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Osama Bin Laden’s Bookshelf Reflects His Fixation on West

A note from Al:

Notice Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf. It had a few mainstream political science books like Paul Kennedy’s classic The Rise and Fall of Great Powers which warned against U.S. overreaching and Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward. Most interesting are the presence of conspiracy books including one written by a Holocaust denier. In Egypt they still publish The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery turn of the century Czarist Russia. This last generation of jihadists are a product of very limited educational experience and openness to the whole of created reality. Their education in America would be considered cranky and cultic for the most part. They have no interest in the humanities and no real appreciation for history unless told from their narrow Islamic perspective. They see themselves as an aggrieved and victimized people and this warps their view of the world and us. Take a look. – Al Kresta



Among the books, periodicals and letters found in Osama bin Laden’s hide-out in Pakistan was a copy of the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer’s 2004 book, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,” which describes the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.”

Also in his library was a copy of Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy-minded book “America’s ‘War on Terrorism,’ ” which argued that 9/11 was simply a pretext for American incursions into the Middle East, and that Bin Laden was nothing but a boogeyman created by the United States.

It should not come as a surprise that the terrorist leader was concerned with his legacy and world image — after all, he was famously recordedwatching video of himself on television. Holed up in Abbottabad for perhaps as long as five years without an Internet connection, Bin Laden had plenty of time to read about himself, Al Qaeda and his enemy, the United States.

Bin Laden learned English at an elite Western-style high school in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, where he was by most accounts a serious, sober student, and his library suggests that he spent his last years in hiding as a student again — but a student of terrorism, fixated on American imperialism.

The declassified list released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence includes art books (“Arabic Calligraphy Workshop”) and health books (“Grappler’s Guide to Sports Nutrition”) described as “documents probably used by other compound residents.” Bin Laden’s books, however, appear pretty much work-related — little or no recreational reading, it seems, for the Qaeda leader.

Some of the books are mainstream history or journalism: “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, “The United States and Vietnam 1787-1941” by Robert Hopkins Miller. Others are conspiracy-mongering tomes like “Bloodlines of the Illuminati” by Fritz Springmeier, “The Taking of America, 1-2-3” by Richard Sprague, and “Secrets of the Federal Reserve” by Eustace Mullins, a Holocaust denier.

There are two works by Bin Laden’s early mentor, Abdullah Azzam (“The Defense of Muslim Lands” and “Join the Caravan”), about jihad.

There is also a sizable cache of documents relating to France, such as “Wage Inequality in France” and “France on Radioactive Waste Management, 2008.” And there are books by the left-wing writers Greg Palast (“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”) and Noam Chomsky (“Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance”) that Bin Laden probably thought ratified some of his own views about American imperial ambitions and corporate corruption.

While stuck in Abbottabad, Bin Laden seems to have been studying publicly available United States government documents and articles and radical publications. He also read Foreign Policy magazine articles and RAND Corporation studies on counterinsurgency, trying to keep a handle on the war on terrorism he had set off.

His bookshelf is a weird hodgepodge. It’s hard to know how complete a list it is, and whether he requested certain books from aides, or if aides sent him works they thought he might like or that might influence his thinking.

The declassified letters and correspondence reflect Bin Laden’s managerial concerns — Al Qaeda had become a kind of giant corporation. His self-prescribed syllabus included works on global issues, like climate change, and ran a spectrum from historical works to crackpot conspiracy tracts.

The eclectic nature of the list speaks to both Bin Laden’s reach as Al Qaeda’s leader and his limitations as an international fugitive; his ambitions to think globally and his naïve susceptibility to theorists who talk conspiracy to explain the perfidies of the West; his fascination with America and his determination to find new ways to attack it by trying to understand the dynamics of its political and economic systems.

As Steve Coll wrote in his compelling biography of the Bin Laden family, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century”: “Osama was not a stranger to the West,” having grown up in one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families and traveled abroad, “but by age 15, he had already erected a wall against their allures. He felt implicated by the West, and by its presence in his own family, and yet, as he would demonstrate in the years ahead, he lacked a sophisticated or subtle understanding of Western society and history. He used his passport, but he never really left home.”

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