Thursday, 20 March 2008


Beyond Caricatures

By Sukant Chandan*
20 March, 2008

As George Bush announced ‘strategic victories’ in Iraq by helping to
foment the ‘first Arab uprising against Al-Qaeda’, Bin Laden again
stole the limelight by issuing a five minute audio statement in time
for the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and of the birthday
of the Prophet Mohammed. Leaving aside Bush’s dubious claims about
successes in Iraq (which even analysts very close to the US political
elite have been warning against) Bin Laden directs his comments to
the European governments and people. Bin Laden’s Islamist views and
violent struggle may very well be reprehensible to many but Bin Laden
remains one of the most high profile Islamist voices that is
expressing the opinions and feelings of many Muslims across the
world. There are issues raised in Bin Laden’s statement that European
would do well to address, being mainly the problem of European troops
in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and the high-handed and provocative
way in which Europe deals with Muslim sensitivities. It is incumbent
that Europe does so as these issues impact directly on race-relations
in Europe and Europe’s relationship with the Muslim world, a
relationship which is tense and often violent and will continue to be
so if current attitudes and policies remain unchanged.

In what is becoming increasingly common practice Al-Sahab the media
arm of Al-Qaeda provide their own English subtitles to the statement
so as to make their messages readily understood by Westerners and
Al-Qaeda’s English speaking supporters. The audio message is readily
available to view on many video sharing sites and news outlets on the
internet and shows Bin Laden brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle in a
training camp in Afghanistan from some years ago and.

Although there are many subjects that Bin Laden touches upon in this
latest statement the one issue that the Western media has homed in on
are the comments around the re-publication this year of the
Islamophobic Danish cartoons and Bin Laden’s threat to hit back ‘not
with what you will hear but with what you will see’. While it is true
that Bin Laden sees the atrocities committed by European forces
against Muslim civilians in Afghanistan as ‘paling in comparison’ to
the re-printing of these cartoons in Danish newspapers, there are a
number of other issues that Bin Laden raises that are just as
important but which is given little to no airtime in the mainstream
media. The media’s coverage of Bin Laden’s comments on the
re-publication of the cartoons does not give an accurate
representation of the way in which Bin Laden is presenting the
subject. By focusing only on the Danish cartoons issue in Bin Laden’s
speech, the media continues its culture of caricaturing Muslims;
taking issues out of context, portraying Muslims as people who do not
respect freedom of speech and who are irrationally intolerant.

In fact Bin Laden’s statement puts the cartoon issue into context by
talking of Europe’s military action in Afghanistan which results in
the killing of innocent men, women and children in mud huts; that the
cartoons and the aggression against the ‘weak and oppressed in our
countries’ are together evidence of the ‘continuation of the war’
against Muslims. Bin Laden argues that Europe has violated the rules
of war by killing innocents deliberately and in so doing means
Al-Qaeda too is not tied to any rules. He derides Europe’s lack of
‘etiquette’ in the war between them and points out that amongst the
billion and a half million Muslims across the world, not one of them
has insulted the Prophet Jesus which is a revered prophet in Islam.
These themes of European insult and hypocrisy are the main themes in
this latest statement.

Perhaps unsurprisingly what most of the media seem very reluctant to
report are Bin Laden’s comments about the allegations of bribery from
the Saudis to Britain over British BAE deals to Saudi Arabia, and how
a probe into these allegations was stopped by Blair at the insistence
of the Saudi King. Seen by many as a tenuous excuse for a cover-up
Blair cited security concerns for halting all investigations. A
little over a month ago the British Campaign Against the Arms Trade
told a judicial review in London that the government acted unlawfully
when it told the Fraud Office to stop looking into alleged bribes to
Saudi officials by BAE. Last year the British media reported that
more than $2 billion from BAE ended up in Prince Bandar’s bank
accounts in Washington, money which is said to be linked to an arms
deal negotiated in 1985 worth $43 billion.

The Bin Laden statement points out the hypocrisy of the British and
the Saudis. One the one hand Bin Laden states that while the
‘crownless’ King of Saudi Arabia can stop this British investigation,
he cannot stop the re-publication of the offensive cartoons,
something which Bin Laden argues he is capable of doing. On the other
hand Bin Laden argues that while the Europeans are happy to use the
‘sacredness’ of their freedom of speech to literally add insult to
injury on Muslims, they are not so keen on these freedoms when it
comes to investigating possible corruption. Bin Laden links the
cartoons issue with European hypocrisy and corruption with Saudi
Arabia, a state which has been one of Al-Qaeda’s main targets for
guerrilla operations in recent years.

Bin Laden raises another issue which has hardly seen a murmur of
protest is the appointment of Blair to the Quartet. After Blair’s
infamous role in being the closest and most loyal ally of Israel and
Bush in the wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, he
has been appointed by the EU to be the head of the Quartet in dealing
with the Middle East. Bin Laden explains that this is confirmation of
Europe’s attitudes towards Muslims. Bin Laden has raised an important
issue as Blair’s appointment does indeed signal a worrying sign to
Muslims that Europe is failing to put distance between itself and the
US military and propaganda campaign against independence movements of
the Middle East. Soon after the appointment of Blair in June last
year, one of the most respected Arab journalists raised the same
issue. Abdel Bari Atwan editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper
Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote in his opinion piece that the selection of
Blair indicates “once again the insistence of the western states and
the US in particular in provoking the feelings of the Arabs and
Muslims and continuing to adopt wrong policies which led to the
current state of bloody chaos in the Middle East. Blair, whom
President Georges Bush wanted to reward for blindly following his
administration, completely lost his credibility and is considered the
most hated person by Arabs and Muslims after President Bush”.
Furthermore Atwan wrote that rotten eggs were the only befitting
welcome for Blair when visiting Arab capitals, especially Jerusalem.

What seems to be lost in the headlines and selective reports about
this latest statement is that Bin Laden is essentially arguing that
the re-publication of the cartoons are significant in that they are a
sign to Muslims that not only will Europe treat Muslims in
Afghanistan and other countries with military terror, but will also
treat them with extreme insensitivity, failing to recognise that
there are certain ‘moral rules’ even in war that great powers in
history have followed. Bin Laden opens his address “to the
intelligent ones” in Europe, indicating that he is again, like his
previous offer of a security covenant, trying to reach out to those
in Europe who want to distance themselves from the war against Arabs
and Muslim peoples, and thus contribute to a more peaceful world. For
those who ridicule the possibility of people and governments
responding positively to Bin Laden, one can point to the recent
comments by Jonathan Powell, former senior aide to Blair who argues
for keeping lines of communication open with even the most bitter of
enemies: "There's nothing to say to al-Qaida and they've got nothing
to say to us at the moment, but at some stage you're going to have to
come to a political solution as well as a security solution. And that
means you need the ability to talk." Judging from the latest Bin
Laden message, Al-Qaeda have got something to say to us. If the
British could start talks without pre-conditions with hooded
guerrilla fighters from the Irish Republican Army who were blowing up
bombs left, right and centre in English towns, then developing
negotiations towards a peaceful and just agreement with today’s
hooded gunmen who happen to be Muslim and want to expel foreign
troops from their countries is not so much of an unimaginable
prospect as it might appear to some. The prospects for peace are
grim, and one hopes that we do not come to our senses about our
flawed foreign policies only after tragic events such as those in
Madrid in March 2004.


*Sukant Chandan is a consultant for Conflicts Forum, a freelance journalist
and independent publisher. He runs two websites:
Sons of Malcolm, and OURAIM.
He can be contacted at:


Kazilar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DAVE BONES said...

Excellent piece thank you.

Kathryn said...

Thank you for this extremely thoughtful, rational and thought-provoking piece. It is very much appreciated.