Idea Of The Day

The Evil Stupidity of Bin Laden and Al-Qaida

Listening to Pakistan’s Gen. Gul, formerly head of that country’s Taliban-friendly intelligence service, express his doubts about the authenticity of the Osama Bin Laden video released yesterday makes one wonder what passes for “intelligence” (in both senses of the word) in certain parts of the world. (To hear Gul’s observations, click the link in the right-hand column of this  BBC page.) Like other skeptics of the video, the general believes the tape has been doctored: that an OBL look-alike has been recruited from an American talent agency or that some smart Caltech animator has been given a free hand to alter images and speech. Now, there’s a theory.

Stupidity, however, is not exclusive to Gen. Gul: It’s also evident in the remarks made by Osama Bin Laden in the newly released video, and it is also a feature of an al-Qaida training manual on how to “infiltrate” the United States (as if you even needed a visa to infiltrate the United States before Sept. 11). In the video, Bin Laden says of the attack on the World Trade Center: “Due to my experience in this field [emphasis added] I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.” What experience can he possibly be referring to? His knowledge of structural engineering learned at a Saudi university? Or his knowledge about bombings and the science of explosions? Either way, Bin Laden is clearly evil and an imbecile. If you destroy three or four floors of a building believing that only the 30 or 40 floors above will crash to the ground, then you clearly know remarkably little about engineering or about bombing. Each floor of the WTC weighed about 2,500 tons, meaning that the floors above the areas destroyed by the two planes (those three or four floors Bin Laden alludes to) weighed at least 75,000 tons and probably rather more when you factor in the office trappings and the antennae on top of WTC North. You do not have to be an engineer to understand that if three or floors of a 110-story building collapse, then not even the sturdiest of structures can accommodate 75,000 tons of steel and concrete crashing into it from above.

Similar stupidity can be found in the terrorist training manual that turned up in Jalalabad last week, as reported by the Washington Post. The manual reveals a knowledge of America that would be considered hilarious and stupid if the intent was not to kill people. As the Post’s Susan B. Glasser writes: “

No detail appears too small to have escaped attention, down to the “normal” underwear an agent should wear and the wrist on which he should put his watch. The notes place painstaking emphasis on covering up telltale signs that an agent is an Islamic fundamentalist. … Deodorant is meant to be used directly on the body, the notes advise, rather than on clothing. … It is important to know the difference between perfume and after-shave, the notes say, and even more significant to know the difference between perfume for men and that for women. “If you will use the female perfume so you will be in big trouble.”

Well, if you are a man you do not get into big trouble in America if you wear women’s perfume—even John Ashcroft’s new anti-terrorism measures have absolutely nothing to say on such olfactory related matters.