Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Osama bin Laden: Dead Man Talking?

See the man on the left? I’m speculating that this was a dying man.

Just one day after a purported audiotape from bin Laden surfaced early this week, a terror attack took place at an Egyptian beach resort, killing more than 20 people.

I just started doing this blog, and I don’t like to come out right off the bat sounding like I subscribe to conspiracy theories. I certainly don’t. I just happen to suspect that Osama bin Laden never made it out of Tora Bora alive in December of 2001.

Not that it really matters much in the larger scheme of things. This isn’t whistling past the graveyard. I don’t say this out of fear or denial, or out of hope that any threat from Al Qaeda diminishes in his absence. Al Qaeda does not depend upon him for its survival. I don’t claim to even know it for sure. I’m merely speculating, but the evidence and my gut instinct suggest to me that he has been dead for quite some time.

For one thing, I can’t understand why he would only make statements via audiotape rather than videotape. There’s no way we could pinpoint his location if he was videotaped in front of a bedsheet. IMHO, the videotape that was played on Al Jazeera just before the 2004 presidential election was questionable. It was distant, murky, and seemed uncharacteristic of the bin Laden we’d always seen, both in gesture and in manner of speech. I don’t want to get into the whole matter of which intelligence agencies considered it authentic and which ones did not. Besides, bin Laden has dozens of brothers and Al Qaeda has plenty of technical savvy. I wouldn’t say it was outside of their capabilities to put together audio and/or a crude video that could pass a voice-analyzing test.

Second, there was this report from a source in the notoriously undisciplined Taliban right after the fall of Tora Bora in December 2001 regarding bin Laden’s death and funeral. Its closeness to the events at hand lend it a certain credibility.
"The Coalition troops are engaged in a mad search operation but they would never be able to fulfill their cherished goal of getting Usama alive or dead," the source said.

Bin Laden, according to the source, was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease in mid-December, in the vicinity of the Tora Bora mountains. The source claimed that bin Laden was laid to rest honorably in his last abode and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief.

About 30 close associates of bin Laden in Al Qaeda, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members and some "Taliban friends," attended the funeral rites. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to the "great leader."

If it happened this way, Al Qaeda would never let the world know.

It increasingly appears that the mantle of leadership is being shared somehwat uneasily between Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is probably in hiding somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is in charge of Al Qaeda operations in Iraq. Zawahiri is the more senior figure, but he is vulnerable to a challenge to his leadership in that he has to remain in hiding in isolated spots and doesn’t have access to mountains of cash like the younger Zarqawi. Like bin Laden, Zawahiri would prefer to see all muslims united. Zarqawi, on the other hand, is a Sunni who has been absolutely sectarian in his attacks against the Shia. This has caused no small amount of tension between the two men. This is the biggest reason why I think bin Laden is not around anymore. I don’t think he would have stood for the attacks on the Shia mosques, and he would have had enough clout to stop it.

In July of 2005, a letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi was intercepted. Zarqawi is being scolded for the beheading of hostages and for the sectarian attacks against the Shia. (Apparently, there really are deep Sunni – Shia divisions. The Shia await a messiah-like figure called the twelfth imam, which the Sunni consider a heresy):
The position on the Shia: This subject is complicated and detailed. I have brought it up here so as not to address the general public on something they do not know. But please permit me to present it logically:

I repeat that I see the picture from afar, and I repeat that you see what we do not see. No doubt you have the right to defend yourself, the mujahedeen and Muslims in general and in particular against any aggression or threat of aggression….

People of discernment and knowledge among Muslims know the extent of danger to Islam of the Twelve'er school of Shiism. It is a religious school based on excess and falsehood whose function is to accuse the companions of Muhammad of heresy in a campaign against Islam, in order to free the way for a group of those who call for a dialogue in the name of the hidden mahdi who is in control of existence and infallible in what he does. Their prior history in cooperating with the enemies of Islam is consistent with their current reality of connivance with the Crusaders.

We must repeat what we mentioned previously, that the majority of Muslims don't comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it. For that reason, many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia. The sharpness of this questioning increases when the attacks are on one of their mosques, and it increases more when the attacks are on the mausoleum of Imam All Bin Abi Talib, may God honor him. My opinion is that this matter won't be acceptable to the Muslim populace however much you have tried to explain it, and aversion to this will continue.

Indeed, questions will circulate among mujahedeen circles and their opinion makers about the correctness of this conflict with the Shia at this time. Is it something that is unavoidable? Or, is it something can be put off until the force of the mujahed movement in Iraq gets stronger? And if some of the operations were necessary for self-defense, were all of the operations necessary? Or, were there some operations that weren't called for?

And is the opening of another front now in addition to the front against the Americans and the government a wise decision? Or, does this conflict with the Shia lift the burden from the Americans by diverting the mujahedeen to the Shia, while the Americans continue to control matters from afar? And if the attacks on Shia leaders were necessary to put a stop to their plans, then why were there attacks on ordinary Shia? Won't this lead to reinforcing false ideas in their minds, even as it is incumbent on us to preach the call of Islam to them and explain and communicate to guide them to the truth?

And can the mujahedeen kill all of the Shia in Iraq? Has any Islamic state in history ever tried that? And why kill ordinary Shia considering that they are forgiven because of their ignorance? And what loss will befall us if we did not attack the Shia? And do the brothers forget that we have more than one hundred prisoners — many of whom are from the leadership who are wanted in their countries — in the custody of the Iranians? And even if we attack the Shia out of necessity, then why do you announce this matter and make it public, which compels the Iranians to take countermeasures? And do the brothers forget that both we and the Iranians need to refrain from harming each other at this time in which the Americans are targeting us?

Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable — also — are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. You shouldn't be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men and their description of you as the sheikh of the slaughterers, etc. They do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq, and of you in particular by the favor and blessing of God.

Zawahiri, however, might not be the more powerful man at this point. After the latest round of attacks in recent months, Zawahiri has backed off, and is singing a different tune:


Joe said...

Well written and documented ( from the quality of your essays blogged so far, I suspect we'll quickly become accustomed to that from you Jeff.)

I have an uneasy feeling about the whole "terrorism thing" in the same way I do about many of the debates in/around Church topics. "Confieso" that my uneasiness is borne out of a skeptisicm that seems to be growing thicker, like a bear's coat, as the seasons of my life turn toward autumn (with winter out there on the distant horizon): We disuss and debate and theorize - sometimes even intelligently (as is the case with you Jeff) - about the true color of the sky, when I fear the real discussion ought to revolve around the texture of the earth under our feet. And I'm not referring to environmental issues.

There are erudite arguments and essays on the major subjects of International concern such as terrorism (as well as on the direction of the Church.) They are issues that have been served up to us on a plate to burden our minds, not to mention to test our loyalties. But who is (was) bin Laden and are his actions of any truthful consequence to the issues that are affecting so many of our lives and the lives of all of our children today and tomorrow? (The same question can be asked of Al Queda....) I think the answer is that we've been snowed a bit. And I do not want to belittle the importance of the hundreds of lives lost to terrorism (thousands if we include 9/11.... )... in this world of billions. In spite of my daily readings of today's sacred scriptures - CNN, NY Times, etc - chronicaling the activities of the current day saviour and his cabinet, I think we are falling into the trappings of distraction meant to entertain us, while the real story unfolds unobserved, undebated elsewhere. I ask myself: With hundreds of victims lost to terrorism and billions affected by hunger, is it logical that terrorism should be the epicenter of the world's attention so completely for so long? ¿Is it logical that terrorism and "those torrorist killers" become the cornerstone and pivotal point of all of the largest decisions facing mankind today? The answer is no I suspect. I also suspect that we've been (and will continue to be) duped. Yes, I've fallen for the "conspiracy" driven argument that the pursuit of power (not to be confused with wealth) can actually lead to large scale strategic thinking and a certain degree of manipulation. I also get the sense that it is not a new formula. The more I read, the less I believe what I'm being told...things just don't add up. The problem is I don't have the answers. I just feel more and more clearly that the answers we are given are not even in the same zip code as the Truth.
So, what the hell am I going on about?? We've been given bones to chew on over in the corner and the more we participate in the debate, the less we'll advance on what really matters, which brings me to my last rant and to the question you may have already aked: How does my uneasiness about all this relate my uneasiness about many of the debates of the church? Like the politics described above, we are distracted by tangential issues of "tantamount importance". A follower of Christ will be lost without a PhD in Catholic Theology in order to hold his or her ownin a lively debate. Yet, here is what matters: What was Christ really about? What can we really and truly take from His life, death and resurection? How can we extrapolate the teachings so evident in His example and apply them to living our own lives? And yet, we choose to debate the theological repercussions and intellectual bearings on Catholicism by condoning or not the use of condoms in aids ridden Africa. I've always oversimplified I guess. But, let's not get distracted. Let's keep it simple. What would Christ do...?


Jeff said...

Hi Joe!

Thanks for stopping in. Great post.

In case any bored, lonely soul happens to stop by and read this, I’ll just point out that my good friend Joseph has been living in Madrid for almost 17 years now. If anyone thinks he’s soft or naïve about terrorism, I would just say that he is well-acquainted with the effects, having seen the results of the Madrid train bombings and various ETA atrocities.

Joe, maybe you should be doing a blog instead of me. I love your question What would Christ do? To a lot of people, the WWJD question (“What would Jesus do?”) has become sort of the bland youth-ministry cliché and the butt of jokes, but your question with the emphasis on “Christ” puts a finer point on it.

Should terrorism be the epicenter of the world’s attention? In geo-political terms such as the “USA vs. the Axis of Evil”, probably not, in terms of the number of lives lost. But when we look at a situation like Darfur, we can see that violence unleashed by absolutist ideologies can cause a great deal of suffering, famine, and disease outside of an American political context. As my profile says, what concerns me is not so much apologetics, clever debate for the sake of scoring points, or even evangelization… but polarization. Globalization and the rapid pace of technological change is putting a tremendous strain on traditional societies. It causes a great amount of fear, and that fear often manifests itself in fundamentalism.

My concern is that on the one-hand, there are huge impersonal market forces being unleashed that crush the weak under the heel. On the other hand, all of the major faiths seem to be retreating back into fundamentalism as market forces tear apart their traditions. Jihad vs. McWorld. Both sides are very different, but what both sides seem to have in common is a lack of compassion. Our religious faith can be a wonderful thing, but there are times when a certain kind of faith can become toxic. I’ve tried my hand at apologetics, doing what I could to defend Mother Church. I’ve seen a lot of good done by some great, faithful guys in that kind of venue, but I’ve also seen a very ugly side to it. I’ve seen exchanges where people would have been at each other’s throats if they’d been in the same room. I’ve been in a few of those types of exhanges myself. I’ve though to myself, “My God, this is where the religious wars of the 16th and 17th century came from…”

I remain Catholic no matter what problem I happen to have with this or that particular issue. I also think Catholicism, particularly in the vision outlined in the documents of Vatican II, has something unique to offer to the rest of the world. I think the Catholic Church alone has the means to serve as a bridge between all of the world’s faiths in order to make a strong case for peace. I don’t think any other religious tradition even comes close to having the means to do so. What saddens me is that Vatican II seems to be increasingly disparaged and forgotten; in fact, blamed by many for the sexual abuse crisis and the state of the Church. I think that’s wrong.

In a public forum, I want to be very careful what I say. Hate is a very easy thing to sell, and there’s a big audience out there for it I hope that what I post won’t be hateful. I hope that what I write is about compassion rather than hate. You ask what Christ would do, and I admit that I am conflicted regarding non-violence. His way was non-violence. I have always held that as the ideal, but in practical reality, I’ve also recognized that the innocent need to be protected, sometimes with force if necessary, as the lesser evil. I’ve also held that fascism needs to be strongly resisted whenever it rears its head. I’m recognizing, though, that the world can’t keep on going the way it is going. We’re not going to make it if we keep on doing things the way we’ve always done them. So… I’m holding these things in tension. I hope you’ll stay patient with me as I try to work my way through them.

Peace brother,