Two kinds of air wars have been waged in Afghanistan. One, with planes and bombs, has been conducted exclusively by the Americans, against which the Afghans and supporters of Usama bin Ladin have had no protection; the other by means of the airwaves. Thanks to al-Jazeera television’s refusal, so far, to be intimidated by American threats, Usama bin Ladin has been able to get his point of view across to the world.
While American propaganda has dominated the airwaves in much of the western world, it has demonstrably failed to win over the Muslims, who see clearly that this war is directed against them and Islam, whatever the politicians say to the contrary. It could be argued that America does not care about Muslim sentiment: true, but Muslim sentiment cannot be ignored completely either, because Muslims’ anger has implications for American policy in the region. The September 11 attacks were a stark reminder of this.
Usama has responded at intervals to the US propaganda war by sending video-messages to al-Jazeera. His messages have had far greater impact than American propaganda, which has been punctured by Usama’s pinpricks.
Since the US launched its war on Afghanistan, four videos have appeared. The first was released by Usama himself and broadcast by al-Jazeera on October 7: in it he outlined the Muslims’ grievances. These include the barbarous Israeli attacks on Palestinians, the death by starvation of more than 1.5 million people in Iraq, and the continued occupation and desecration of the Arabian Peninsula by American troops.
Before the US assault on Afghanistan, American officials had said that they would produce conclusive proof of Usama’s involvement in the attacks on September 11. On September 27 US secretary of state Colin Powell was forced to admit that the US did not even have circumstantial evidence against Usama. This, however, did not deter British prime minister Tony Blair from declaring Usama’s “guilt” on October 4, when he presented a 24-page ‘proof’ to the British House of Commons. The tone of the document was simply that “we think that Usama is guilty, so he is.” Leading British legal experts immediately demolished Blair’s “evidence”.
On December 13 the Americans broadcast a video which they claimed contained Usama’s “confession” of guilt. This was the smoking gun that was supposed to silence all doubters. According to the Americans, the video was obtained early in November from a house abandoned by Usama in Jalalabad; US president George Bush was reported to have seen it in the first week of November. If we accept this version, it must have been recorded before that date, yet in the video it appears to be the month of Ramadhan: Usama is shown greeting a guest from Saudi Arabia and there are several other people present as well, yet, contrary to tradition, no tea, coffee or snacks are served. These come at the end of the meeting.
Other clues also suggest that the video was recorded in Ramadhan, which started on November 17. The British Independent newspaper claimed on December 14 that it was recorded on November 9; CNN placed it even earlier. Both dates are problematic. If the video was made in an earlier Ramadhan (say in the year 2000), then the voice must have been dubbed onto an old video. There are computer programmes that can mimic any voice; one such video, showing George Bush denouncing Muslims, was released in December.
Let us assume the November 9 date to be correct. This coincides with the fall of Mazaar-e Shareef when the Taliban’s withdrawal from Jalalabad was imminent (November 13). There is no mention of either event in the video, nor of the heavy US bombing of Afghanistan. How could Usama be welcoming a guest from Saudi Arabia when there were bombs falling all round? It has been suggested that the video was made for recruitment purposes. Its poor quality discredits this theory. All the videos released by Usama before were of broadcast quality.
Quite aside from the fact that Afghanistan has already been destroyed, and al-Qaeda, Usama’s supposedly monolithic organisation, is on the run, Usama’s alleged confession has no value. It is the contents of the video that are of interest. During the conversation, the visitor shaikh quotes another person as asking: “how is Shaikh Bin Ladin?” This is an absolute giveaway. No Arab would refer to Usama as Shaikh Bin Ladin; it is like referring to king Fahd as “Bin Abdul Aziz.” Obviously someone, dubbing the video at the Pentagon, CIA headquarters or Hollywood, forgot this little detail or never knew it.
Then there is the question of the Usama tape broadcast by al-Jazeera on December 26. First, it disproved the US claim that Usama was dead in some cave; the Afghan mercenaries sent to scour caves in the Tora Bora mountains decided they would rather celebrate Eid with their families: on December 16, the day of Eid, they announced that there were no more al-Qaeda people left in the caves and that Usama could not be found. The brave Americans decided not to send in the marines to do the job. After so much hype about Usama being trapped, he apparently disappeared into thin air. The red-faced Americans decided to make a fuss about Mullah Omar, the deposed leader of the Taliban, instead.
Another interesting feature of this latest video (December 26) is that Usama looks much thinner. In the December 13 video he looks bulky, as if he had put on considerable weight. This could hardly be the case if the two videos were made on the dates claimed. What is probably closer to the truth is that the December 13 video is really a much older video, with voice dubbed on in order to “prove” that Usama had confessed to the September 11 attacks.
Interestingly, in the December 26 tape, Usama again denies his involvement, although CNN and other western media outlets ignored this fact. Translation of the December 13 tape was also clearly doctored; for instance, Usama refers to the September 11 events as “the” blessed attacks, while the Americans’ translation says “our” blessed attacks. Such crude trickery may hoodwink Americans, but it does little to convince Muslims.
We may yet see more video-games being played if Usama is alive and the Americans do not bomb al-Jazeera’s offices in Qatar, as they did in Kabul on November 13. Everybody who can should keep an eye on al-Jazeera.