So it turns out that Osama Bin Laden’s final video was to the people of the Middle East, encouraging them to rise up against their corrupt leaders and take control. It is not clear when this video was shot but he is reported to have said:
I think that the winds of change will blow over the entire Muslim world, with permission from Allah…So, what are you waiting for? Save yourselves and your children, because the opportunity is here.”
There is of course the important question as to whether Bin Laden went, was killed, at the right time, having served his purpose in God’s grand design. But, as most people will no doubt recognise, it seems that both Al quaeda and the West that they are fighting have a similar value – that of the self-determination of the Muslim people. The conflict would appear to be over how that value is best implemented.
It just so happens that I am reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”. By a complete coincidence – or is it – I have got to the bit where Appiah argues that this precise point:
The fact that both Palestians and Israelis – in particular, that both observant Muslims and observant Jews – have a special relation of Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, has been a reliable source of trouble. The problem isn’t that they disagree about the importance of Jerusalem: the problem is exactly that they both care for it deeply and, in part, for the same reason. Mohammed, in the first years of Islam, urged his followers to turn toward Jerusalem in prayer because he had learned the story of Jerusalem from the Jews among whom he lived in Mecca. Nor…it is an accident that the West’s fiercest adversaries amoung other societies tend to come from among the most Westernised of the group…We all know now the foot soldiers of Al Quaeda who committed the mass murders of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not bedouins from the desert; nor unlettered fellahin.”
Appiah goes to describe the wider pattern of independence movements – how it was the Western-educated bourgeoise who built the independence movement in his own Ghana, how India’s independence was led by an Indian-born South African, British trained lawyer (Ghandi), an Indian who wore Savile Row suits and sent his daughter to an English boarding school (Nehru) and another ‘Indian’ who joined Lincoln’s Inn and became a barrister at the age of 19 (Jinna). Even Colonol Gaddafi’s own sons and President Al-Assad of Syria are Western-educated.
Appiah cites Caliban, the original inhabitant of the island commandeered by Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest:
You taught me language and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse.
Osama Bin Laden, therefore, is arguably in the mould of every other ‘freedom fighter’ in that he shares some common values (not all of them) with his enemy. Though he was raised a devout Wahhabi Muslim, he attended a top secular school, he studied economics and business administration and he possible gained a degree in civil engineering or public administration. He also had an interest in reading, in particular Field Marshal Montgomery and Charles De Gaulle, and football, in which his favourite position was centre forward and he supported Arsenal FC.
The irony is that the more we in the West is interested in spreading our values, whether it be democracy, freedom or McDonalds, the more likely that they will sow the seeds for more conflict against us. So perhaps we should see Al Quaeda has a compliment, rather than a threat, to our own way of life.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. Penguin Books, London. pp78-80