Osama bin Laden, Bard of Terror

Arab culture places a high value on poetic expression, so it is no coincidence that it appears repeatedly in Al Qaeda’s propaganda. Although much of this poetry is not very good, it nonetheless underscores the image that Osama bin Laden wishes to project, namely that Al Qaeda’s message, in contrast to that of Arab kings and presidents, is authentic and reflects “real Islam.”

PRINCETON – In Riyadh last March, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decorated American Vice President Dick Cheney with the Kingdom’s Order of Merit. This gesture elicited hundreds of Internet postings from Arabs condemning the award as treachery and lamenting the pitiful state of leadership in the Arab world. To cite only one comment, addressed to the King: “Shame on you for claiming to be Custodian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries” in Mecca and Medina.

At the same time, Osama bin Laden released two audio statements condemning Western and Israeli attacks on Muslims and reiterating the need for violent warfare to liberate occupied Muslim territories from the infidels.

In terms of media strategy, the contrast between the leaders of the Arab countries and bin Laden could not be starker. On the one hand, Arab kings and presidents lack charisma, seem politically impotent and are rarely, if ever, on message with respect to the “big issue” concerns of the peoples of the Middle East.

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