. On her blog, Ms. Farrall wrote:
It isn’t an anniversary tape. I suspect it has been used because al Qaeda has no more martyrdom videos to use in marking the anniversary. Also, its media capacity to make more tapes (on the scale of anniversary videos) has been seriously damaged of late. […]
The fact that it isn’t translated despite being a message for America/Americans also suggests a serious degradation of media capacity. There was no rush for this. There was a ‘leak’ that a message was coming and then it was pulled off the forums. Its release was delayed, yet still no English.
Bin Laden’s focus on Israel is interesting. I would have thought he’d be more focused on the campaign in Afghanistan given the issues this is causing Obama.
In another post, Ms. Farrall notes that she’s had quite a productive week — having “unearthed the first new [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] photos we’ve seen since he was captured” and “also nabbed the bin Laden audio.” Rather than make Ms. Farrall happy though, her two scoops are making her worry that she no longer seems to have much competition:
This has made me wonder who else still watches forums. A lot of people used to be all over this. … [G]enerally speaking there’s very few of us and interest in the content of forums seems to have dropped off. It’s almost like information fatigue. To my mind this isn’t a good thing.
Those forums continue to be used for strategic guidance, operational instruction, and of course propaganda dissemination. The propaganda dissemination always seems to get the focus. Granted it’s a big issue, but the bigger one is people using these forums for far more nefarious operational purposes at both the strategic and tactical level.
In an article for Foreign Policy last week, “The Next Osama,” Ms. Farrall’s colleague, Mr. Brachman, argued that even though Mr. Bin Laden remains Al Qaeda’s figurehead, another commander, Sheik Abu Yahya al-Libi, may already have surpassed him as the most important leader in the organization. Unlike Mr. Bin Laden, who seems to regard Americans as a nation of intellectuals who just need to read the right books, Mr. Abu Yahya, who was in American custody in Afghanistan until he escaped in 2005, formed his impressions of Americans first-hand. At Bagram airbase, Mr. Brachman writes, “he passed time by intimately studying his American captors as they aimlessly surfed the Internet or complained to him about their dysfunctional childhoods.”
(Tags: Books, Osama Bin Ladin, America)