Anarchists, Bin Laden, and the Environment

Back in January, Osama bin Laden released one of his enigmatic audio recordings (in the form of a video) urging the people of the world to turn against the United States on environmental grounds, in particular that the U.S. was largely responsible for climate change.  (HOTEL TANGO to Charles Cameron for showing me where the English language transcript could be found.)

Anarchist News has just re-posted an item entitled “Environmental Jihad” (which originally appeared here) expressing dismay at Bin Laden’s posting.  On the one hand, the author, Micah White, agrees with Bin Laden’s environmental critique.  On the other hand, he admits that “hearing the ‘enemy’ express sentiments so similar to our own inner thoughts is challenging.”  “Bin Laden’s clarion call…marks the beginning of a holy war against the West that many Western environmentalists may come to endorse.”  Yet, “It is, of course, a highly suspect proposition that anyone in good conscience could rally behind bin Laden. He has blood on his hands that can never be washed off, no matter how green the water.”

Perhaps trying to psychologically wriggle himself out of agreeing with such a man, White even expresses some skepticism about Bin Laden’s actual existence, comparing him to 1984‘s enigmatic and elusive but hated Emma Goldstein.

He concludes:

There seem to be two possible scenarios that could prevent civilization’s collapse. One is that we continue the scientific-materialist project: Embrace geoengineering wholeheartedly and hope that an entirely unnatural synthetic world can save us. The other possibility – and the one that seems increasingly likely – is that a charismatic member of the mujahideen will arise to deliver a challenge that resonates with the materially poor and the spiritually wealthy of every nation of the world.

As of this writing, there are no particularly cogent comments on the piece, but I find it interesting how the ultimate superficiality of Bin Laden’s appeal is immediately evident to White, as sound as the Bin Laden’s critique arguably may be in itself.  However, I am slightly alarmed that White thinks that Bin Laden’s appeal “was the beginning of a new era of solidarity between those who have rejected consumerism and the five billion others who never had a choice.”  White presumably knows more about the environmentalist world than I, and certainly politics is seeing some very strange bedfellows these days.  That said, I’m not aware that other radical environmentalists have actually found inspiration in Bin Laden’s words.  Furthermore, the “five billion others” have yet to rally to Bin Laden’s cause on environmental grounds or others.

I’m tempted to say that this issue bears watching.  However, I bet that Bin Laden and the Salafi jihadists will not return to environmentalist issue anytime soon, so ultimately this may just be an uncomfortable moment for some people in the environmental and anarchist movements.

UPDATE 4/24: There are about 25 comments on this post now.  Most went off on a tangent, but I reprint two that are interesting, read the original posting a little differently from the way I do, and give a taste of what discussion is like on

f[…] you adbusters. ally with religious fundamentalists? you and your bourgeois luddism make me want to barf. leave the junk thought in berkeley where it belongs please, and leave radicalism to the radicals.


brilliant! why, this could be even more successful than the alliance with Stalin!

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 10:41 AM  Comments (3)  

The Latest from Anarchist News

Anarchist News has some interesting recent articles.

First, they reprint (almost certainly without permission) an article from the New York Times about flash mobs in Philadelphia.  What makes the Philadelphia flash mobs interesting is that they’ve been engaging in violence, albeit low-level violence: vandalism, pushing people around, etc.

I’ve been wondering for a long time when this was finally going to happen.  (Or DID it happen recently in Iran?  That’s not clear to me, perhaps some readers know.)  In any event flash mobs seemed to me the sort of thing that disgruntled and/or maladjusted people could not leave forever to people who only want to recreate Backstreet Boys’ choreography.  The comments on the article include a variety of different perspectives over how these youths are setting a good example (or not) and whether they require an anarchist “vanguard” to point them in the right direction.

Second, Anarchist News has a story about how three masked individuals, apparently radical vegans, attacked a speaker at the recent 15th Annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair with pies made from hot sauce and cayenne pepper.  (Youtube has many postings with video of the incident.  See e.g. here.)  The speaker who was speaking about the dangers of veganism and who herself is not an anarchist, apparently went to the police about the matter.  Anarchist News asked its readers for information about the attack and the perpetrators and said they would pass the information along to the woman who was attacked.

This led to a very lengthy discussion in the comments section.  Some people castigated Anarchist News for in effect going to and cooperating with the police.  A number of them said that a more appropriate response would simply be to find the perpetrators and beat them.  Other people seemed much less adamant on the point.  Another major theme in the thread is whether it is acceptable to attack women and children.  Some said this is beyond the pale while others argued that it was sexist to accord women exemption from attack when they deserved it.  Also many posters express a great deal of disdain for vegans in general.  The whole thread shows an impressive lack of conceptual coherence in anarchism, at least as represented by Anarchist News’ readers.  In fact, the whole thread ended generating so much more heat than light that one commenter indicated that the FBI wouldn’t need to mount “COINTELPRO” operations against the anarchists because the anarchists were so highly skilled at infighting and rendering themselves ineffectual.

Left Bank Books near Pike Place Market in Seattle (photo: schwartzray)

The third piece that caught my eye was of rather more personal interest.  Left Bank Books, a longtime landmark of Seattle’s Pike Place Market area will  have to close for up to three months for “earthquake retrofitting.”  There is concern that they may not survive.  While it would be more than fair to say that my politics do not accord with the politics of the proprietors, I will be sad if the store doesn’t make it.  Not only is it an integral part of one of my favorite areas of my favorite city (I grew up in the Seattle area) but I’ve spent a lot of money there.  Most of the books I own dealing with Marxism and radical leftism I purchased there.  The very earnest people there were always willing to sell me books about the Baader-Meinhof gang and such.  I have often wondered if they would have sold me books had they known that I’m an alum of the CIA.  Speaking for myself, I have a hard time disliking anybody who sells me books.  In addition, of course, though I admit to frequenting Border’s Books, I do lament the almost complete disappearance of independent bookstores.  Every independent bookstore has its own vibe and when it’s gone that vibe can never be recaptured.  On those grounds alone, I hope that Left Bank Books survives.