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Why Does Fahrenheit 9/11 Pursue Conspiracy Theory?
by Yoshie Furuhashi
July 12, 2004

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Some left-wing viewers of Fahrenheit 9/11 -- perhaps out of wishful thinking? -- believe that the film makes an argument that Riyadh and Washington "have collaborated for decades in a violent project of repression" (Doug Henwood, LBO-talk, July 9, 2004) based only on well-checked facts provided by credible experts (Dennis Redmond, LBO-talk, July 9, 2004). I wish that Fahrenheit 9/11 made such an argument, but it doesn't, even though, if only Michael Moore had wanted to do so, he had mountains of indisputable facts readily available to all that he could have used to provide historical analysis, which, with his talent for sharp satire, he could have also made as entertaining as the film he did make: e.g.,

As Saudi Arabia's longtime chief of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal helped nurture the Afghan resistance movement that begot the country's Taliban leadership. . . .

Saudis trace their policy to the early days of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan after the 1979 invasion. The call to fight with the Afghan mujaheddin rang loud here in the 1980s, echoing from mosques, government offices and local charities, through upper-class homes and rural villages, and prompting an estimated 15,000 Saudis to join the resistance against Soviet occupation of Muslim Afghanistan. Among them was bin Laden, who joined fundraising activities in Pakistan and later fought in Afghanistan.

Money flowed from the coffers of the oil-rich kingdom -- by some accounts, as much as $1 billion -- to supply and arm fighters gathering under the tutelage of U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services. Volunteers simply signed up for "relief work," one Saudi recalled, and flew off on deeply discounted air tickets, courtesy of Saudi Arabian Airlines. National guard members could even take paid leave to join the fight.

"We helped them with everything," said a high-ranking Saudi intelligence official. "They thought it was Islamic war, and Muslims wanted to help." (Howard Schneider, "Saudi Missteps Helped Bin Laden Gain Power: Kingdom Funded Taliban, Predecessors," Washington Post, October 15, 2001, p. A1)

That, by the way, is a fact that Prince Bandar does not hide (because he doesn't need to, as there is no American consensus about the evil of having teamed up with Riyadh, Islamabad, etc. to fight against the Soviets), frankly discussing it on Larry King Live:

KING: What was the circumstance under which you met him?

PRINCE BANDAR: This is ironic. In the mid-'80s, if you remember, we and the United -- Saudi Arabia and the United States were supporting the Mujahideen to liberate Afghanistan from the Soviets. He came to thank me for my efforts to bring the Americans, our friends, to help us against the atheists, he said the communists.

Isn't it ironic?

KING: How ironic. In other words, he came to thank you for helping bring America to help him.


KING: And now he may be responsible for bombing Americans.

PRINCE BANDAR: Absolutely. ("America's New War: Responding to Terrorism," Larry King Live, October 1, 2001)

Moore includes this clip in Fahrenheit 9/11, but he doesn't follow it up, because he cannot afford to. In order to analyze the problem of decades of collaboration between Washington and Riyadh as well as other unsavory allies, fighting against the Communists, nationalists, and other official enemies of Washington during and after the Cold War, he would have to go beyond the crimes of the George W. Bush administration, but doing so would implicate Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (as well as all presidents of the United States, especially the ones who came into power after the US decidedly replaced Britain and France as the hegemonic imperial power) in the violent project of repression inside and outside Saudi Arabia.

Instead, Michael Moore turns to conspiracy theory based upon the weakest contentions made by Dan Briody, Jack Cloonan (a former senior agent on the joint FBI-CIA Al-Qaeda task force), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), James Moore, and Craig Unger, making suggestions and insinuations that lead the audience to suspect that George W. Bush is guilty of protecting -- because of his business ties -- the other bin Ladens and Saudi royals who are implicated in aiding Osama bin Laden's terrorism, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If it may be said that there is an "argument" in the part of the film that concerns Riyadh and Washington at all, it goes something like this:

  • Many if not all of the bin Ladens are probably guilty of aiding Osama bin Laden financially and otherwise, at least all the way up to the masterminding of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Why, some of them attended the wedding of one of Osama bin Laden's sons in Afghanistan: "In the summer of 2001 just before 9/11, one of Osama's sons got married in Afghanistan and several family members showed up at the wedding" (Craig Unger, Fahrenheit 9/11)!

  • Riyadh and Washington know that at least some -- perhaps many -- of the bin Ladens are guilty, in league with Osama bin Laden, so they went out of their way to protect them after the 9/11 attacks, facilitating their safe departure from the United States after only cursory questionings by the FBI.

  • Since Saudi investors have invested in the US economy to the tune of $860 billion (in total, according to Unger in the film) and maybe even $1 trillion (in the US banks alone, according to what Moore says he heard from an unnamed source), and some of the bin Ladens, through James R. Bath and the Carlyle Group, have had business ties with the Bushes, the Bush administration cannot afford to get tough on the Saudi financiers of Osama bin Laden.

  • The best way to combat Al Qaida and other extreme Islamist cells and groups is to cut off the Saudi financing of them.

  • Since Bush is incapable of biting the Saudi hands that have fed him, we must "re-unelect" him and elect John Kerry, who, unlike the Bushes, will go medieval on the fat Saudi asses and stop Saudi-financed international terrorism.

Now, the Bushes have had business ties with some of the bin Ladens and political ties with the Saudi royals, but the "experts" to whom Moore turns don't have the goods, so to speak, to make a solid case that any of the bin Ladens other than Osama was implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that Bush nevertheless protected them, knowing that they were really guilty.

In short, Moore refuses to build his case on the known facts about the long historical relation between Riyadh and Washington to which Prince Bandar admits publicly and instead goes after speculations about Bush's secret conspiracy to protect the guilty bin Ladens and Saudi royals -- and perhaps also himself -- from the FBI's scrutiny concerning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in the process indulging feverish imaginations of 9/11 conspiracy theorists among the audience. Why? Because Moore of Fahrenheit 9/11, in contrast to Moore of Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, is interested in protecting the Democratic Party from responsibility -- especially its responsibility for the consequences of decades of collaboration between Riyadh and Washington in particular and US foreign policy in general: the decline of secular left-wing movements and governments, the rise of extreme Islamist organizations, and increased dangers of lethal terrorist attacks everywhere.

That said, let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that all the allegations mentioned in Fahrenheit 9/11 concerning the ties among the Bushes, the Saudi royals, the other bin Ladens, and Osama bin Laden are 100% true, and that John Kerry will indeed take a much tougher stance on the rich and powerful in Saudi Arabia than Bush would. Still, I don't think that Kerry can solve the problem of terrorism at all, as terrorists do not need big money to commit mass murders, as Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma proved to us. All they need is brains and discipline.

Besides, for the reasons that Ashraf Fahim mentions in his article "John Kerry's Sucker Saudi Punch" (Asia Times, June 10, 2004), I believe that Kerry's anti-Saudi posturing will remain just that -- posturing in an election year. As long as Washington, be it under the Republican or Democratic White House, is committed to keeping its status as empire, running on deficits to police the capitalist world order fueled by oil, it cannot countenance democracy in the Middle East, least of all in Saudi Arabia, as there is no guarantee that democracy will bring about even more pro-American allies than the existing pro-American regimes in the predominantly Arab states. More likely than not, more democracy in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East would create new governments less cooperative with Washington. Moreover, destabilization of the existing regimes -- especially the one in Saudi Arabia -- may even endanger not only the US but also the world economy, which Washington under any administration can ill afford.

To conclude, Fahrenheit 9/11, a fascinating populist work of art, at times falls for conspiracy theory, not because Moore doesn't know any better, but because he has skeletons in the closet -- not his own skeletons, but the Democratic Party's.

Yoshie Furuhashi is an activist in Columbus, Ohio. She is a steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice. Her blog "Critical Montages" is available at:

Other Articles by Yoshie Furuhashi

* Winning the Culture War, Losing the Class Struggle