"Letter to america" by bin Laden

Giovanni De Sio Cesari

www.giovannidesio.it                                                                                  versione italiano



It had a significant spread among American (and non-American) university students, 'Letter to America' by bin Laden, written back in 2002. For 20 years, it was available on the internet, almost forgotten, but a few days ago, it was brought back into circulation on TikTok, becoming viral. At that point, the letter was removed from the sites that featured it and from TikTok, making it impossible for us to track down the lengthy text. We are entirely opposed to these procedures not only because they are undemocratic and contrary to freedom of thought but also because they end up mythologizing documents, writings, and opinions that should instead be evaluated for their foundation, placed in cultural contexts, taking into account all elements.

Censorship, on the other hand, gives the idea that democracy conceals the truth, that it is only an apparent democracy where only favored ideas circulate, and unwanted ones are hidden and demonized. Let's see then what bin Laden wrote in that letter: even if we don't have the text, it is actually a repetition of concepts continually expressed by all sources of Islamic fundamentalism and not only by them.

The fundamental concept expressed by bin Laden is the vision of an Islamic world (dar el islam) attacked by a crusade from the Western world, which, however, is seen more as unbelieving than Christian; in fact, the attacks have only exceptionally targeted places of worship. In the face of such aggression, Muslims have the duty of Jihad, seen as a defensive war and not aggression. Keep in mind that the term Jihad indicates the "effort" of the believer to surrender to the divine will (which is the proper meaning of "Islam"). In this framework, the term shaid, meaning witness, takes on emblematic relevance: since "martis" in Greek has the same meaning, it is translated into our languages as a martyr; actually, the concept is very different. We refer to a martyr as someone who prefers death to renouncing faith in a context of non-violence (martyrs in the Roman Empire), while in the Islamic context, it means a fighter, generally but not necessarily a suicide. I recall that even here, those who fell in the Crusades were sometimes referred to as martyrs.

The Palestinian issue is inserted into this framework of Western aggression, where the Jews would be the instrument of Western aggression (indeed, in some cases, the treacherous Jews would be pushing the West). However, what succeeds on TikTok is not the entire general framework in which the Palestinian issue is placed but only the facts of Palestine. The Jews have invaded a territory not theirs for over two thousand years, have expelled the Arabs (Muslims) from their ancestral seats, and still oppress and persecute the Palestinians remaining in the rest of Palestine.

Now let's evaluate these ideas. In fact, the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a historical injustice, an invasion by a foreign people, and there is no doubt about this: we must realize it, something that does not always happen in the West. Therefore, reading this letter may appear a revelation to the eyes of an American generation that has always been on the side of the Israelis without ifs and buts. Also, according to the principles of our civilization, reason is all on the side of the Palestinians and all the wrong on the side of the Israelis: no doubt. However, then it should be considered realistically that it is not possible to destroy Israel, that all state borders arise from acts of force, from historical injustices, and that Israel has now existed for 75 years: after the wars of '48, '56, '67, '73 that Israel won, the situation stabilized. It is then necessary to acknowledge this and seek an agreement: in practice, two states. Without accepting the status quo, the conflict does not resolve. It's not like, for example, Italians from Istria can return to Istria, and so the Germans from the Sudetenland or Danzig or Muslims and Hindus expelled from their seats in the formation of India and Pakistan, and so on.

The general framework of the alleged Western aggression is more complex. In fact, Western culture tends to spread worldwide, creating ethical-political, religious tensions; a classic example is the position of women symbolized by the hijab (Islamic veil); think of the demonstrations in Iran. But it is a cultural fact linked to globalization, so the whole world is connected, and the West undoubtedly exerts a much greater influence on the rest of the world than the rest of the world on the West; Western models have spread worldwide.

Is there also Western military aggression? Let's examine the facts. Actually, during the Cold War, the Middle East, like much of the world, saw some aligning with America, others with communism, even without being communists. However, there is no war by the West against Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, the M.O. split between secularists (nationalists) and fundamentalists, but the West did not align itself with one of the parties, rather leaning more towards the latter. It is true that in Iran, the secular regime of the Shah leaned on the West, but faithful allies of the West were and remain the Saudis and the Gulf Emirates, which are still the states where sharia is actually observed. On the other hand, secular, nationalist regimes like Iraq, Libya, Syria were always enemies of the West. In the '70s, Egypt, while not changing its regime, changed sides and became an ally of America. We are, therefore, absolutely far from Khomeini's idea of a great Satan (America) and the little Satans (local secular regimes), almost all enemies of America. In particular, the resistance against Russia by the Taliban in Afghanistan was substantially aided by the Americans, and their success is largely due to their supplies of modern weapons. The only direct American intervention before September 11 was the war against Iraq, ruled by a very secular regime, in defense of the very traditional Saudi Arabia.

The idea of the great Satan and the little Satans is contradicted by a simple observation of the facts. No aggression by the West against Islam: this would be completely incomprehensible for the secular and tolerant mentality of the West. No connection even with the Palestinian issue, which is considered a separate matter and not of a religious nature. It is true that the scenario changed after September 11 with the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq, but these are interventions in defense of America against the fundamentalist threat that, overflowing from the M.O., ends up striking the West: whether such interventions were effective or appropriate is another matter.