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by Jalal Ghazi

U.S. Media Misses Key Message In Latest Bin Laden Tape (Jan. 2005)

(PNS) -- While CNN focused on the threats to carry out attacks in America in Osama Bin Laden's latest speech, Arab media also saw an olive branch.

Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al Arabi newspaper, Abdel Barri Atwan, heard in Bin Laden's address a direct challenge to President Bush. "By announcing that preparations for operations against targets in the U.S. are underway," Atwan writes, "the Al Qaeda leader wanted to say that Bush's strategy, in which he states it is better to fight the terrorists in their countries than to fight them in America, is a failure."

In his speech, Bin Laden, after noting that Bush has refused Al Qaeda's demand that the United States withdraw from Iraq, says that "the explosions you have seen in the capitals of the European nations" prove that fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq has failed to contain the group. There have been no attacks on U.S. soil, Bin Laden says, "not because of failure to break through your security measures. The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through."

Atwan said that Bin Laden is trying "to say that Al Qaeda is not a terrorist organization that believes in killing Jews and crusaders, but rather a political organization with clear political objectives." He adds, "Bin Laden's offer to the United States is the first of its kind. He offers a long-term hudna, or truce, in exchange for a promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq and the Afghanistan."

The prominent Saudi Muslim scholar Sheikh Said Bin Mubarak Al Zughair also thinks Bin Laden offer should be taken seriously. "In times of wars, crises and bloodshed," he told Al Jazeera television, "calls for reason and peace must be listened to, regardless where they come from."

A journalist who specializes in Islamic groups, Yasser Za'atra from Jordan told Al Jazeera, "Bin Laden wants to say to the Americans and the entire world, this war is not a religious war...This explains why he did not use terms like infidels and crusaders in his message. He talks about an ongoing war between two enemies that can be ended with a truce."

Za'atra called the long period of time between Bin Laden's recent public announcement and his last "a very cleaver media strategy." Bin Laden resurfaced now, Za'atra says, to "put salt in Bush's bleeding wound" -- the Iraq war -- which has become "an internal nightmare" for the president. "Empires are defeated not because they lose 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 soldiers," Za'atra said. "They fall when their wars are transformed into internal crises."

Al-Quds Al Arabi editor Abdel Barri Atwan does not see why the United States can't negotiate with terrorists. America "sat at the negotiation table with the Vietcong" as well as the IRA, after all. "Arafat was considered a terrorist by Israelis and the Americans, but later he was received in the White House." Atwan also believes that Al Qaeda would honor a truce, as it has done with Spain after Spanish forces withdrew from Iraq.

Atwan, however, is pessimistic about the possibility of a U.S.-Al Qaeda truce. "The Americans will not accept a truce because Bush believes that he will lose credibility; the American people will tell Bush, 'This war has cost U.S. more than $200 billion, and now you want to negotiate with Bin Laden!?'"

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, shares Atwan's pessimism, but for different reasons. He wrote in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the United States can't accept the truce because "they know, despite the heavy price, the war with Al Qaeda has achieved its aims. They have brought down two hostile regimes, disciplined other ones, dispersed Al Qaeda, and consolidated their strategic presence in the region." Al Qaeda has succeeded in creating terror, Al-Rashed writes, but has not been able to achieve the power and presence it once enjoyed in Afghanistan.

One important aspect of Bin Laden's latest audiotape was missed by most commentators: its strategic vision is out of synch with ideas expressed in a speech by Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al Al-Zawahiri. In a speech aired on Al Jazeera on Jan. 6, Al-Zawahiri criticized the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for participating in the political process and condemned the Arab League for sponsoring a Cairo summit held to facilitate the engagement of the Iraqi Sunnis in the political process in Iraq. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is now asking for a truce with the United States, something that can only happen through direct negotiations. While Bin Laden still focuses on what is known in extremist salafi literature as "the distant war" with the United States and the West, Al-Zawahiri emphasizes "the near war," using violence to change secular Arab regimes and refusing negotiations with these U.S.-backed governments.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian specialist in Islamic movements, the poor quality of Bin Laden's audiotape when compared to Al Zawahiri's high-quality videotapes is an indication that the two are staying far from each other and have difficulty communicating. Zawahiri's tapes are of professional quality with eloquent subtitles.

Jalal Ghazi monitors and translates Arab media for New America Media and Link TV

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Albion Monitor   January 24, 2006   (

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