Politics & Policy

Osama bin Laden, the Environmentalist

(Getty Images)
The man who ordered 9/11’s mass murder fretted about climate change.

So Osama bin Laden was an environmentalist. In between plotting the mass murder of kaffirs and the destruction of the West, he penned teary-eyed missives about the dangers of “catastrophic climate change.” Coming off like an earnest member of Greenpeace who had read one too many Naomi Klein tracts, he wrote a letter in 2009 calling on Americans to do everything within their power to “save humanity from the harmful gases that threaten its destiny.” Released by the Obama administration this week, the letter says mankind is living in “the shadow of catastrophic climate conditions” and we need a “revolution” to make the planet cleaner. If you read the letter out at the next IPCC gathering, you’d probably get a rousing round of applause.

Some people seem freaked out to discover that OBL had green tendencies. How is it possible that this finger-wagging lunatic could have been as one with the West’s own respectable chattering classes on the issue of climate change? One columnist seems perturbed that bin Laden had what he describes as a more “progressive” take on climate change than the current GOP presidential candidates. But why the surprise? It makes perfect sense that this anti-Western, anti-modern medieval throwback should have warmed to green thinking. After all, bin Laden’s biggest beef in life was that the modern West was an overly cocky, supremely destructive entity that needed to be taken down a peg or two — which is exactly what environmentalists think, too.

Bin Laden’s 2009 letter, written to coincide with the coming to power of Obama, is not the first time he got moist-eyed about man-made planetary doom. In 2002 he attacked the U.S. for pursuing progress at the expense of poor, sad Mother Earth. “You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history,” he hectored, like an agitated hippie. Hilariously, he lambasted President George W. Bush for “refus[ing] to sign the Kyoto agreement” on climate-reduction targets. There’s something deliciously surreal about a terrorist outlaw who was then running from hideout to hideout lecturing the president of the United States for failing to sign on the dotted line of global treaties.

In 2007 he lectured the foul, greedy West again, claiming that “all of mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations.” He beat Occupy Wall Street to the punch by four years, slamming the “greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives.” Then, in the 2009 letter released this week, he outlined his solution to all this Western wickedness: “The world should put its efforts into attempting to reduce the release of gases.” In a nutshell, join Greenpeace. Take eco-action. Put pressure on corporations. Bin Laden basically had two feelings about the American people: that they should die or, failing that, become dutiful warriors against climate change.

#share#Greens are understandably peeved to discover that OBL was a fellow worrier about climate change. Well, how would you feel if you found out that the 21st century’s worst terrorist shared your moral outlook? Some try to skirt the severe awkwardness of finding themselves in the same bed as bin Laden by claiming he was being accidentally “progressive.” Indeed, in response to the newly released bin Laden letter, a writer for Fusion magazine has analyzed the Republican presidential candidates’ attitudes toward climate change and found that all of them are “less progressive than Osama bin Laden when it comes to [this] global threat.” So in worrying about man-made climate change, bin Laden was being decent for a change, more decent than some of America’s own politicians.

If 9/11 was a declaration of war on American hubris, then OBL’s later green-leaning statements were a continuation of that war by other means.

This is nonsense, of course. In truth, there’s nothing mysterious about OBL’s longstanding attraction to the politics of environmentalism, from his 2002 plea to America to sign up to Kyoto to his 2009 call for a “revolution” in eco-attitudes. He seems simply to have recognized that his innate anti-Westernism, his violent agitation with what he viewed as the sins and crimes of modernity, could be expressed through green miserabilism as well as through his main pursuit of Islamo-terrorism. He was a voracious consumer of lefty Western thought — quoting both Noam Chomsky and Robert Fisk and constantly droning on about the evilness of corporations — and it seems that one of the strains of lefty Western thought he liked best was climate-change alarmism, the idea that the West has become so industrially and politically arrogant that it now threatens the whole of mankind. The ugly, polluting West will bring about “the death and displacement of millions of human beings,” he once said.

#related#With its misanthropic streak, its anti-Americanism, its discomfort with modernity, and its instinct to return the world to a simpler, pre-modern state, it isn’t hard to see why environmentalism made OBL’s ears prick up. If 9/11 was a declaration of war on American hubris, then OBL’s later green-leaning statements were a continuation of that war by other means; they were a green-tinted restatement of the apocalyptic barbarism and anti-modernism of 9/11 itself. Greens can kid themselves all they like that bin Laden’s many eco-statements were just a case of his being accidentally, or opportunistically, “progressive”; but in truth they are an awkward reminder of the fundamentally regressive nature of environmentalism, a creed so against progress that even this chief agitator against the modern West could find succor in it.

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