Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Brothers in Arms

"Tweedleedum and Tweedledee
They're throwing knives into the tree
Living in the Land of Nod
Trusting their fate to the hands of God."
- Bob Dylan, from "Love and Theft," released Sept. 11, 2001

The murderous logic of Osama bin Laden is alive and well in Afghanistan; unfortunately, it's coming from the American forces there.

Last week, the resurgent Taliban shot down a U.S. helicopter, killing 16 American soldiers. In a reaction all too familiar by now, American forces then retaliated by bombing a village, killing 17 innocent civilians, including women and children. The military claimed that it had bombed the house of a known militant leader, using the usual "precision-guided munitions." Perhaps this is true. But the civilians weren't killed in the "precision-guided" strike on the militant's house; they were slaughtered when they came out later to look at the damage, and U.S. planes suddenly swept through a second time to bomb the crowd, according to the U.S.-backed governor of the province.

American officials "regretted the loss of innocent lives" - then turned to their bin Laden handbook: "However, when enemy forces move their families into locations where they conduct terrorist operations, they put these innocent civilian at risk."

This is exactly the logic that bin Laden used to justify the civilians deaths in the Sept. 11 attacks. In his mind, he was striking at the command centers of the West's "terrorist operations" against the Islamic world: the financial hub at the World Trade Center, the military hub at the Pentagon (and the aborted attack on the government hub of the Capitol). It was unfortunate that these "terrorist centers" allowed civilians to live and work in their vicinity - but hey, war is not "sugar candy," to quote Paul Harvey. There will always be a little collateral damage as you carry out your noble crusades.

Bush, who just last week was quoting bin Laden as an expert analyst of the world situation, is obviously very comfortable with this logic. The "collateral damage" from the strike against "enemy forces" on September 11 was approximately 3,000 people; the collateral damage from Bush's strike on "enemy forces" in Iraq is now about 100,000 - and rising every day. These boys sing from the same hymn book.

But as I've been writing for years - since October 12, 2001, to be exact - Bush and bin Laden are mirror-image enemies. Here's an excerpt of that column from the first palmy days of the never-ending war on terror:

(Originally published in The Moscow Times)
They say that great minds think alike - and not-so-great ones, too, apparently. Thus here we are: two spoiled rich boys made by their fathers' money and connections have now divided the world up between them, and are basically proposing to kill everyone who doesn't agree with them.

Ah yes, welcome to the 21st century!

Both Bush and bin Laden spent sybaritic youths, indulging idly and amply in the pleasures of the flesh - on someone else's dime - before embracing a fundamentalist religious faith that provides divine sanction for a narrow set of self-selected cultural norms while consigning all unbelievers to eternal damnation. Bush, for example, is on record as saying that all Jews are going to hell; a belief no doubt shared by his semblable, bin Laden. True, Bush later weasel-worded the issue, but his literalist faith, which he publicly affirms at every possible opportunity, is crystal-clear on this point.

Now both of these zealous believers have shimmied up the greasy pole of power - without the nuisance of actually being elected by popular vote - from whence they can rain death on their enemies, secure in the knowledge that they are fulfilling the will of God.

Or rather, the will of an Iron Age deity cobbled together out of the noblest aspirations, deepest fears and foulest hatreds of myriads of different tribes; a will derived from ancient grab-bags of diverse texts and fragments - accretions of mangled history, confused traditions, inspired poetry, mystical ecstasy, mass murder, chaos and longing.

Their own limited understanding of these makeshift compendiums is the ultimate authority by which the two unchosen ones send out men to kill and die. Plainly, this is madness. But this is the world we all must live in now….