Does Osama bin Laden read the work of left-wing media figures and bloggers? It's quite possible, argues Brendan O'Neill:
When Al Jazeera broadcast Osama bin Laden's latest audiotape in January, it provoked the same sense of déjà vu as Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, recently published by the leftist publishing house Verso.
The book is a collection of every public utterance made by the Al Qaeda leader from 1994 to 2004. According to The Observer's excitable reviewer, it shows that he is a "charismatic man of action, an eloquent preacher, a teacher of literature and a resilient, cunning, wonderfully briefed politician." To me, however, there was something irritatingly familiar rather than surprisingly eloquent about his tone and turns of phrase.
Then it struck me: Bin Laden is a blogger. Not literally, of course, but he certainly speaks the language of the blogosphere. He references Robert Fisk and Michael Moore, those darlings of the anti-war Web. His latest statement recommends that people read Rogue State by William Blum, whose e-mail newsletter, Anti-Empire Report, is frequently republished and discussed in the left-wing blogosphere. Bin Laden repeats criticisms of Bush and conspiracy theories about 9/11 that I have read a thousand times on a thousand blogs.
It is often said that the blogging explosion was a by-product of the September 11 attacks, as people launched online diaries to try to make sense of those shocking events. Here's a thought: Perhaps bin Laden himself turned to the blogosphere after 9/11, in search of theories and arguments with which he might justify his murderous assault.
The latest statement reveals the extent to which bin Laden borrows from Western discussions of the Middle East. He seems less a man with a clear religious or political agenda than a parasite feeding off the fear and loathing of his enemies. Indeed, bin Laden has scolded President Bush for ignoring "U.S. opinion polls which [indicate] that the overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of the forces from Iraq." He seems a little obsessed by opinion polls. Shortly after the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, he cited "opinion polls showing that most people in Europe want peace." What kind of warrior for God needs to conjure up the authority of opinion polls—rather than, say, the authority of Allah—to justify himself?
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Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013