Osama Bin Laden’s recent televised appearance has failed to elicit the impact he desired after a disappearance of three years in which there has been increasing speculation about him and his fate.
The image of Al Qaeda’s leader has been ingrained in the minds of his supporters as a rebel or revolutionary who is mounting a horse and brandishing a weapon, or practicing his shooting and fighting skills or the art of bombing or as a tired man due to running to and away from the Afghan mountains. Meanwhile, those who reject his violence only see the image of someone taken in by the devil in such a way that he has lost all feeling of humanity.
In both cases, the man’s presence had an impact and influence, as the entire world anxiously awaited him.
Before his disappearance, the man had transformed into something of an image. However, when that image is out of sight, it loses both its role and quality.
The man tried to exploit the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to revive the legend that is linked to his image, which preceded and followed the attacks whereas beforehand, he kept away from the media to the extent that speculation increased with respect to his fate and whether or not he had been afflicted with an incurable disease.
Bin Laden’s speech, which was broadcast on the internet, did not overshadow the presence of his top aide, Ayman al Zawahiri. Even when a website, popular with the Islamists, stated last week that it would broadcast a new videotape of Bin Laden in which he declared war on the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, media attention was, in fact, focused on another speech that appeared at the same time given by Bin Laden’s aide, Ayman al Zawahiri, in which he called for what he described as purifying the Arab Maghreb region from the children of France and Spain, and called upon Muslims in Sudan to fight against peacekeeping forces in Darfur.
While Bin Laden appeared as an image, al Zawahiri appeared as someone with a stance.
It is as if the leader of “Al Qaeda” had become a “model” or an image, whilst it became clear that the decision-maker is actually al Zawahiri.
Bin Laden’s three-year absence has caused his image to fade considerably and his return, with his trimmed, dyed-beard and cloak, served only as proof that the man is keeping out of the way, despite his appearance.
This matter, nonetheless, if symbolic, has suggested how the presence of this man has declined even though his movement’s media and propaganda potentialities are still active. Even his dyed-beard (perhaps with which he sought to renew his presence) made him appear less prestigious and violent in front of the world to the extent of weakness. It is as though his return failed to cover for his disappearance, and rather, it only confirmed it. Meanwhile, even though al Zawahiri delivered his speech from his office or from a studio somewhere, his speeches are still an area of analysis and assessment by specialists and those who follow the Al Qaeda network.
Undoubtedly, these words are not of admiration for either of the two men, whose speeches and images bear a bloody warning of disaster that may have occurred or is about to take place.
It is a simple attempt to understand these mentalities that are busy planning to kill and cause destruction. At the same time, they are preoccupied by their images in a way that lacks imagination.