A noun, a verb, and 9/11

It’s not just Rudy Guiliani, since this is already getting to be an unbearable week for narcissistic pontificating on how 9/11 made U.S. anchors, journalists, and so on, feel. (Best captured, actually, in Bill Keller’s title for his column today: “My Unfinished 9/11 Business.”) Glenn Greenwald gets the mood about right:

We are now enduring a parade of wistful, contemplative, self-regarding pundit-meditations on The Meaning of 9/11 Ten Years Later or, far worse, self-righteous moralizing screeds about the nature of “evil” from war zealots with oceans of blood of their unrepentant hands (if I could impose one media rule, it would be that following every column or TV segment featuring American political commentators dramatically unloading their Where-I-Was-on-9/11-and-how-I-felt tales, there would be similar recollections offered from parents in the Muslim world talking about how their children died from the pre-9/11 acts of the U.S. and its client states or from post-9/11 American bombs, drones, checkpoint shootings and night raids:  just for the sake of “balance,” which media outlets claim to crave).

Greenwald’s link above to “war zealots” is to perhaps Christopher Hitchens’ worst article in years, a case study in how invoking the word “evil” is just emotional blackmail to short circuit thought. Worse, Hitchens attacks Verso for publishing Bin Laden’s writings as part of some imagined cabal of leftists supporting Bin Laden:

It is not only in the Muslim world that it is commonplace to hear that the events of 9/11 were part of a Jewish or U.S. government plot. And it is not only on the demented fringe that such fantasies circulate in “the West.” …More explicitly on the Left, my old publishing house Verso—offshoot of the New Left Review—published an anthology of Osama Bin Laden’s sermonizing rants in which the editors compared the leader of al-Qaida explicitly, and in the context not unfavorably, to Che Guevara.

Meanwhile in the real world, Verso published the collection because yelling Evil! is not enough to count as analyzing the motivations of those who perpetrated the events of 9/11, while calling Bin Laden’s writings “bizarre” and noting their narcissistic self-mythologization, and the collection received plaudits from such well-known terrorist venues as Foreign Affairs and the Observer:

Despite the saturation of global media coverage, Osama bin Laden’s own writings have been curiously absent from analysis of the “war on terror.” Over the last ten years, bin Laden has issued a series of carefully tailored public statements, from interviews with Western and Arabic journalists to faxes and video recordings. These texts supply evidence crucial to an understanding of the bizarre mix of Quranic scholarship, CIA training, punctual interventions in Gulf politics and messianic anti-imperialism that has formed the programmatic core of Al Qaeda.

In bringing together the various statements issued under bin Laden’s name since 1994, this volume forms part of a growing discourse that seeks to demythologize the terrorist network. Newly translated from the Arabic, annotated with a critical introduction by Islamic scholar Bruce Lawrence, this collection places the statements in their religious, historical and political context. It shows how bin Laden’s views draw on and differ from other strands of radical Islamic thought; it also demonstrates how his arguments vary in degrees of consistency, and how his evasions concerning the true nature and extent of his own group, and over his own role in terrorist attacks, have contributed to the perpetuation of his personal mythology.


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