The Policy Behind The Bamboo Screen

      Michael Hoffman has posted the 1998 interview with Osama bin Laden here:  The entire interview is well worth reading.  Nothing in it was more educational to me than this turn of speech by bin Laden:

   "As I said, our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger...After a few blows, it forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers.... I was in Sudan when this happened."

   Tigers of any species, real or paper, are not found in any Islamic land.  Lions are the predator cat used as the symbol of supreme power in Islamic and Semitic countries.  The common metaphor across Saharan Africa and the Middle East in Mohammedan countries for weakness is "a toothless lion."   Especially is this true in the Horn of Africa where lions are a native species in Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan.

   Tigers are an Asiatic cat.  They are found in the Indian sub-continent, Siberia, Southeast Asia and in China.   Paper tigers, along with the eleven other animals of the Chinese Zodiac, can be seen every Chinese New Year in the processions.  The tiger as a cultural motif and as verbal imagery is very much an Asiatic phenomenon.  In these lands with the tiger used as a symbol of great power the antonymical metaphor used for weakness is "a paper tiger".  The  phrase "a paper tiger" was always a favorite of Communist China's as a descriptor for the U.S.A.

   I've already commented on the vast differences between al-Qaeda and all previous Islamic organizations and methods.  Al-Qaeda's structure and tactics so far have seemed to have more in common with the structure and tactics of the communists in Vietnam.   I said I 'felt' a more oriental rather than Semitic mindset directing the overall strategy and tactics.  While the ideological propaganda is keyed to appeal to Islamic and Semitic minds everything else has had a real rice burner feel to it.  I was not surprised to hear bin-Laden use Asiatic instead of Middle Eastern metaphors in his interview.

   An ancient tradition of governance in the Orient is the ruler never shows himself when his power becomes absolute.  The ancient emperors of China thus ruled unseen from behind the walls of the Forbidden City.  Until 1945 Japanese too were not permitted to look upon the Emperor, who was considered a god.  Once Mao Tse Tung secured absolute power he too vanished from public view.  Deng Xiao Ping took this same route, progressively resigning all his public offices (except for chairmanship of the central military commission) and fading from public life like the Cheshire Cat.  In all cases the oriental peoples understood their true rulers were those whose power was so great they didn't have to bother to show themselves.  These were the Men Behind The Bamboo Screens.

   In the West kings and dictators rule with direct speeches issued from balconies to vast crowds.  The greater the power the greater the direct ceremonial display.  In The East the ruler's invisible and omniscient presence instead pervades the entire land and everyone's consciousness.  In a real sense rulers in the East secure their authority by merging themselves with the Godhead.  The Chinese recognize this by their expression for a government that is seen to be losing its power.  They say such a government "has lost the mandate of heaven."

   Governments and rulers operating in such a style don't first announce policies and then carry them out.  They carry out the policies first.  The results subsequently announce themselves and also the ruler's will as already accomplished facts.  It's as impossible to focus popular resistance on such depersonalized governing forces as it is to oppose a typhoon.  Even in the absence of a true supreme ruler Asian governments continue to implement policy first and announce it ex post facto.  This style of governance has the added safeguard of never losing face when policies fail.  They can always be abandoned at any moment since the regime never committed its prestige by announcing the policy.   This is lucky since admitting failure is preparatory to suicide or overthrow for "losing the mandate of heaven."

   I know the above sounds strange.  It's as weird to us as the oriental concept of time.  Whites view time in a linear way, with start and end points.  At the current state of our society these end points are delimited by birth and death for individuals and elections for political figures.  The oriental mind conceives of time as a circle or possibly a waterfall.  It's an infinitely renewable resource, just like people.  It's all so renewable that regimes can view events like killing 5,000 of their own citizens at Tianamen Square as a mere incident of governance.  Incidentally,the Chinese view all non-Chinese as being barbarians, "gaijin".  Given that they consider doing in 5,000 of their own to be of no significance at all, how might they view YOU?  This is a regime that serves up executions and transplantable body parts the way McDonald's serves up cheeseburgers at a drive-thru window.

29 September 2001