Their Master’s Voice

Max Rodenbeck in the New York Review of Books:

Laden2When Osama bin Laden speaks, people listen. They tend, however, to hear different things. Take the coverage of his latest voice-from-the-mountain tape, released in mid-January. The New York Times and The Washington Post both headlined with the words “Bin Laden Warns of Attacks.” The equivalent two highbrow Arabic-language newspapers, al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat, led instead with the news that the al-Qaeda leader had offered a truce.

Neither version was wrong. As all four papers went on to explain, bin Laden had done both things: threatened to strike America again, and proposed a hudna, or cease-fire. Yet the difference in emphasis pointed to the roots of deeper misapprehensions. How, more than four years after September 11, and after so much subsequent bloodshed, can this fugitive terrorist still command the respect and admiration of a good number of his fellow Muslims? And why, after the mobilization of so many resources, has America’s campaign against him produced such unsatisfactory results?

One simple answer is that neither most Americans nor many Muslims have been listening closely enough. As a result, neither has fully understood the man, his motivations, or his aims. Whereas bin Laden continues to manipulate and mislead his Muslim audience, America has failed either to undermine him effectively or to speak persuasively to the Muslim public.

More here.

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