What Does Osama Bin Laden Want?
September 14, 2001 2:14 PM   Subscribe

What Does Osama Bin Laden Want? Slate's David Plotz says "Nothing we have." Read. Discuss.
posted by internal (15 comments total)
in 1998 he issued a fatwa calling for attacks on all Americans

Just because he isn't asking for money or something tangible doesn't mean he doesn't have some serious "wants."
posted by aaron at 2:25 PM on September 14, 2001

David, you make me plotz. How did you get from:

“Bin Laden is most enraged by the American military presence in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was incensed when the Saudis invited U.S. troops to their defense after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bin Laden—like many Muslims—considers the continued presence of these armed infidels in Saudi Arabia the greatest possible desecration of the holy land.”


“They don't want our sympathy. They want no material thing we can offer them. ... They are motivated by religion, not politics. They answer to no one but their god, so they certainly won't answer to us.”

It’s more than clear, it’s obvious what he wants. For the record, the US base in Saudi Arabi is described as a “contingency base”. Its been there for ten years now. That’s a hell of a contingency.

I don’t know how many times I’ve got to say it, but America wasn’t attacked at random. The US is seen as a violent, arrogant nation all over the world.
posted by raaka at 2:34 PM on September 14, 2001

actually, this attack will do bin Laden (or whoever perpetrated it) no good.

Governments that once sympathized with terrorism, even if they are not moved by conscience, will now be afraid of reprisals from the U.S. They simply cannot afford to risk supporting terrorists anymore, not unless they are damn sure they won't get caught.

And the U.S. can no longer afford, politically or otherwise, to ignore global terrorism. A lot has changed, and terrorists will find that the world is going to be a much harsher place to look for safe havens from which to perpetrate their madness.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:35 PM on September 14, 2001

David Plotz? Feh. Read bin Laden's own words. He strikes me as being extremely intelligent and alarmily committed to the cause as he perceives it. Rather chilling reading, IMO.
posted by scottandrew at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2001

alarmily alarmingly
posted by scottandrew at 2:37 PM on September 14, 2001

raaka: He also hates Jewish people, with a vengeance. Want to go on about how Jewish people are not attacked at random?
posted by raysmj at 2:37 PM on September 14, 2001

raysmj: please don't confuse criticism of US foreign policy with apology for bin Laden. He is a monster.

However, monsters are seldom born that way. The US might help the middle east to stop giving birth to these monsters if it treats the region's inhabitants with more regard to human rights and less regard for cheap oil. As for bL himself, forget it, the man's butcher and must be held to account.
posted by muppetfiend at 3:06 PM on September 14, 2001

It’s more than clear, it’s obvious what he wants

raaka: Unfortunately, it's not at all obvious. Based on what I've read (which is, unfortunately, all I have to go on) it seems entirely possible that the US presence in Saudi Arabia and US support of Israel are simply symptoms of the larger problem in OBL's mind.

Ask yourself this: WHY is OBL enraged by the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia? Apparently, OBL feels we are corrupting an otherwise Muslim nation. If we were to pull out from Saudi Arabia, then, would he be content? Clearly, the answer is no: to a man like OBL, it's not about troops, it's about the spread of Western values. Further, even peaceful branches of Islam seem to call very strongly for the eventual conversion of the entire world to Islam. Now that OBL has embraced violence as a means of achieving his goals, it's entirely possible that he won't be satisfied until he has killed or converted all of the infidels living in The Great Satan. He almost certainly won't be satisfied until the US agrees to stand idly by he and other extremists attack and perhaps destroy Israel.

Of course, it's also possible that he is more moderate than I suspect. My point is this: it's not like we can point at specific, concrete grievances, the resolution of which will end the violence.
posted by gd779 at 3:24 PM on September 14, 2001

ray, gd, you should probably read Osama’s Declaration of War. He bascially calls Americans crusaders for the Jewish cause. Then calls them godless infidels. That these godless infidels back a country hostile Arab Muslims and controls places holy to muslims has to be another stick in his craw.

There is no pleasing bin Laden, that’s for sure. The man is a violent fanatic. What the US can do is create an international atmosphere in which it isn’t viewed as an arrogant, violent, racist country. That would make the US a less juicy target, if not a target at all.

The Saudi base is one tiny piece of evidence in an avalanche that makes the US look racist to an Arab Muslim. Sudan bombing, Afghanistan bombing, backing of Israel, backing of Hussein, sanctions that hurt the Iraqi people. The list goes on. I pointed this out on my site more cogently.
posted by raaka at 3:51 PM on September 14, 2001

raaka: Yes, but what are we supposed to do about it? The sanctions may hurt the Iraqi people, but have you see those military parades Saddam has, complete with a Jumbotron? Think he could cut that spending a little bit and help his own people? If we totally stop trading in the region (y'know, he hates the whole western cultural thing too), won't it hurt the Middle East, and consequently Iraq, even more? And apparently he was angered by our humanitarian mission in Somalia. It was just the fact that Americans were there at all, not what the military's mission. You try to save people, you get terrorized anyway. Yikes. The U.S. has given foreigh aid to Afganistan, if I remember correctly.
posted by raysmj at 4:11 PM on September 14, 2001

Did anyone watch Frontline's repeat of their "Hunting for bin Laden" program last night? Good stuff, like you'd expect from Frontline.

One of the things the show brought up was bin Laden's dissatisfaction with the way Saudi Arabia was run. Bringing in American troops and letting them stay seemed more the last straw than the primary cause of his anger. It's making me think that we're watching an ugly family drama play out, as bin Laden's family is part of the Saudi political establishment (indeed, his family's construction firm is responsible for most of Saudi Arabia's infrastructure by royal decree). Bin Laden and his followers consider King Faud and the Saudi government corrupt and decadent to begin with, and bringing in American troops during the Gulf War when, in their opinion, Arabs could have held their own, was yet one more corrupt act.

Anyway. Off track, but an excellent capsule of information.
posted by RakDaddy at 5:23 PM on September 14, 2001

I mentioned this book in an earlier thread, but I think it's worth repeating (it may be worth re-reading for me): The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong. the Islamic fundamentalist movement has parallels, echoes, whatever, in Christianity (see the Falwell/Robertson threads) and Judaism, going all the way back to the 1500's.

her argument was that all three religions have been dealing with modernity & secularism since the Renaissance, and that a small group in each has both absorbed its lessons and rebelled against it. the fundamentalist agenda, in a real way, is the destruction of the modern/secular world - or a complete retreat from it.

america is now the biggest symbol of that world...even to our own fundamentalists. and it won't/can't leave anything untouched. (not that we should leave everything alone.) which makes us a big freaking target.

all this, of course, by way of "understanding the enemy." my goal would be to use that understanding to somehow neutralize the enemy - yes, naive, I know. but even in a war-type situation, the more we really understand how these groups think and work, the better chance we have of defeating them.

why I haven't seen this author as an essayist or talking head this week, I really don't know. her book was fascinating, and I think her perspective in this might be useful as well.

(my solution to this, btw: make everyone happy...chemically. apologies to kids in the hall.)
posted by epersonae at 5:55 PM on September 14, 2001

Fascinating link, scottandrew...

Osama Bin Ladin: We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars.
posted by rushmc at 6:09 PM on September 14, 2001

I really have to second the Hunting for bin Laden show that Rakdaddy brought up. I just watched it. Very interesting, a lot of stuff I haven't seen discussed outside this thread, and some things not inside it.

My take: OBL wants 3 specific things:
* U.S. Soldiers out of Saudi Arabia
* A sovereign Islamic state
* Islamic control over "Islamic shrines in Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia" (Frontline's words, not mine)

It seems to me that ideally he would like to wrap up all 3 by taking over Saudi Arabia, and at least part of Israel.

If you look at the pattern of behavior, the focus of OBL's efforts shifted from the Soviet Union to the United States some time ago. As fervent as OBL seems to be, what's to say he can't change his mind again?

I'm not suggesting that any of these things be done, nor that they're any justification for the horrible deeds we've seen. But in terms of really understanding what he wants, well, I think the frontline show was pretty convincing and quite clear. I'm sure there are other issues you could add in, but these three seemed the most specific to me.

Do you think giving in to some or all of these demands would make the U. S. safer? Do you think it would be worth it? Do you think attacking Bin Laden's Islamic State of choice (Afghanistan) will make things better or worse? Do you think the issues I raised are the right ones from OBL's point of view?

Personally, I see the U.S. headed right through the middle of these 3 issues. Sustained attack probably means more troups on middle eastern soil, probably in Saudi Arabia. Waging war on the State that harbors Bin Laden (Afghanistan) undermines the sovereign Islamic state. And I can't imagine either of these things contributing to Islamic control over the two 'holy sites' mentioned.

Thoughts? Here's how to find out if the Hunting Bin Laden show is showing in your area any time soon...
posted by daver at 1:52 AM on September 15, 2001

Okay, back up a bit everybody. The Arab world is almost universally, and the Islamic world to a lesser degree, without democracy. The oligarchies running these countries -- whether monarchies, one-party nationalist régimes, or outright dictatorships in all but name -- fear two things: they fear dissidents who favor democracy, and they fear Islamic fundamentalists who wish to set up independent power structures which they cannot control.

In this scenario, having Israel and America as scapegoats is a convenient substitute for facing insurrection. Even for those countries ostensibly allied with or friendly to us, having a scapegoat is in their interest. It takes the pressure off, lets off steam, redirects anger: metaphor of your choice.

Here's the thing. The source of support for bin Laden and other groups comes from disaffected young people (average age of suicide bombers is 22) in the Arab world. The source of expertise is continued armed struggle in these countries. As long as these people exist, there will be a flow of recruits and skills into these organizations. As long as the countries continue to represent an oligarchy and not the people, that foundation of people will continue to grow.
posted by dhartung at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2001

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