The new bin Laden videotape is a great disappointment. No new threats, no new deals, just a new beard, if it is even real. Apart from being dyed, the shape is a departure from previous styles, and it looks a bit too full on the sides. Losing his beard would of course be counter to the Islamist orthodoxy, but the requirements of the life of the fugitive will out. Hasn’t al Qaeda instructed its operatives to shave, wear Western clothes, and hang out at strip clubs to allay suspicion?
His speech, such as it is, is an interesting fusion of pseudo-Marxism and standard Islamism, sprinkled with political sound bites that rob the address of whatever seriousness it might aspire to. The real terrorism is global warming and the failure to observe Kyoto! Please. And the bit about how Americans are suffering under credit card-debt and mortgage payments — it’s like his speech team is cribbing from the presidential debates. I really expect more from a terrorist mastermind.
The Marxist section is a bit sophomoric. We learn that the big corporations, whoever they are, control everything and democracy is a sham. They killed JFK because he wanted to end the war in Vietnam. They foisted a needless war in Iraq to control the oil fields. The war continues because the Democrats are as beholden to the corporations as the Republicans; the two party system is a joke. He calls on Americans to “liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system,” just as we had from the “slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism” in the previous historical epoch. For a minute it felt like the good old Cold War days.
But lest anyone mistake Osama for an Allah-less Communist, he then launches into the Islamist portion of his address, making the standard arguments that any form of government not reflecting sharia is polytheism, that all Muslim rulers are apostates, and that while the Torah and Bible have been corrupted by rabbis and priests, the Koran is God’s honest and unalterable skinny. He invites Americans to convert to Islam, as he has in the past, pointing out that we can end the war quickly that way because the “warmongering corporations” will then expend their energies trying to convert everyone back.
For those not willing to sign up he has several passages explaining why life under Islam is better for all faiths than any other arrangement. Didn’t Europeans invent the Holocaust for example? Haven’t Jews lived safely in dhimmitude in Morocco for centuries? “They are alive with us and we have not incinerated them” he says. O.K., but not for lack of trying. The 2003 Casablanca bombings targeted, inter alia, a Jewish community center, a Jewish-owned restaurant, and a Jewish graveyard. (Hmm, a suicide bomber attacking a graveyard — that’s what I call cutting out the middle man.) I did appreciate Osama’s denunciation of America’s “insane taxes” and his claim that there are none in Islam, only zakat of 2.5 percent. But Ezekial 45:13 passim discusses taxes in the .5 percent to 1.5 percent brackets, so if we need theological justification for lower rates we can always use that one.
He does not dwell much on 9/11, except to say, rightly, that it took only 19 of his followers to change radically U.S. policies and perceptions of the world. He spends much more time on Iraq, a war in which the insurgents are winning and American troops are reduced to sitting within the walls of their encampments, afraid to venture forth to do battle, depressed, and suicidal. So wherever he is we know he has access to major American newspapers. It really must gall him that President Bush can fly into al-Anbar Province in Iraq, the former al Qaeda stronghold, while the only thing Osama can fly into is a rage.
Osama’s greatest power to influence events remains his ability to dominate the news cycle whenever he appears, no matter what he says. The new video is a case in point; the only thing newsworthy about it is the fact that it exists. This is Osama’s first appearance since the 2004 election tape, and the latest evidence that he is still among the living. That is if you call hunkering down in caves and basements in North Waziristan and periodically being moved around wearing a burka lying under a tarp in the back of a Toyota pickup “living.”
– James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University , senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.