Bin Laden's message

Amir Taheri:

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...Bin Laden appears to have abandoned his messianic pretensions. He no longer wants to save humanity from kufr (unbelief) and plant the banner of the Only True Faith on top of every capital in all continents. He is, in fact, reading an op-ed piece written in the style of Michael Moore.

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Finally, and here is the most surprising theme of the message, bin Laden is offering the Americans a deal. To cast himself as an honest deal-maker, he takes up some of Michael Moore's themes, especially about President Bush not reacting to the 9/11 attacks fast enough.

The deal is simple, and bin Laden hammers it in more specifically: "Do not play with our security, and spontaneously you will secure yourself."

What does this mean? Translated into practical terms, it means that bin Laden would call off his hounds, if he has any left, provided the United States and its allies stop hunting him down.

Compare this with bin Laden's previous statements, and you will be struck by the change of tone and substance. He is no longer promising to destroy America come what may. Nor is he issuing one of his typical jeremiads about the Americans never again being safe or secure. Nor, again, is there any sign of one of his favorite phrases: "Every street in America will become a river of blood."

Also gone are all his pretensions that his perverted version of Islam provides an alternative world vision.

IN offering a deal to the Americans, bin Laden has few cards to play. He is holed up somewhere with his movements seriously restricted. His group has managed to produce just three videotapes and four audiotapes in four years — not an impressive figure even for amateurs who make home movies. In the past four years, a number of terrorist attacks have been attributed to al Qaeda. But in not a single case, from Bali to Madrid to Islamabad to Tunis, has a clear link with al Qaeda been established.

Most experts agree that the threat comes from a wide variety of terrorist groups with little or no central coordination and command. In any case, the latest State Department estimates indicate a fall in the number of international terror attacks in the past two years compared with the years 2000 and 2001.

More importantly, there has been no terror attack in the United States or in the territory of its closest allies — the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan and Australia.

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Appearing on the eve of elections in democratic countries to throw in a political hand grenade is the major asset that bin Laden has left. And it is on that basis that he is offering a deal.

Bin Laden may have the illusion that offering an olive branch (albeit in his own strange way) might pave the way for negotiations with a putative Kerry administration in Washington. There is, however, no chance that any American leader would ever be able to take up the fugitive's offer.



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