WASHINGTON — Your average book-writing academic might be delighted to have a celebrity reader.
Barry Cooper’s case is a little different.
He’s far less gracious when asked about a famous person who apparently owned his book: “If I had a chance to kill him,” the Canadian political scientist says, “I would’ve.”
His famous reader was supposedly Osama bin Laden.
According to a newly declassified list from the U.S. government, the terrorist leader had 39 English-language books in his Pakistani compound when he was killed by special forces in 2011.
One of those books was written by Cooper. Bin Laden’s library apparently included the University of Calgary professor’s, “New Political Religions, or an Analysis of Modern Terrorism.”
Cooper didn’t believe it when a journalist first called him this week to share the news. He teaches political philosophy, not counter-terrorism, and responded skeptically: “I thought it was a hoax.”
He has no idea whether bin Laden actually read the book. But he’s quite sure he wouldn’t have enjoyed its unsympathetic view of terrorism’s causes.
“I’m sure he didn’t like it if he did read it — I can take some comfort in that.”
Cooper’s book argues that terrorists intentionally distort religion to justify their acts — and that they’re perfectly well aware that they’re making up excuses.
It examines a variety of groups beyond al-Qaida, including the Japanese group Aum Shinrikyo and what Cooper calls its off-the-wall interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
It also looks at white supremacists, and at how Hezbollah in the 1980s developed the concept of self-martyrdom — which Cooper calls as insane for a Muslim as a Catholic proclaiming himself a saint.
Cooper says terrorists know their acts are morally and spiritually wrong.
He likens them to Nazi prison guards who justified their actions by telling themselves their victims were less than human. He also downplays talk about root causes, like poverty. Nor does he give terrorists a pass on mental-health grounds.
“Terrorists are not crazy. They are evil,” Cooper says. “They know what they are doing is wrong, but they’re able to tell themselves that it’s okay.”
Bin Laden’s book collection ranged from mainstream authors, like Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars,” to academics like Yale’s Paul Kennedy and his “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” to more marginal conspiracy theorists like Eustace Mullins’, “Secrets of the Federal Reserve.”
Cooper’s book found in bin Laden’s library was one of about 30 the political scientist has written. He says it stemmed from a talk he gave in April 2001 in the U.S. After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, a colleague suggested he turn the lecture into a book.
What does he hope bin Laden got from it?
“A little self-recognition of what a jerk he is.”
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Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press