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What Does Bin Laden Really Want?

October 11, 2001

While the U.S. government and mainstream media refuse to discuss the foreign policies that breed resentment against America in the Islamic world, ignoring these fundamental issues can only perpetuate the conflict.

It was late on Sunday morning when President George W. Bush began his "war against terrorism" by launching 50 cruise missiles and bombing raids on Taliban targets in Afghanistan.  Within hours, Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the terror attacks of Sept. 11, responded with an effective counter-offensive in the war of words. Bin Laden spoke to the world through a taped message broadcast by Al Jazeera, the most widely watched television news channel in the Arab world.

The American mass media portrays Bin Laden as "consumed by hatred for the West" and misrepresents his primary political goals of restoring integrity to Saudi Arabia and confronting American abuses in the Middle East.  "Bush and Blair may tell the world they are going to win the 'war against terrorism' but in the Middle East, where Osama Bin Laden is acquiring almost mythic status among Arabs, they have already lost," Robert Fisk of The Independent said on Oct. 10. A resident of Cairo told Fisk that Arabs believe America "is trying to kill the one man ready to tell the truth."

Bin Laden, who "is hardly a madman," according to experts, despises the Saudi royal family, which he regards as corrupt surrogates of American rule. In 1998, Bin Laden said he expects "for the ruler of Riyadh the same fate as the shah of Iran." Because the Saudi royal family "sells the interests of its own people and betrays the nation," Bin Laden said, "They shall all be wiped out."

"The United States is committed to defending the House of Saud against any internal political movement that might want to get rid of it, or perhaps even reform it," Writes Said K. Aburish, author of The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud. The American troops in Saudi Arabia are seen as protecting the royal family, which "is becoming less acceptable by the day," Aburish says. The House of Saud is not unlike the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to Aburish, "People still disappear in the middle of the night in Saudi Arabia; people are imprisoned without being charged; people have no voice in the running of the government, and they have squandered the country's wealth . . . the country is not only broke, they are heavily in debt.

"Saudi Arabia operates in very mysterious ways. . . . We are talking about a closed society ," he said. The royal family is dedicated to keeping the kingdom closed because "outside influences would include calls for human rights, equality, democracy and things of this sort that the House of Saud is not about to tolerate," Aburish said.  The oppressive conditions in the country are causing massive unrest, although due to suppression by the government, Islamic fundamentalism provides the only vehicle for political reform movements-and these are becoming increasingly violent. "Osama Bin Laden is the prophet of these movements," Aburish says, whose "number one issue" is that American troops should leave Saudi Arabia, and secondly that "there should be a Muslim Jerusalem where Islamic holy places are protected."

Bin Laden has "developed a stunningly deceptive regional war calculus that stands a reasonable chance of success," according to Paul M. Wihbey of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Washington.  "His strongest belief is that Saudi Arabia can be brought to its knees, the House of Saud deposed," Wihbey says. His "overriding goal" is to return to Saudi Arabia in triumph and put an end to the existing regime.

Support for Bin Laden's political program to reform Saudi Arabia comes from all levels of society, Aburish says, including from members of the House of Saud who belong to Islamic fundamentalist groups.  There is an ongoing power struggle between two competing factions in the Saudi royal family over how to deal with American requests to neutralize Bin Laden, Wihbey said. One week after the terror attacks it was reported that the ailing Saudi king, Fahd, had flown to Geneva with a massive entourage and is now in seclusion.  If Bin Laden survives and returns to Saudi Arabia, his supporters will greet him as a Mahdi (messiah). This would mark "a dramatically new geopolitical landscape," Wihbey said.

Bin Laden today stands accused by the U.S. government of masterminding the kamikaze terror attacks in New York and Washington although evidence linking him to the crimes has not been presented to the public.  "Neither I nor my organization Al-Qaida is involved in the attacks, and the U.S. has traced the attackers within America," Bin Laden told the Karachi daily Ummat.  "The attackers could be anybody, people who are part of the American system yet rebel against it, or some group that wants to make this century a century of confrontation between Islam and Christianity."

Bin Laden has always carefully denied involvement in terror attacks such as the U.S. embassy bombings saying it is not his job to organize such attacks. His role is "to create awareness about the injustices done by the U.S. to Muslims." He rails against the "corrupting influence of the West" on the Muslim world. "What has the West given the world? A lust for power and a license to loot and plunder the poorer countries," he said in a recent interview with an Arab journalist, as reported in the Washington Times.

"We are against the American system but not the American people. Islam does not allow killing of innocent people, men, women and children even in the event of war," he said to Ummat.  Although Bin Laden denied personal responsibility for the terror attacks, in the taped speech, broadcast as Bush began the bombing of Afghanistan, he accused the United States of hypocrisy, murder, and occupation of Islamic lands, articulating widely held grievances which resonate throughout the Islamic and Arab world.  Bin Laden said that the suffering America is "tasting now" is insignificant compared to the humiliation and degradation the Islamic world has suffered for more than 80 years. "Its sons are killed, its blood is shed, its sanctuaries are attacked, and no one hears and no one heeds.

"Millions of innocent children are being killed as I speak. They are being killed in Iraq without committing any sins," Bin Laden said about the human toll of the 11 years of U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq.  "Israeli tanks infest Palestine," Bin Laden said, "in Jenin, Ramallah, Rafah, Beit Jalla, and other places in the land of Islam, and we don't hear anyone raising his voice or moving a limb.

"To America, I say only a few words to it and its people," Bin Laden concluded. "I swear by God, who has elevated the skies without pillars, neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine, and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed, peace be upon him.

"The enmity between us and the Jews," Bin Laden said in 1998, "goes far back in time and is deep rooted. There is no question that war between the two of us is inevitable. The leaders in America and in other countries as well have fallen victim to Jewish Zionist blackmail," he said, "They have mobilized their people against Islam and against Muslims. Our mothers and daughters and sons are slaughtered every day with the approval of America and its support," he said. "And, while America blocks the entry of weapons into Islamic countries, it provides the Israelis with a continuous supply of arms allowing them thus to kill and massacre more Muslims.

"The American government is leading the country toward hell. We say to the Americans as people and to American mothers, if they cherish their lives and if they cherish their sons, they must elect an American patriotic government that caters to their interests, not the interests of the Jews."

Al Jazeera, often called the CNN of the Arab world, reaches 35 million viewers and is the only news organization with a correspondent and direct satellite link in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to the emir of Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, to stop the flow of information the network was sending from Afghanistan.  Al Jazeera resisted American censorship saying that in order to be seen as credible by its viewers it must show both sides of the conflict. Bin Laden is a party to the conflict and has a point of view that deserves to be heard, a spokesman for the network said.  The Voice of America, however, pulled an interview with Mullah Omar Mohammed, the Taliban leader, following objections from the U.S. deputy secretary of state and senior officials of the National Security Council.

"America controls the governments of the Islamic countries . . . they are in the grip of the United States," Omar said. "America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The U.S. should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries."

Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the American-led attack on Afghanistan as cruelty and a major mistake for the United States and Britain. The government of Iran is opposed to the Taliban but is not assisting in the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.  Khamenei said that it was not true that the strikes are part of a campaign against terrorism. "Their real purpose is to expand their [U.S. and U.K.] power and domination," he told a meeting of clerics in Tehran the day after the bombing began.

"What can justify this oppression that will lead to the killing and wounding of people and forcing many innocent Afghans to leave their homes?  The Americans must know that they might be able to achieve their short-term goals with military strikes," he said. "But they will be hurt in the long run. Without doubt, their acts will bring instability for them."

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi condemned the attacks and expressed Iran's concerns that such military operation could "provoke extremist reactions."  "We stressed from the beginning that terrorism cannot be eradicated through military actions," he said at a news conference the day after the bombing began. "Its causes must be identified and eliminated."

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