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In times of war (yes, we are at war), even governments engaged in noble aims (and yes, our government’s aims are noble) make mistakes. Last week, our government made a significant one. In the wake of the taped remarks by Osama bin Laden broadcast right after the U.S. and Britain commenced air strikes, White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice urged the five major television news organizations to refrain from airing unedited messages by bin Laden. Initially, the White House stated that the purpose for the request was concern that the broadcasts could be used to send coded messages to terrorists. That seemed a dubious rationale. If hidden messages existed, they could easily be disseminated by foreign networks and over the Internet. When she actually conferred with the executives, Rice didn’t even try that argument. Instead, according to the president of NBC News, she expressed concern that “here was a charismatic speaker who could arouse anti-American sentiment.” Put bluntly, Condoleezza Rice did not want the American public exposed to bin Laden’s ideas. This was a mistake. We are at war with this creature and with the ideas he represents. We had better listen to him. And we had better know how to respond to him. Totalitarian societies may be able to fight wars without thinking. Free societies cannot. Free societies need to know what they are fighting for and what they are fighting against. In his taped message, bin Laden condemned U.S. policy toward Iraq and Israel, and then issued this warning: “I swear by God, who has elevated the skies without pillars, neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine, and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him.” It is worth noting that if bin Laden were subject to our law, his statements would be protected under the First Amendment. Brandenburg v. Ohio established that otherwise protected speech may not be punished unless it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Bin Laden’s statement was a prediction of the harm that would befall America as a result of its Middle East policies, not an actual incitement to anyone to inflict that harm. Left-wing idiots like Amos Brown, Susan Sontag and Michael Moore have already said much the same thing, and their speech is protected. (For that matter, right-wing idiots like Jerry Falwell have also blamed America’s supposed sins for the Sept. 11 attacks — but Falwell, at least, apologized.) Now this is war, not litigation, and of course Osama bin Laden is not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. But while constitutional law may be irrelevant to our struggle, the policy reasons underlying that law are not. Those policy reasons recognize that the most effective way to combat dangerous ideas is not to suppress them, but to refute them. Suppressing them does not help. The ideas seep out anyway, with a patina of legitimacy embossed upon them by the very attempt at suppression. During World War II, when we faced a far more powerful military threat from Adolf Hitler, no contemporary Rice asked the country’s major publishers to refrain from selling “Mein Kampf.” During the Cold War, when we faced a pernicious ideological threat, no Rice urged bookstores to remove “Das Kapital” from their shelves. In suppressing bin Laden’s speech, there is a danger that some in this country may surmise that the only thing wrong with him is the terroristic means he employs. During the dark days when we were losing the Cold War, it was fashionable in academic circles to say that communism was essentially good — and that only the means employed by the communists were bad. We did not win the Cold War until we caught on to the fact that communism itself was evil — not just in its means, but in its ends. We already know that terrorism’s methods are evil. We ought to know that its ends are, too. Let’s examine those ends. Bin Laden offered two justifications for the Sept. 11 attacks. First, he cited U.S. policy toward Iraq: “Millions of innocent children are being killed as I speak.” Second, he cited U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: “Israeli tanks infest Palestine — in Jenin, Ramallah, Rafah, Beit Jalla and other places in the land of Islam — and we don’t hear anyone raising his voice or moving a limb.” Our government should be glad to publicize the fact bin Laden allies himself with Saddam Hussein. No living man has killed as many Muslims as Saddam has. In the ’70s and ’80s, he destroyed more than 3,000 Kurdish villages. In 1989, he used chemical weapons against his own people, the only time in history such weapons have been used against Arabs. In the town of Halabja alone, about 5,000 civilians were killed — roughly equivalent to the number of deaths in New York. When he invaded his neighbor Kuwait, he killed thousands of noncombatants. All of these attacks were against Arab civilians; all indiscriminately killed women and children. Bin Laden cited our sanctions policy. Our government should be glad to publicize how Saddam has exploited that policy to his own advantage. Under the oil-for-food policy, Saddam’s clique has enriched itself selling medicines to hospitals at exorbitant prices. In 1999, according to Forbes, his personal wealth was estimated at $6 billion. Since the Gulf War, he has spent over $2 billion on presidential palaces, some containing man-made lakes and waterfalls — while his country has suffered drought. Bin Laden cited “Israeli tanks” in Jenin, Ramallah, Rafah and Beit Jalla. Bin Laden is a latecomer to concern for Palestinians. But lateness is relative. The Arab world never cared about a Palestinian state during the centuries of rule by the Ottoman Turks, during the years of the British Mandate, or during the decades of Egyptian and Jordanian administration. Only since 1967, when Israel conquered those territories in a war of self-defense, has this become an issue. Our government should be glad to publicize the fact that at Camp David, Israel, with America’s backing, offered to give the Palestinian National Authority 95 percent of the land it claimed, land that included every place mentioned by bin Laden. But, of course, bin Laden, to the extent he thinks about Palestinians at all, is not concerned with establishing a Palestinian state that might co-exist peacefully with Israel. His aim is to eradicate Israel altogether. Not because Israel is Jewish, but because Israel is Western. Bin Laden wants the West — specifically, Western ideas — out of the Middle East. Our nation is a Western nation, wedded to concepts of individual liberty and dignity. It is no accident of military strategy that Great Britain joined us in the Afghan campaign. We are both free societies founded on the rule of law, and that common inheritance makes us steadfast allies. Israel is also a Western nation, Middle Eastern in geography only. It was founded on the same ideals of government by consent that the United States was founded on. In all of the Middle East, the only Arabs who enjoy freedom of speech and the right to vote are Israeli Arabs. Bin Laden hates Israel for the same reasons he hates America. Our government should not be afraid to say so. In his fevered mind, there is no place for Western notions of individual rights and religious tolerance. His goal is a return to the Dark Ages, but with an ironic twist. In the Dark Ages, the Christian world subsisted in superstitious ignorance, while the Islamic world advanced in progress and tolerance. Osama bin Laden may hate the West, but he envies it its Dark Ages and he will drag his world — and ours — back down to those times if he can. This is his message. This is what we are called upon to fight. We will do so with better cheer knowing not just our enemy’s means, but its aims. Lawrence J. Siskind, of San Francisco’s Harvey Siskind Jacobs, specializes in intellectual property law. He can be reached at [email protected]

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