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Lynch on OBL’s latest video 15, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Terrorism.
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Marc Lynch has some interesting things to note about Bin Laden’s recent video.

1) It is quite hard to get hold of a copy: are Al Qaeda having issues with their “distribution mechanisms”

2) There are no English language subtitles on a video purported to be ‘for’ the American people: “quite odd…degraded capabilities?”

3) –

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.

This tape seemingly represents an effort by bin Laden to recapture the mantle of a generalized resistance to the West and to Israel and to downplay the salafi-jihadist tropes so beloved of the jihadist forums.  Where the ideologues of the forums eviscerate Hamas, bin Laden speaks in general terms about Palestine.  Where the forums obsess over fine points of salafi-jihadist doctrine, bin Laden speaks only about political conflicts in Palestine and Afghanistan. American strategic communications efforts towards the end of the Bush administration and into the Obama administration had considerable success in hurting al-Qaeda’s image by making it a debate about them, not about us.  It appears that al-Qaeda Central has absorbed this lesson and is attempting to turn the tables and it make it once more about America and Israel.

Bin Laden’s heavy focus on Israel is not new, despite the frequent attempts to argue the opposite. He has frequently referred to Israel and the Palestinians since the mid-1990s. Whether he “really” cares about it is besides the point — he understands, and has always understood, that it is the most potent unifying symbol and rallying point for mainsteam Arab and Muslim audiences.  Al-Qaeda and the salafi-jihadists in general hurt themselves quite badly over the last few years with rhetorical attacks on Hamas and with the emergence of the Jund Ansar Allah group in Gaza.  Tellingly, bin Laden says nothing of either of these and sticks to generalities about Palestinian suffering and Israeli perfidy.

4) A focus on the American ‘Israel Lobby’ is more nuanced then previous ‘clash of civilizations’ rhetoric

5) –

Overall, this tape struck me as something significant.  Al-Qaeda has been on the retreat for some time.  Its response thus far to the Obama administration has been confused and distorted.  Ayman al-Zawahiri has floundered with several clumsy efforts to challenge Obama’s credibility or to mock his outreach.  But bin Laden’s intervention here seems far more skillful and likely to resonate with mainstream Arab publics.   It suggests that he at least has learned from the organization’s recent struggles and is getting back to the basics in AQ Central’s “mainstream Muslim” strategy of highlighting political grievances rather than ideological purity and putting the spotlight back on unpopular American policies.  Several recent commentaries by leading Arab analysts – including today’s column by the influential al-Quds al-Arabi editor Abd al-Bari Atwan — suggest that this may be paying off. American strategic communications efforts will need to up their game too.

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