Osama bin Laden on meat and denial
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2001:
It was no radical animal rights activist or militant vegan
whose recently disclosed words linked the events of September 11 to
the phrase, “Meat is murder!”
Rather, the fate of the 5,690 people who were murdered
aboard four hijacked airliners, at the World Trade Center and at the
Pentagon appears to have been inseparably linked to meat by Osama bin
Laden himself, the alleged mastermind and financier of the attacks,
in his handwritten final orders to the 19 hijackers.
Copies of the four-page letter were found in the misdirected
luggage of the hijackers’ ringleader, Mohamed Atta; the wreckage of
United Airlines flight 93, near Somerset, Pennsylvania; and a car
parked at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. by the
hijackers who crashed into the Pentagon.
“You must make your knife sharp, and you must not discomfort
your animal during the slaughter,” bin Laden commanded, depicting
slashing the throats of flight attendants, passengers, and pilots
as hallal ritual killing, like killing sheep and goats at Ramadan.
This was the 13th of bin Laden’s 15 instructions, translated
for The New York Times by Imad Musa of the Capitol Communications
“If you slaughter,” bin Laden emphasized later in the
letter, reinforcing the allusion to hallal, “do not cause the
discomfort of those you are killing, because this is one of the
practices of the prophet, peace be upon him.”
That terrorists might slash the throats of some jet riders to
intimidate others, without causing them discomfort, en route to
murder thousands, is self-evidently preposterous.
Yet bin Laden obviously did manage to convince the hijackers
that their deeds would have no more negative moral consequence than
killing animals for meat.
Many and perhaps most of the nine billion animals sent to
slaughter in the U.S. each year, as well as the billions killed
abroad, have at least as long to sense doom as did the September 11
victims. Neither are the animals’ last cries as unlike the cell
phone calls made by some of the September 11 victims as the typical
meat-eater would like to believe.
Equally disturbing to meat-eaters might be awareness that
doomed animals, too, often put up frantic resistance, like the
passengers who tried to retake United Airlines flight 93, saving
countless lives by causing the hijackers to crash the plane far from
The use of the hallal slaughter metaphor by bin Laden
rendered prophetic the last words of the July/August 2001 ANIMAL
PEOPLE editorial, “Dealing with denial.”
“The deepest denial,” we wrote, “may involve human
consumption of animals. Whole religions appear to have been
constructed (or reconstructed) around rationales for eating meat.”
To this we now can add that the rationale for committing the
September 11 killings was developed directly from the denial
instilled in humans, through religion in this instance, as an
integral part of meat-eating.
Denial continued in the seeming obliviousness of all
prominent commentators on bin Laden’s explicit references to
slaughter. None, to our awareness, even mentioned the equation of
the September victims with meat–even though it was clearly on the
record in black-and-white and was clearly central to bin Laden’s
On September 20 the Taliban reinforced the association of
September 11 with cruelty toward animals. “Taliban fighters herded
hundreds of frightened people into the center of the war-ravaged town
of Taloqan and paraded out three dogs costumed in Western neckties
and waistcoats,” reported Charles M. Sennott of the Boston Globe 10
days later, after interviewing refugees in Dashti Qala, northern
“The Taliban had shaved the heads of the three dogs, and
painted on the names of ousted Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani,
exiled king Zahir Shah, and U.S. President George W. Bush,” Sennott
continued. “The regional Taliban commander, Arif Khan, took out a
can of gasoline, doused the animals, and then,” according to
eyewitnesses Nur Muhammed, 52, Muhammed Qul, 55, and Abdul Karim,
48, “lit a match, proclaiming, ‘This is what we do to the dogs
who oppose Islam!’ Those who did not cheer the immolation of the
animals were beaten with sticks, the witnesses said.”
The Taloquan incident recalled the July 5 cross-examination
of Ahmed Ressam, 34, in Manhattan federal court, as he sought
reduction of a still pending probable life sentence for smuggling
explosives into the U.S. from Canada as part of a 1999 plot to blow
up Los Angeles International Airport on January 1, 2000.
After Ressam testified against convicted co-conspirator
Mokhtar Haouari, 32, defense attorney Daniel Ollen asked Ressam if
he had killed dogs in 1998 as part of their terrorist training in
Afghanistan, under bin Laden.
Reported Laura Italiano of the New York Post, “Ressam
testily insisted he only watched as dogs were sealed in boxes, then
gassed with cyanide. He also claimed he saw other experiments where
dogs were injected with cyanide via syringe.”
Insisted Ressam, “We were just present there. It was
actually our chief carrying out the experiments.”
Asked Ollen, “How long in general did you watch these dogs suffer?”
“Not very long,” Ressam responded, “because the dogs were
That testimony unwittingly echoed the last words of James
Massey, executed in April 2001 at Huntsville, Texas, for the
murders of Christina Benjamin, 13, and her stepbrother James King,
14. Benjamin was beheaded and sexually mutilated, but “did not
suffer as much as you think,” Massey told her relatives. The
evidence against him included his handwritten journal, found in a
cooler with the heads of 31 dogs and cats.
The Taliban dog-burning also paralleled the behavior of Shawn
Grell, 26, who killed the family cat and set a dog on fire before
burning to death his two-year-old daughter Kristin Salem on December
The legal system is at last beginning to recognize that
psychopaths typically practice on animals before and between killing
humans, a tendency documented for centuries.
But psychopaths do not practice denial, at least to
themselves: they revel in their cruelty, deriving an illusion of
omnipotence from their ability to harm their unsuspecting or
powerless victims. It is accordingly much easier to see the link
between violence against animals and violence against people in the
behavior of psychopaths than in the much denied and disguised
behavior of ordinary people doing ordinary things in daily life.
Devaluation of life
Experts say that Osama bin Laden is not a psychopath.
Neither are his followers considered mentally ill. The September 11
hijackers appear to have been fairly ordinary if true-believing
soldiers, within whom the mechanisms of denial had to be activated
Unfortunately, the violence countenanced by normal people
for normal reasons too often differs from the mayhem of psychopaths
chiefly in the degrees of disassociation and denial that are involved.
In Srinagar, India, where terrorists apparently trained and
funded by bin Laden on October 1 killed 38 people by bombing the
Jammu and Kashmir state legislative assembly, the city government
during early March 2001 shot 1,115 street dogs.
Islamic militants had just escalated an 11-year-old guerilla
revolt against Indian rule. The dogs were killed, officials
claimed, to avoid repetition of a deadly shoot-out between
government troops and a pro-government militia that began when the
troops mistook shots fired to scare dogs with an enemy attack.
Perhaps. But perhaps the city authorities just felt safer
with armed men on the street demonstrating their firepower.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has noted for many years the coincidence of
public dog massacres under various pretexts with times of civil
stress. Other recent examples came in Beijing, China; Bucharest,
Romania; and East Flores, Indonesia.
The Chinese expression “killing the dog to scare the monkey”
explains the underlying idea. Should the authorities acknowledge
civil unrest as a challenge to their dominance, responding with
direct force, others might sense weakness and join the revolt.
Fending off one monkey might be no problem; fighting a troupe could
be a different matter. Therefore the authorities attack a dog, a
more naturally submissive animal, to warn people who “monkey around”
with public order that they too might be killed if they push their
luck. The tactic succeeds to the extent that it creates the
impression that the authorities regard animal life as having no
intrinsic moral value, and equate opponents with problematic beasts.
It raises to the societal level the devaluation of life evident in
incidents such as the May 7 alleged killing of Ernest Monroe Johnson,
of Mebane, Louisiana, by Sharman Valdez Jones, at a dogfight in a
vacant lot, and the May 21 fatal shooting of alleged cockfight
referee Alez Ruiz at Escalon, California.
The devaluation of life implicit in cockfighting and
dogfighting has become widely recognized, in part, because
dogfighting is illegal throughout the U.S., while cockfighting is
illegal in 47 states. They are criminal activities, and criminal
activity is expected to be degenerate, with each unpunished evil
deed encouraging others.
But the same process occurs among sport hunters,
unrecognized because of collective denial that a legal pursuit
undertaken by respected citizens including U.S. Presidents can have
seriously psychologically damaging consequences.
In 1997 and 1998, for example, ANIMAL PEOPLE exposed the
hunting backgrounds of 17 teenagers who killed 31 people in rampages
typically beginning as a result of trivial disputes at home or in
Nathaniel Brazill, 14, convicted in May 2001 of killing
teacher Barry Grunow, 35, a year earlier, was also a hunter–or at
least claimed to be, when cross-examined about why he had the murder
weapon. Had Brazill been born in Afghanistan, he might have been
forcibly mustered into the Taliban army, and might have been among
the young men identified as psychologically damaged by their exposure
to killing in special reports published by the United Nations
Children’s Fund. Because Brazill was recruited to kill animals,
however, his victimization by the hunting fraternity goes almost
Brazill shot Grunow point-blank in the face during a typical
dominance dispute between a pubescent male and an adult authority
figure, which should have had no consequence more serious than
Violent expressions of dominance also appear to underlie the
strong statistical association of hunting with high rates of child
abuse that ANIMAL PEOPLE uncovered in exhaustive 1994-1995 studies of
county data in New York, Ohio, and Michigan.
A similar pattern is apparent in cases of spouse murder and
murder/suicide, like the April 13 strangulation-and-shooting of
Melanie Markland, 30, in Glenrosa, British Columbia, by husband
Sam Markland, also 30, who then shot himself with his hunting
rifle. Almost invariably the killer is a hunter, hunting weapons
are involved, and the murder or murder/suicide is a last assertion
of control by a man whose woods skills accumulate trophies while
atrophied or never developed social skills lose a wife and family.
University of Michigan anthropologists John Mitani and David
Watts recently found the element connecting Afghanistan, the World
Trade Center, and Glenrosa, at Ngogo in Kibale National Park,
Uganda, during a five-year study of the hunting behavior of 50 male
chimpanzees–four times more chimps than have been observed in the
wild by anyone else, including Jane Goodall.
Goodall and the others who first documented how chimpanzees
hunt red colubus monkeys hypothesized that male chimps hunt to trade
meat to females for sex.
Mitani, Watts, and University of Michigan psychology
professor Barbara Smuts discovered that this is not true.
Instead, they reported in the May 2001 edition of Animal
Behavior, male chimps hunt to display their prey to each other in
assertions of dominance, and to share the meat with their male
allies, who fight alongside them in disputes with other chimp bands.
In similar fashion, men who shoot a deer typical parcel out
pieces to their hunting buddies–and Islamic men kill sheep and goats
in the streets at Ramadan to win public approval by distributing meat
to the poor.
The horror of September 11 was a reflection of human
attitudes toward meat.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Take the word of
Osama bin Laden.