Why did Osama bin Laden release a video four days before the upcoming American election and, coincidentally, just as Yasser Arafat has, seemingly, departed the world stage?
For the first time, Osama takes full responsibility for the 9/11 attacks against America. Neither the Zionist Mossad nor the CIA did it. He characterizes al-Qaeda as seeking "freedom for the Muslim nation" and explains that Islamic jihad does not oppose infidels but opposes specific American policies. The terror master says: "Our patience ran out (after) we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israel alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon." Finally, Osama threatens more terrorism if America does not change its foreign policies.
Al-Qaeda’s leader is, naturally, not telling the truth.
For example, Syria, and the Iran-backed Hizbollah have totally occupied and destroyed Lebanon. Neither America nor Israel has done this. In addition, after Jordan massacred and exiled Arafat's terrorists, they went to Lebanon where they proceeded to murder and persecute Lebanese Christians, ruin all civil life, even for their own people, and rain death down upon northern Israel. That is why Israeli Prime Minister Sharon finally invaded Lebanon. (Visit www.phyllis-chesler.com to see a 45 minute video of a Maronite Christian woman who endured the Palestinian occupation of southern Lebanon and lived to tell the tale).
Osama also refers to "the destroyed towers in Lebanon." None were destroyed by America or Israel. However, on April 18, 1983, a suicide car bomber, (probably backed by Iran's Hizbollah), blew up the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing sixty three people, including seventeen Americans; on October 23, 1983, Hizbollah again blew up both the U.S. Marine barracks and the French military headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 American marines and 58 French paratroopers.
The Islamic world and western analysts have also drawn these conclusions. But, what crucial clues have they failed to notice about Osama's tape?
Osama taunts President Bush, tries to shame him--a typical Islamic-Arab technique of punishment, manipulation, and control. Perhaps Osama believes that this will persuade Americans to vote for Senator Kerry, and not for the "shamed" President. Osama declares:
"We never thought the high commander of the U.S. would leave 50,000 of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child [this was poorly translated from the Arabic as it had specified a female child] discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than paying attention to planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation, thanks be to God."
Again, he is not telling the truth. Nothing could have stopped the planes.
But now, he gives himself away, both culturally and autobiographically. Osama is scornful, contemptuous--heartbroken? -- because President Bush dared to patiently listen to a "little girl" for many minutes when, damn it, he should have been paying attention to what he, Osama, had just done: crash two planes into the Twin Towers and another plane into the Pentagon.
Incredibly, Osama seems to be competing with a little girl for President Bush's attention. Where Osama comes from, girls (and women) simply do not count. Only grown men and boys do. It is an insult that President Bush does not immediately pay attention to Osama. Worse: Perhaps President Bush's quiet and visible commitment to literacy for girls as well as boys actually enrages Osama. Why do girls need an education anyway? Or, (sorry Michael Moore), is Osama somehow undone by President Bush's ability to contain his emotions in order not to frighten the classroom children?
In Osama's world, grown men are allowed to become emotionally "hysterical;" the fact that this may frighten, even traumatize children, does not matter. (Think of the Islamic Arab street and the "hysterical" quality of the funerals of homicidal suicide bombers, replete with fully armed, masked men and ululating, veiled women.) Arab Muslim adults do not have to contain their emotions and remain calm; they can act out both privately and publicly, and in front of the children.
In demanding that President Bush pay attention to him, is Osama somehow confusing President Bush with his own Yemeni father, Mohammed, who had ten wives and 54 children? Osama was the seventeenth of twenty four sons--how much positive paternal attention could he have received? (Also, his father died when he was only ten years old).
More importantly: Osama's mother, Hamida, was a Syrian whose father gave her to Mohammed bin Laden as part of a business deal. Hamida was known as "Al Abeda," ("the slave.)” But, she was also known for being outspoken and western. (She liked designer pants and suits by Chanel). Poor Hamida was also the fourth wife--an unlucky position since Mohammed bin Laden engaged in the convenient practice of divorcing his fourth wife so he could remarry. (Muslims can only have four legal wives). In addition, Mohammed bin Laden punished Hamida by permanently exiling her to another city. He did so when Osama was not yet two years old. He was brought up by a stepmother, Mohammed's first wife, Al-Khalifa.
Thus, Osama not only lost his mother at a very young age. He also had to live with her devalued status as a woman, a "slave," a divorced wife, and as an admirer of western couture. Osama had to overcome not only the "shame" that all Arab Muslim men unconsciously suffer, namely, being of (devalued) woman born; he also had to overcome the shame of being abandoned by a divorced, "slave," and pro-western mother.
Are we saying that Osama's tape can be reduced entirely to autobiographical ravings? No. But we cannot afford to neglect this dimension. Focusing precisely on such childhood and cultural variables will be crucial in any attempt to bring democracy to this region.
The overall status of women, as well as specific practices such as polygamy, female illiteracy, veiling, stonings to death, and Arab honor killings all shape Arab Muslim psychology and national character. It is important that we pay attention to such Arab and Muslim cultural values in order to understand how these values have affected someone like Osama bin Laden --and there's more like him where he came from.
Let us briefly return to Osama's tape. He is very bitter about both Presidents Bush. He compares them to the corrupt monarchies and theocracies in the Middle East. He says that the elder Bush "transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it the Patriot Law to fight terrorism. (The elder Bush) was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from rulers of our religion to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times."
Here again, he is confusing President Bush with the Saudi rulers--and with his own father and older half-brothers--who have disinherited him, if not financially, then psychologically. Osama (and many western intellectuals) both view President Bush as an ally of the House of Saud. To the extent to which this is true, Osama is at war with the House of Saud not only because they have disinherited him but because he finds them far too modern. Osama is also at war with America and Israel because of their stated, if not fully actualized values of modernity, democracy, human rights, and women's rights.
Finally, Osama is also still psychologically at war with his father Mohammed--who was a builder and who renovated the famous mosques in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. While Muslims have destroyed and torched mosques, Osama has not directly done so. He can, however, destroy buildings that dare to "tower" over mosques. This is forbidden. No infidel or "dhimmi" building can be higher than a Muslim building. What proof do we have for this interesting but arguably dramatic statement? Osama's code name for his terrorist attacks are as follows: the attack on Kenya was known as "The Holy Ka'aba (which is in Mecca), and the attack on Tanzania was known as the "Al Aqsa" (which is in Jerusalem).
Osama bin Laden is a sadistic, political serial killer. He is taunting President Bush and America with this tape in the same way that serial killers taunt the police with notes, calls, and with the tableaus of the dead that they so carefully stage. Osama's rage is not merely tactical or strategic but is also motivated by his early childhood and family dynamics.
Let us make sure that America defeats Osama and his followers. Let us hope and pray that, despite every obstacle, that America can help free Muslims--especially women, intellectuals, dissidents, and the poor, who have been held hostage by savagely reactionary rulers for too long.
Phyllis Chesler., Ph.D is the author of twelve books, including the classic Women and Madness (1972), Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (2002) and most recently The New Anti-Semitism. The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It. (2003). She is working on a new book for Palgrave-Macmillan (St. Martins). She may be reached through her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
NANCY H. Kobrin, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and Arabist in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along with her co-author Yoram Schweitzer, research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, they have written a book--The Sheikh’s New Clothes on suicide terrorism. It also includes an introduction by Dr. Chesler and a special chapter by Reuven Paz, Ph.D., Director of PRISM, Project for the Research of Islamist Movements, www.prism.org.il
Peter L. Bergen. (2001). Holy War, Inc.: Inside The Secret World of Osama bin Laden. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 115.
Avner Falk. Osama bin Laden: A Psychobiographical Study, Mind and Human Interaction, vol. 12, 2001, p. 161-172.
Nancy H. Kobrin, Psychoanalytic Notes on Osama bin Laden and His Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders, The Annual of Psychoanalysis, vol. 23, 2002, p. 211-220.
Adam Robinson. (2001). Bin laden: Behind The Mask Of The Terrorist. Edinburgh/London: Mainstream Publishing, p. 49-60.