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Al-Qaida and the "Nutty Professor"

By Bill King
web posted May 26, 2003

Over the years I've found that keeping up with the arguments of the radical left can be a great source of comic relief. And lately there's been plenty to chuckle at, as it seems that the left is going out of its way to prove itself not just wrong but spectacularly wrong.

But while I've been following the misadventures of the left for almost two decades, I've just recently come across what has to be the most ridiculous article ever written. And it deserves some recognition, since outdoing the recent ravings of the left is no easy task -- as anyone who has read Counterpunch or listened to Tim Robbins lately can attest.

The article in question is entitled "Where has Al Queda disappeared? Where has the 'terrorist conspiracy' gone?", and was written in early April by my favorite armchair revolutionary, James Petras, a professor emeritus at SUNY-Binghamton who makes Nicholas DeGenova (he of the "million Mogadishus" comment) look like a flag-waving patriot.

James Petras
Petras at the mic

There are many reasons why this particular article clinched the award for the Silliest Left-Wing Article of All Time. But I have to admit that as I did research on Petras, I ended up giving him a lot of points even before taking this particular article into account. Here's why….

Surfing through a variety of radical sites on the internet, it turns out that Petras is something of a far-left celebrity. On some sites he's considered a Marxist version of Chomsky -- and that's not meant as an insult. Although, judging from Petras' disdain for Chomsky (he's a "moralist") he would no doubt take it as one… Ten points awarded right off the bat.

A prolific and long time Latin Americanist, Petras was lauded back in 2000 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) -- who recently assassinated an American and still hold three others hostage -- for having written an "excellent book" uncovering the evils of "neo-liberalism". Approval from terrorists? More points again.

More recently, Petras had the following take on Castro's crackdown on Cuban dissidents: "Cuba is justified in giving its attackers [sic] a kick in the balls and sending them to cut sugar cane to earn an honest living"…. And this in an article entitled The Responsibility of the Intellectuals! As wacky as this is though, it's also a change from the type of gender-neutral, PC, double-speak that one hears from radical academics these days, so I have to admit that I gave him a few more points for the "colourful" imagery, as well as for the outrageousness of his stance.

But even though Petras was already way ahead of everyone else on points, his al-Qaida article won my award strictly on its own merits. The central thesis of the article, and this from a professor out of New York State of all places, is that al-Qaida doesn't exist. Yes, you read right. Not that it has been weakened so badly by the war on terror that it's as if it didn't exist, but that it never existed. Instead, the network was "…fabricated by Washington to justify previous plans designed by Wolfowitz and Perle (1992, 1998) to conquer the Middle East." And he's just getting started….

Proving that it's not only French intellectuals who can make utter fools of themselves with crazy conspiracy theories and still get published, Petras goes on to say in the article that he "does not exclude" the possibility that 9/11 was carried out not by al-Qaida but by… the Bush administration itself! Now that's insane… actually really insane… so he got major points here as well as some bonus points for sheer chutzpah.

Further on, Petras argues that, "Since 9/11 there has not been a single major successful terrorist incident in North America or Europe", and that this is evidence that al-Qaida never existed. Hmm… Let me see if I get this right... According to Petras' logic, the more successful we are in the war on terror and in reducing al-Qaida's ability to strike, the more that actually proves that al-Qaida never existed and is really just an invention designed to smokescreen our imperial designs…. All I can say to this is: bring on the points!

But leaving aside the absurdity of arguing that a terrorist network only exists if it is constantly carrying out "major and successful" operations, the claim -- made twice in his article -- that only successful attacks in North America and Europe can prove that al-Qaida exists, shows an implicit racism that's surprising coming from a self-proclaimed Marxist. What about the al-Qaida attacks since 9/11 in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? More points awarded here for managing to slight nearly everyone on the planet within the confines of a relatively short article.

Now just as I'm writing this article, it appears that, tragically, al-Qaida or an al-Qaida linked group has struck again, this time in Saudi Arabia. Stepping back for a moment from the outrage that one feels when these attacks occur, it made me wonder about Petras, and whether this would lead him to revise his thesis. But I doubt it. After all, good Marxists will rarely change their views for something as meaningless as empirical facts… And of course, the attack didn't occur in North America or Europe.

No, in the end, I'm comfortable that the right person won my award. An outrageous argument, a conspiracy theory, circular reasoning, implicit racism… it's all there. While it may be tempting to write Petras off as someone out of touch with reality, I think it's much better to celebrate him for what he is: the author of the Silliest Left-Wing Article of All Time. Congratulations, Professor!

Bill King is a long time observer of the radical left around the world.

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