The Counterterrorism Blog has two posts up about the most recent Osama bin Laden videotape, and while I defer to their analysis there are a few observations which struck me as I read Bill Roggio's and Andrew Cochrans's commentaries.
The first observation I have is about bin Laden's ill-informed sense of history. His ignorance has always been obvious, but we tend to treat his words as serious statements of a coherent worldview. Bill Roggio comments:
Osama bin Laden compares Zarqawi to Muhammed and the revered Imams of the Islamic faith, including Imam Ali, who is venerated in Shia Islam. Given Zarqawi's practice of slaughtering the Shia to incite a civil war, this hypocritical reference by bin Laden is curious.
It is only curious if we presume bin Laden to be a serious, studied man. But he is not. His sense of history, his understanding of the world, is a fractured jumble of hate and prejudice, constantly evolving to serve the needs of his propaganda. In this way, he is no different than every revolutionary of the last century or more, marauding into our consciousness making absurd historical polemics to justify slaughter and mayhem. He is no different than Hitler when he made irrational claims about the power of the Jews and the destiny of the German people; he is no different than Marx when he made his absurd claims about the forces of history and the war between the classes.
But I think we treat bin Laden differently than the monsters of the past: in some way, many in the West take his claims seriously, and treat them as learned expressions. But in the past, we treated Hitler as a serious statesman, and Marx is still today well-loved on many college campuses. We have seen Nazism killed off, and communism killed off at least as an intellectual enterprise, so we know what we are supposed to think of those ideologies. Too many don't know to understand bin Ladenism, Islamofascism, as an equally ignorant and ahistorical worldview. Al Andalus is no more a meaningful claim to the world's sense of justice than was the German demand for lebensraum.
The second observation is that like all revolutionary cliques, al Qaeda and associated movements working toward the same goals -- sharia at home and the humiliation of the West abroad -- suffer from obscure, internecine battles over territory and authority. Bill Roggio writes, "Finally, there is no mention of Zarqawi's successor, as I speculated yesterday. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have yet to publicly acknowledge the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."
I think it was in one of Robert Conquest's books that I read of the desultory, pointless arguments amongst Russian communist exiles in the years prior to the Russian Revolution. Bill Roggio's observations about what bin Laden said and didn't say recall those stories. By implication from bin Laden's tape, there is some hidden battle amongst the various jihadis in Iraq, one that makes no logical sense to an outsider but which makes perfect sense to ideological fanatics. This internal battle should remind us that the revolutionary Islamofascists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia are incredibly dangerous but incredibly unserious men.
Finally, one last observation. Bin Laden refers to Zarqawi as a lion. That he died on the run from an enormous American bomb should prove once and for all that it is better to be the lion hunter than it is to be the lion.
I should also note that at the Counterterrorism Blog, Walid Phares reports that a new bin Laden tape is expected soon.