The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Bin Laden’s Back with his new Book Club to rival Oprah’s

with 3 comments

Most of the MEast related news today was fairly consumed with the new recording from (supposedly) Bin Laden. OK disclaimer, I cannot be bothered prefacing each and every reference to Bin Laden with (supposedly). Yes, he may well be dead. Yes, there has been evidence to suggest that his latest videos were by some impostor. Yes, he’s just an Arab looking man with a big beard and lovely eyes, but that’s not the point. From here on in, I am going to operate under the assumption that this is his latest recording and will do so in all future references and posts about the man. I just can’t be bothered with conspiracy theories, imaging pre-facing every mention to 9/11 with (the potential inside job).

Anyway so Bin Laden’s latest recording has been all over the internets and news media with interesting bits & pieces of analysis to be found in lots of corners. First of all, peep the full recording here at The Majlis of the original (Arabic obviously) and the NEFA Foundation has an English translated transcript here.

The first thing I noticed upon reading it is how much more reasonable and to-the-point it is than many of the other al-Qaeda communications from al-Zawahiri and his ilk were. OBL pretty much sticks to the point here, hammering home the main gripes – namely Palestine and Afghanistan, not in the least bit surprising. I found it interesting that OBL spends a long time discussing US politics, the realities of it and how little has changed with Obama. He does not deliver any personal attacks on Obama himself though, which I found interesting once again, probably so as not to alienate any of the possible Americans that have gotten their hands on the recording (very unlikely considering most distribution channels online have been shut down, no US media will touch it and it didnt include English subtitles for the first time). Over at Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch attributes this very plain and reasonable sounding OBL to the following:

The speech itself represents a vintage bin Laden appeal to the mainstream Muslim world, with a heavy focus on Israel and the suffering of the Palestinians and very little reference to salafi-jihadist ideology.  This is important, because one of the reasons for al-Qaeda’s recent decline has been its general exposure — or branding, if you prefer — as an extreme salafi-jihadist movement rather than as an avatar of Muslim resistance. [FP/Abu Aardvark]

With some more wisdom from Marc Lynch, we can see that the focus on Palestine is nothing new, even if it has been re-branded and reworded somewhat and with a more plain/reasonable sounding tone. Precisely why anyone who knows tuppence about the region and its people knows that the “They Hate our Freedom! They Hate our Way of Life!” clarion call was discredit long ago. They hate us because they hate our interventionist and intrusive policies.

Bin Laden’s heavy focus on Israel is not new, despite the frequent attempts to argue the opposite. He has frequently referred to Israel and the Palestinians since the mid-1990s. Whether he “really” cares about it is besides the point — he understands, and has always understood, that it is the most potent unifying symbol and rallying point for mainsteam Arab and Muslim audiences.  Al-Qaeda and the salafi-jihadists in general hurt themselves quite badly over the last few years with rhetorical attacks on Hamas and with the emergence of the Jund Ansar Allah group in Gaza.  Tellingly, bin Laden says nothing of either of these and sticks to generalities about Palestinian suffering and Israeli perfidy. [FP/Abu Aardvark]

There is some debate around the traps about what, precisely, this means for al-Qaeda over all. Specifically, are we at the end of the road for al Qaeda yet? We’ve heard lots about this end of the road… you know… Bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda cant recruit members, there’s no love for them in the Muslim world, they’re nowhere to be found, etc. Yet, say what you say about whether this is the Real OBL, there’s a new tape and we’re still talking about it. A lot. However,

Overall, this tape struck me as something significant.  Al-Qaeda has been on the retreat for some time.  Its response thus far to the Obama administration has been confused and distorted.  Ayman al-Zawahiri has floundered with several clumsy efforts to challenge Obama’s credibility or to mock his outreach.  But bin Laden’s intervention here seems far more skillful and likely to resonate with mainstream Arab publics.   It suggests that he at least has learned from the organization’s recent struggles and is getting back to the basics in AQ Central’s “mainstream Muslim” strategy of highlighting political grievances rather than ideological purity and putting the spotlight back on unpopular American policies. [FP/Abu Aardvark]

I agree with Mr. Aardvark’s general sentiments. Al Qaeda is far from dead (whether or not OBL is), and this could be a real change in ideological tact. I disagree, however, that this will lead to any resurgence of popularity for AQ in the Muslim world. Firstly, their name is far too tainted already and secondly, their distribution channels are shot to pieces and, given the previous stream of nonsense from various other AQ people, their barely organised or unified around a common strategy of engagement with Muslims. They have shifted to a far more decentralised system of cells in various countries, so whether OBL, or anyone else, can unite them and then reinvigorate AQ’s standing within the ummah is very questionable indeed.

For further excellent reporting on the current state of al Qaeda, peep this gem (translation at The Boursa Exchange) from Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, who, as described by The Boursa Exchange, has probably interviewed Osama bin Laden more times than any other journalist, and is considered an expert on al-Qaeda.

For those interested, check out more details on the three books that OBL recommended for the US public as part of his new Book Club strategy. Interesting choices! His newest message could also possibly start a rap beef with Jay-Z over this… (hat-tip @tomgara)because the Death of Autotone has been pronounced and OBL, that smarting upstart bastard that he is, refuses to acknowledge its demise!


Written by alexlobov

September 15, 2009 at 11:13 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Someone has been giving him lectures on US political institutions. Fascinating. Give him a good PR consultant, and he can run for caliph!

    Sohaib Athar

    September 16, 2009 at 2:50 am

  2. It’s hard to say exactly how he does his research (assuming he’s alive & all that) or what his sources are but, one would assume, having that much money that he isn’t just holed up in Tora Bora. No idea where he is but I’m sure he has an internet connection so he gets the books on Amazon & probably has a twitter account 😉

    Hell with his money he probably hooked a satellite up *in* Tora Bora…


    September 16, 2009 at 3:07 am

  3. This comment on Stephen Walt’s blog has more on who lectures OBL:

    Saba Imtiaz

    September 16, 2009 at 3:17 am

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