Sunday, September 04, 2005

Praxywatch: Mohammad Sidique Khan

On Thursday, Sept. 1, Al Jazeera broadcast a video tape featuring suspected 7/7 London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan attempting to justify his actions to the world. Like Osama Bin Laden's well-publicized video messages, Khan's tape should be considered enemy propaganda and analyzed accordingly.

There's nothing too remarkable about the way Khan presents himself: he wears a headscarf, sits before a red-and-white striped quilt hanging in the background, and speaks with a distinct Leodensian accent. The quote most of the papers and news sites like to reproduce is this one:
"Your democratically elected governments continually perpetrate atrocities against my people all over the world. Your support makes you directly responsible. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation."
Um, okay. Let's begin with a little elementary moral philosophy: are you telling me, Mr. Khan, that all citizens in a democracy are capitally culpable for the actions of their leaders? That justification would border on the absurd if its consequences weren't so deadly serious. In fact, I'm not even sure he's being honest here--a more likely story is that this particular method of political communication was chosen strictly for its expediency and newsworthiness.

We all know the moral case holds no water; so what else does this tape tell us? What is Khan trying to get us to do? On the face of things, it would appear as though he's trying to get Britons to elect a government that won't "perpetuate atrocities against [his] people." But a moment's reflection is all it takes to realize that a nation full of citizens weak-willed enough to be cowed by terrorist attacks isn't long for this world. I wasn't able to locate a complete copy of the recording, so I don't know whether Khan enumerated his grievances specifically. But if he didn't, how was his audience supposed to know how to vote even if they wanted to appease him and his ilk? It's extremely disheartening to think that Khan might have thrown his life away without thinking more than a single step down the chain of consequences stemming from his attack.

Khan's statement dovetails with Fred Kaplan's brief review of three contemporary research studies on suicide bombing: the studies all agree that the young al-Qaeda-inspired footsoldiers are predominantly fighting to expel Western democracies from their native lands. In the case of Iraq, it's interesting that Khan doesn't seem to realize that the US military is all that's standing between that nation's current state and all-out civil war, which would certainly entail great losses of Arab life. And if by "atrocities" he's referring to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, few people in the public or the governments of the offending nations endorsed the abuses perpetrated there.

The Western citizenry finds Islamist violence inscrutable enough as it is, and people like Khan only make things worse for his fellow Arabs and Muslims. By giving his audience no incentive, let alone prescription, for action, he further confirms the logical and moral poverty of his movement. His designs on trying to sway public opinion have come to naught. Even as an Islamist war opponent, Khan could have done his cause much better as a living, nonviolent activist.