by Roger Kimball
Has the TikTok Left just jumped the shark?
Well, yes. Imagine seizing on Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to the American People” as a revelation to justify your wounded adolescent narcissism and historical ignorance? This past week, a bunch of videos from the Chinese owned data-hoovering and propaganda-peddling app took the meme-world by storm by showering some love on the defunct Islamic terrorist and kicking America in the process. Quoth one fragile female as she brushed her teeth: “Trying to go back to life as normal after reading Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ and realizing everything we learned about the Middle East, 9/11, and ‘terrorism’ was a lie.” Another client of this new experiment in juvenile mind control bleated that the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks taught her that America was a “plague on the entire world.”
Those videos were watched by tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. Millions — millions! — have searched for bin Laden’s paean to Jew-hatred, radical Islamic theocracy, and contempt for America. The Guardian newspaper, which had published a transcript of Osama’s letter back in 2002 when it first appeared, took it down because, an editorial note explains, it “had been widely shared on social media without the full context.” Ah, “context.” Patient readers can still avail themselves of the 4,000-word lunatic effusion here. I offer two brief snippets, chosen more or less at random (slice him where you will, as Bertie Wooster observed, a hellhound is still a hellhound), just to give readers a little taste of the surreal world we’re talking about:
The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you [i.e., Americans] are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily. [My italics, but bin Laden’s emphasis.]
So what, as Lenin memorably asked, is to be done? Bin Laden does not disappoint.
The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam. . . . complete submission to His [Allah’s] Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). . . It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind. . .
Et very much cetera.
In some ways, the letter is run-of-the-mill Protocols-of-the-Elders-of-
That may buy the company a little time in the court of public opinion. But more and more Americans, I suspect, have come around to Josh Hawley’s perspective about TikTok. It is, he just said on X, “a spy app for the Chinese Government—and now it’s a hotspot for antisemitic, pro-Hamas propaganda.”
Bingo. Sen. Hawley got it in one. The sudden resurrection of Osama bin Laden did not take place in a vacuum. It is happening in the midst of a recrudescence in America of an anti-Semitism more vicious than anything seen in decades in this country, maybe ever. The large-scale pro-Hamas public demonstrations are startling in their size and virulence. Equally shocking are the displays of violent (and, it should be noted, historically illiterate) anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.
It is curious how people romanticize evil and insanity. The habit, I believe, is born in part of naiveté, or at least inexperience. The college student who prances about in a T-shirt bearing the image of Che Guevara, for example, generally has no idea of what a malignant figure Che was, how treacherous, how cruel, how murderous. He sees only a handsome “freedom fighter” swaddled in the gauze of exotic Latin flamboyance. The grubby reality escapes her entirely. Ditto with respect to Hamas.
The knotty French philosopher Simone Weil saw deeply into this phenomenon when she observed that “imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.” Weil understood the converse as well: “Imaginary good,” she wrote, “is boring, real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Something similar can be said about sanity, what David Hume rightly extolled as “the calm sunshine of the mind.” Madness seems like an adventure only if you do not have to contend with it.
To some extent, the flirtation with evil we see coruscating through the hearts and minds of the constitutionally gullible is just an updated exfoliation of the same sort of raised-fist anti-American animus one saw in among the coddled classes in the the 1960s and 1970s. It is all of a piece with the radicalism of such egregious paragons of prattle as Jane Fonda, Angela Davis, and Susan Sontag. “The truth is,” Sontag wrote in one notorious essay, “that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.” (It is perhaps worth noting that Sontag later regretted that famous last phrase because, she said, it was “unfair to cancer.)”
My sense, however, is that a changed world has made changes in the nature of the radical assaults we see cropping up everywhere in the Western world. An uptick in anti-Semitism is always a sort of canary in the political mine, a reliable indication of brewing mischief. It is a curious fact, not without irony, that anti-Semitism is generally a feature of radical Left-wing activism. The sobering contingency this time is that anti-Semitism is not just a component, a leitmotif, of the protests but almost its main theme. It’s happened before, of course, but it did not end at all well.
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art’s Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).
Photo “Osama bin Laden” by LindG 27 CC4.0.