The Author Who Got A Big Boost From bin Laden
Saturday, January 21, 2006
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 coasts.
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.