Monday, September 10, 2007

Two Minutes Hate

You may have missed it, but Emmanuel Goldstein Osama bin Laden released a video statement on Friday. The New York Times covered it for about half a second. It was his first such statement in three years. And apart from some speculations about the video itself (rather than the message) and some chatter about whether or not Osama dies his beard, there was virtually no media coverage of it.

For those who might possibly be interested in hearing what Osama bin Laden has to say, in his own words, check out the video here. (It seems the Ministry of Information has been here: the video hardly to be found on the internet and the transcript seems to no longer be available from Fox. I am hosting the transcript on my webspace here.)

I was struck by the decidedly communist tone he takes here, as well as the sense of religious tolerance for Judaism that is advanced in lockstep with the usual Islamic evangelism. As before, Osama bin Laden proves himself to be a close observer of American life (he even references the mortgage woes of the last month). What seems to me more important than anything, however, is not the message itself, but the utter disregard this country shows for the views of our ostensible enemy. Aren't we waging wars against this man? And yet there seems to be some kind of anxiety--even fear--about listening to what he has to say. Two years ago when I taught 1984, I realized that not a single person in my class knew what Osama bin Laden really wanted--what his grievances were, what his ideology looks like, etc. All they knew was that he was inimical to "us," and that he was the enemy. "Enmity" is mightily empty category, and a dangerous one at that, if you refuse to allow it to have content.

And that's exactly what bin Laden is for Americans, an enemy without content. The fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden is not isomorphic with himself. That is, "Osama bin Laden," as that name is understood in this country, is a simulacrum of the actual man. We do not need to listen to what he has to say because we know what he is -- after all, he is our creation. He represents for us something to fight against, the implement against which we sharpen our knives and define ourselves. His words are not relevant since they communicate a version of himself that does not square with our understanding of him. Why would we both listen or give credence to his video musings?

The real education is not, I think, in bin Laden's message itself. There we will find his version of a PR campaign; the video is a well rehearsed statement of ideology designed to appeal to as wide a swath of people as possible. The real meaning behind the video lies in the void in which it is submitted. Osama bin Laden's attempts to publish himself are denied, and "enmity" remains an empty category that we can fill with content when and where it is convenient.


Thomas said...

you taught 1984 to me, and i am sad to say I was one of the people that did not know.....

Shreyan said...

Reading the transcript, I found Osama's speech to be just a rehash of the various criticisms the Left has of the Bush Administration, with "yay Islam" tacked on in a couple places. His message is surprisingly unoriginal.