Reading Bin Laden

In openDemocracy, Faisal Devji reviews Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden.

While Messages to the World arranges and presents Bin Laden’s words in a lucid and comprehensive way, the nature of the material often militates against its own readability. But this has nothing to do with anything particularly foreign or exotic about Osama bin Laden’s words; indeed the contrary, since it is the sheer familiarity of his rhetoric that might permit readers to pass by what is of interest in it. . .

The risk of simply reading one’s own concerns into Osama bin Laden’s words is, needless to say, made many times more likely by the controversy he generates in all walks of life from politics and economics to philosophy and religion. Even the collection’s editor does not escape this risk, for in the book’s introduction Bruce Lawrence is determined to locate his hero squarely within the politics of the middle east, or even better, the Arab world. Professor Lawrence confines al-Qaida to regional issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America’s support of repressive and undemocratic local regimes or the struggle for oil and its wealth, and in doing so finds himself in agreement with the very concerns that he claims animate American or Israeli policy in the middle east. This is surely an embarrassing position for a Verso author to find himself in, since to agree with the terms of a debate while disagreeing with its details is already to hold a politics in common.