Monday, November 08, 2004

Bin Laden spin

by pv vivekanand

A CAREFUL reading of the latest videotaped message from Osama Bin Laden clearly establishes that he now has the services of highly educated and media-savvy spin doctors. And this should be naturally alarming to those who are clouding the issues in their self-styled fight against terrorism since a few more messages like this and the Americans people should start thinking beyond the how, where and who of Sept.11 and the continuing security threat they face and consider more objectively why people like Bin Laden are hostile to the US. That is a dangerous development for the neoconservatives surrounding President George W Bush since sooner or later the American people would figure out that they are being taken for a ride in the name of the fight against terror to serve Israeli interests more and American interests less. Once they have the right answer, then someone, somewhere would have to explain, and one never knows how things would turn out.
Perhaps that fear, coupled with apprehension that the US has a tiger by the tail in Iraq and would eventually lose the war there — might explain the departure of some of the key figures from the second-term Bush administration. They don't want to caught and cornered into providing answers that would incriminate themselves.
The 15-minute video message from Bin Laden, posted in full at Al Jazeera's website in early November, is dramatically different from all previous communications attributed to the Al Qaeda chief, America's number one enemy.
Equally important was the way Bin Laden appeared in the video image. Contrary to his image that Bush had tried to portray — a la Saddam Hussein —  Bin Laden did not at all resemble the most wanted man on the run, hiding in a cave fearing capture or death. Instead, he was well-dressed and posed himself as a political leader sending out a message to the masses.
Instead of the rambling declarations and jihadist affirmations highlighted by references to religious texts that were so characterestic of all previous messages, Bin Laden is seeking to build a case for himself as a man who is taking on the world's sole superpower. Instead of vague references to names, places and dates that featured in his previous communications, the new message is very specific and makes sense even to an average listener in the West.
A simple example is the use of American-style phrases such as "another Manhattan" — meaning a Sept.11-style attack — and "striking the towers." He recalled that he had warned the Americans in his interviews with with Time Magazine in 1996 and with Peter Arnett on CNN in 1997 and his meeting with John Weiner in 1998. Again, a sign that good spin doctors at work.
The work of professionals is clearly evident throughout the message. It would be a safe bet that the message as written in English and then translated into Arabic. Indeed, Al Jazeera says it received the videotape as well as a transiteration of the Arabic text as well as English translation of the text.
Never before has Bin Laden resorted to such strategies, which evidently sought to make sure that his message was received loud and clear.
What was the message?
For the first time, Bin Laden explicitly claimed responsibility for the Sept.11 attacks.
He said the reason for the attack was retaliation for the decades-old US-support for Israel regardless of the Jewish state's brutal treatment of the Palestinians and Arabs, and that the reason remained very much valid even today. Thus he declared that the US remains an Al Qaeda target.
He said since the US was threatening the security of Muslims through its support of Israel, it was only logical that Muslims would threaten the security of the US.
He also sought to discredit Bush's handling of the Sept.11 crisis in what was then interpreted as implictly favourable to Bush's challenger in the Nov.2 elections, John Kerry.
However, Bin Laden made it clear that he favoured neither.
"Your security does not lie in the hands of Kerry, Bush or Al Qaeda," he said. "Your security is in your own hands. Each and every state that does not tamper with our security will have automatically assured its own security."
He rejected the Bush camp's repeated assertions that Al Qaeda hated the American way of life and freedom and questioned why was it that the group did not strike at Sweden, which has the world's best record for personal freedoms.
The most important part of Bin Laden's message was his statement that Al Qaeda was seeking to bankrupt the US, a reference that most Americans would have no difficulty in grasping.
He referred to an estimate by London's Royal Institute of International Affairs that Al Qaeda spent $500,000 to stage the Sept.11 attacks but it cost the US more than $50 billion in losses.
It meant that "every dollar of Al Qaeda defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs," said Bin Laden, who estimated that the US "economci deficit" at more than a trillion dollars.
Bin Laden pointedly referred to Bush's move to appropriate "emergency funds" to finance the wars Afghanistan and Iraq, "which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan - with Allah's permission."
The explicit references to estimated amounts of American losses and those which went into financing the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were coupled with another assertion, which should have provoked a lot of thoughts in Washington.
"All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration," said Bin Laden. "All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written Al Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
Indeed, the message provided a lot more than the US needed to start really worrying that it is not the same Bin Laden of 2001 that appeared in the latest videotape and Washington would have to urgently make room for better spin doctoring to counter the new Bin Laden. And it would not be easy, particularly that the re-election of Bush has given Bin Laden the perfect ground to advance his quest to portray himself as the defender of world Muslims against American assault and he is definitely getting expert advice on how to go about doing it.