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A man with very little to say,
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This review is from: Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (Paperback)"Messages to the World" contains interviews with the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and various statements attributed to him. I'm not sure whether it's really permissible to publish a book like this one, but I guess you could see it as "know thy enemy". Unfortunately, the book is edited and introduced by a confused scholar, one Bruce Lawrence, who seems to be sympathetic to Osama bin Laden and his agenda. If you buy the book, brace yourself for a rough ride!
Still, the messages of the al-Qaeda leader are quite revealing. For instance, he very explicitly, almost brazenly, supports the killing of innocent women and children. He considers Spain and Portugal to be occupied parts of the Muslim world, so presumably his demand that the "Jews and Crusaders" leave the Muslim lands also apply to these nations. Indeed, he also regards East Timor (which is Catholic) and southern Sudan (which is Christian or "animist") to be parts of the Muslim world! This is in keeping with the idea that all areas once conquered by Muslims are legitimately Muslim forever after. He also demands that the United States converts to Islam (yes, really), showing that al-Qaeda doesn't simply want all non-Muslim foreigners to leave "the territory of the umma". They want to have it all. We do get the message, Osama.
Another interesting fact emerges when reading the editors' lavish footnotes. It turns out that Bin Laden often quotes various Quranic verses out of context. Often, he only quotes the seemingly violent or intransigent part of a verse, leaving out the rest, which may be more moderate. As for Palestine, while it's true that Bin Laden always condemned Israel, he originally emphasized other issues as well, most notably the claim that Saudi Arabia is occupied by the US Crusaders. After 9/11, his attacks on Saudi Arabia mysteriously vanished, leaving only Palestine, no doubt because both Muslim and Western public opinion would consider the Saudi angle as somewhat esoteric. A few years later, during the war in Iraq, Bin Laden returned to the Saudi issue, now more militantly than ever before.
Another striking thing with these messages is that they are completely devoid of any left-wing leanings. Bin Laden boasts about his role in fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and in one of his later statements, he actually admits that the United States aided the mujahedeen. He further supports the successful effort of North Yemen to topple the socialist government of South Yemen. Initially, he seems to have hoped that sectors of the Saudi and Pakistani establishments could be turned around to supporting him, and expel the Americans. During the Cold War, most anti-American movements claimed to be "left-wing" in some kind of way. Indeed, many *were* left-wing. Here, we seem to have a pure example of "anti-imperialism" from the *right*. This is presumably how Saudi Arabia would have sounded like, had they suddenly broken relations with the US.
In the Muslim world, Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are often accused of being sectarians whose main emphasis is fighting other Muslims (often violently). This accusation seems to be correct. Al-Qaeda and groups associated with it have undoubtedly killed more Muslims than Americans or Jews! The opponents of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance, were Muslims. The Shia in Iraq, mercilessly slaughtered by the Sunni extremists, are Muslims. So are the Kurds. Indeed, so is Saudi Arabia. And yet, the hypocritical Bin Laden claims to speak in the name of one billion Muslims?! Clearly, converting to Islam (something Bin Laden demands of the US) isn't a guarantee against being blown sky high by this man and his companions.
The simple truth is that Bin Laden will continue fighting who ever happen to reject his sectarian authority, no matter whether that person is Muslim, Christian, Jew or polytheist. Which bring me to the last thing that struck me when reading "Messages to the World". Despite all his eloquent denunciations of Western atrocities against Muslims, Osama Bin Laden never says what his alternative is. He speaks in vague terms about a new Muslim caliphate. But what kind of economy should the caliphate have? Capitalism? Socialism? Bazaar economy, perhaps? What kind of concrete social and economic policy should be pursued? Should it be a democracy, a de facto monarchy, or what? Except for the usual demand to abolish "usury", and a forthright statement that a caliphate in Arabia would hike the oil prices, Bin Laden says nothing. And yet, he has been issuing his messages for almost 15 years! My guess is that this person is at bottom a nihilist.
When all is said and done, Osama bin Laden really has very little to say.