There’s a tendency among many who, like me, identify on the left side of the political spectrum to treat terrorism as an issue with one fundamental cause: American foreign policy in the Middle East. According to this view, terrorist organizations are essentially resistance fighters against American imperialism and arrogance, reacting to everything from America’s support of the Shah of Iran to its contemporary close ties with Israel.
For the strong silent type, Osama bin Laden has actually talked a lot. One expects this from his tediously didactic counselor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but somehow not from the abstemious Emir himself. Yet in dozens of statements disseminated as letters, videos and audiotapes since at least 1994, bin Laden has expressed an evolving view of the world. This brew of rumination, analysis and exhortation has emanated from Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, his three bases over the past decade or more. His audience has been twofold: Muslims whom he seeks to mobilize in a war against Western aggression as well as Western publics themselves. On occasion, as when he has proffered a truce to European governments, bin Laden speaks to both audiences at once. In that case, the message to his Muslim audience was that he was the equal of European prime ministers.
About a year ago, I discovered that I had acquired an entry in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia.Wikipedia is a controversial project. It is used by billions of inquirers who want easy-to-get-at information on every conceivable and many inconceivable subjects. But its entries are not subject to peer review. This means that literally anyone can register online and insert or modify an entry.
A new book of never-before-translated documents and press statements by al-Qaida leaders offers new insight into the motives behind the group responsible for carrying out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Raymond Ibrahim, a technician at the Library of Congress, edited and translated into English statements by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others dating from 1998 to 2006 for “The Al Qaeda Reader.” Ibrahim said the inspiration for the book came about in the course of shelving Arabic books, one of his duties at the Library.
This volume, a collection of essays and broadcasts by Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, does the Al Qaeda leaders no favors. Whatever their capacities as terrorists, Dr. Zawahiri tends toward the wordy and Mr. bin Laden is inordinately proud of his military exploits. As he refights Tora Bora for the nth time deploying the salt cellar and the humidor, we might be in some soporiferous midtown gentlemen’s club.
Given that war, as both Sun Tzu and Mohammed preached, is deception, it behooves us to understand accurately the enemy’s motivations and not be fooled by his deceiving propaganda. Yet in the current war against Islamic jihad, the West has stubbornly refused to take seriously what the jihadists tell us, believing instead what Thucydides called the “pretexts” with which an enemy rationalizes his aggression. Osama bin Laden and his theorist Aymin al Zawahiri in particular have provided us with numerous texts outlining the Islamic foundations of their war against the West. A few of these pronouncements and manifestoes have long been available, but now thanks to Raymond Ibrahim’s The Al Qaeda Reader, writings previously unavailable in English can be studied and analyzed. Such study will provide powerful evidence that contrary to the deceptions of apologists and the naïve delusions of some Westerners, the bases of the jihadists’ actions lie squarely within Islamic tradition, not in the alleged Western crimes against Islam.
Recently, a shoeless President George Bush accompanied by female aides in makeshift hijabs (Islamic prayer scarves) spoke at the rededication of the Islamic Center of Washington. The president sang the praises of a “religion of peace,” despite the fact that the Center is a Saudi-funded promulgator of Wahhabism, a strict form of Islam that critics say has spawned Muslim fundamentalism and extremism. He extolled a “faith that has enriched civilization for centuries” as he stood surrounded by representatives from the