Commentary Magazine


The Evil of Bin Laden

To the Editor:

If I could convince everyone that the great debate over the Middle East fundamentally pitted soft-spoken liberals against, say, radical Israeli settlers, I could ensure that more nuanced conservative voices such as Michael Rubin’s were ignored. Fortunately, I cannot do that. But this is exactly what Mr.Rubin inflicts on his opponents in his article, “After Bin Laden” [June]. By misrepresenting a reasoned “liberal/libertarian” position as much more extreme than it is, he moves toward halting rational discussion.

One sentence in Mr. Rubin’s piece contains two such examples. In it, he sums up the reasoning that irks him by ostensibly paraphrasing Robert Pape: “If only the U.S. removed American troops from [the Middle East] and joined Islamic countries in demanding an end to Israel’s presence on land claimed by Palestinians and India’s presence on land claimed by Pakistan, then anti-Western terrorism would end.” The reasoned liberal/libertarian position differs from this in two key ways. First, America isn’t expected to “join Islamic countries” in anything, but simply to cease actively promoting, financially or otherwise, Israel’s hold on reasonably disputed territories. Second, terrorism isn’t expected to end upon the fulfillment of such conditions, but its chief impetus is expected to cease. Existing terrorists won’t vanish just because the policies that originally fueled their movements have; human nature and world realities are not at all so simple and logical.

Whether Rubin is mischaracterizing Pape specifically (as I suspect, but I don’t know Pape’s work) is not my concern. My concern is that Rubin misrepresents a reasoned position. Whether or not Pape makes the argument above, Rubin should choose the rational form of that position as his target for attack—not an exaggerated straw-man argument any smart person could defeat. Of course, extending such fairness to the opposing view might cause Rubin difficulties, as this view might well become more attractive to his readers, undermining some of his own premises. But perhaps then the premises themselves should be rethought.

Jack Lucentini
New York City

_____________

Michael Rubin writes:

I thank Jack Lucentini for his letter, but he is mistaken to dismiss the article as based on a straw man. When Mr. Pape writes, “It’s the occupation, stupid,” he leaves no room for nuance nor do his fellow travelers, such as John Mearsheimer, Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Peter Beinart, or the others cited in the article. Rather than simply focus on grievances, it is important to delve into ideologies to better understand how Islamist terrorists think. Any read of the theologians whose interpretations led Osama bin Laden to form al-Qaeda suggests that Islamist terrorism will not end with his death for the simple reason that their chief grievance is not Israeli or American foreign policy, but rather globalization and the attractiveness of liberalism and Western culture to so many Muslim youth, women, and men. That is why Bin Laden’s statements and videos enunciated an inconsistent and shifting array of grievances. He drew his ideological conclusions first and used grievances merely as windowdressing.




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