Osama bin Laden’s latest video nasty has been noted largely for its eccentric combination of Islamic proselytizing, climate change hand-wringing and Forbesist flat-tax promotion. Plus the fact that the world’s most wanted man has discovered Just For Men. But read over the full transcript and you’ll see that in addition to his words of praise for Noam Chomsky and the former CIA man Michael Scheuer, OBL takes a moment to call the world’s attention to the fact that “there has been an increase in the thinkers who study events and happenings,” and to urge us to pay attention to “the European thinker who anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union, which,” we are sagely informed, “indeed fell.” We should all, says Bin Laden, “read what he wrote about what comes after the empire in regard to the United States of America.”
Bin Laden is referring here to Emmanuel Todd, the idiosyncratic French political scientist who in 1976 did indeed predict the imminent collapse of the USSR, and whose 2003 book After the Empire deployed a range of historico-political arguments and demographic data to make the counterintuitive case that America’s invasion of Iraq was a last-gasp show of military strength against a basket-case nation, and actually masked the US’s long-term economic decline relative to Europe, Russia and China. But Bin Laden clearly hasn’t been reading his Prospects. If he had, he would have seen Michael Mönninger’s June 2003 interview with Todd, in which Todd claimed that, “Arab and Islamic terrorism… is the result of a crisis in the modernisation process. All countries go through radical changes as a result of literacy and birth control. Because all the Islamic states have been weakened, there is no great power among them. The terrorism will disappear of its own accord with the end of the demographic revolution.”
What Todd actually sees coming “after the empire” is a multipolar world, with a chastened American hegemon increasingly exposed to economic threat from Europe, Russia, China and Japan, while demographic and modernising forces reduce the disparities between the developed and developing worlds. Unfortunately for OBL, this is probably a world away from the “infallible methodology of Allah” he exhorts the west to embrace.