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• • •
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November 02, 2004

Thank G_d/Jesus/Allah We Are Completely Different From Osama Bin Laden

As far as I know, no one has pointed out the specific part of bin Laden's latest tape I've put in bold below:

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced...

The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon?

Yes: bin Laden is saying that the United States only understands violence.

If there's one thing I know about this planet, it's that anyone who says another country or group "only understands violence" is actually saying they only understand violence. And holy cripes America has a lot of those people. Here are just a few:

We only want peace; all of us want that. But the road to peace is not paved with retreat or debate... Our enemies will not stop attacking us. They will never stop looking for American blood to be shed. They do not understand peace, or love. They only understand violence and destruction.
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The violent only understand violence. Gentility emboldens them. Kindness disgusts them... The brutal respond to and understand brutal might, especially when it is delivered by the decent.

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"We need to maintain the moral high ground as policy," says Christopher Bush, 47, of Fort Worth. "It's an unfortunate byproduct that even in the 21st century, we still have to have people willing to get dirty.

"A lot of these people, they only understand violence in extremes. Unfortunately, we at times need to lower our threshold of decency to get that message across."

• • •

The terrorists are not businessmen who amicably agree to disagree. They are violent, seething fanatics who only understand violence.

Posted at November 2, 2004 12:44 AM | TrackBack

Thank god I live elsewhere.

I hate to break this to you Jon, but from the point of view of a lot of us out here in the world (77% by the count of a virtual poll), we see both Osama and Bush as a couple of murderous motherfuckers with virtually the same agenda--wipe each other out. So while the United States may not "only understand violence," it isn't a big surprise to anyone that there is a hell of a lot of violence in the United States, a lot more statistically than other countries.

Perhaps it isn't clear why much of the world opposes the American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It isn't because we regret the deaths of innocents--although we're appalled by it--but because we fear that the American weapon will next be pointed at us.

Which is why there are going to be a lot of us who do not live in America are going to be very pissed off if the American people prove themselves to be dumb jackasses by re-electing Dubya. We simply cannot believe that the election is close. We cannot believe that the obvious criminal activities of the Republican party has not resulted in the imprisonment of several hundred upper level government officials. We are agog.

For us, Osama does not represent a threat, since we cannot imagine why he would bomb here. We would like to see him deactivated...but we lack the rabid fury that seems to result when his name is mentioned in America. We don't find it necessary to constantly qualify every statement we make about him, such as saying, "I'm not condoning what Osama did, but--" Here, in the non-American world, we can simply discuss the issue clearly from both sides, without the patriotism and knee-jerk hail hailing of the existing power structure.

Recently, the oppression of speech, open discussion and frank opinions in the States has been replaced with false arguments and automated propaganda. The Republicans have learned the Nazi party's tactic of telling lies as a form of argument, and like the Weimar Republic of the early 30s, the press has become a willing participant in spreading those lies--and argument that the brilliant cartoonist Tom Tomorrow has identified very clearly.

So today we find out whether or not the decay is going to stop for awhile or continue unabated. We don't believe for a moment things are going to get any better. But we are hoping they don't get worse.

As I say, I'm glad I live elsewhere. I only wish America could return to its old-time isolation and leave us all alone.

Posted by: Alexis at November 2, 2004 11:50 AM

I wholeheartedly agree with Jon's observation and with Alexis' comments, however I fail to see any comfort in an 'I'm glad I live elsewhere' consolation. The American illness carries effects far and wide, especially as a belligerent superpower. I am deeply concerned for us (earthlings) all.

Posted by: Matt at November 3, 2004 12:04 AM

Funnily enough, I mentioned this post to my husband who saw the tape over and over again on Al Jazeera and he insists no one said anyting about a crocodile. I want to show him the entire transcript. Maybe what I should do is go read the Arabic transcript on Al Jazeera and report back to you all on whether the translation is really sound. I think I will do that. But maybe not that soon as a) I am at work and b) I am kind ofcaught up in watching Ohio's election results.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at November 3, 2004 01:11 AM

I have to agree with Alexis. I live in Brazil, sometimes called a third world coutry, whatever that means nowadays. We had elections last weekend and they always run smoothly, very organized and decent. Tecnology is used to make them safer, faster and reliable. It's one of the things we can be proud of. When I watch american elections, it's hard to understand how you can call it a democratic country. Democracy ? You must be kidding...

Posted by: Peter Strauss at November 3, 2004 05:41 AM


You are (unfortunately) right in many ways. But perhaps not completely. I will say more about this soon.


The power of the US is of course what makes all this so scary. We seem clearly to be an empire in decline, but unlike other empires we have the power to destroy the world in our death throes.


Please do check the original Arabic of the complete tape. I believe the first airing of the tape was edited, which may be why your husband didn't see the crocodile reference. The link above (once wrong, now corrected) is (I think) to a translation of the whole thing.


It's hard for me to understand how we can call this a democratic country too. It's a joke, but not a funny one. Improved voting procedures will certainly be a huge issue for people to organize around over the next four years.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 3, 2004 11:49 AM

OBL said:
The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon?

I would certainly like to see any clarification that might be made of the translation. Also, if there is any cultural or scriptural reference being made here that a typical Westerner would not pick up on.

Alexis wrote:
we lack the rabid fury that seems to result when his name is mentioned in America. We don't find it necessary to constantly qualify every statement we make about him, such as saying, "I'm not condoning what Osama did, but--"

As for myself, I have seen too many occasions where Americans take neutral statements without such caveats and interpret them as support of terrorism, or treasonous sentiments against the U.S. So such circumlocutions become reflex when conversing with anyone whose views one does not understand in detail. This is a deplorable state for national discourse to reach.

Is this the circumstance you were referring to in the above quote? I'm not quite sure what your intent was.

Peter Strauss wrote:
When I watch american elections, it's hard to understand how you can call it a democratic country.

When I first became aware of the international election monitors that were coming to the U.S. for yesterday's election, I saw a lot of statements to the effect that, as a rule, the mechanics of the electoral processes in the U.S. were considered admirable by those in the global community who worked on such issues for coutries without traditions of democracy. I have no idea whether there has been some kind of deterioration recently beyond the advent of dodgy electronic voting machines. (I'm talking strictly about voting processes here, obviously overt voter supression tactics and various sorts of legalistic weirdness are a recent revival.) But the complete lack of standards across the country, the fact that many of the details of voting procedures are in the hands of partisan officials, and the fact that compared to many countries voter registration looks like it was designed to be as difficult as possible leaves me feeling that this admiration is rather inexplicable.

Posted by: plover at November 3, 2004 06:19 PM

OK, I have both transcripts in front of me. Yes, he said the situation was like a crocodile threatening a child, and does the crocodile understand dialogue without a weapon? so the translation is pretty near what I would get. Yes you are right that my husband probably heard the earlier truncated version.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at November 4, 2004 02:15 AM

As far as I know there's no cultural or scriptural reference in the crocodile metaphor. However the Arabic that is translated as "powerless" is "without ability or power" and is usually used as a religious statement "there is no ability or power except with God" used when something terrible happens. It is very powerful rhetorically for him to use that phrase. But most of these preacher-types are masterful at that sort of thing. If you can get past the idea that this is Bin Laden, it's a strong and powerful speech in its original Arabic. If anyone wants me to go all through it and explain the rhetorical flourishes, I'll try to be more convincing -- or you could just take my word for it. Like I said, I refused to watch him.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at November 4, 2004 05:14 AM

Yes, plover, that is precisely what I meant. When all reporting is discourse taken out of context, then there is no discourse.

In these heady days, we cannot pay five pounds for an argument. Contradiction is all that's for sale.

Posted by: Alexis at November 4, 2004 08:32 AM

It is not!

Posted by: plover at November 4, 2004 06:50 PM

Yes it is.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 4, 2004 06:59 PM