November 1, 2004 - On the eve of the American presidential election Osama bin Laden released his first videotape in many months. The timing is hardly coincidental. But what is his purpose?
A few commentators - generally Kerry supporters, who would not welcome any help from bin Laden - believe the tape is intended to influence the American people to vote for Bush. They see bin Laden using reverse psychology, trying through his gruesome presence to create sympathy for Bush, his arch enemy.
Of course, anything is possible, especially in the convoluted politics of the Middle East. However, this view of the tape fits neither bin Laden's past pattern nor the contents of the tape itself.
First, bin Laden's appearance after so much time, looking quite healthy, undermines Bush by reminding everyone that Bush has failed to capture him and that he remains very much a threat. A close look at the tape reveals other psychological ploys intended to shake the people's confidence in Bush.
Let's look at some key passages:
O American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan, about war and its causes and results.
In other words: O American people, just as you prepare to go to the polls I am telling you that another 9/11 is headed your way if you don't heed my advice.
Security is an important foundation of human life and free people do not squander their security, contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not attack Sweden for example.
I attack only countries that stand up to me. Sweden doesn't stand up to me.
I am surprised by you. Despite entering the fourth year after Sept. 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened.
Re-elect Bush and you'll get a repeat of 9/11.
God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed - when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Note how the reasons for 9/11 keep changing. Before, it was because of American troops on Saudi soil. Now, three years later, it's Israel's actions in Lebanon nineteen years earlier. If that had been the real reason for 9/11, surely we would have heard about it before now. This line is really meant to galvanize the Muslim world, since the one issue on which most Muslim countries agree is their hatred of Israel.
These changing reasons indicate that the real explanation lies elsewhere. A sense of history is important in uncovering it. The catastrophic event to which Al Qaeda literature often refers took place not in 2001 nor in 1991 nor in 1982 nor in 1948 but in 1924. It was the dissolution of the caliphate, the end of centralized Islamic authority in the world. Bin Laden's agenda is nothing less than a global political shift. His purpose is to restore the Islamic empire. America is his main target because America, not Sweden, stands in his way. America is a Christian superpower, thus the spiritual heir of the Byzantines and Islam's arch rival.
In those difficult moments many emotions came over me which are hard to describe, but which produced an overwhelming feeling to reject injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust.
As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way (and) to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women.
These passages are directed towards present and potential Muslim supporters, justifying 9/11 by appealing to their grievances and sense of victimization. This tape has a dual purpose.
We had agreed with the (the Sept. 11) overall commander Mohammed Atta, may God rest his soul, to carry out all operations in 20 minutes before Bush and his administration take notice.
It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American forces (Bush) would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone at a time when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. This had given us three times the time needed to carry out the operations, thanks be to God...
This attack on Bush is just too good to be a covert support of Bush. Apparently bin Laden is a Michael Moore fan, joining Moore's attempt to humiliate Bush and put him in the worst possible light. It hardly seems likely that bin Laden quotes "Fahrenheit 9/11" in order to discredit that film and create sympathy for Bush. Like Moore, bin Laden wants Bush destroyed.
Your security is not in the hands of (Democratic presidential candidate John) Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands and each state which does not harm our security will remain safe.
This is the same tactic of intimidation that Al Qaeda has successfully used against other nations. Bin Laden prefers leaders who are weak when it comes to fighting terrorism. Al Qaeda's greatest success in this regard was tipping the election in Spain. By publicly beheading foreigners in Iraq, it has also weakened the resolve of other members of the coalition.
Since the tape first surfaced, a revised translation of this passage ("each state which does not harm our security will remain safe") further supports the view that bin Laden's intention is to influence the election against Bush. The Middle East Media Research Institute has published evidence that "state" refers not to whole countries but to states within the United States. A new spin on the old tactic of intimidation: states that go for Bush may become terrorist targets; Kerry states will be spared.
Of course bin Laden's endorsement of Kerry is no reason to vote for Bush. Nevertheless, John Kerry seems to grasp neither the meaning nor the importance of bin Laden's message. His first reaction after the tape surfaced was to repeat his charge that Bush "outsourced" the search for bin Laden, saying "we are paying the price for it today." Instead of dropping partisanship for a moment and rallying to support the country against this new threat, he followed bin Laden's attack on Bush with one of his own. These unfortunate comments will only confirm the suspicions of people who wonder whether Kerry really understands the threat global terrorism poses.
Bin Laden's tape, clever though it may seem, does not deviate from his long-standing pattern. His message to America is the same as his message to every other Western nation: Do not resist, if you want to live. Defeat Bush, who fought us in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And if you elect Kerry, be sure he reverses American policy on Islamic terrorism and complies with our demands.
If America does comply, bin Laden hints he might go easy. But he will never go easy on America, not as long as it remains in his mind the Christian superpower blocking the path to an Islamized world.
Carmon, Yigal. "Osama Bin Laden Tape Threatens U.S. States Not to Vote for Bush." Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Alert No. 14, November 1, 2004.
Milbank, Dana. "Impact Of Tape On Race Is Uncertain." Washington Post, October 30, 2004.
Reuters News Staff. "Bin Laden Speaks to American People." Washington Post, October 30, 2004.
Peace with Realism