It’s becoming the olive-skinned noise of American elections: A few weeks before the vote, Osama, as if on cue, makes a video appearance. It happened in 2002, just three weeks before the mid-term elections that, thanks to a slight overdose injection of fear into the American psyche that fall, preserved the reactionaries’ majorities in the House and Senate. From a New York Times story dated Oct. 13, 2002: “American officials say they fear that terrorist attacks in the past week and taped messages from leaders of Al Qaeda signal the beginning of a new wave of terrorist activity and possibly a large-scale attack.” The attacks never materialized of course, but the vote for the GOP did. Osama all but endorsed George Bush in 2004 (by reviling him on the air) in a video days before that election. It was enough to make you wonder who’s contracting Osama to play his part sdo well on behalf of the Bush administration. My bet is on the Rendon Group, wag to Bush’s dogs of war.
And today, again a few weeks removed from the mid-term elections and smack in the middle of Bush’s Tour for Terror, that dysentery of speeches he’s been inflicting on us since last week, here came Osama again with another one of his retreads, as always on al-Jazeera, MTV to terror’s rock. The tapes show Osama and a cople of his 9/11 suicide candidates slapping together a bit of training. In al-Jazeera’s words: “The video said that the preparation for the attacks included not only flight training but also lessons in street-fighting and how to forge official documents. The video also showed two of the 19 Islamists who took part in the attacks, Saudi nationals Hamza el-Ramdi and Wael el-Shemari. The men said that their actions were inspired by an urge to avenge the suffering of Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya.”
Fair question: If they wanted to avenge the killings in Bosnia and Chechnya, why fly planes into buildings in the United States, a country that, for all its foreign policy blunders, was alone among western nations finally to intervene and stop the killing of Muslims in Bosnia? Granted, the United States didn’t do much to pressure Putin’s thuggery against Chechnya. But why not crash a plane on the Kremlin, if Chechnya was the issue? Because it was more convenient, more spectacular, to make a statement in New York? There’s plenty to be said against America’s juvenile and often inflaming foreign policy. But let’s admit as well that, if plenty has been said about the fanaticism of the 9/11 terrorists and their brain-dead brotherhood, not enough has been said about the sheer insanity of their rationales, the inconsistency of their aims, the utopian madness of their ideology. Or the juvenile, even infantile thinking that gets them to the point of being their own willing executioners as well as that of hundreds or thousands of their fellow men.
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Those tapes that have been dribbling out of al-Jazeera’s studios, each one of them showing either Osama or his lieutenants speechifying, sermonizing, celebrating—or flirting with shadowy lighting: Those tapes have the technical quality of community-access cable shows and the psychological depth of college freshmen overpuffed on their newfound power. President Bush, an eternal freshman in his own right, is rediscovering Osama, as he does before every election cycle. It’s more like a biennial reunion. These two men are each other’s enablers. They live for each other. And their synchronized shows are only barely coincidental. Barely, considering how much one owes the other: Everything America is becoming, every judicial regression it is embracing, every liberty it is snuffing, every individual privacy it is busting, every torture chamber it is redecorating, every concentration camp it is reopening, every authority the presidency is usurping — all this and more is owed to al-Qaeda. Or to put it more accurately: All this is owed to the American image of al-Qaeda.
Ecclesiastes claims all is vanity. In the age of terrorism, all is puffery.