Letter to Osama ...


An Open Letter to Osama bin Laden Dear Mr. bin Laden: I read with interest your remarks broadcast on al-Jazeera on 12 November 2002. I wish to point out, however, that your argument rests on a logical fallacy. You point out, quite correctly, that the government of the United States is a "criminal gang" that has committed, and abetted, oppression and mass murder. You then go on to infer that Islamic terrorist attacks against the civilian populations of the U.S. and its allies are justified in retaliation. In particular, you write: The road to safety begins by ending the aggression. Reciprocal treatment is part of justice. The incidents that have taken place ... are only reactions and reciprocal actions. ... Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb. Here is where the fallacy lies. Yes, reciprocal treatment is part of justice. If X attacks Y, justice authorises Y to strike back at X. But justice does not authorise Y to strike instead at an innocent third party, Z. When you strike Z, despite Z's having done nothing to you, that is not "reciprocal treatment." Your quarrel is with the government of the United States, and with the governments of its allies. It is not with the civilian population of those countries. It is not with the innocent civilian occupants of American passenger jets or New York skyscrapers or Moscow opera houses or Bali nightclubs. When you attack them, they are not "killed as they have killed," or "bombed as they have bombed." They have killed nobody, bombed nobody. In targeting these innocent lives, you forfeit your claim to be a mere retaliator against aggression. Instead, you become an aggressor yourself. You become the imitator of those you condemn. You may say: "These civilian populations are not so innocent. They support their governments. They're guilty too." Remember, this is the same argument your enemies used when they bombed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Do you really want to endorse it? Here is what's wrong with the argument. The governments of the United States and its allies are, as you rightly observe, "criminal gangs." (For that matter, so, as you would probably agree, is the government of Iraq; and so, as you might not agree, was the Taliban government of Afghanistan.) Each of these criminal gangs occupies a certain geographical territory and subjects its inhabitants to various forms of oppression and extortion. In particular, such gangs exercise control, partial or total, over their territory's educational systems. The people in these territories end up "supporting" their governments because they have been subjected to a lifelong barrage of propaganda and disinformation. Hence the civilians in these countries are not your enemies. They are the victims of your enemies. When you strike at these civilians, you are, in effect, joining forces with your enemies. As a result of the September 11 attacks, Americans are less free today than they were at the end of the century. In carrying out those attacks, you gave our rulers the excuse to increase the extent of their power over us -- just as you gave them the excuse to bomb the civilian populations of Afghanistan and Iraq. You call the U.S. government "White House gangsters" and "the biggest butchers of this age." But you have become their ally -- not in intention, but in practical effect. You are strengthening your enemies, and attacking their victims. You have become George Bush. I could write a letter very like this one to President Bush. It would end: "You have become Osama bin Laden." Sincerely yours, Roderick T. Long Associate Professor of Philosophy Auburn University

Created By: Declan Finlay