The documents captured in last year's raid that killed Osama bin Laden reveal al-Qaeda's intent to keep its propaganda focus on Western double standards and Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians. One internal document, criticizing mistakes made in al-Qaeda's public messaging, stated simply: "It was necessary to discuss Palestine first."
This emphasis on the plight of the Palestinians to rally support for an extreme Islamist agenda recurs throughout the documents, which were translated by West Point's Center on Combating Terrorism and released this month.
The U.S. press highlighted bin Laden's desire to strike again at the United States and his troubles controlling his decimated band of terrorists. And it's true that you will find bin Laden's U.S. obsession in the documents along with many references to slain militants who now need "God's mercy."
But the documents also reflect al-Qaeda's determination to exploit old propaganda themes against the U.S. and Israel while working in some new angles from the Arab Spring.
For instance, "A Letter of Hope and Good News to Our People in Egypt" credits al-Qaeda's "blessed attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania" with forcing the United States to alter its interventionist policies and pull its support from some of the Mideast's "oppressors and the tyrants."
Yet, while boasting about al-Qaeda's supposed role in the West's abandonment of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the letter also warns of the West's new tactics for containing the Islamic revolutionary cause. The letter cites the West's new "attempt to deal with the Muslim people through the policy of softness, deception, and soft power."
The letter describes the West's gentler tone as just new trappings for the old policy of subjugating Muslims, extracting Mideast oil and continuing military occupations. "They want our countries to have a democracy that will allow the continuation of their [Western countries'] occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and will allow their armies and fleets to continue to control the sources of oil," the letter said.
Then, trying to exploit both Western double standards and Israel's military threat to the region, the letter added:
"They want a democracy that will accept the Israeli military supremacy with nuclear weapons, which [former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed] ElBaradei did not dare to demand that they be inspected or impose any sanction against Israel because of them."
The letter continued:
"They [Western nations] want a democracy that accepts the confiscation of most of Palestine and giving it to the Zionist entity. They want a democracy that will continue the siege on Gaza and the suffocation of the resistance against Israel. ... This deceit by the Western governments goes beyond democracy and applies to their complaints about freedom of press and the bad treatment of journalists in Egypt, while they are the ones who bombed Al Jazeera's offices in Baghdad and Kabul."
Al-Qaeda's propagandists clearly understand the anger of many Muslims over the West's sanctimonious pronouncements about human rights and the rule of law, while ignoring those principles when they're not convenient.
Another document urges al-Qaeda operatives to package the 9/11 attacks as a victory for Muslims over the West.
"The tenth anniversary to the attack 9/11 is coming and due to the importance of this date, attention should be paid to start preparing for now. We need to benefit from this event and get our messages to the Muslims and celebrate the victory that they achieved. We need to restore their confidence in their [Islamic] nation and motivate them. ...
"We should shed light on the fact that in some past documentaries on al-Jazeera, some specialists confirmed that the events of 9/11 are the main reasons for the financial crisis that America suffers from."
Another document recommended that...
"...our work and messages concentrate on exhausting and straining the Americans, especially after September 11. We will continue to pressure the Americans until there is a balance in terror, where the expense of war, occupation, and influence on our countries becomes a disadvantage for them [the Americans] and they become tired of it, and finally withdraw from our countries and stop supporting the Jews."
Bin Laden and his high command also seemed aware of the harmful impact to the United States from President George W. Bush's decision to prosecute two wars while also cutting taxes, creating a huge budget deficit and then presiding over an economic collapse. "I would like to remind you that America will have to withdraw during the next few years because of many reasons, the most important of which is America's high deficit," the document said.
Though the authorship of the documents is often unclear, many appear to represent the words and opinions of bin Laden, possibly dictated to his wives while he hid out in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The trove of documents also included some criticism of bin Laden. One letter chastised him for attacking the United States prematurely and thus provoking a counter-attack that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan...
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