Is a holy war against the five-planet lifestyles of the West Justified?
April 19 – 25 is Digital Detox Week. Here’s some inspiration for your digital cleanse.
In January 2010, as the war against terrorism dragged into its ninth year, the ideological leader of the mujahideen issued a statement that could have been drafted by any Western environmentalist: “Talk of climate change isn’t extravagant speculation: It is a tangible fact that is not diminished by its being muddled by some greedy heads of major corporations.” Osama bin Laden then declared that “there must be accountability and punishment for those who head the major corporations and their political proxies, so that they stop their harmful actions against humanity.”
Hearing the “enemy” express sentiments so similar to our own inner thoughts is challenging. The momentum of environmentalism is stalling, co-opted by industrialists selling the toxic cleaning agents for their own pollutants and by celebrity politicians who smile for paparazzi while sabotaging global accords. Bin Laden’s words breathe a new sense of intensity and potency into a complacent movement because behind his rhetoric – which sounds so much like our own – are terrifying deeds.
Environmentalism has always had a militant shadow. It is apparent in the seminal works of Edward Abbey, whose oeuvre encompasses nature writing at its most philosophically profound (Desert Solitaire), obstinately righteous (Fire on the Mountain) and passionately violent (The Monkey Wrench Gang). The last, of course, inspired the formation of Earth First! and continues to inform sporadic Earth Liberation Front actions. But until now environmental militancy has been minimal, recruitment constrained by its bourgeois Western origins.
Bin Laden’s clarion call changes all that. It marks the beginning of a holy war against the West that many Western environmentalists may come to endorse. Post-Copenhagen it is clear that our nominally democratic society is under the sway of a corporatist, obstructionist oligarchy whose fat cats will jettison any sustainable vision of the future if it hurts their bottom line. And therein lies the significance of bin Laden’s speech: While one can argue divisively about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the potential for democracy in the Middle East and the viability of alternatives to capitalism, it is both unarguable and unifying that humanity is hurtling toward a precipitous climate catastrophe.
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. And with a political biography eerily reminiscent of Emmanuel Goldstein from George Orwell’s 1984, one must wonder whether bin Laden is actually dead, a creation of the CIA or simply the pseudonym for a group of jihadist writers. The importance of bin Laden’s words, however, is not what they portend for his future but what they suggest for ours.
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.
And when that happens, we will look back on the day we were first exposed to bin Laden’s environmental plea and know that it 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.
Micah White is a contributing editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is currently writing a book about the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or www.junkthought.org