Blood Spilling

“Stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood.”

Osama bin Laden offering a truce to Europeans

Osama bin Laden released a taped message offering to stop his jihad against European nations if they will stop “onslaughts against Muslims and interference in their affairs as part of the big American conspiracy against the Islamic world.”

It’s a noteworthy vengeance text, with a new peace-making twist. Bin Laden first claims his war is not terrorism but righteous revenge for brutality against his people and sacred places. He rejects the label of terrorist and returns it:

By describing us and our actions as terrorism, you are necessarily describing yourself and your actions. …Our actions are reactions to your actions that destroy and kill our people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.

Bin Laden claims he wages not fanatical terrorism but just war—“reactions to your actions that destroy.” He says the US lies when it charges him with killing for the sake of killing. “Reality shows that they lie,” he argues. “When we killed the Russians, it was after their invasion of Afghanistan and Chechnya; the killing of the Europeans was after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan;…the killing of Americans was after their support for Jews in Palestine and their invasion of the Arabian peninsula; killing them (US soldiers) in Somalia was after their invasion in a peacekeeping mission.”

He also argues that he who initiates injustice is more unjust. He casts himself and his cause as reactive, not proactive or preemptive.

Two things are new in the message: the offer of truce (“the door to a truce is open for three months”) and his intensified battle for righteous just war ground. Bin Laden has regularly asserted his religious cause as just and vowed enmity with the infidel invaders and destroyers. He often sounded his call against the evil great Satan US. This is different. He doesn’t say his opponents are infidels or decadents, he accuses them of being war-mongerers. Why should they enjoy safety and prosperity when his people live in fear of attack, he asks. “Security is a need for all humans, and we could not let you have a monopoly on it for yourselves.” He also makes a democratic appeal beyond the politicians: “People who are aware would not let their politicians jeopardize their security.”

He uses the moral arguments his accusers employ, and he claims his actions are only proper vengeance against anti-Islamic conspiracy.

“What happened on September 11 and March 11 was your goods delivered back to you.”

This is exactly Bush’s rationale. The war in Afghanistan was September 11 delivered back. The war in Iraq was preemptively justified as avoiding a mushroom cloud 9/11. The great fact was we were attacked and therefore we are in a righteous holy war. Who is right? Does time tell? Who is righteous? Is that a silly question? From a humane perspective, yes. From a political or moral one, no.

A humane perspective subordinates righteousness to human life. ‘A bad peace is better than a good war.’ Politics and morality are willing to sacrifice human life to nationalism and righteousness; they are warrior modes, fixed on winning. Bin Laden says Bush is the great deceiver; Bush says Bin Laden is the incarnation of terrorist evil. Both bomb. Both assert the same justification: we were attacked by the evil other, we are righteous in vengeance.

Blood demands blood. Bin Laden’s appeal is “stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood.” Sharon’s is the same.

This casts the moral hand against first blood. Who spilled first? Vengeance is seen as righteous self-defense or retribution. Bin Laden’s message is carefully crafted. He says all his attacks are reactions to others’ actions and so are just: Russians are killed for invading Afghanistan and Chechyna, Europeans are killed for invading Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are killed for supporting Jews in Palestine and invading the Arab peninsula, and in Somalia they were killed after invading in a peacekeeping mission.

The recurrent US linking of the Iraq invasion to 9/11 is the same argument: we were invaded and so are righteously vengeful. Invasion attack, not religious ideology, is the key, and religious ideology foments the righteousness. Bush first proudly argued we were on a Crusade; the Spanish terrorists spitefully referenced Spain’s old Crusading position. In the Islamic and Jewish views, the Christians are the bad guys in the Crusades. Muslims and Jews were invaded and slaughtered, a point the present Christian warriors don’t get.

The political responses to Bin Laden’s message have been pro forma: ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’ Leaders have sneered that he’s naively trying to drive a wedge between American and European allies. Leaders perform their bizarre public ballets making friendship over hatred of the common terrorist enemy, ignoring their serious disagreements over the Iraq invasion. When the Spanish electorate blamed their leaders for the Madrid attack and voted them out, other elected leaders reproached them for giving in to terrorism. But Europe popularly opposed the war in Iraq, even in the coalition countries Britain and Spain and Italy. Bin Laden is asserting he isn’t a mad dog killer but a righteous Muslim redresser of wrongs and if he’s left alone he’ll leave alone.

He’s arguing he’s rational, a servant of Islamic vengeance. When the first bombs fell on Afghanistan in October 2001 he vowed “I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Muhammed, peace be upon him.”

Osama bin Laden is of course a stateless mass murderer and he may not long be able to make offers people can’t refuse. But he poses real questions. “In which religion are your killed innocent and our specks of dust? In which sect is your blood (real) blood and ours, water? It is justice to be treated in the same way, and he who initiates injustice is more unjust.” He argues they are human and religious beings. He scapegoats war profiteers who benefit from war and bloodshed. He says they are ‘war traders and vampires who administer world politics from behind the curtain.’

Bin Laden is our enemy because he hates us (there’s no three month truce door for the US) and killed us. We have said he’s a mad dog cowardly monster, killing innocents and loving killing for the sake of killing. We have said he isn’t a real peace-loving Muslim but a jihadist war-loving fanatic. We have said he’s vicious because he doesn’t care if he kills innocents. We have also killed many innocents but we say we’re sorry and didn’t mean to where he says see what it feels like.

Bin Laden may not be hypocritical or sentimental like Sharon and Bush but he speaks the same language of righteous violence and vengeance: “Our actions are reactions to your actions that destroy and kill our people. . . .”


DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: