As of today’s Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, upholding the Trump Administration’s Muslim Ban, it’s official: Osama bin Laden is the single greatest military genius in the history of the world.
Think about it. He was stuck in Afghanistan, under the protection of Medieval warlords in a Medieval country, with nothing to his name but a smattering of Soviet-era small arms, a lot of porn, and a few billion dollars in fungible assets. He believed fervently in uniting the Islamic World against the United States, but there was no military on Earth that could challenge America, let alone one that was hankering to sign on with Osama.
The bigger problem was that all corners of the Arab World were intimately connected with America through military alliances, diplomatic efforts, and the energy industry. Osama spent his youth among the elite of Saudi-occupied Arabia and came across his fair share of Americans in ten-gallon hats. He knew as well as anyone that there couldn’t be a proper clash of civilizations as long as Boeings full of Houstonians were making direct flights to Riyadh, accompanied by a steady flow of Boeing’s precision-guided weapons systems.
The U.S.’s presence in the region spoke to another issue with the whole concept: there wasn’t a unified “Islamic World” to speak of, nor were the divisions in the region caused by external actors who could be pushed out. Sunnis and Shias had been at each others’ throats for over a millennium, and the region’s corrupt autocrats were more interested in killing each other with American weapons than they were in killing Americans. After all, Osama got in on that action himself during his time with the Mujaheddin.
The odds were stacked against him, but Osama bin Laden still had hope. As he looked into the eyes of all those angry young men, seeing them so blinded with rage at the West’s casual indifference to Muslim life that they were willing to kill themselves to end Muslim lives, he had a revelation. He could never defeat America outright, but if he could get Americans as fearful, angry, and unhinged as the boys on his rock-throwing farm team, he could convince America to engage in his apocalyptic war against Islam.
If an operation that cost $750,000 and 19 casualties had merely killed 3,000 civilians, struck at our national symbols, and convinced us to invade Afghanistan, it would’ve been an astounding success. When you consider that the attack gave W an excuse to enter that other unwinnable quagmire in Iraq, or that the fear and rage born on that fateful Tuesday morning gave racists a halfway-acceptable excuse for their irrational antipathy to Obama, or that it lead Donald Trump’s election, it’s clear that 9/11 was a greater military achievement than Thermopylae, Austerlitz, and Midway combined. Face it: UBL is the GOAT.
But Osama didn’t quite talk us into national suicide back in ’01, or at least he hadn’t yet. He freaked us the fuck out, and traumatized our national character in ways we’re only beginning to understand, but the Grinch who stole America didn’t get the reaction he expected when he executed his scheme. As he listened from his cave beneath Mt. Crumpit, to his fury, he heard all the Whos in Whoville coming together at Ground Zero to sing that Islam was a religion of peace and that Al Qaeda’s murderous ideology was a perversion. We were a still secular, liberal democracy, and we would not allow al Qaeda’s terror to redefine us.
Until yesterday, the Muslim Ban was a legally baseless, one-page Word document tossed off by Stevens Bannon and Miller over a lazy Wednesday afternoon. No lawyer had any hand in its creation, so its incongruity with existing law made it an alien presence in our legal system. For eighteen months, the judiciary’s robust immune response isolated the infection, but now our nation’s highest court has effectively codified it into law: America is at war with Islam.
Eighteen years ago, five Republican-appointed justices installed George W. Bush, the man who would fail to stop 9/11 and then use his failure as an excuse to invade Iraq, because he was also a Republican. Yesterday, as an indirect result of that fateful decision, five Republican-appointed justices allowed open racial, ethnic, and religious animus to be re-established in our law. Once again, they acquiesced because the president is also a Republican.
After all, that was the original intent of the “judicial wars,” as we like to call the six-decade Republican effort to install right-wing lunatics on the federal bench to counter the mere presence of Democrats. Conservatives love to spout off about how Democrats began this totally one-sided crusade in 2002, when Ted Kennedy or Pat Leahy held up some point of order that held up some appellate court nomination for a month or something (who the fuck knows), but that’s just an excuse for them not to feel racist.
No, the judicial wars began in 1954, when to his horror, Whitey realized that the forces of justice had somehow breached his last redoubt. Eisenhower assumed that Earl Warren was a fellow traveler who would uphold the Supreme Court’s traditional function as an impregnable bastion of avaricious white devilry. Instead, the Chief Justice did the unthinkable, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and actually implementing the 14th Amendment at long last. They’ll never admit it, but American Conservatism has never really recovered from the trauma of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
That’s why our courts are divided between Democrat-appointed judges with liberal-leaning judicial philosophies, and Republican-appointed judges who wear MAGA hats on the stand and devote their tenure to legally rationalizing Fox News talking points. It’s why Clarence Thomas’s Blackness allowed an accused sexual harasser to barrel through the Judiciary Committee, but Obama’s Blackness prevented Merrick Garland from getting a hearing. Republicans don’t want to have to win elections, and they sure as hell don’t want to use those margins to legislate. In spite of countless protests to the contrary, they want activist judges to do the work for them.
And here they have. A week after issuing an opinion on Masterpiece Cake Shop that cited comments by a state commissioner as evidence that the law was born of anti-religious bigotry, the same five dudes ruled in the same week that Trump’s various Islamophobic bon mots are irrelevant to the establishment of legalized anti-religious bigotry. They’ve returned the Supreme Court to its traditional role: giving the Man whatever the hell he wants.
And like everyone else in the GOP, they’re too committed to the anti-democratic project to stop. They’ve spent decades rigging the game for the sake of their [money], and they have too much inertia to grow a conscience just because the worst person on Earth has parasitized their party and destroyed whatever ideology they once had. They’re simply in too deep to refuse to indulge the bigoted whims of Trump’s base (fun fact: Al Qaeda means “the base” in Arabic).
So game must recognize game, and I must posthumously commend Osama bin Laden for a victory that makes Napoleon look like a bitch. 9/11 achieved its immediate objective when we got bogged down in Afghanistan, but the terror caused that day has finally achieved its long-term objective: to make us forget ourselves, and what we stand for.
To Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kennedy, and of course Senator Mitch McConnell, I’d like to extend my heartiest congratulations. Osama couldn’t have done it without you.