Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Has Osama bin Laden Lost His Groove?

The controversial new movie “United 93” opened in U.S. theaters on Friday. This, of course, is the story of Osama bin Laden’s fourth team of Al Qaeda hijackers, who targeted the jetliner for the U.S. Capitol building before passengers forced them to fly it into a field in western Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.

That extraordinary drama tends to get overlooked when most of us summon up visions of 9/11 such as the flaming twin towers and the charred hole in one side of the Pentagon. Not me. As one of the comparatively few folks who did not follow that morning's apocalyptic events on a television, I intuited fairly quickly that the one jetliner that National Public Radio said was unaccounted for as the minutes ticked by was headed for the Capitol.

Recalling that thought, in turn, prompted another: Although our wounds are still raw four and a half years after 9/11, does Osama bin Laden -- the man whose incarnate evil looms over that aweful day -- still matter as much as he once did?

Of course he still matters, but I have to wonder how much after combing through his most recent audiotape, which was released on Al-Jazeera on Sunday.

It may be no coincidence that the triple terrorist attacks at an Egyptian resort came only a day after OBL's latest audiotape was aired and were followed by release of a videotape by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, OBL's main man in Egypt. While Al Qaeda has been hobbled and may no longer be capable of mounting coordinated attacks on the scale of 9/11 or even the American embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, we ignore the bearded one at our own risk.

Nevertheless, I found OBL's most recent pronouncement significant for what it did not say, as well as what it did.


Al-Zarqawi did mock U.S. efforts in Iraq his videotape, but OBL was mum on what was Islamic terrorism's leading front against the westerns infidels not that long ago. A gleeful (perhaps too gleeful) TigerHawk offers his take on this omission:

First, al Qaeda tried to kill Americans, per bin Laden's orders. It largely failed. Then al Qaeda went after America's allies, and succeeded only in turning public opinion against itself in every Muslim country it attacked. After thirty months of battlefield defeats and political embarrassments, bin Laden won't even mention Iraq in one of his rare public utterances, and he rallies his troops to fight a war where American soldiers aren't. How humiliating. How delightful.

Back in March, he had called on Palestinians to boycott the election won by Hamas. That edict was widely ignored, and he took another shot at the radical party in his latest statement. This prompted a rejoinder from Hamas to the effect that it no longer had anything in common with OBL.

He called on Muslims to go to the Sudan not to save victims of the genocide there but to wage holy war against United Nations peacekeeping forces. The Sudanese regime’s rejoinder was hypocritical to be sure, but it too told him to bug off. (Recall that OBL ended up in Afghanistan after he was booted from Sudan.)

The rest of OBL’s message was, I daresay, comical:

He wants those offending Danish cartoonists turned over to him. He wants Muslim “liberals” to be silenced. He wants Muslim TV stations to stop broadcasting “Crusader” propoganda. He wants the Saudi king to shut his yap about the so-called Clash of Civilizations. And he wants western governments to know that they erred in refusing to accept his earlier offer of a truce.


Al-Zarqawi's bravado notwithstanding, Osama bin Laden's failure to mention Iraq is significant and perhaps an acknowledgement that insurgents have been bettered by U.S. forces and/or eclipsed by sectarians militias who march to no drummer but their own.

What is beyond dispute is that OBL is increasingly out of step with and alienated from the very Muslim world that he purports to speak for.

I do not suggest that Hamas or the subjugators of the pitiful Darfur masses are an improvement over OBL, Al Qaeda or OBL’s onetime Taliban hosts. But the radical Muslim world -- and the Muslim world as a whole -- is moving on without the bearded one, who acts increasingly like a cranky old man in the mountain.

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