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Published:December 2nd, 2009 20:58 EST
A Straight Question on Osama bin Laden, a Tortured Answer

A Straight Question on Osama bin Laden, a Tortured Answer

By Djelloul (Del) Marbrook (Editor/Mentor)

If we had the kind of press a great democracy needs, the newspapers and airwaves would teem with the consternation of scholars of Islam at President Obama`s emerging Afghanistan policy.

Dozens of scholars from our Islamic studies centers would be expressing alarm that could be summarized in a single word: What?

Here`s why. CNN asked Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the President`s National Security Council, a simple question. Is getting Osama bin Laden at the top of our priority list? His response was so tortured as to single-handedly discredit the President`s policy.

Not only did he refuse to man up a straight answer, but in the course of a contortionary explanation he called Afghanistan the wellspring " of Islamic extremism. And so, he concluded, sending more troops and spending money we don`t have is imperative.

What is the man talking about? Even if you believe the government`s official account of the 9/11 attacks on the United States you can`t get around the fact that most of the attackers were Saudi Arabians.

Islamic extremism is pervasive throughout the Muslim world. Its roots are many. The reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, whose teachings form the basis of the Saudi state, is a major influence. Salafi thinking "a strict interpretation of the origins and meaning of Islam "is an even more important influence on extremist thinking. Salafist groups are numerous on the Arabian peninsula, throughout North Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

But neither Abd al Wahhab nor Salafism can be said of themselves to be the cause of terrorism. Rather, it is the interpretation of such teachings by mullahs and imams and instructors in madrasahs that has inspired jihadist terrorism. It can`t even be said that the concept of jihad by itself is the cause of terrorism. And in most cases the money behind these madrasahs is Saudi.

Poverty, hopelessness and social injustice in Muslim countries, coupled with imperialist policies in Israel and here, all have combined to incite terrorist responses.

So what on earth is the chief of staff of the National Security Council talking about? He sounds as misguided as Richard Perle and Dick Cheney. That is exactly the question dozens of our scholars and experts should be asking in tomorrow morning`s newspapers and airwaves. But I`m betting we`ll hear hardly a peep, because getting mired deeper and deeper in Afghanistan is a done deal between politicians, profiteers and generals. And in such a catastrophic mix the generals, however wrong they may be, are the innocent party, because their task is simply to win our wars.

Once the President and his advisers open their mouths about Afghanistan we can pretty much regard health care, education and jobs as pure theater, because there will not be enough money to address any of those problems properly. And the politicians know it. They`re just jerking us around, Democrat and Republican, it makes no difference. They`re dissembling.

If a man like McDonough can be so dead wrong, so blinkered, so waffling, how can this Bush Redux policy be trusted? If we truly believe that Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in Afghanistan, that Afghanistan is its wellspring, God help us. Salafists threaten every government in North Africa. Algeria is engaged in a protracted civil war with its fundamentalists. Iran and Saudi Arabia are run by fundamentalists, and Pakistan has its own homegrown Taliban.

If McDonough believes what he told CNN, he`s a dangerous man "to us, not to our enemies.

The Afghani picture is far more complicated than Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and President Obama have made out. It involves the long-running conflict between India and Pakistan, it involves their dispute over Kashmir, it involves the opium trade, tribalism, corruption, and Iranian connivance. But McDonough would have us believe we`re going in there deeper to pull a few poisonous roots and then we`re coming home. Oh yeah, where have we heard that before? Coffins will be coming home, and big-time profits for the predator class, but we won`t be any more secure than we were the morning of September 11, 2001.

Afghanistan is the playground of conspirators, each with his own agenda. And we`re there to do what? To straighten everything out? To correct thousands of years of history? To resolve the Pakistani-Indian dispute, to settle the Kashmiri issue, to help Pakistan quell its own Taliban, to make a pot of tribes a modern state? What?

The concentrated efforts of Russia, China and the United States together couldn`t do that, and we`re going to try it alone? And if our goal is much more limited, how then do we propose to deal with all these impacting conflicts?

But what do you want to bet the headlines tomorrow morning will be about the usual numbing Republican-Democrat squabbling, the President`s poll numbers, and all the other tidbits that never add up to the big picture? And why will that happen? Because the mainstream press is the handmaiden of an elite whose distance from the rest of us grows by the day.


Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999. 

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.