New Osama tapes: Reports of his death may be exaggeration

by Matthew B. Morris

Al Jazeera broadcast another message from Osama bin Laden today. If confirmed as authentic, this is the second message from bin Laden in the last two days. Although the translation is not yet available, the message is another call on Muslims to support Palestinians by fighting in Iraq, and apparently makes references to more recent events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The previous message, which can be accessed here, has been confirmed as authentic and was directed more specifically at the European Union, critisizing Europeans for tolerating the publication of Danish cartoons that mock Mohammed:

If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions. And it is amazing and to make light of others that you talk about tolerance and peace at a time when your soldiers perpetrate murder even against the weak and oppressed in our countries. Then came your publishing of these drawings, which came in the framework of a new Crusade in which the Pope of the Vatican has played a large, lengthy role.

The terrorism experts over at Fox News question the strategy behind this tape, noting that it lacks any recent references. However, today’s tape mentions last November’s peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Anapolis, Maryland, making it unlikely that the second tape is “stale.” Slate.com’s summary of today’s blogs on bin Laden contains speculation that he is dead, but Michael Scheuer (former director of the bin Laden unit at CIA) points out in the Fox story that there’s really no basis for this.

As Zach Justus said in a previous CSC blog, bin Laden seems to stir up new interest every time he releases a message, as if to say “hey, I’m still here.” While this also brings about speculation about his death, it seems this is just a way of dispelling fears of an ellusive enemy. Despite the analysis in American media – both mainstream and in the blogosphere – of the (un)importance of his messages, that we’re talking about him at all seems to indicate that he’s important to us, at least subconsciously.

The strategic impact of his messages on a Western audience is probably minimal, but as Hassan Abdi has observed, the overt messages to the West also contain covert messages to al Qaeda sympathizers. Although it may provide an ego-defense function to dismiss such diatribes from bin Laden, in the end these types of Eurocentric analyses of al Qaeda videos just continue the process of talking past each other so typical in Western media.

-mm