The Corner

Re: Al Qaeda Reader

[Re: Shannen Coffin’s piece today.] Raymond Ibrahim was a former student of mine in Classics and Middle Eastern history, now living and working in Washington. He contacted me for some advice, as his former MA thesis advisor, months ago, saying that as part of his job as an archivist he had accidentally come across texts purportedly written years ago by bin Laden and others that he thought should come to light in scholarly fashion, with a translation, historical commentary, and notes, collating them with others transcripts and writings in the public domain. He believed, and does today, that the more the public learns about bin Laden’s way of thinking, the better since the terrorists’ own words may well show once more that they hate the West for what we are rather than what we do, and that their venom is not predicated on purported wrongs , but rather is a clear reflection of their own pathologies that have a long paper trail. As a second-generation Egyptian of Coptic faith Mr. Ibrahim knows the risks involved from working on such a text, but is not publishing a rushed or lurid translation, but rather at work providing a scholarly context, both historical and philological, that will shed much of the romanticism that bin Laden enjoys in the Middle East. I think everyone should withhold judgment on the effort, until the work appears-well over a year from now-and we can judge for ourselves the fashion in which it is presented.

I have not seen any of his translations, but on the basis of his conversation, suggested that he contact some editors and literary representatives to see if this was a viable project and especially to ascertain both the legality and ethics about publishing such a text, and whether is was even an authentic document, previously known, or in the public domain. I thought little more about it since it seemed a scholarly project that would take months if not years to complete, and was surprised as any to see the recent media barrage about the announcement from Doubleday. Raymond had no idea that there would be any publicity , which apparently was generated elsewhere–especially ironic since by nature he is dedicated to his new job as an archivist and a shy person. No one is more dedicated to the security of the United States than he nor more devastated by the events of September 11, and those concerns, not publicity, are what originally prompted his interest in this apparently old, but neglected document on the shelves where he worked.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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