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June 27, 2010

Ask the Jihadist

Yesterday on twitter, Jeremy Scahill griped about the peculiar nationalist frenzy that seems to engulf lots of Americans at international sports events (read from bottom to top):


This made Jeff Poor of very angry.

Not that funny so far, right? But here's the funny part:

SLAIMAN ABOU-GHAITH: I was sitting with the sheik in a room, then I left to go to another room where there was a TV set. The TV broadcasted the big event. The scene was showing an Egyptian family sitting in their living room, they exploded with joy. Do you know when there is a soccer game and your team wins? It was the same expression of joy. There was a subtitle that read: "In revenge for the children of Al Aqsa, Osama bin Laden executes an operation against America."

Slaiman Abou-Ghaith was one of Osama bin Laden's right-hand men and an al Qaeda spokesman. That's part of a videotape bin Laden & co. apparently made in mid-November, 2001 as they sat around reliving their moment of glory.

So there are three positions here:

1. Jeremy Scahill: Some people will mindlessly cheer for their "side," whether watching soccer or the slaughter of innocent people. This is a bad thing.

2. Slaiman Abou-Ghaith: Some people will mindlessly cheer for their "side," whether watching soccer or the slaughter of innocent people. This is a great thing.

3. Jeff Poor: People never mindlessly cheer for their "side" when it's slaughtering innocent people, and anyone who suggests they might and draws a connection between that and nationalistic sports frenzies is an "anti-American jihadist."

So there you have it: Jeremy Scahill is an anti-American jihadist for loathing a phenomenon beloved by an anti-American jihadist. Confusing!

P.S. The Abou-Graith statement is interesting in other ways too. Obviously Osama bin Laden couldn't possibly care less about "the children of Al Aqsa" (i.e., Palestinians killed during the second intifada). But his PR people were extremely excited that he seemed to be gaining power in the Muslim world by killing people on the other "side" and casting himself as the champion of those with legitimate grievances. I imagine there was the same kind of excitement in the Bush White House during the first days of the invasion of Iraq.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 27, 2010 11:07 PM

You've got the touch, Jonathan. Great post.

Posted by: Bill at June 27, 2010 11:21 PM

I've been wondering about sports analogies to war for a while. Using sportsy-sounding metaphors is something no serious journalist would be caught dead using, except when they are advocating so indefensible they have nowhere else to turn. (Like the draconian three-strikes rule for prison sentencing.) George Bush as a retired cheerleader obviously felt comfortable enough to proclaim "bring it on," as well.

Getting back to the subject at hand, the mere fact that his critic has internalized the "Team America, Fuck yeah!" attitude so much that he calls a reporter a jihadist just shows how far this ridiculousness can go.

This time, Scahill called it. Spot on.

Posted by: LT at June 27, 2010 11:38 PM

Well GITMO(which will NEVER close) IS still open for business, maybe his critics want to see him do a stretch. They could watch it on TV and cheer, or not.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2010 02:12 AM

In sports, I cheer for the team who wins. I'm never disappointed that way. Screw the losers. They need to practice harder.

I don't cheer for any side in wars because all sides lose something. The spoils of victory are always soaked with the same blood as the ruins of defeat.

Although I'm relieved Hitler was defeated, I don't see why anyone should be cheerful about it.

Posted by: Paul Avery at June 28, 2010 02:17 AM

I like Scahill's reporting and agree w/ both him and Jonathan in their sentiments on this matter, but what's with the hash tag "#FalseNationalistCrap?"

Is there such a thing as True Nationalist Crap?

or False Nationalist Gold?

I will acknowledge the existence of False Anti-Nationalist Crap, but somehow I don't think Scahill was seeking to draw that particular distinction.

Posted by: Rojo at June 28, 2010 04:12 AM

**Obviously Osama bin Laden couldn't possibly care less about "the children of Al Aqsa"**

"Obviously" ?

Posted by: fred at June 28, 2010 05:22 AM


what's with the hash tag "#FalseNationalistCrap?" Is there such a thing as True Nationalist Crap?

There's a Monty Python sketch that ends with John Cleese shooting someone and saying, "What a senseless waste of human life." Cleese has said that line always makes him laugh, because he wonders: what's a sensible waste of human life?


**Obviously Osama bin Laden couldn't possibly care less about "the children of Al Aqsa"**

"Obviously" ?

Well, I suppose there's a chance he cares as much about them as much as Dick Cheney cares about the people killed at the World Trade Center.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 28, 2010 06:50 AM

Wilfred Owen, the British poet (also a soldier, who was killed within hours of the signing of the WWI Armistice), wrote several poems that compared sports references to the words of war--very effective.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at June 28, 2010 06:52 AM

It seems ObL has been willing to risk more for his professed beliefs than the Dick. I don't respect violence, but chickenhawks are the lowest of the low.

Posted by: marcus at June 28, 2010 09:06 AM

Re bin Laden and the children of Palestine: Many of the pieces I've read since that day explain that OBL had/has two main quarrels with the U.S.: the American militarization of Saudi Arabia, and the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Other perspectives?

Posted by: catherine at June 28, 2010 11:08 AM

Actually four: the Palestinian issue, the presence of U.S. troops in Mecca and Medina, the sanctions on Iraq, and U.S. support for corrupt Arab governments.

Jon: Well, I suppose there's a chance he cares as much about them as much as Dick Cheney cares about the people killed at the World Trade Center.

Disagreed—just because they're both scumbags doesn't mean they're the same in every way. Dick Cheney became one of the most powerful men on the planet by lying about his motivations in order to service the needs of the wealthy, and he's lived a life of comfort and privilege as a result. Osama bin Laden rejected a life of extraordinary wealth and privilege to live in caves, constantly on the move, at risk of dying at any time either thanks to the price on his head or from easily treatable illnesses—all in order to fight for the causes he believes in. So whatever I might think of his tactics or ethics, I don't see any reason to doubt his stated motives.

Posted by: John Caruso at June 28, 2010 12:01 PM

Jeff Poor apparently didn't watch any of the coverage of the first Gulf War on TV in a sports bar. That might have changed his opinion. Then again, I doubt it.

People talk about Osama bin Laden as though they know something about him. I suppose that's actually true of Dick Cheney too, but not quite to the same extent. I remember reading Lawrence Wright's the Looming Tower and getting to page 96, where it said "He [Osama bin Laden] was just over six feet tall--not the giant that he was later made out to be." Now, at the time I read that, media people ALWAYS described Osama as 6'6", which made OBL as talk as your average NBA player rather than my height, and it dawned on me that not one of the commentators had the faintest idea of what they were talking about even as to the most basic, obvious facts. Every word said about him was and is BS repeated from some other BS "source" that didn't know anything. If word went out on the wire or through other communications offices that OBL had hooves, horns, everyone would mindlessly repeat it. Wait. . .

That is a remarkable comment on our times, and it demonstrates that the underlying reality of people and events is unimportant. In a different form, Karl Rove himself once even admitted to Ron Suskind that the study of 'discernible reality' no longer mattered, because "we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

All matters is myth-building and the marketing. As Howard Zinn wrote in the foreward to Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and thhe Selling of American Empire (a collection of interviews that Zinn called 'extraordinary ruminations' on the connection of 9/11 to American Empire by folks like Ellsberg and Scott Ritter and Chomsky and Michael Klare and Chalmers Johnson and so on):

"Today, fears of 'terrrorism' lay the same role that fear of "Communism" did during the Cold War."

That's exactly right, but this time those fears will just keep on forever, assuming no counteracting explosion of cynicism and incredulity. Our reality-makers don't have to worry about their enemies throwing in the towel and quitting like the goddamn commies did, because there's always another Emmanuel Goldstein out there somewhere, assuming people don't ever stop questioning the veracity of what they are told. Maybe the next Goldstein or Osama or whoever will be six foot six, or maybe just six feet, or maybe he'll be as small as Ho Chi Minh. Arab, black, white, Asian--it doesn't matter. He'll be what people are told he is.

So I'm not much interested in arguing about what Osama bin Laden cares or doesn't care about. You might as well argue about the star of a television show. Call it The War on Terror, or maybe change the name to The Long War. Any name will do.

Posted by: N E at June 28, 2010 12:32 PM

OSAMA probably woke up this morning to a cup of tea, brought to him by one of his many wives. Another wife is cooking him breakfast so it will be ready imediately after morning prayers. A third wife is making up the bed and a forth is now helping him dress. He walks to the mouth of the cave, cup of tea in hand, and gazes out onto a beautiful mountain landscape. A deep breath and he thinks, "Ah, smell the wild flowers, this is a wonderful time of year in the mountains, the air so fresh and sweet, wet with dew." He waves at some perceived sattelite (which had long, long, ago drifted on) and says out loud to a fifth wife standing becide him, to serve his every need, " Honey, why don't George or Dick ever call any more? Seems like a coupla years since I even got a letter or anything." She smiles, and laughingly returns with, "The Americans elected that Black Guy, Dearest, don't you remember?"
"Oh yeah he says, what'sezzname, its right on the tip of my tongue."
Suddenly, one of his captains comes up and he hands his teacup to wife number five and instructs her to have wife number two to hold breakfast until he get backs from the training camp down below. And so begins another workday.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2010 01:51 PM

Mike Meyer: That's about as reliable as anything anybody else says.

Posted by: N E at June 28, 2010 03:43 PM

John Caruso agrees with me: anything is possible!

NE: As regards the idea of comparing the motivations of Cheney/ObL, knowing intimate details about them is not so relevant as using them as symbols of imperialism/jihadism. And as I alluded to, and JC enumerated, the basic facts which I think we can all agree on show the lives of these men quite divergent. Funny that you, all-knower of the heart-of-hearts of Dem presidents, would give such a lecture.

I do know in general that vile beliefs and vicious actions do not have to carry across one's life. If a purple person thinks that the green people want to rape purple women and are otherwise beneath him, it doesn't mean he isn't capable of loving other purple people, his own purple family. Maybe even Dick Cheney pet a dog on the head once.

Jonathan often makes impertinent "But don't get me wrong I don't like the terrorists either" remarks at the end of his posts. Who can blame him, one doesn't want to give "material support" to the Enemy these days.

Posted by: marcus at June 28, 2010 05:58 PM

Mike - When I imagine bin Laden's life today (if any) I like to include a pet goat.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 28, 2010 06:23 PM

mistah charley, ph.d. ONLY IF the beautiful mountain landscape he gazes onto is "Ole Brokeback".

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2010 06:31 PM


It may look from the comments like I was responding to Caruso, but I hadn't even seen his comment before I made mine. My comment was prompted by people talking about Osama bin Laden generally, which happens regularly even though nobody really knows anything reliable about him. I am always struck by that. People have strong opinions that are ultimately grounded on almost nothing.

If you think we can all agree on "the basic facts," you didn't pause much to ruminate on what I wrote. Neither you nor Caruso knows much about Osama bin Laden, and I actually doubt either of you knows much more about Cheney, because he's not especially easy to know about and knowing those types of details doesn't interest you anyway, or so you've said. This means that comparisons of OBL and Cheney from either of you suffer from a fundamental problem that can be summarized by the word 'bullshit.' Just recognize it and have a sense of humor about it and move on to what you do think matters.

(By the way, I don't purport to know anybody's heart either. My views have some weaknesses, but not that one.)

My previously stated view about Cheney, which I haven't concealed, is that he has done a lot of evil deeds, but I have no doubt that you're right that he once petted a dog, and I'll add that I bet he loves his kids, thinks of himself as patriotic, works quite hard, is quite smart, and has some other good qualities even though I'm sick of listing them. Then again, so did Hitler and Goebbels and Stalin and Attila the Hun and all sorts of other world historical figures. Evil is perpetrated by human beings, not monsters, and pretty much all human beings are a mixed bag even if they end up committing unspeakable evil. It comes with the chromosomes.

As for Osama bin Laden, at this point he's just a cut-out. I don't know what kind of man he was before he embarked on his career as a tool of intelligence agencies, as at least one of his older brothers did before him, and though I suspect he was a run-of-the-mill opportunist and self-promoter taking advantage of an intriguing offer to glorify himself and play soldier, I bet I never will know much more no matter how hard I try, because most of my sources of information are likely to continue to be crap.

If you want to compare symbols of jihadism, that's great, but be aware that these symbols are part of a social drama written and enacted for political purposes, just as the Red Scare and then the Cold War were. That really shouldn't be controversial in these circles. As Howard Zinn explained in the introduction to the book I mentioned, that's true even if 9/11 was a real rather than 'false flag' event. What really happened is more or less irrelevant now, just as all 'real' qualities of the pivotal political figures like Cheney and OBL is now irrelevant. The curtain has gone up and the play is now in progress.

What I intended to convey is that everyone should recognize it for what it is, a performance, because otherwise things are just going to keep getting worse. To stop the ever-continuing worsening, moral aspirations are necessary, but they are not sufficient.


Posted by: N E at June 28, 2010 09:17 PM

I BELIEVE Cheney outed a CIA Agent in time of war, and that's ALL I need to know about him.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2010 09:26 PM

Mike Meyer

The CIA can take care of itself. Don't work yourself up into too much of a patriotic frenzy for their sake. They aren't generally on the side of peace and justice even if they seem to have done everybody a favor by putting the brakes on Cheney's steamroller before it flattened the rest of the Middle East.

Posted by: N E at June 29, 2010 12:10 AM

NE: CIA isn't the point. They are PAID BY U&I to do what they do. I agree that they suck, BUT they're OUR suckers. Selling them out is still TREASON AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 29, 2010 11:50 AM

MM: "I BELIEVE Cheney outed a CIA Agent in time of war, and that's ALL I need to know about him."

That's true, but do you know anything *bad* about him?

Posted by: Duncan at June 29, 2010 01:29 PM

I know shooting a lawyer doesn't count, how about selling shoddy concrete to the BP well and so helped cause the oil spill?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 29, 2010 04:06 PM