abstract musings

abstract (adj.): Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.
musings (n.): A product of contemplation; a thought.


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Monday, November 01, 2004

Analysis of bin Laden Video

MEMRI has put a translation of the bin Laden video on its website, which seems to suggest that bin Laden is attempting to influence the U.S. election through propaganda, as opposed to terrorist acts. His goal, then, is to divide the nation state by state.

The tape of Osama bin Laden that was aired on Al-Jazeera on Friday, October 29th included a specific threat to "each U.S. state," designed to influence the outcome of the upcoming election against George W. Bush. The U.S. media in general mistranslated the words "ay wilaya" (which means "each U.S. state") to mean a "country" or "nation" other than the U.S., while in fact the threat was directed specifically at each individual U.S. state. This suggests some knowledge by bin Laden of the U.S. electoral college system. In a section of his speech in which he harshly criticized George W. Bush, bin Laden stated: "Any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."

The Islamist website Al-Qal'a explained what this sentence meant: "This message was a warning to every U.S. state separately. When he [Osama Bin Laden] said, 'Every state will be determining its own security, and will be responsible for its choice,' it means that any U.S. state that will choose to vote for the white thug Bush as president has chosen to fight us, and we will consider it our enemy, and any state that will vote against Bush has chosen to make peace with us, and we will not characterize it as an enemy. By this characterization, Sheikh Osama wants to drive a wedge in the American body, to weaken it, and he wants to divide the American people itself between enemies of Islam and the Muslims, and those who fight for us, so that he doesn't treat all American people as if they're the same. This letter will have great implications inside the American society, part of which are connected to the American elections, and part of which are connected to what will come after the elections."

Dan Darling offers some in-depth analysis of the video over at Winds of Change:

Here again is his attempt to "hijack" the pro-democratization movement with respect to the Middle East and rhetorically juxtaposes membership in al-Qaeda with subjugation under the corrupt and despotic governments of the Middle East.

This is truly something that I would be paying attention to if I were a government analyst, because if nothing else it marks bin Laden as an extremely shrewd and manipulative observer of Middle East politics. No longer is he claiming to battle for the restoration of the Caliphate (though one of his lieutenants, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tahir Yuldashev recently released a video of his own to tell the base that this is still very much on the organization's agenda) with himself or a puppet like Mullah Omar at its head. Instead, now he is arguing that he wants to overthrow the governments of the Middle East in order to establish a "free ummah," in many ways echoing statements by President Bush and others about the need to spread democracy in the Arab world.

This concerns me for a number of reasons. The Cold War and post-Cold War world is full of examples in which entirely legitimate pro-democracy or self-determination campaigns often became every bit as bad or worse than the regime they were fighting. A lot of people in the US foreign policy establishment are more or less wanting to pull the plug on calls for greater efforts to democratization in the Islamic world, instead favoring stability in the region. Without getting into the merits or lack thereof of this approach, if the US pulls the plug on the pro-democratization initiative in the Middle East, bin Laden seems to be more or less positioning himself to fill the void. In other words, in the absence of respectable actors, the not-so-respectable ones are going to take over.

Dan in his analysis, disagrees with MEMRI's take. I'm not really sure what all this means, but you should read it for yourself.

(From Captain's Quarters)