The archetypal symbol for fundamentalist terrorist groups, Osama Bin Laden, only makes seasonal appearances.
At the forefront of these occasions is the video footage that was released shortly before the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks the event which Al Qaeda’s believes to be their crowning achievement.
Osama has only recently resurfaced after a long absence; his last appearance was a day before the American presidential elections in 2004. Some observers at the time believed that the leader of the ‘kingdom of the faithful’, Osama, that is, had offered Bush, the leader of the other ‘kingdom of heaven’, a great service by warning the Americans against voting for him. Some believed this to be one of the reasons for the US president’s victory in the elections.
Last Tuesday was the sixth anniversary of 9/11, which the head of Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for at least a thousand times (for the benefit of steadfast skeptics and those who continue to deny Al Qaeda’s responsibility for the atrocity). In a newly dyed black beard that appears to have been trimmed, Bin Laden proceeded to speak in a calm tone using a rhetoric that was characterized by less extremist agitation not that it lacked that element.
The most recent tape carries messages on two levels; one visual and the other textual. Visually, Osama wanted to convey the message that he remained strong, resolute and in good health. The black beard denotes youth, while the composed voice bespeaks a pure mindedness, tranquility and persistence.
This is what he sought to communicate across, or perhaps it is what his supporters advised him to do. It could even be that he was following the example set by some of his predecessors who had adopted similar stances in times of confrontation. One example is Muawiyah ibn Abi-Sufyan who despite having been depleted by illness made sure he was perfumed, had his eyes lined with kohl, dyed his beard and sat upright to meet with visitors. This was out of fear that the visitors might find pleasure in his misfortune. This can best be embodied in the poem verses he quoted to them:
My perseverance is to show those who want to gloat
That I do not weaken in the face of disasters!
It is recounted that one of the visitors replied with another verse from the same poem by Abi Zuaib al Hazli and said:
When death arrives
Nothing can save you from it!
Does that mean that Bin Laden wanted to demonstrate his fortitude and express his physical and mental presence via this image and message?!
As for the Arab and Islamic criticism that states that fundamentalist ideology must be abandoned and that reason and enlightenment should be adopted in its place, has it succeeded in demolishing Bin Laden’s ideology and saving those who are enslaved by it?!
This is what is related to the visual image. As for Bin Laden’s ‘text’, it is much more ‘advanced’ when compared to his previous messages. Earlier tapes adopted a challenging rhetoric and were less analytical. They were characterized by a high-pitched shrillness that accompanied talk of crusades, jihad, and establishing Islam [an Islamic state], while denouncing other states and regimes as ‘unbelievers’. Moreover, previous messages expressed absolute confidence in the ‘faithful minority’ epitomized by Al Qaeda’s youth, or those who were on the road to recruitment, and there are too many of them!
Bin Laden’s most recent speech contained what he believed to be an analysis of the American situation, both from a local and international perspective with a confidence that is not characteristic of the traditional fundamentalist jihadist discourse. He spoke of human values whilst recounting human catastrophes that minority groups have endured, such as the Red Indians in America and the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan.
The leader of Al Qaeda was keen to offer advice to the American people, reminding them of the importance of the elections. He also criticized Hollywood films and said that they were distorting the image of the Mujahideen! Bin Laden spoke of giant co-operations and their hegemony of the market in a Guevara-esque tone and an undertone that was reminiscent of the leftist Islamic rhetoric of Abdel Wahab al Messiry.
Well, congratulations, Bin Laden is evolving!
However, the most interesting aspect of the speech was the talk of figures and statistics. Bin Laden spoke of the situation in Iraq, criticizing the Americans for causing a surge in the death toll. Moreover, he was critical of the American democratic system when he said, “It is a failure and despite its claims to be the defender of justice, freedom, equality and humanity, it has destroyed all that and all other ‘meanings’ with its weapons… This has all been demolished only to be replaced by fear, destruction, killing, hunger, disease and the displacement of over a million orphans in Baghdad alone not to mention hundreds of thousands of widows. American statistics alone have reported the death of over 650,000 Iraqis as a result of the war and its aftermath.”
That is what he said. Notwithstanding the fact that the Americans have spared themselves the task of addressing the US army’s responsibility for the killings in Iraq, there has been an avalanche of criticism of the American situation in Iraq starting from the US Congress to the press, and even Hollywood, which has elicited Bin Laden’s anger, as well as that of intellectuals and critics.
Aside from that, we want the leader of Al Qaeda and his supporters and there are many varying between secret admirers to declared admirers and fans and those who only half-declare their support we ask of him and them to speak about Al Qaeda’s crimes in Iraq and how they have contributed to the death and destruction!
Here are a few questions for you Mr. Osama Bin Laden: Has Al Qaeda contributed to the rise of murders and has it endorsed death and destruction in Iraq? Has its bombs, explosive devices planted in cars and suicide bombers played a part in increasing the death toll in Iraq? Have victims not fallen in Iraq as a result of your followers strapping themselves up with explosives belts and detonating them to kill innocent people?
You are not in a position to preach or speak or play the hero in the story of murder in Iraq. We sincerely would like to believe your grief and compassion for the dead in Iraq, but the daily realities prevent us from doing so.
This article is entitled ‘The Sheikh’s Youthful Regeneration’, which is a classical title for erotic literature among Arabs; anonymous Arabic erotica that speaks about sexual matters, the types of women and the aphrodisiacs that could restore a Sheikh’s vitality and take him back to his youthful state.
I do not know why this title came to mind when I watched Bin Laden’s latest footage. It is an image that conveys much of what has transpired since September 11, 2001 until September 11 of this year, but it has failed to disclose the intellectual and political threat that looms over the minds of Muslims as the consequence of following destructive leaders such as Osama Bin Laden.
Whoever believes that the threat posed by Osama, Al Qaeda and fundamentalism (with all the danger entailed in terms of ideology) has subsided or diminished in any way is deluded, if I may say so.
All that has happened since the September 11 attacks in 2001 was a case of bowing down in the face of the American storm, while disregarding the internal criticism among the Arab and Muslim communities until things ‘pass’. Since then, no changes and nothing new has been proposed and no one cares. But Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are a ‘small minority’ and there is a Zionist and crusader conspiracy surrounding them or so they think.
Let’s see, what else…
Yes, the fateful question: The cartoons that blaspheme Islam and are offensive to Muslims, which were published in a Danish newspaper, and recently republished in a Swedish newspaper (I think it was Swedish). And what else? That’s it!
Even the ‘streetwise’ singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim thinks Osama Bin Laden is right and regards him as a hero. He sings:
I commend Bin Laden for the tower he bombed
We want another attack to make the Arabs happy.
This is what Shaaban hopes for, on behalf of the Arabs, a second strike to make them happy. Perhaps that is what Bin Laden is planning for with his new youthful image, to bring everyone back to their youth!