Monday, February 13, 2006

Booknote: What Does Al-Qaeda Want? Unedited Communiqués

Title: What Does Al-Qaeda Want? Unedited Communiqués
Author: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, with commentary by Robert O. Marlin IV
Publication Information: Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004
ISBN: 1-55643-548-7
98 pages, including supplementary materials like a chronology and a glossary
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, public speeches, current events.

I have always been a believer in the old adage about knowing the ways of your enemy. This little book brings together speeches and other texts from Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda from 1996 to 2004. What this timeframe illustrates, for one, is that the man has been around and saying what he intended to do for a long time. In a way, and this will irk a lot of people, the attack on September 11, 2001 should not have been a surprise. He had been saying he was going to attack the United States long before that. Maybe the audacity of the attack was surprising, but certainly not the fact that it would happen. Another thing one gets from reading their words is that they have certain specific grievances and issues. I would not believe people who say "we do not know what they want or why they attack us" after reading this. If you happen to be one of those people, you really should be reading this book. At 98 pages, it makes for a quick read.

Readers need to keep in mind these texts are somewhat edited, in spite of the claim in the title page. The commenter has selected parts of the texts. In the introduction, the commenter writes that "for the purpose of this small book, many important passages had to be edited for the final work." He does provide websites in the works listed page where the texts can be found for readers wanting to read it all. The commenter also provides brief introductions to each text to help reader have some context. The glossary, while helpful, is very minimal. However, readers will get a good sense of Osama Bin Laden's words and thoughts in these documents. The reader learns that Al-Qaeda has some very specific goals and objectives. True, their pursuit of violence and the fact they are more than willing to kill civilians is deplorable, to put it mildly, but the reader learns this is not just some madman out to get Americans. A while back, I read Anonymous's Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. I read it before my blogging days, so no note in my blogs. Anonymous, later revealed to be Michael Scheuer, a CIA official with expertise on Bin Laden, argued that it was necessary to know the ways of Osama. Reading this little book reminded me of Scheuer's book because I could see Scheuer's arguments that Osama and his organization do have specific goals and plans. They are motivated by religion, but they are also motivated by politics. In their world, these two become intertwined. A danger can surface in the way the war on terror is fought as rhetoric that fuses religion and politics comes into play as well. The rhetoric of those arguing for the war on terror is that Al-Qaeda simply hates the American Way, which could not be further from the truth. To put in very simplistic terms, yes, they do dislike the American Way (capitalism, the popular culture, the sex, so on), but it does not mean they want to wipe the U.S. out for it. They really hate that Americans are bringing that over to their part of the world. In other words, they could care less if the U.S. and the West decay morally. They just want no part of it. This is just one of their issues. Other issues include the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, the land of Islam's holiest places. Overall, it is a war, and readers should not make a mistake about it, but they should read this book to better understand why this war is happening. On a side note, readers may want to look at Robert Spencer's book on Islam, which argues that indeed Islam and its followers do want to subjugate all nonbelievers. Given some of Osama's words in the book I am noting here, that argument can certainly be made. I think these books may inspire readers to ask some serious questions about their government too. I would tell readers to read this little book and then go find Imperial Hubris. Marlin, the commenter, includes a list of further readings, which includes Mr. Scheuer's other book Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. I really think this is something that everyone, regardless of political conviction, should be reading, if for no other reason than to better understand the enemy.

On a snarky note, you can always read it to say you are just seeing if the FBI or Homeland Security come looking for you. I am sure this would have appeal to those Radical Militant Librarians out there. It worked for this librarian, who can be a bit radical now and then. Plus, I just want to stay informed, for one. Two, I really do think we should look at what the guy says other than deploring it as rantings or just threats. And three, I may go out and find the book Osama recently suggested, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower by William Blum. I don't know about other readers, but when an enemy says you should read this, I think it is worth at least a look. And if the Fed wants to look at my reading list, hey, read the blog like everyone else, and don't make me get up to kick you around.

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