Tags: thieves of state | corruption | global society | sarah chayes | excerpt

Violent Extremists: Excerpt from 'Thieves of State: How Corruption Threatens Global Society'

By    |   Monday, 09 Feb 2015 02:31 PM

Excerpt from the book Thieves of State: How Corruption Threatens Global Society by Sarah Chayes

Even to suggest the following equivalency—including the proposition that violence in both cases grew out of legitimate grievances—may seem offensive to many Americans. But more than a dozen years after 9/11, the events of that day are now entering the realm of history. And to subject them, as historical events, to the type of critical analysis that episodes from earlier times and more distant places receive, is not to dishonor or belittle the victims.

Abstracted from that painful psychological context, the resemblance between the language Al Qaeda uses to explain its violence, and that of the earlier Protestant insurrectionaries castigating the acute corruption of the Catholic Church and its royalist allies, is unmistakable.

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In a video sent to the Al-Jazeera cable television network in late fall of 2004, for example, Osama bin Laden emphasized the kleptocratic practices of Arab rulers—and U.S. officials’ emulation of them—as he sought to correct what he saw as Americans’ misunderstanding of the motivation behind the 9/11 attacks.

“Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th,” Bin Laden said, “Bush is still . . . hiding from you the real causes.” Among those causes, he listed U.S. support for the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and both Gulf wars. The aim of the 2003 war in Iraq, he emphasized, was “to replace [an old agent] with a new puppet to assist in the pilfering of Iraq’s oil.”

Then Bin Laden began analyzing the George W. Bush administration, which resembled, in his view, “the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military, and the other half . . . by the sons of kings and presidents.” And those leaders—of Arab military dictatorships and Gulf monarchies alike—are “characterized by pride, arrogance, greed and misappropriation of wealth.”

President George W. Bush’s long friendship with these kleptocratic Arab rulers, Bin Laden told Americans, gave him an opportunity to observe their corruption, the impunity with which they were committing it, and the lack of any means of appeal or redress. Bush, Bin Laden suggested, “became envious of their remaining decades in their positions, to embezzle the public wealth of the nation without supervision or accounting.”

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The theme of corruption also dominates a 2009 video interview disseminated by Al Qaeda’s media division. Here Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Bin Laden at the head of the organization, declared:

Regimes that are corrupt, rotten, and allied with the Crusaders . . . have tried to be secretive about the uprising and the jihadist anger. . . . [The uprising] defends the stolen Muslim rights and their honors that are being violated by those regimes every day. . . . Popular awareness is more convinced, now, that these corrupt and rotten regimes are the reason behind economic injustice and corruption, the political oppression, and social detachment.

Other Al Qaeda publications dissect the details of public corruption scandals, such as a 2006 Saudi deal to buy seventy-two Eurofighter jets, which allegedly included BAE Systems’ gift of a lavish honeymoon for the daughter of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then secretary general of the UN Security Council.

Through application of the “command responsibility” principle that served as the basis for convicting King Charles I, that figures in so many Mirrors for Princes, and that explains why Afghans hold Washington responsible for the Karzai government’s behavior, Bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures blamed the United States for the corruption of their own rulers.

Abd al-Rahman Atiya, killed in a drone strike in 2011, conceded that the 9/11 attacks had been launched because of hatred for some aspects of Western culture, but the main rationale was the U.S. role enabling Arab kleptocracies.

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Yes we hate the corruptive financial lifestyle that does not please God . . . But . . . the more important reason is their . . . appointing collaborative regimes for them in our countries. Then they support these regimes and corruptive governments against their people, who demand freedom and want to abide by Islam.

This Western support for Middle Eastern kleptocracies was “the real reason that pushed the mujahideen to carry out these blessed attacks.”

Atiya went on to blast the aspects of Western culture he deemed most objectionable—excesses that have seemed especially pronounced since the 1990s: “It is a corrupt, wayward, and unjust system . . . based on beastly behavior, and seven principles: greed, gluttony, injustice, selfishness, extreme materialism, abandonment of religion.”

In this context—and recalling the history of Dutch Protestants ran¬sacking the physical manifestations of Catholic kleptocracy—the choice of the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, near Wall Street, as the target of the 9/11 attacks may take on an enhanced meaning. Perhaps Al Qaeda’s main intent was not to kill large numbers of Americans so much as to visit a spectacular symbolic punishment upon the manifestations of what it saw as a criminal kleptocracy that controlled the most powerful instruments of force on earth. Perhaps Al Qaeda was in fact commit¬ting an act of iconoclasm: replicating the kind of sentences that the 1566 Protestants executed on churches and articles of devotion the length and breadth of the Low Countries.

These roughly comparable instances, from different centuries and religions, exemplify a persistent relationship between corruption and religious extremism. In periods of acute, self-serving behavior on the part of public leaders, Christians and Muslims alike have often sought a corrective in strict codes of personal behavior derived from the precepts of puritanical religion. And they have imposed it, if necessary, by force.

Those who object to this remedy should look for other ways to cure the cause.

Excerpt from the book Thieves of State: How Corruption Threatens Global Society by Sarah Chayes. Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Chayes. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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President George W. Bush’s long friendship with these kleptocratic Arab rulers, Bin Laden told Americans, gave him an opportunity to observe their corruption, the impunity with which they were committing it, and the lack of any means of appeal or redress.
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