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Bin Laden: Back to the Old Time Religion

The NEFA Foundation has a translation of the new Osama bin Laden tape. bin Laden’s message might even be considered cynical in light of how he keeps going back to the radical-Salafist well, particularly on the role of Israel in al-Qaeda’s imagination. (“First, I say: we have shown and declared many times over more than two and a half decades that our dispute with you [is based on] your support of your allies; the Israeli occupiers of our land in Palestine. It was this stance—along with other injustices—that moved us to carry out the events of September 11.”)

Marc Lynch comments:

The speech itself represents a vintage bin Laden appeal to the mainstream Muslim world, with a heavy focus on Israel and the suffering of the Palestinians and very little reference to salafi-jihadist ideology. This is important, because one of the reasons for al-Qaeda’s recent decline has been its general exposure — or branding, if you prefer — as an extreme salafi-jihadist movement rather than as an avatar of Muslim resistance. It has lost ground from the brutality and ideological extremism of its chosen representatives in Iraq, because of nationalist outrage over its ‘near enemy’ attacks in a variety of Arab and Muslim countries, and because of the battles it has chosen with far more popular Islamist movements such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. But this does not mean that it can not learn from its mistakes.

I’d put it a bit differently. Iraq showed that bin Laden’s efforts at experimentation — say, outsourcing your campaign to a particularly virulent band of murderous fanatics who will alienate every Iraqi they work with in due course — failed. His message here is crafted to appeal to the lowest common denominator of Islamic extremism. Previous bin Laden tapes have made contentions about strategy, as when he, for instance, justified his Iraqi franchise’s murder of civilians. Now he’s giving the world the Islamic extremist equivalent of motherhood and apple pie, which is to say anti-Semitism. If ever there’s a sign that he’s having trouble capturing the imaginations of even his fellow extremists, there it is.

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