A Letter of Hate to America: Teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (2002)

The recent controversy over Richard Fausset’s New York Times article, “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” prompted me to brush off and lightly revise this apparently unrelated (but subtly relevant) piece I wrote for the 17th Annual Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, on teaching Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to the Americans.”  By some strange quirk of fate, the conference at which I gave the paper took place April 14-17, 2011, about two weeks before U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in their raid on his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. Despite that, I’m inclined to think that the Letter is still as relevant as it ever was.

I have some thoughts on the Fausset article but don’t have time to comment on it right now. The short version is that I think it’s a piece of crap, and mostly sympathize with those who accuse Fausset of normalizing Nazism. Actually, I would go beyond that and say that if Fausset is The New York Times’s idea of “one of our smartest thinkers and best writers,” American journalism is a more desperately half-assed enterprise than I ever thought it was. That said, I don’t quite agree with the anti-Fausset-article arguments I’ve seen (some of them are worse than the article itself), and also (sort of) sympathize with those leery of the term “normalization.” But I don’t sympathize enough to agree: at the end of the day, “normalization” is a perfectly good concept, and perfectly apt here. But that’s a topic for another post. There’s only so much radical evil I can blog about at a time. 

(The essay is 2,880 words long.)



For against an objector who sticks at nothing, the defense should stick at nothing.

—Aristotle, Topics V.4 (134a1-3)

I use the phrase “dialectical excellence” to name a set of moral-intellectual capacities canonically associated with a “dialectical” tradition in philosophy that includes the Platonic dialogues, Aristotle’s treatises on dialectic and rhetoric, Cicero’s dialogues, Aquinas’s Summas, and Mill’s Autobiography and On Liberty. What makes these texts “dialectical” is their attention to philosophy as a conversational activity, with particular attention to the adversarial or polemical features of philosophical conversation. Philosophy in this tradition vindicates or refutes controversial claims in order publicly to demonstrate their truth or falsity to an educated but indifferent, skeptical, or even hostile audience. As conceived in this tradition, “dialectical excellence” names the capacity, in adversarial contexts, to refute a sophistical argument in a rhetorically effective way. Continue reading

Covering Jerusalem: A response to Jacques Delacroix

I’d been thinking of writing some free-standing posts on the aftermath of the shooting two weeks ago at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (July 14), but haven’t gotten the chance. Meanwhile, here’s a long response I wrote at Notes on Liberty to Jacques Delacroix’s post, “A short note on the riots in Jerusalem.” Scroll down for my comments.

As some of you may know, I spent most of the month of July in Jerusalem and vicinity, and spent a fair bit of time observing the events in question. It’s notable that for Americans, “what happened” can be reduced to a shooting on July 14, an Israeli decision to put metal detectors at the entrance to Al Aqsa Mosque, and rioting by Palestinians. Suffice it to say that in this as in so many matters, there is a large gap between what Americans end up hearing about Israel and Palestine and what actually happens there. But that’s a longer story than I can tell at the moment.

Postscript, August 8, 2017: The discussion continues here.

503+ Boots on the Ground and Counting

No comment on this item except to say “I told you so”:

More flexibility for American commanders appears to be coming. Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he expected the White House to remove “artificial troop caps” in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The current “force manning level” for Syria sets a limit on the number of American military personnel in Syria at 503. But the limit does not count temporary reinforcements, like the roughly 400 personnel who were deployed in Syria when the Marine artillery battery and Army Rangers were sent to the country.

There was another telling indication on Wednesday that American Special Operations would continue to play an important role. Col. Jonathan P. Braga, the chief of staff of the Joint Special Operations Command and the former deputy commander of Delta Force, has been named as the next senior operations officer for the American-led command that is leading the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Surely you remember President Obama’s “no boots on the ground” promise (“promise”)? It took less than three years for the promise to evaporate and be forgotten. Continue reading

Reviewing Terrorism

Since Irfan and I have been discussing terrorism lately, I was intrigued by the recent review in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified: the Use and Misuse of Political Violence (http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/terrorism-unjustified-the-use-and-misuse-of-political-violence/). The review strikes me as a bad review in a number of ways, but, probably unintentionally, illustrates what seems to me to be the relatively sterile character of debates about how to understand ‘terrorism.’

Continue reading

Stephen Hicks on Islamic Terrorism: A Response

Stephen Hicks (Philosophy, Rockford University) has an article up at his website, also published elsewhere, on “How to Tame Religious Terrorists,” meaning, essentially how to tame Islamic terrorists. Below I’ve posted a long comment I wrote in response. I’ve added hyperlinks in the version below, and added a clause to one sentence to clarify its meaning (“as is typically done in the United States”).

It should go without saying that my point is not that all Islamic terrorism can be justified as a legitimate response to real grievances (it can’t), but simply that some Islamic terrorists (and would-be terrorists, or sympathizers with those terrorists) have real grievances. One way (though not the only way) of “taming” terrorism would be to reduce the number of real grievances they have, especially when we ourselves are the direct or indirect source of the grievance–as in the Israeli case, we are. Continue reading

From West Philly to Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Back

I was in Philadelphia this weekend, visiting with my friends Sinan and Amy. Sinan was my ‘handler’ at Al Quds University this past summer and the time before; he handles the logistics there that I can’t. Amy is a nice Midwestern gal from Texas (go figure). They met a few years ago in Bethlehem, Sinan’s home town, recently emigrated to Philadelphia, got an apartment, got married, and settled in. They cooked me (well, really Sinan cooked us) a sumptuous dinner of maqluba followed by Palestinian coffee and pastries. We had dessert on a couch in front of a window that looks west and frames West Philadelphia. The window lets out onto a big ledge with just enough room for the two of them to sip wine and watch the sunset.

Continue reading

Are You There, ISIS? It’s Me, Irfan

It is unlawful for a believer to kill a believer except by accident…He that kills a believer by design shall burn in Hell forever. He shall incur the wrath of Allah, who will lay His curse on him, and prepare him for a woeful scourge.

Qur’an, Surah An-Nisa’a, 4:92-93, tr. N.J. Dawood

Not that I’m saying that they should go around killing non-believers. I’m just saying that basic acquaintance with al-Primary Text’ul Qur’an shouldn’t be too much to ask of aspirants to al-Khilafat’ul Muslimin (the Caliphate of the Muslim Community).

51iWBG+X8iL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (227×346)

Here’s the “explanation” for the title of my post, for the sadly deprived minority of you who didn’t spend fourth grade memorizing the Qur’an while reading Judy Blume.

Eid Mubarak to PoT’s Muslim readers, by the way–whenever it was.

Postscript: And yes, the “Eid Mubarak” link goes to a story about a fifteen foot birthday cake baked for the Prophet Muhammad in Faisalabad, Pakistan. You don’t need to know any Urdu or Punjabi to get the gist of the story: they’ve been making this Prophet-Cake for the last 25 years; people come from far and wide to eat it, regardless of their religiosity; it’s really big, and requires this much sugar, and this much milk; etc. etc.

O Canada

Here’s a post worth reading by Mike Reid (Notes on Liberty), on recent events in Canada.

Despite its overt religiosity, I like their national anthem better than ours. I’d sing it in honor of them…but I doubt my singing would count as an honor to anyone.

Hey Canada: don’t let the bastards wear you down, eh?

P.S., a bit later the same day: A “resolutely Canadian” reader draws my attention to Justin Trudeau’s apt speech on the attacks, probably better than anything I can muster up right now, and also (unlike me) authentically Canadian. An excerpt:

In the days that follow, there will be questions, anger and perhaps confusion. This is natural, but we cannot let it get the better of us. Losing ourselves to fear and speculation is the intention of those who commit these heinous acts.

They mean to shake us. We will remain resolved.

They want us to forget ourselves. Instead, we should remember.

We should remember who we are. We are a proud democracy, a welcoming and peaceful nation, and a country of open arms and open hearts. We are a nation of fairness, justice and the rule of law.

We will not be intimidated into changing that.

If anything, these are the values and principles to which we must hold on even tighter. Our dedication to democracy and the institutions we have built is the foundation of our society. And a continued belief in both will guide us correctly into the future. Staying true to our values in a time of crisis will make us an example to the world.

I don’t usually think of Canada as an “example to the world,” but after the job we’ve done of it lately, I’m willing to give it a try.