For the past four years, it has been very common for a number of libertarians to say that the reason al-Qaeda attacked the United States was not "hatred for our freedom." Instead, they maintain, the 9/11 atrocity was retribution against an aggressive U.S. foreign policy that has oppressed the Middle East for decades.
The Libertarian Party's 2000 presidential candidate, Harry Browne, gave an assessment of 9/11 that surprised many of his readers. While, I agree with Browne's opinions on domestic political economy, he confounded me with the remarks he made on September 12, 2001 about the previous day's attacks.
"When will we learn," he asked rhetorically, , "that we can't allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually?"
The terrorists "bullying back"?
A few years after Browne published those thoughts, the Libertarian Party's 2004 presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik, weighed in on this as well. He had very sound views on domestic issues. Yet I felt uncomfortable with his pronouncements about what he perceived to be al-Qaeda's legitimate grievances. "First," he stated,
allow me to dispel a myth. People in the Middle East do not hate us for our freedom. They do not hate us for our lifestyle. They hate us because we have spent many years attempting to force them to emulate our lifestyle.
What does he mean by "[p]eople in the Middle East"? Not everyone in the Middle East "hate[s] us." The United States has a number of supporters in Iraq (though having even more of them would be preferrable).
Aren't Osama bin Laden and al-Qaedea so offended by "our freedom" that they see destroying it as a purpose in their jihad?
Jacob G. Hornberger, who is also usually right on domestic fiscal issues, evidently doubts that. "U.S. officials claim," he commented in October 2001,
that the attacks on New York and Washington were motivated by hatred for freedom, democracy, and Western values. But what if they're mistaken? After all, doesn't Switzerland support those values? Why aren't the Swiss being targeted by terrorists?
I don't know bin Laden's opinion on the Swiss, but, a year after Hornberger's commentary was published -- and over a year before Michael Badnarik began campaigning for U.S. President -- we already had access to something that provides much insight on what reasons Osama bin Laden gives for killing Americans.
I am referring to an "Open Letter to Americans" penned by none other than Osama bin Laden himself, published in the November 24, 2002 London Guardian. This same letter was republished in 2005's Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden -- an anthology of bin Laden's political writings.
In the first half of his letter, the terrorist mastermind does cite the excuse for murdering Americans that some libertarians allude to -- he strongly objects to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, accusing our military of imperialism. Browne said he was "bullying back" the U.S. government for "bullying the world" first, and bin Laden, independent of Browne, concurs.
But the second half of bin Laden's open letter completely contradicts the contention so popular among numerous libertarians and radical leftwingers that al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups would stop attacking America if only it withdrew occupying troops in Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Indeed, bin Laden does intend to murder those who do not submit to his interpretation of Islam. He explains,
While seeking Allah's help, we form our reply based on two questions directed at the Americans:
(Q1) Why are we [al-Qaeda members] fighting and opposing you [Americans]?
(Q2) What are we [al-Qaeda members] calling you to, and what do we want from you? [ . . . ]
(1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam. [ . . .]
It is to this religion that we call you; the seal of all the previous religions. [ . . . ] It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah's Word and religion reign Supreme.
Radley Balko, a Cato Institute scholar who has written many excellent commentaries like "Prosperity's Nitpickers," has mocked hawks who attribute the World Trade Center attack to bin Laden's "hatred for our freedom."
"Unfortunately," he propounds,
the 'they hate us for our freedom' reasoning fails the Occam's Razor test. It's difficult to believe that a loathing of strip clubs, rock music, cable TV, and all-you-can-eat buffets would motivate 19 young Arab men would move to the U.S. from thousands of miles away, live and work here for several years, learn to fly airplanes, and then immolate themselves in a mass suicide attack [emphasis added --S.H.].
That sentiment was also voiced by the intelligent and articulate Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman, in September 2001:
The Bush administration says incessantly that the terrorism was an attack on civilization: freedom, prosperity, self-government. Government officials, pundits, and cartoonists insist that the terrorists' intent is to bring down American society. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, 'What this war is about is our way of life.'
That view may give some people comfort, but it misses the mark by miles. [ . . . ] If Osama bin Laden was really the instigator or mastermind, we can know precisely what he intended. He's given many interviews to Western journalists. Transcripts are available on the Internet. Never does he say that his motive for a holy war against America is the destruction of capitalism, wealth, freedom, or any other abstraction [emphasis added].
If what Richman said in 2001 -- that bin Laden had not denounced America for its capitalism -- was true at the time, it was no longer true when the Guardian published bin Laden's open letter in 2002.
Recall that Balko dismissed the possibility that al-Qaeda could want to murder Americans for merely having the following institutions:
* Strip clubs
* Rock music
* Cable TV
Actually, bin Laden does want to kill us for alleged sins relating the those three cultural indicators.
He says that for we Americans to spare ourselves from his violent wrath, we must give in to his demand that we "reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and trading with interest."
Richman sounded skeptical of "[g]overnment officials, pundits, and cartoonists" for "insist[ing] that the terrorists' intent is to bring down American society." Nor did he appreciate it when "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, 'What this war is about is our way of life.'"
However, this was one of the few cases in which Rumsfeld was right. Bin Laden does see "our way of life" as something bad enough to kills us over by his own hands. He tells you that his intent is to bring down American society. As bin Laden puts it, "It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind."
Al-Qaeda's head honcho provides a list of reasons for wanting to annihilate us Americans so specific that it makes little sense to claim, after reading it, that bin Laden's violent actions are meant only to punish the U.S. for its foreign policy and not for peaceful behaviors its laws allow domestically. Bin Laden's list of grievances for American actions that so enrage him include:
(iii) You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them. [ . . . ]
(v) You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms. The companies practice this as well, resulting in the investments becoming active and the criminals becoming rich.
In this litany of America's supposed sins, sexual freedom is an item:
(iv) You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. [ . . . ] Who can forget your President Clinton's immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that he "made a mistake," after which everything passed with no punishment. [ . . . ]
(vi) You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women. [ . . . ]
The above indicates that bin Laden sees our strip clubs as a sufficient reason to exterminate us. We will put a check mark next to "strip clubs." We can move on to other items Balko listed as bin Laden continues,
(vii) You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.
Rock music is associated with what bin Laden perceives to be debauchery. The box for "rock music" should probably be checked. What else dose bin Laden carp about?
(x) Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.
Does bin Laden see our cable TV stations as grounds for punishing us with violent death? Check! Our cable channels, he believes, are the tool of a Jewish conspiracy he aims to wipe out.
The items on Balko's list check out.
Recall also Sheldon Richman's September 2001 comment that "[n]ever does" bin Laden say in the "[t]ranscripts" of "many interviews available on the Internet" that "his motive for a holy war against America is the destruction of capitalism, wealth, freedom, or any other abstraction."
A year later, bin Laden complains to Americans,
(ii) You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense;[...]"
Is bin Laden hostile to what Richman called capitalism? The answer is yes if the right to charge interest is a part of free enterprise.
If you consider the First Amendment's Establishment Clause to be part of your freedom, then bin Laden explicitly takes offense at your freedom, shrieking,
You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator [emphasis added --S.H.].
Interestingly, the al-Qaeda leader even faults the United States for not curbing fossil fuel emissions:
(xi) You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries.
By now, it has become much more evident that, for Osama bin Laden, this campaign to extinguish the lives of Americans is not only about U.S. foreign policy. Even if America withdrew its troops from other nations and adopted a more "isolationist" position, bin Laden would still see us as an affront to Allah for our domestic freedoms, for items like those Radley Balko listed: "strip clubs," "rock music," and "cable TV."
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda do hate your freedom. Accusing the United States of being a bigger bully will not satiate al-Qaeda; withdrawing troops from Saudi Arabia is not an action that would sufficiently stave off assaults from this band of illiberal terrorists.
Bin Laden disapproves of the United States for allowing its citizens to engage in homosexuality, charging usury, and playing Las Vegas slot machines. If he had his way, women would be forcibly banned from employment. It is Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda that have bullied the United States; not the other way around (to put it mildly).
Fortunately, one libertarian -- Ronald Bailey -- remains objective in this regard. In fact, it was this article of his that brought bin Laden's "Open Letter" to my attention. He, too, notices,
Opponents of [laissez-faire, free-market republican, classical] liberalism like bin Laden are fully aware that [laissez-faire] liberal tolerance undercuts the traditional totalitarianisms they fight for by making all such totalitarian systems of belief voluntary. If an individual chooses to change her beliefs and her way of life, she is free to do so, and her religious, political, or cultural community cannot force her to remain. Thus the traditional sources of authority -- families, chieftains, priests -- are undermined as people seek new ways of shaping their lives. [ . . . ]
So would terrorist bombs stop going off in Madrid and London if the United States and its allies withdrew their troops from the Middle East entirely? Perhaps there would be a respite, but a showdown between the world's remaining traditional totalitarianisms and the expanding sphere of [laissez-faire] liberalism is inevitable.
Someone else with good judgment about this, Edward Hudgins, observes that "explaining suicide terrorism by way of purely political calculations is superficial and naive. Most suicide killers, in fact, are religious or ideological fanatics." Al-Qaeda terrorists do not want to only alter U.S. foreign policy, but to coerce us into living in "the kind of society to which their values lead: straight to the chamber of horrors that was Taliban Afghanistan."
Osama bin Laden wasn't "bullying back" on 9/11. He initiated the Terror Wars going on from 2001 to today -- he is the bully who started this ("bully" being too puny a word to describe bin Laden's brand of evil).
I implore you: The party that must be blamed first for 9/11 is not America or even the foreign policy that libertarians accuse of being too aggressive. The primary culprit we should blame for this war has been Osama bin Laden's own illiberalism all these years.