Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden Paperback – 17 Nov 2005
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This vital collection of Bin Laden's statements ... provides an invaluable insight into his thinking by bringing his disparate pronouncements within a single set of covers. --Malise Ruthven, Sunday Times
Here, with a shrewd, scholarly introduction from Bruce Lawrence, is the complete bin Laden reader. --Peter Preston, Observer
Collectively, these messages are the closest we will ever have to the terrorist leader's Mein Kampf. --Mary Braid, Independent on Sunday
About the Author
Bruce Lawrence is the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke University. He is the author of New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life, Shattering the Myth, and Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. James Howarth wrote his PhD thesis at SOAS, London, on the religious revival in contemporary Arab thought. He has an MA in Arabic linguistics, and worked on MAS Abdul Haleem's translation of the Qur'an (OUP, 2004).
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Top Customer Reviews
An important piece in the puzzle of violent extremist history.
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.Read more ›
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Lawrence also helps one to understand why bin Laden is a heroic figure for millions of Muslims, including many with no sympathy for terrorism. This is based not just on his success in eluding Americans and their allies, but because his personal reputation for probity, austerity, dignity, and courage - contrasting starkly with the mismanagement, lavishness, and arrogance of most Arab regimes.
Bin Laden points out that his terrorism acts are only retaliation, and that the West has killed far larger numbers in the region within living memory - poison gas and strafing of Iraqi villages by Britain in the 1920s, crushing the Palestinian uprising of the 1930s, France's colonial war in algeria in the 1950s-60s, and deaths through malnutrition and disease of Iraqi children in the 1990s due to the U.N. sanctions. Bin Laden estimates 1.5 million were killed in the preceding - Lawrence estimates it as 300,000.
Bin Laden began his massive undertaking against the U.S. after seeing the mujahidin victory over the Red Army in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of American forces from Somalia in '93. Unfortunately, bin Laden greatly underestimated the special circumstances associated with both - the U.S. and Pakistani support in Afghanistan, and the inconsequentialness of the U.S. landings in Somalia.
Bin Laden on 9/11 (10/21 interview): ". . . they have done this . . . in self-defense, defense of our brothers and sons in Palestine, and in order to free our holy sanctuaries." "the defeat of America . . . is easier for us . . . than the defeat of the Soviet Empire previously. We have already fought them . . . as in Somalia. We have not yet found a significant force of note." ". . . America, has lost its values and appeal . . . Freedom, Human Rights, and Equality . . . were revealed as a total mockery."
On Surviving Tora Bora: Bin Laden reports that bombing was around the clock, every second. There were about 300 mujahidin dug into 100 trenches, spread over one square mile in ten degree below zero temperatures - only about 18 were killed by the combination of ground and air attacks. Certainly this had to have been an easy opportunity for American ground forces if they had been deployed at that time, instead of outsourcing the job to Afghans!
Bin Laden also speaks of how Iraqis should resist the U.S., describing a guerilla campaign like that actually waged.
"Messages to the World" is essential to understanding bin Laden, America's "Public Enemy #1" - especially for counteracting the incomplete and misleading statements provided by our own government.
In order to understand the "War on Terror" environment in which we currently live, it is imperative to understand the rhetoric of both sides. Regardless of which viewpoint one supports, it is important to know exactly what the other side is fighting for. This knowledge is abundant on the non-terrorist side, but has so far been available on the terrorist side purely through analyses by expert commentators. Thus, being able to read the actual words of the major ideologue of world terrorism at the moment is a considerable boon.
I say "ideologue" for very good reason. As these statements and their accompanying (and copious) notes and introductions demonstrate, there is a distinct ideology involved in this movement. It may be an ideology directed against everything the West holds dear, but it is an ideology nonetheless. Osama bin Laden has clearly thought about a great many issues prior to initiating the campaigns of violence he has.
As case in point, the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often debated by academics and policymakers: Is it central to the globalisation of terrorism, or is it merely a convenient justification to use when asked? As even the earliest statements here demonstrate, this is a key plank in al-Qa'ida's ideology - perhaps even more so than many writers have realised.
While one particular statement (the "Declaration of Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders") will be familiar to any reader interested in this conflict as it has been included in a great many works (Gunaratna's "Inside Al-Qaeda" being the most well-known), many of these statements appear never to have been translated fully into English before. In this case, the team involved in this collection deserve even more praise for enabling those with an interest in understanding these issues to do so - particularly when, as they frequently note, the websites originally hosting these messages have been shut down.
The scope of these statements will probably be debated for many years to come. One review here makes the dogmatic assertion that these are not all of the statements made by bin Laden, for example. While this may be true - and bear in mind that many of these statements have been excerpted by various news outlets at various times, which may create the impression of there being more than there are - it seems rather immaterial. Far from only presenting a reasoned side of the man, these statements present his ideas in a clear form. Those translated from audio and video tapes, for example, never make mention of any gestures or tones of voice, since to do so would be rather pointless in my opinion.
Taken as a whole, these statements tend to appear rather repetitive - the only notable change from one to the next being a slightly different emphasis on particular events as they've changed. That said, reading the book cover to cover is probably not the best way to go about it anyway.
The copious amounts of footnotes and introductory matter are also a great strength of this collection. While it is possible to criticise the scholars involved (and it's almost a hobby for some of the reviewers here already), they have at least attempted the difficult task of placing Osama bin Laden in context. He's not a representative of all Muslims, but neither is he the "monster under the bed" for the new millennium.
The footnotes, too, provide a wealth of Qur'anic and Hadith references - including remarks on when the verse or tradition has been taken out of context or deprived of a section of text. Similarly, key figures and events (both past and present) referenced in the text are explained concisely in the notes.
Unfortunately, the sheer volume of these notes has presumably caused the poor proofreading which some statements suffer from. There are a number of words and phrases footnoted which do not have an accompanying note below, and some of these are germane to the text.
Further, one of the introductory notes makes the comment that Yemen is a "military dictatorship" (along with Pakistan and Nigeria). In reality, Yemen is a multi-party democracy (the only such in the Arabian Peninsula) and was so both at the time the book was written and at the time the statement was made. Admittedly, the country may not have a stable and entrenched tradition of democracy, but it is far from the military dictatorship described in this note.
In conclusion, "Messages to the World" is an invaluable aid to those who want to understand the current conflicts "from the source" as it were. It is somewhat heavy reading in places and will remain a controversial book for much of the foreseeable future. Its publication, however, represents a great step forward for much of the world.
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