Some words from the introduction to Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden


In 2005, Verso published Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, a collection of the various statements issued under bin Laden's name since 1994. In his Introduction, the book's editor, Bruce Lawrence notes the absence of any social dimension to bin Laden's thought:

Bin Laden was barred from the kind of analysis that would have allowed him to distinguish the different structural features of the various Muslim societies in which jihad was to be awakened, and made him hesitate in inflecting the notion of "One, Two, Three, Many Afghanistans." Morally, he does denounce a host of evils. Some of them—unemployment, inflation, and corruption—are social. But no alternative conception of the ideal society is ever offered. There is an almost complete lack of any social program.

This alone makes it clear how distinctive al-Qaeda is as a phenomenon. The lack of any set of social proposals separates it not just from the Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades, with which it has sometimes mistakenly been compared, but—more significantly—from the earlier wave of radical Islamism, whose leading thinker was the great iconoclast Sayyid Qutb

Lawrence goes on to write, somewhat prophetically, about the possible futures for bin Laden and his legacy:

Despite these crippling weaknesses, the force of bin Laden's appeal is far from spent. The reason for that is very clear. Not only has the West's long-term abuse of the Middle East, which gives his movement its moral power, not been in any way amended since he began his struggle. It has now been virulently aggravated by the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq, visiting biblical humiliation, destruction, and chaos on the third most hallowed land of the umma (after Mecca/Medina and Jerusalem). If ordinary Muslims doubted the designs ascribed to the West by bin Laden before the invasion of March 2003, and all that has followed, considerably fewer are likely to do so today.

In the infernal landscape created by the shattering of Iraq, dedicated fighters inspired by his summons proliferate to carry out deadly suicide missions, alongside a nationalist resistance which has learnt to cooperate with them. The ranks of jihadi are being replenished with every week that American forces and their allies remain. Can the carnage cease until they are driven out or devise a face- saving way to retreat?

Bin Laden's own fate remains uncertain. Unless he dies a natural death in hiding, it seems inevitable that sooner or later his hunter will catch him. If captured alive, he will doubtless be killed on the spot, as Che Guevara was forty years ago. His captors will know that it would be useless to torture him for information, as they have his lieutenants; while to put him on trial would risk huge embarrassment for those attempting to judge him, given his powers of eloquence and their own record. He is not troubled by the predictability of this end:

"So let me be a martyr,
dwelling in a high mountain pass among a band of knights who,
united in devotion to God, descend to face armies."

This poem, which concludes his Sermon for the Feast of the Sacrifice (Statement 19, included in Messages to the World), could be bin Laden's epitaph.

His posthumous legend will live on, like that of Guevara, to inspire other such knights, until such time as different, more humane heroes can attract the idealism of Muslim youth, and find a better way not only to liberate their homelands but also to forge a brighter future for those liberated.

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