March 20, 2008 | American Thinker
Bin Laden’s Threat Uncovers Jihadist Message for Europe
In an audiotape posted on the Internet, Osama Bin Laden threatened Europe with punishment because of its “negligence in spite of the opportunity presented to take the necessary measures” to stop the republishing of the Danish cartoons. It also menaced that the Vatican could be targeted for retribution for an alleged role in incitement “against religion.” This al-Qaeda warning would have been normal in Salafi Jihad logic. This radical movement obviously considers the drawings an ultimate insult to Muslims, and would unleash extreme violence in retaliation. Actually, one would have expected al-Qaeda to strike back “for the cartoons offense” a long time ago.
This particular audio is intriguing precisely because it is so “political,” almost too sophisticated. What can we read into it? I see in it the imprints of Jihadi “politicians” and strategists who are deeply immersed in the diplomatic games across the Mediterranean. Even the voice on the tape is indeed that of al-Qaeda's master, one can increasingly see the impact of political operatives on the movement's public statements.
A raw al-Qaeda reaction to the “infidel cartoons” would have been a strike back with harshness and highly ideological brutality. But the audiotape has other points to make than just about the drawings. The message is heavily targeting Europe, while using the “cartoon Jihad” as a motive. Bin Laden and the war room behind him are concerned about the rise of tough national leaders on the continent: Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown, and a possible reemergence of Berlusconi's party in Italy. In many spots in Europe, citizens are rejecting the Jihadi intimidations and becoming vocal about it. France is going to Chad, Germany has ships in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Spain is arresting more Salafists. But the traditional apologists for the Islamist agenda in Europe remain strong. Al-Qaeda wants to use the apologists against the “resistance.” What better than threatening to strike at Europe's peace if its liberal values are not altered?
In essence this is Bin Laden's message: Change your laws on liberties and freedom of expression or else. “If there is no check on the freedom of your words then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our hearts.” But a thorough investigation of the origination of this argument leads not to al-Qaeda's traditional rhetoric – the group isn't very concerned with changing the laws in infidel lands — but to demands that have been made by “long-range” Jihadists on European governments. A simple check of archives shows that it wasn't bin Laden or Zawahiri who asked Europe to enact laws against “insult to religion,” but rather more “mainstream” Islamist forces and intellectuals. Among them are the Muslim Brotherhoods, the Union of Islamic Clerics (also influenced by the Brotherhoods and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi), a number of European-based academics, and the bulk of Wahhabi radical clerics. This revealing reality if anything shows one of the two trends: Either al-Qaeda is using the argumentation of political Islamists to provoke a mass clash against Europe, or the “political Jihadists” are now able to influence the war discourse of al-Qaeda. In both cases, it deserves a closer analysis.
Bin Laden's tape curiously repeats statements by commentators on al Jazeera who accuse Europe of being the “associate” of Washington in a “war on Islam.” It also accuses the “continent” of being hypocritical by refusing to compromise its “liberal” legal system while it makes “exceptions” when it comes to “exempt American soldiers” from its laws: an argument simply too complicated for al-Qaeda but often advanced by Islamist cadres on al-Jazeera and online.
But the audio message nevertheless produces a classical series of threats by promising revenge to be “seen.” It indicts the Pope for “inspiring” this “crusade,” and doesn't miss a chance to incriminate the “apostate” Saudi monarch for not defending Islam. With such a mixture of rhetoric, how to read the letter? I would recommend looking at a changing context in the binLadenist messaging. A few months ago, he sent out a piece with heavy Trotskyist overtones, using domestic U.S. references: The impact of “American” speech writers was evident. In this audio message one can see the fingerprints of international (perhaps European) Jihadists who seem to be frustrated by demands they have made that have not met by the “renegade” European governments. The message to the continent is clear: Either you follow our advice and change your laws to accommodate our ideological agenda, or else al-Qaeda is unleashed on the continent. The voice of these shadow “advisors” – or at least their arguments — have made their way to the heart of al-Qaeda's messaging machine.
And last but not least, al Jazeera's “rapid response” to the tape came in a show titled Ma wara's al khabar (Beyond the News). The anchor, interpreting the message, said al-Qaeda “is perhaps now an idea,” hence very difficult to defeat by counterterrorism measures. A powerful assertion as European security services are bracing for potential strikes, in response to this tape but also in retaliation to a soon-to-be-released Dutch documentary that is presumably critical of the Koran. The al-Jazeera assessment of al-Qaeda is relevant as it projects the movement as invincible physically. More interesting, it frames bin Laden's threat as an issue of ijmaa' bayna al muslimeen, “consensus among Muslims.” It was al-Jazeera that claimed that “the cartoon issue has created an ijmaa' [consensus] among adherents.” The confusion between what bin Laden said it should be and what the Qatari-funded channel said it is is worrisome. For millions of viewers, the line is blurred.
Then came al Jazeera's “experts in Islamist movements.” Yasir al-Zaatra from Jordan said al-Qaeda doesn't have to send militants to Europe because “local groups could offer to wage operations on European soil.” Zaatra added that “some groups may have already offered bin Laden to perpetrate attacks.” He asserted that there are existing cells that would carry out these attacks, and bin Laden would take credit. To reinforce the credibility of the threat, Zaatra referred (strangely) to a statement by Michael Sheuer, a former CIA officer who was in charge of the Bin Laden unit. Quoting Scheuer, the al Jazeera analyst said “bin Laden's threats are always executed.”
Following him, another “expert on Jihadist groups,” Dr Diya' al Zayyat said the tape is a clear menace by whom he called (for the first time) the “general guide of the Salafi Movement worldwide.” He added that bin Laden would claim responsibility for a violent action “depending on the type of operation and the publicity that would follow.” Both commentators agreed that a revenge action will take place, and that European-based Jihadists will carry it out. Al Jazeera's anchor took it to the apex, calling bin laden's speech a “Jihadi road map.”
What I saw in the al Qaeda message and the al Jazeera debate was clear: The Salafist movement worldwide was “talking” to the Europeans and the Euro-Jihadis. It was threatening governments that they should retreat from the confrontation on the one hand, and unleashing the pools of indoctrinated Jihadis across the continent to “engage” in violence on the other. The near future will tell us if the trigger will be successful or not.