[Mb-civic] The Author Who Got A Big Boost From bin Laden - Washington Post

William Swiggard swiggard at comcast.net
Sun Jan 22 03:03:11 PST 2006

The Author Who Got A Big Boost From bin Laden
Historian 'Glad' of Mention As Sales of Book Skyrocket

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006; C01

Twenty-four hours after Osama bin Laden told the world that the American 
people should read the work of a little-known Washington historian, 
William Blum was still adjusting.

Blum, who at 72 is accustomed to laboring in relative left-wing 
obscurity, checked his emotions and pronounced himself shocked and, 
well, pleased.

"This is almost as good as being an Oprah book," he said yesterday 
between telephone calls from the world media and bites of a bagel. "I'm 
glad." Overnight, his 2000 work, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's 
Only Superpower," had become an Osama book.

In gray slacks, plaid shirt and black slippers, Blum padded around his 
one-bedroom apartment on Connecticut Avenue. A portrait of the Brooklyn 
Dodgers in the '50s hung on his kitchen wall. Bookshelves bowed under 
the weight of secret histories of the CIA. The cord on his prehistoric 
phone let him roam across the living room. He'd already done CNN and 
MSNBC. A guy from the New York Post knocked on the door to take 
pictures. The BBC rang, then Reuters and Pacifica Radio stations on both 

 From Blum's end of the conversations, you could tell the reporters were 
expecting him to express some kind of discomfort, remorse, maybe even 
shame. Blum refused to acknowledge feelings he did not have.

"I was not turned off by such an endorsement," he informed a New York 
radio station. "I'm not repulsed, and I'm not going to pretend I am." He 
patiently reiterated the thesis of his foreign-policy critique -- that 
American interventions abroad create enemies.

You could almost hear the ticking of a stopwatch. These were Blum's 15 
American minutes, brought to him by a murderous zealot on the other side 
of the world who had named him to a kind of Terrorists Book-of-the-Month 
Club. The CIA duly verified the audiotape from bin Laden, and there it 
was: Blum had a bona fide book blurb from the evil one.

Now it was time for the soft-spoken, bespectacled radical son of 
Brooklyn to look thoughtful for the cameras -- "I don't have a good 
smile" -- and sound pithy for the microphones. Better known in radical 
circles and on the college lecture circuit than he is among most readers 
of American history, Blum is a former underground journalist who 
specializes in sharp critiques of foreign policy. Published by a small 
outfit in Maine, he also sells his books over the Internet and issues a 
free monthly e-mail newsletter called the Anti-Empire Report.

What bin Laden said was this, as translated from Arabic by the 
Associated Press:

"And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it 
would be useful for you to read the book 'Rogue State,' which states in 
its introduction: 'If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the 
United States: First, I would give an apology to all the widows and 
orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American 
interference in the nations of the world has ended once and for all.' "

By last night, "Rogue State" shot up from 205,763 to 26 on Amazon.com's 
index of the most-ordered books.

"I'm calling it the book review of the decade," said Sam Smith, editor 
of the Progressive Review in Washington and a fan of Blum's work. Smith, 
too, has blurbed the book ("an especially well-documented encyclopedia 
of malfeasance") as has Gore Vidal.

Chortled Smith yesterday, "Neither Vidal nor Smith came close to lifting 
'Rogue State' into the double digits" on Amazon.

Since Amazon's delivery service, while comprehensive, would not seem to 
extend to faraway caves, how might bin Laden have gotten his hands on 
Blum's work?

The author noted "Rogue State" had been published in Arabic in Egypt and 
Lebanon. And perhaps bin Laden owns the entire Blum canon, because the 
quote he cited actually is not in "Rogue State," but on the back cover 
of a collection of Blum essays, "Freeing the World to Death: Essays on 
the American Empire." (That book is languishing on Amazon, while two 
other books titled "Rogue State" have enjoyed a spike in ranking.)

Blum's exact words? "If I were the president, I could stop terrorist 
attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would 
first apologize -- very publicly and very sincerely -- to all the widows 
and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many 
millions of other victims of American imperialism."

Yesterday, he made clear that he deplores the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 
But he argues, as many other essayists have, that they were an 
understandable retaliation against U.S. foreign policy. "The thesis in 
my books and my writing is that anti-American terrorism arises from the 
behavior of U.S. foreign policy," he said. "It is what the U.S. 
government does which angers people all over the world."

"I am totally against what they did. But we cannot view that as totally 
the acts of a bunch of madmen. If we do . . . we will continue making 
the same mistakes, and the so-called war on terror will be as doomed to 
fail as the war on drugs."

In a chapter called "Why Do Terrorists Keep Picking on the United 
States?" Blum lists as possible reasons everything from support of 
Middle East dictators, including the Shah of Iran and Saudi rulers, to 
occupying military bases in the region, to favoring the Israelis over 
the Palestinians.

"I think bin Laden shares that view, and that is why I'm not repulsed by 
his embrace of my book, because that is one of my major themes," Blum said.

When it is pointed out that terrorists target innocent civilians, which 
is not U.S. policy, he replies that U.S. tactics in Iraq have led to the 
deaths of thousands of civilians. "We bomb homes and these people have 
families, and the U.S. refuses to apologize for these civilian deaths," 
Blum said. "The absence of concern makes their actions almost equal to a 
deliberate targeting of civilians."

Until now, the mainstream media have paid virtually no attention to 
Blum. His books rarely are reviewed. But Noam Chomsky has praised his 
work, and Blum is right there along with Steve Earle, Jane Fonda and 
Barbara Ehrenreich as a signer of a full-page ad in the New York Times 
in the fall of 2002 against the military buildup for war in Iraq.

His publisher, Common Courage Press, yesterday could not provide 
estimates of his sales. Blum says "Rogue State" and "Killing Hope" 
together have sold more than 100,000 copies, plus an additional 50,000 
in a dozen foreign languages. He said he supports himself with his 
writing and speaking engagements on college campuses.

The son of Polish immigrants, Blum said he studied accounting in 
college, then landed a low-level computer-related position at the State 
Department in the mid-1960s. An anti-communist with dreams of becoming a 
foreign service officer, he said he became disillusioned by the Vietnam 
War, so he resigned from State and helped found the Washington Free 
Press, an underground paper. Separated from his German wife, with whom 
he said he is on good terms, and the father of a 24-year-old son, he 
lives alone and writes at home.

"He's an alternative journalist, a researcher type," said Smith, who 
uses Blum's work as a reference when he wants to find, say, a list of 
dictators the United States has supported in Latin America and the 
Middle East. "What Bill Blum has basically done is what a historian 
does, which is to compile the available record and organize it in a way 
that is useful."

Blum said his life's mission has been this: "If not ending, at least 
slowing down the American Empire. At least injuring the beast. It's 
causing so much suffering around the world."

And if he is happy to accept bin Laden's plug, he certainly doesn't want 
to meet his terrorist fan.

"If he would contact me," said Blum, "then I would be scared."

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