A camera panned the room where Osama bin Laden died -- a room in a multi-level mansion in the suburbs of Islamabad, not a cave in a hillside near the border -- and lit upon the quotidian paraphernalia of his life. On a shelf lay a jar of Vaseline, bottles of what looked like vitamins, and a prescription box that seemed to be for a nasal spray. On the floor lay a vacuum cleaner. Next door were the computers.
It's no revelation, of course, that bin Laden was conversant with modern technology. But just as bin Laden's home held modern products, his mind held modern prejudices. By allowing ourselves to be too distracted by the turbans and the pietistic language, we may have missed that -- and in the process overestimated the role of Islam in Islamism.
In 2007, in his longest videotaped message to the world, bin Laden mouthed some of the familiar invocations of "Allah, the most high," but much of his message to the American people could have come straight from the pages of the Nation. He decried global warming, the "greed of major corporations and their representatives," "globalization," and "capitalism." Here's his explanation of the war in Vietnam:
"In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Rumsfeld and his aides murdered 2 million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed ... those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing."
Oliver Stone couldn't have said it better.
Yes, the late Osama bin Laden was a religious fanatic. But if religious zeal were his only motivation, he might have turned his hatred toward China -- a consistent persecutor of Muslims (and others) or India (which some Islamists have attacked -- though without justification). But bin Laden's garrulous videos reveal someone who had drunk deeply from the well of hatred for America that nourishes everyone from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin. It's a well with springs that originate right here.