The ghost came back yesterday, just briefly, from the darkness. But he was as much of a has-been as he was in his last years – weird, isolated Bin Laden making his very last starring performance as a seer, raging not against infidels but against “capitalism”. In a speech almost as worthy of a Brezhnev as an Islamist warrior he told Americans that they should be fearful of the “tyranny” of capitalism. It had come to this.
Osama bin Laden’s posthumous speech contained some standard fare on the US “corporations” that were destroying America – as if he had not tried to achieve the same himself – and returned to an old theme: America’s bankruptcy.
He predicted exactly that when he spoke to me well over a decade ago and I had scoffed at him. Now, oddly, from his watery grave – location in the Arabian Sea, anyone? – he sounds more prescient.
But the whole video production, organised by al-Qa’ida’s Egyptian successor-leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, only emphasized the decay of the organisation’s ideology and its palpable failure to overthrow the Arab dictators who are being slowly pulled from their thrones by secular Arab revolts. True, they needed the help of Nato in Libya, but the tape made no mention of this. Instead, we had to listen to Zawahiri congratulating the Arabs who had overthrown their regimes – without any help from al-Qa’ida – and then sermonising that the “blessed attacks” on 11 September 2001 were “a mighty event which shook and continues to shake the pillars of the global crusade”.
How out of touch can you be? Indeed, there were times when Zawahiri’s video appearance appeared to be of use only to himself and the Western neo-cons who wish to maintain Americans in a state of abject fear.
Did Zawahiri think his declining legions would be impressed? Did he really believe that the Arab millions who had paid – thousands of them in blood – for the Middle East revolutions, would thank al-Qa’ida for this encouragement?
“The Arab people have been freed from the chains of fear and terror, so who is the winner and who is the loser?” Zawahiri asked.
Was the irony lost on him? Yes, the Americans lost. But so did al-Qa’ida. Entitled “The Dawn of Imminent [sic] Victory”, the whole video affair suggested that only by “an era of true (another sic here, of course) Islam and Sharia-based governance” would real victory be achieved.
Well, maybe. But how come no Bin Laden portraits, no al-Qa’ida banners, adorned those epic crowds during the Arab awakening?
No doubt we shall hear from Zawahiri again. But these sermons – yesterday’s was an hour in length – have an eerie quality about them: a sense of al-Qa’ida’s political seclusion – whatever “victories” the US may claim over it – and the conviction that history has passed it by.
Of course, Zawahiri’s claims can be used by the fading Gaddafi and other Arab governments to “prove” that al-Qa’ida lies at the centre of all opposition to the autocrats. Zawahiri had already made the same vain suggestion to the people of Syria. It would have been too much for the al-Qa’ida leader to have apologised to the Arab world for his failures – violent men might only do that under torture – and I suppose it is still possible that some dangerous flowers lie beneath the desert floor, waiting to bloom.
But the greatest blessing that Zawahiri could have bestowed upon the Middle East’s Muslims – not to mention the Americans – would surely have been more appropriate than yesterday’s measly effort: silence.
Robert Fisk, The Independent