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November 01, 2004


From what I've read, and there is more than what was aired, it sounded like OBL was hinting at a compromise of sorts, in his twisted faux American familiarize way. He's on the run, in his own rathole (although he prepared better than SH). Other than sadly being alive, I don't think this politicizes as much as he might have thought. A non issue at this juncture (other than the election winner will stay the course to some degree(.


Thanks for the post.

I just want to state for the record that I don't think that what Bin Laden says should sway people one way or the other. My comment was more about how we don't know what he was actually saying and I find that frustrating.

I think we have spent so much time talking about Bin Laden and when you actually read his statements it tells you everything you need to know about him... but for some reason it isn't very common that we do that.

What's in the full text? Does anyone know where to find it?

"I accept at face value the spin of an unknown internet "Islamist" website without some kind of corroboration by, say, someone with credibility. "

Since my wish list is getting answered I would love to see Hilzoy and Katherine utilize their impressive research skills to do some ground work on this... ; -)

as well as others...

Of course I undertand that everyone has their own interests and limited time...

Thirdly, you're presuming the translation to be correct. Every translation I've seen (save MEMRI's) omits the crucial quantifier "U.S." from "state" -- the implication being that this is bin Laden's attempt to get the U.S. as a whole out of the anti-terrorism game. I don't know any Arabic whatsoever but I'd definitely regard this translation with suspicion until further corroborated.

Von, speaking of idiots (but not in caps) the ever-lovely William Safire has his NY Times Op-Ed today: Osama Casts His Vote, And it's surely not for Bush.

Idiot. Ah, that felt good.

Here is Al Jazeera's translation of the entire tape.

It is really weird.

At times he makes arguments that bear some resemblance to U.S. hawks' (in reverse, of course):

I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy.

The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon? And the whole world saw and heard but it didn't respond.

He credits himself with causing the recession and the decifit--making the same argument as Bush, more or less:

Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.

As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.

In other places (more numerous places) as others have noted, he cribs from Bush's left wing critics. There is more of this in the full translation--you've got the war for oil thing & a mention of Halliburton's contracts as well as the previously remarked on mention's of the Patriot Act, My Pet Goat, and Florida.

He quotes aphorisms both familiar:

"As has been said, "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure."

"And it all shows that the real loser is...you. It is the American people and their economy."

And unfamiliar:

"[Bush] fits the saying, "Like the naughty she-goat who used her hoof to dig up a knife from under the earth"

I find Daniel Benjamin's" interpretation most plausible of those I have read. Benjamin says the main audience is the Arab world, not Americans, and bin Laden spin the election to claim victory in any case:

By putting his bloody fingerprints on the election, Bin Laden has positioned himself for some bold post-Nov. 2 propaganda. If John Kerry wins, the Saudi will surely claim credit for regime change in the United States, much as jihadists have gloated about the fall of the Spanish government after the Madrid train bombings in March. If George W. Bush is re-elected, Bin Laden will crow to the Muslim world that the electoral results confirm what he has been saying all along: The American people are determined to inflict harm on Muslims, occupy their lands, and destroy Islam. They've reaffirmed it, he will say, by re-electing the man who invaded Iraq.

I believe that the full text is here(with all the caveats about the site and the nature of translation in general). I don't see much use in parsing the whole thing (though there have been (rather idiotic IMHO) suggestions that only parts of the tape were presented because other parts would support Bush) because we really have no idea what the internal dynamics are of AQ and what points are being addressed to outsiders and which points are being addressed to insiders.

Abu Aardvark has discussed the merits of MEMRI's interpretation (short version: it's a disgraceful stunt).


Bob: thanks for posting that. I had used my crack research skills to email Juan Cole asking him to address this, since it seemed obvious that one would need to speak Arabic in order to know what to make of it. But Abu Aardvark's take meets the same need.

To quote a bit, for those who don't want to click on through:

"To put it as bluntly as possible, MEMRI is being highly disingenuous to claim that Osama bin Laden supposedly was saying that he would attack American states which voted for Bush but not those which voted for Kerry. Aside from the fact that this contradicts the entire thrust of his message, it rests on a remarkably (even for MEMRI) thin foundation.. in other words, not only isn't it the sort of thing you'd expect bin Laden (who sees little principled difference between the candidates) to say, it also isn't what he said. Nor is it how Arabs and Muslims - who presumably don't have the same translation problems as most Americans - understood him.

First, it is worth pointing out that no Arab commentators or newspapers seem to have drawn the same conclusions as MEMRI's linguistic geniuses. In an al Jazeera roundup of 'different interpretations of the bin Laden message' this morning, for example, nobody raises this interpretation. MEMRI refers to a number of radical chatroom discussions, but in the mainstream public discourse - including interviews with leading Islamists such as Montasir al Zayat - everybody makes the same 'mistake' which MEMRI thinks Americans are making. Which suggests that it is not a mistake at all: Americans, just like almost all Arabs and Muslims, understood bin Laden correctly.

What is happening is that MEMRI is cherry-picking a couple of statements on fringe websites to support its own, highly partisan, interpretation. Actually, to be totally clear, they are relying on ONE statement on ONE radical website, which could have been posted by ANYBODY. This is not an authoritative interpretation, nor one which has been accepted anywhere in mainstream Arab or Islamist debates which I have yet seen. (...)

MEMRI's argument entirely on bin Laden's use of the word 'wilayet' instead of 'dawla' to refer to 'state.' While MEMRI is correct that in normal usage, wilayet would refer to a sub-unit (such as an American state), its dictionary definition is, in fact, 'sovereign power, sovereign, sovereignty, rule, government' (Hans Wehr dictionary). You decide. And Bin Laden's reference to not attacking Sweden suggests that sovereign states are his reference point, not American states."

Sorry: I meant doh.

Memri has a reputation for accurate translations...

Memri has a reputation for accurate but misleading translations. It only translates material that enforces anti-Arab stereotypes and supports right-wing Israeli politics.

So then, hilzoy, do you think that it is a translation/interpretation error that renders Osama bin Ladens's statement as:

"Your security is in your own hands, and any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."

rather than: "...any U.S. government that does not toy with our security..." ?

i.e.: referring to the "state" as "The State" in the sense of the entire governmental power of the U.S., rather than as a threat to individual American "States" - Massachusetts, Texas, North Dakota, etc. The former would make a lot more sense. It's a doubtful proposition, IMO, that Osama bin Laden has such a familiarity with the niceties of the American system of State/Federal separation-of-powers (hell, most Americans probably don't) that he would make such a fine distinction in a videotaped screed.
Also: MEMRI (for all the good they do in publicizing the rancid and hate-ridden "Arabic" face of most Middle-East media outlets), is NOT, by any stretch, an agenda-free organization: this sort of misinterpretation is far from unusual with them: large shakers of salt are often called for in dissecting their analyses.

proving once again that MEMRI, a site run by "former" Israeli intelligence officers, is _not_ to be trusted.

Jay C: "So then, hilzoy, do you think...?" -- Since I have neither bin Laden's statement in the original Arabic nor the language skills to read it if I did, I don't really have thoughts on this. One wild surmise is that the 'US' in "US state' is part of a mistranslation of wilayet. But I have no idea. That's why I was glad to see Abu Aardvark weigh in.

The Aljazeera translation has bin Laden using the term "nation" 5 times. They have interpreted the word "state" twice.

Examples on the use of "nation":

No, we fight because we are free men who don't sleep under oppression. We want to restore freedom to our nation, just as you lay waste to our nation. So shall we lay waste to yours.

At a time when some of our compatriots were dazzled by America and hoping that these visits would have an effect on our countries, all of a sudden he was affected by those monarchies and military regimes, and became envious of their remaining decades in their positions, to embezzle the public wealth of the nation without supervision or accounting.

...is available to you, and the nations of the world are with you in the inspections...e."

Be aware that it is the nation who punishes the weak man when he causes the killing of one of its citizens...

The word "state":

In addition, Bush sanctioned the installing of sons as state governors, and didn't forget to import expertise in election fraud from the region's presidents to Florida to be made use of in moments of difficulty."

Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.

I'm not exactly sure, but it seems important to me that the only other time state was referred to was clearly referring to Florida and Texas. Is that just me?

If OBL was so intent on sending us a message, you'd think he'd have made an official translation available to be sure we'd get the message.

That Daniel Benjamin quote that Katherine cited is the most sensible thing I've seen on this topic to date. No matter what happens, OBL will find a way to spin it for his own purposes.

I'm not sure who should care about this, even if UBL was making the threat to individual states. No one in California, New York, Illinois, of the District of Columbia could be expected to vote for Bush instead of Kerry because of the threat. Is anyone in Mississippi going to change their vote? Can't imagine it. Even if people were inclined to cast their votes based on what UBL wants, or doesn't want, that's so unclear as to be useless. Nothing that guy says on this subject is of any relevance whatever to the election.

I will say, though, that it's kept the gasbags busy speculating, time they could be using to make misleading statements about either important stuff, or things yet more trivial. (Probably both). For that we can thank UBL.

At the risk of being idiotic, I think we might have done better getting UBL in 2002 had that been the primary focus through the whole year, rather than the opening of the second front. I'm not saying that a specific opportunity was passed up, but then my point is that no specific opportunity was created.

Of course if the tape is intended primarily as a signal to sleeper cells, rather than an attempt to sway our election, it would make sense that the signal would be explicit enough. A November 4 code orange in Atlanta and Houston might be justifiable, if there are other signs pointing in that direction.

In other news, feeling is running pretty high here in NM. I'm still hoping for a very boring day at my precinct.

I, hilzoy, will change my vote based on Osama's endorsement. Fox News tells me he might as well have been wearing a Kerry button. So I'm voting for Bush. -- But wait: if he was wearing a Kerry button, maybe it's because he wants me to think he's for Kerry so that I'll vote for his real favorite, Bush! So now I'll vote ffor Kerry. But then again, maybe he knows I'll be thinking this, so he's faking me out in an even more complicated way, and he really favors Kerry...

(At this point, sparks begin to fly out hilzoy's ears and her brain explodes, like a computer in one of the many, many Star Trek episodes in which the evil computer is defeated by getting it to try to work through paradoxes of self-reference...)

Hey folks,
side by side comparisons of CNN and Al-Jaz translations of the tape. At the end, comments about the length and other points.

What state is Osama registered in? What are the trendlines there? Get the pollsters on the case.

By the way, I see over at Tacitus that the feathered pooch has made the definitive connection between Osama and Michael Moore.

I'd go over and quibble but the banning would be nuclear. They'd have no choice.

That oath I was considering signing about being nice no matter whom?

Forget it. But Obsidian Wings is an oasis.

Slightly OT, because I'm still not interested in parsing Mr. Bin Laden's words until after our own election. But post-OBL-tape opinion polls, at least nationally, seem to show a slight but consistent drift toward Mr. Kerry, the exact opposite of the effect the talking heads told us on Friday would occur.

Here's a shot at an explanation why: all the polls have consistently shown a significant edge for Mr. Bush on the "who would best fight terrorism" question, usually in the 15-20% range. But I'm beginning to think that a significant factor in that national zeitgeist was that a whole lot of people thought that we killed Bin Laden back in 2001 or at some time since.

Don't you all have the feeling that there has been a general idea floating among a pretty large sector of the populace that OBL was dead? Haven't you heard a lot of people specifically saying that, and usually not getting much of an argument? CIA analysis and all?

So maybe the focus got turned back to terrorism--but it got turned back to terrorism in the context that, suddenly, we all knew pretty close to certain that Bush hasn't gotten him, dead or alive. So just possibly a big chunk of that Bush edge on the terrorism issue vanished like a puff of smoke.

But then again, maybe I'm thinking too much like a member of the reality-based community.

Wonkette got this one right: "the classic blunder" of second guessing. No, it's not the "Kerry" glass or the "Bush" glass: for Osama, both glasses have poison.

Bin Laden doesn't care very much whether Bush or Kerry is elected; he just wants to be perceived as having an effect. And he already has one: we have some trained monkeys saying that he likes Kerry (Safire comes to mind) and other trained monkeys saying he likes bush. So no matter who gets elected, somebody second guessed "correctly".

Thus, this ambiguous document.

(It's possible that bin laden does have a preferred candidate, but doubtless it's not by much; whether Kerry or Bush wins, there are still going to be Special Forces guys trying to hunt him down.)

What OBL has managed to do is lob a stink-bomb into the middle of our electoral process and undercut the legitimacy of whomever wins. Assuming that it is real close, the losers are going to whine that OBL made the difference.

Don't you all have the feeling that there has been a general idea floating among a pretty large sector of the populace that OBL was dead?

Yeah, but we've all seen too many movies where the really bad guy survives and comes back from the killer explosion to chase the protagonist again. The protagonist doesn't lose points for not having killed him/her the first time (perhaps not following Clemenza's shooting advice is a tick against), rather the bad guy seems badder (and usually more burned, beaten, battered etc.) so the finale makes the protagonist into a hero.

But hey, I voted early and didn't get to be affected by this thing. Dang. Who can I sue?

Anybody who bases his/her vote on the Osama tape is an idiot. I note that the polls showed no movement either way that could be attributed to the tape. I assume that either the American electorate are showing some all too rare good sense, or (more likely) that the people being frightened into voting for Daddy are cancelled by the people saying "why is this bozo still alive and making tapes?"

In trying to figure out what Osama "really" wants to happen, remember that most non- Americans tend to have some really bizarre ideas about how this sad ol' country really works. In particular, they don't realize just what a cantankerous, cranky, and downright contrary bunch we really are -- and that that's one of our major strengths.

Osama may have totally misread the way we'd respond to his little message. In any case, Wonkette pointed out the Princess Bride aspect of the whole thing. I used a similar argument (and quoted the relevant part of the script, if you're wondering what was going on) a few months back. (I also put in the tag line, which Wonkette forgot. It's rather important here.)

no no no memri has been busted before for mistranslations.

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