Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Al-QAEDA WITH AMERICAN CHARACTERISTICS

Bin Laden and 'Azzam the American'
Sukant Chandan*
September 11th 2007

Released in time for the 6th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and Camp David, Al-Qaeda's 'al-Sahab' media organisation has released Osama Bin Laden's first video statement from for nearly three years, followed by another today in which Bin Laden praises Abu Musab Walid, one of the 911 hijackers.

These statements generally accepted authenticity has put to
rest speculation that Bin Laden might have died, and has
put the West's most wanted man back into the forefront of
the politics of the 'war on terror'. The coverage that the
first video statement has been given throughout the
international media has proven again that Bin Laden is the
most important spokesperson on behalf of militant Islamism
even though his direct organisational involvement in
Al-Qaeda affairs may have possibly been curtailed. What is
most noticeable about this latest statement is the
stridently radical anti-capitalist rhetoric which many have
attributed to the influence of former white US citizen
Azzam Al-Amriki - 'Azzam the American' - previously known
as Adam Gadahn, the son of a Jew and a Catholic, who has
family members who live in Israel, who now runs al-Sahab,
Al-Qaeda's media wing. The British Telegraph on September
9th quoted former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker
who stated that the Bin Laden statement 'has Adam Gadahn
all over it'. Amriki's own speeches and possible influence
on the statements of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's second leader
Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, has raised an interesting development
in Al-Qaeda propaganda strategy in adapting its message to
the politics, history and even culture of US society.

Most recognize Amriki as being the main person behind the
al-Sahab media organisation, and it is thought that he runs
its editing suite from the back of a van somewhere in and
around the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
where Bin Laden and Zawahiri are also thought to be in
hiding. Amriki has previously made video statements in
English and is thought to be the third most important
spokesperson for Al-Qaeda. Although nominally involved in
al-Sahab he has been the only person apart from Bin Laden
in Al-Qaeda who has directed his messages specifically to a
US audience. It seems likely that Amriki is relied upon by
Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and also possibly more widely in
Al-Qaeda, as someone who is most sensitive to and
knowledgeable as to the most effective ways targeting the
US in its propaganda war.

Although Bin Laden and Zawahiri have directed many comments
and statements at the people and government of the US,
recent statements have shown that Al-Qaeda is attempting to
improve this particular media strategy. One of Zawahiri's
latest statements stated that Al-Qaeda is fighting on the
behalf of "all the weak and oppressed in North America and
South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world",
being possibly the first time that Al-Qaeda leadership has
stated that their struggle is also aimed at assisting the
world's oppressed. Zawahiri's statement also contained many
references to Malcolm X / Malik el-Hajj Shabazz, a figure
that still holds an emotive and profoundly political place
in the hearts and minds of radicals, Muslims and especially
Black people in the US. Zawahiri cited the famous militant
Black leader to call on Black soldiers in the US army to
recognise their historical and continuing oppression by the
US and to refuse to fight in a war that is not in their
interests; "And I tell the soldier of color in the American
army that the racist Crusader regime kidnapped your
ancestors to exploit them in developing their resources,
and today it is using you for the same purpose, after they
altered the look of the shackles and changed the type of
chains and try to make you believe that you are fighting
for democracy and the American dream ... And after you
achieve for them what they want, they will throw you out
into the street like an old shoe".

In Bin Laden's latest statement he takes up a similar theme
of racial divisions and tensions in US society by citing a
short Guardian Film which was syndicated by ABC about a US
Black soldier in Iraq; "Among them is the eloquent message
of Joshua which he sent by way of the media, in which he
wipes the tears from his eyes and describes American
politicians in harsh terms and invites them to join him
there for a few days. Perhaps his message will find in you
an attentive ear so you can rescue him and more than
150,000 of your sons …"

It has been speculated that Amriki is the person who is
essentially script-writing sections or even large parts of
Zawahiri and Bin Laden's speeches, this seems especially so
in the case of Bin Laden's latest video statement perhaps
drafting the entire speech. The question has to be posed:
is this an effective strategy on the part of al-Sahab? If
put into the historical context of conflicts in times gone
by, the current media strategy by al-Sahab has the
potential of being successful to some extent, and there is
even evidence that this is working on young people across
the West.

The period of Black, Hispanic and white leftist and
anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s and '70s in the US
saw these organisations ally themselves to struggles which
the US government considered a part of what was at the time
then the parallel of Al-Qaeda in terms of the way the
communists and the 'Evil Empire' were demonized and seen by
the US government to epitomize the very opposite of its
principles of American democratic and free-market values.
Significant sections, but by no means a majority of Black
political movements of Black radical movements in the US
have throughout the last century sympathized and even sided
with those the US are at war with. This has included Saddam
Hussein in the 1991 war, at which time influential rapper
Rakim in his pioneering Hip-Hop outfit with DJ Eric B
expressed support for Saddam Hussein with a mixture of
Third Worldist, Islamist and anti-capitalist lyrics on the
track 'Causalities of War':

… let's see who reigns supreme
Something like Monopoly: a government scheme
Go to the Army, be all you can be Another dead soldier?
Hell no, not me So I start letting off ammunition in every direction
Allah is my only protection
But wait a minute, Saddam Hussein prays the same
and this is Asia, from where I came
I'm on the wrong side, so change the target Shooting at the general;
and where's the sergeant?

One of the pet hate figures of the US establishment has
been the leader of possibly one of the biggest Black
political organisations: Louis Farrakhan, leader of the
Nation of Islam, whose international allies include Cuba's
Castro and Libya's Ghadaffi. One of the earlier leaders of
the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, was well-known for
supporting practically any militant opposition to US power
in the world from guerilla movements Vietnam to the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the equivalent of the 911
attacks of its time.

Following the Zawahiri statement in which he quotes Malcolm
X, one of the best documentaries on Malcolm X's life and
political beliefs overseen by his wife Betty Shabazz, was
edited into a pro-Al-Qaeda version of the original film,
renaming it 'Prince of Islam'. This was also accompanied by
the release of a pro-Malcolm X rap song and video entitled
'By Any Means Necessary' by the clandestine rap group 'Soul
Salah Crew' with which the aforementioned 'Prince of Islam'
film opens. The music video and the 're-mixed' film are
popular on video-sharing websites, showing that Zawahiri's
statement has been successful in fusing Al-Qaeda's jihadist
ideology with the radical message of Malcolm X.

Further back in history we can find examples of white US
soldiers defecting to North Korea during the war against it
by the US in the early 1950s, who broadcasted radio
statements encouraging US soldiers to defect, and who also
played acting roles in North Korean propaganda films
portraying the ignorant and racially chauvinist American.
Then there is the case of Robert F Williams from Monroe,
North Carolina, maybe the person most responsible for the
rise of the Black Power movement in the early 1960s who
conducted radio broadcasts encouraging Black US soldiers in
Vietnam to defect and also got Mao Tse Tung to issue a
statement in support of the Black civil-rights movement at
a time that Mao and Red China were seen as irreproachable
anti-imperialist radicals by the US government. Today there
is no sign of any radical Black movement in open support of
Al-Qaeda, but judging from the fact that throughout history
sizeable sections of Black people who have no trust
whatsoever in the US system, one can be sure that Al-Qaeda
are receiving some sympathetic nods when they raise the
parallels between the history of US oppression of Black
people and the way in which they are treated today.

The South Asia Analysis Group states that the Bin Laden
statement reads more like the text of a disgruntled
American than that of an 'Arab Sheikh' and that 'there are
more allusions to contemporary American history than to
ancient Islam'. Most of Al-Qaeda's statements are highly
political, derided by some trends within Islam as being
concerned too much with politics. In their statements
Al-Qaeda raise events in Islamic history to prove a very
contemporary political proposition. Nevertheless, it is
true to say that this latest statement has very few
references to Islamic history apart from the last section
whereby Bin Laden explains that rather than being guilty of
massive anti-Semitic practices, Islamic history, especially
that of the 700 years of Islamic rule in Spain, proved that
it was under an Islamic government that Jews and Muslims
lived together in peace and security at a time when they
were both persecuted. Bin Laden points the finger at the
West as the architects and executers of the genocide
against the Jewish people; "They [Jews and Christians] are
alive with us and we have not incinerated them".

This section of the statement has been derided by many
commentators and analysts which is rather heavy on Islamist
rhetoric calling on people in the US to convert to Islam,
something which Al-Qaeda has done in many statements. It
should be remembered that many Muslims, including rather
reformist Islamic trends which Western governments tend to
encourage, see the obligation of dawa - a religious call -
to the West to convert to Islam as one of the greatest
challenges facing the Ummah - the international community
or nation of Muslims - in establishing peace and justice
which they see as only being possible under Islamic law. So
it should not come as any surprise that Bin Laden also
calls upon people in the West to do so, albeit with the
obvious difference being that refusing to do so might
result in terrorist guerilla attacks. However Al-Qaeda like
many Muslims believe Islam to be the only viable
alternative to what they see as the morally decadent nature
of the West. If yesterday it was Marxism or communism that
was seen by many as, on the one hand the greatest enemy of
the West, and on the other hand, as the best possible
alternative to Western democracy and capitalism, it
shouldn't be so shocking in a context where Islam is seen
as having replaced communism as the great threat, that it
is seen by many Muslims as the great alternative to Western
capitalist democracy. Bin Laden sees that only Islam can
save the people of the US, and that of those Islamic
countries with which it is fighting, from war and
exploitation as he does not see any effective movement in
the US that fights the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq,
let alone a cohesive political movement that is able to
fundamentally challenge the system. Bin Laden argues: "you
can still carry anti-war placards and spread out in the
streets of major cities, then go back to your homes, but
that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of
the war."

Bizarrely, Bin Laden has become one of the most well-known
personalities in the world that is championing
anti-capitalist, anti-racist and environmentalist demands,
and all the while favorably quoting one of the greatest
radical minds of our times: Noam Chomksy. It is rare, even
on anti-war demonstrations in the West, to find such
radical pronouncements as those from Bin Laden when he
calls on people who have 'previously liberated yourselves
before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism', to
liberate themselves from 'the deception, shackles and
attrition of the capitalist system', a system he continues
to argue that 'seeks to turn the entire world into a
fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of
"globalization" in order to protect democracy.'

This Islamist leftist rhetoric has inspired annoyance in
some left-wing and radical circles in the West. While they
might share Bin Laden's radical comments they perhaps don't
appreciate Bin Laden picking holes in their political
strategies and movements so publicly. One has to wait and
see whether Chomksy shares this sentiment or like William
Blum, another leftist intellectual that Bin Laden has
previously praised, will be 'glad' about Bin Laden's name
dropping. If Bin Laden quoting Chomsky as a great writer
wasn't surreal enough, he goes on to praise the author of
the book Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer, currently one of
the main writers on the conflict-analyst organisation
Jamestown and former head of the CIA Bin Laden unit.
Scheuer has said in the past that "the Islamic media's
correspondents and editors work harder, dig deeper, and
think more than most of their Western counterparts."

This latest Al-Qaeda statement indeed shows that Bin Laden
has done his research, or perhaps Amriki has done the
legwork for him, in crafting a statement well-suited
politically to a US context. The calls for people in the
West to convert to Islam are not as outrageous and
important as they might seem; in this statement, like so
many others by Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's main emphasis remains
the demand for a security pact with the people of the West
conditional on the cessation of hostilities against Islamic
nations, especially in the Arab world and in Afghanistan.
In this latest statement it is probable that Amriki has
helped Bin Laden gear this statement for a US audience. No
matter how much analysts, journalists and commentators
rubbish Al-Qaeda's attempts at developing a discourse that
aims to bridge the political and cultural chasm created by
Western mainstream media in the present conflicts, Al-Qaeda
are, as shown in the example of the Prince of Islam and
Soul Salah Crew song, achieving some successes in this
strategy. As for Amriki, one can imagine that Amriki is
rather flattered by the amount of attention and
responsibility that he has been attributed in Al-Qaeda's
media campaign against the West, in addition to being the
first person since 1952 to be charged with treason,
something which undoubtedly boosts his jihadi kudos, and
may well be satisfied with his efforts. Possibly Amriki's
aim at the very least is to have got people in the world to
take notice as to this the latest development of al-Sahab's
media campaign, something which he has achieved, and in so
doing, has contributed to one of the most extraordinary
cultural accomplishments of our times - Al Qaeda with
American characteristics.

*Sukant Chandan is a London-based freelance journalist and political analyst. He runs two blogs http://ouraim.blogspot.com/ and http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com

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