Although I critique specific articles and publications, I tend not to rant about the mainstream media—oh, excuse me, the “MSM.” Aside from the heavy cliché quotient (like “special interests” and the “Military Industrial Complex”), I feel that, in an age of global communications, the very concept of MSM is vague and increasingly outdated.
Still, if I had one major complaint about the MSM (and pundits), it would be that they suffer from “The Memento Effect”—named after the 2000 film Memento, wherein the main character suffers from a type of amnesia that causes him to lose his memory every 15 minutes.
Case in point: The recent news buzz when Osama Bin Laden released a tape blaming the United States for global warming and faulting Washington for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol.
Here’s a round-up of quotes:
The New York Times: “In the message broadcast on Friday, Mr. bin Laden veered away from his traditional vows to inflict death and destruction on the United States, and instead discussed climate change, globalization and monetary policy in a message that he said was directed to ‘the whole world.’”
Mother Jones magazine: “While bin Laden’s foray into climate is a bit unexpected, he’s apparently seizing on an opportunity to exploit tensions between the US and other countries nonplussed with the current state of climate affairs (see: Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan).”
Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent:”When Osama bin Laden is so desperate for international support that he’ll start making an environmentalist case against the United States, something is going very right.”
The American Spectator magazine:”Bottom line here is that environmentalism, right from beginning, has always been about constraining and restricting America’s economic and military activity. It has provided the U.N., and more recently the E.U., with ability to attack American independence and sovereignty on the sly. Even Bin Laden recognizes the inherent propaganda and potential destructiveness to the U.S. of the entire global warming movement.”
And so on, and so forth. The only problem is that Bin Laden’s rants against climate change are not new—they don’t represent a departure from his “traditional” message, or some new tactic, strategy or propaganda ploy. They offer deeper insight into his ideology. A few minutes of background research (hey, it’s called “Google”), would remind folks about his “Letter to the American People,” published in London’s Observer in 2002. He declared: “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.”
More broadly, as Jason Burke noted in a 2004 article for Foreign Policy magazine:
At the ideological level, prominent [Islamist] thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb and Abu Ala Maududi have borrowed heavily from the organizational tactics of secular leftist and anarchist revolutionaries. Their concept of the vanguard is influenced by Leninist theory. Qutb’s most important work, Ma’alim fi’l-tariq (Milestones), reads in part like an Islamicized Communist Manifesto. A commonly used Arabic word in the names of militant groups is Hizb (as in Lebanon’s Hizb Allah, or Hezbollah), which means “party”—another modern concept.
In fact, the militants often couch their grievances in Third-Worldist terms familiar to any contemporary antiglobalization activist. One recent document purporting to come from bin Laden berates the United States for failing to ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate change. Egyptian militant leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has decried multinational companies as a major evil. Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, once told a friend how angered he was by a world economic system that meant Egyptian farmers grew cash crops such as strawberries for the West while the country’s own people could barely afford bread. In all these cases, the militants are framing modern political concerns, including social justice, within a mythic and religious narrative. They do not reject modernization per se, but they resent their failure to benefit from that modernization.
So, what’s my point? My concern is that, nearly ten years after 9/11—and being deluged with constant commentary and reporting—the chattering classes still don’t grasp what drives Islamist militants such as Al Qaeda. It’s more complex than the one-dimensional explanations heard time and again: anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, anti-modernization, anti-Zionism, Western support for Israel, etc. The widespread poverty and despair in the Arab world is a fertile ground for these movements.
Take a look at the Arab Human Development Reports. That’s the story that really deserves attention.