How to read Imperial Hubris.

How to read juicy books.
July 14 2004 1:52 PM

The Misunderstood Osama

How to read Imperial Hubris.

Book cover

The anonymous CIA analyst who wrote Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror managed to preserve his cloak of anonymity until two weeks before his book's publication—a stealth operation that made the agency's WMD spycraft look masterful by comparison. The Boston Phoenix reports that the analyst's name is Michael Scheuer.

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He spent three years as the Counterterrorist Center's Osama Bin Laden station chief. In Imperial Hubris, Scheuer argues that Americans misunderstand Bin Laden and al-Qaida and have little sense that we're losing the terror war. As usual, Slate's reading guide fast-forwards you straight to the juicy parts. Grab a copy and read along.

Osama Doesn't Hate Our Freedom

Page 8: The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that "Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do." Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It's American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaida, not American culture and society.

Page 11-13: How is the United States threatening Muslim lands? The post-9/11 crackdowns on Muslim charities have effectively ended tithing, which is one of the five pillars of Islam; our casual denunciations of "jihad" sneer at a central tenet of the Muslim faith. America supports corrupt anti-Muslim governments in Uzbekistan and China, "apostate" governments in the Middle East, and the new Christian state of East Timor. And, above all, it continues to house occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Osama Isn't a Madman

Page 114-6: Bin Laden isn't a loose cannon trying to bring the world to Armageddon. He's an eloquent and rational actor, more CEO than gangster. He often blames Muslims for their failure to repel Western invaders. His analyses of al-Qaida's victories and defeats are often more cogent than Western leaders' tirades against him.

Page 124: One element American commentators underestimate is Muslim love for Osama—"love for his defense of the faith, the life he lives, the heroic example he sets, and the similarity of that example to other heroes in the pantheon of Islamic history."

Page 127-33: More evidence for Osama's coherence: His taped addresses display a remarkable consistency in theme and tone. Bin Laden almost always defines American-led forces as the primary enemy, emphasizes the centrality of al-Qaida as an incendiary force, and exhorts young Muslim men to join the fight. The last plank has subtly changed since 9/11. Before, Osama would shame young men into enlisting; now, he smothers them with encouragement and suggests that jihad is a natural stop on the path to manhood. Scheuer says this shows al-Qaida is having no trouble recruiting new charges.

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