By YONAT SHIMRON
Raleigh News & Observer
July 26, 2005
A deep conviction that Muslims have been killed, oppressed and humiliated by the United States and its Western allies.
That, at least, is what drives Osama bin Laden, says Bruce Lawrence, a professor of religion at Duke University. Lawrence is putting the final touches on the first compendium of the terrorist mastermind's speeches.
The volume, due out this fall from Verso Books, includes an introductory overview of bin Laden's thinking and why that thinking is so popular among Muslim jihadists around the globe.
"Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden" is a collection of 22 speeches and interviews given by the al Qaeda leader between 1994 and 2004. Translated from the Arabic by James Howarth, the collection is not intended to either humanize or demonize bin Laden, but to illuminate his ideological underpinnings in politics and religion.
"Nobody's ever asked, 'Is this guy consistent?' " Lawrence said. "Is there any way to get through his protective shield or the way he wants to present his message?"
What Lawrence finds at the core of bin Laden's carefully constructed persona is not a terrorist seeking a target, but a victim seeking redress.
Bin Laden portrays the entire Muslim civilization as conquered, subdued and robbed of its resources by the West, beginning with the secret 1916 agreement by the British and the French to carve up the Ottoman Empire for themselves and continuing with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
One of bin Laden's favorite phrases is "Zionist crusaders," by which he means Israel and the West, particularly the United States. In his skewed, virulently anti-Semitic version of history, the United States and Israel are colluding with partners to attack Muslims around the world.
In his "us vs. them" scenario, the only climax is a violent and bloody one.
"There can be no dialogue with occupiers except through arms," bin Laden says. Of course, he realizes his group can hardly mount a conventional war against the West. But he relishes the David-vs.-Goliath match, Lawrence said.
Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc." and a fellow at the New America Foundation, said it's a good idea to publish bin Laden's texts, even though most of them are on the Internet.
"It's not the world's most exciting reading," Bergen said. But there is no doubt about bin Laden's influence on jihadist militants across the world, he added.
"The notion that he's 'out of it' is ludicrously misleading," Bergen said. "There's a direct correlation between what bin Laden says and what people do."
One of the reasons bin Laden resonates with alienated and rebellious young people is that his critique of the West is accepted in many quarters. "What's exceptional are his calls for violence," Bergen said.
Lawrence, who has written about violence in the Muslim world, did not come up with the idea of a bin Laden reader. Verso Books, based in London, contacted him and asked whether he would write the introduction.
Lawrence thought the collection could serve an educational purpose and agreed. "To understand bin Laden is not to agree with him, but to try to cope with him," said Lawrence, who won't get any royalties from the book.
Still, some wonder whether such a volume actually will bring insight.
"I don't see a whole lot of ground-cutting in putting together a bunch of addresses," said George Braswell, a retired professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who studies Islam.
Among the 22 pieces in the book is bin Laden's famous 1996 "fatwa," or religious decree, "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Two Holy Places." In this speech, bin Laden calls on fellow Muslims to push "the American enemy out of the holy land," by which he means Saudi Arabia and the Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina.
The volume also includes three interviews with bin Laden: a 1997 interview with former CNN journalist Peter Arnett and two 2001 interviews with Arab-language journalists Taysir Allouni and Hamid Mir.
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