The "Ladenese Epistle"
by Stephen Schwartz
WHAT IS THE ROLE and responsibility of Saudi Arabia in financing Osama bin Laden, poster boy for Wahhabism, the extremist Islamic sect that justifies murder?
In some quarters, efforts are emerging to quash discussion of Wahhabism and of the Saudi connection to September 11. The Saudis are unhappy, and U.S. government officials serving in the kingdom are even more unhappy, that the topic has gained attention in the Western media. The Saudis ask for "healing," not investigation; the diplomats call for "trust," rather than inquiry.
A side effect of the expanding Saudi cover-up is the emergence of a classic bit of disinformation: the common wisdom holding that Osama bin Laden has called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, and therefore is "as much a threat to them as to us."
Well, actually, he hasn't, and he isn't. Anyone needing to be disabused of two fantasies--that bin Laden is a serious enemy of the Saudi regime and that Iraq and Saddam Hussein aren't intimate with the Islamofascist terror command--should read bin Laden's own political and pseudo-religious declarations. I call them pseudo-religious because they have no serious Islamic content and bin Laden himself has no significant religious training.
Three main documents of bin Ladenism are available on the Internet. The first of these, the "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," also known as the "Ladenese Epistle," dates from October 1996 and can be read at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A4342-2001Sep21.html.
The "Ladenese Epistle" is the longest of Osama's available statements. It is also the most stuffed with Islamic verbiage, most of it perfunctory and hortatory, as if hastily composed. To read this text, one might think that indeed bin Laden was mainly concerned with rescuing Muslims through holy war. But after a laundry list of geographical citations ranging from Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Philippines intended to portray an Islamic global community everywhere under assault, the author turns to his main obsession: the justification by some Saudi Islamic scholars of the American military presence in Saudi Arabia. He does not at first mention the country, and he seldom takes up any Saudi leader by name. The style is courteous to the Saudi rulers, because bin Laden does not wish to betray his connection with Riyadh, any more than his Saudi friends wish it to be revealed.
Bin Laden's complaints about Saudi Arabia are those of a critic, not a revolutionary enemy. The oil wealth has been concentrated in a single family, the Sauds; he bemoans the resulting inequality but skirts discussion of those responsible. Various other grievances, ranging from the unemployment of overeducated youths to a kind of general malaise, are cited with vague indignation.
Here and elsewhere in bin Laden's writings, one has the sense of someone going out of his way not to say certain things. Those things involve the personalities of the Saudi rulers. Since bin Laden continued to draw on financial resources in the kingdom while living in Afghanistan, and was in no physical danger from Saudi hands, he can only be observing a policy of discretion, not expressing fear.
Bin Laden is not a thinker or strategist; he is an opportunistic improviser in the style of Hitler or Stalin. Calling for action by the Saudi populace to expel U.S. troops, he advises murdering Americans. But when he summons Saudi citizens to correct the policies of their government, he never calls for killing or other forms of terror. Rather, he praises the drafting of petitions to the king and recommends that Saudi women boycott American consumer goods. He is aggrieved by the failure of the Saudi army to defend itself ably in the Gulf War, but also by the destruction inflicted on Iraq, which he exaggerates.
So much for the claim of former president Bill Clinton and others that bin Laden is anti-Saddam, or the Iraqis' own disclaimers that they are not Wahhabis (which is true but irrelevant). If an intolerant Wahhabi like bin Laden can embrace the propaganda of leftist Iraq, there is no reason they should not return the favor by cooperating with his terror schemes.
The rest of the "Ladenese Epistle" wanders between exaltation of the religious scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), idol of the Wahhabis, who fought to purge Islam of its spiritual dimension and accused many Muslims of heresy, and superficial geopolitical sloganeering. Bin Laden jeers at the United States for fleeing Lebanon, Somalia, and Yemen. He also seems to take direct credit for the Khobar Towers bombing: "The crusader army became dust when we detonated Khobar." He seems to want to flatter the Japanese (who, as he notes, are the main consumers of Saudi oil) as possible adversaries of the United States. He claims credit for helping fight the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina but never mentions U.S. intervention to stop the killing of Muslims there, or the interesting fact that Saudi Arabia refrained from assisting the embattled Bosnian Muslims while the war was on. Still, he insists on distinctions: "The [Saudi] regime is fully responsible for what has been imposed on the country and the nation; however, the occupying American enemy is the principal and main cause of the situation."
This seems, if anything, a strategy to keep the Saudi regime in power by concentrating attacks on the United States. Still, in the last spasms of this diatribe the author switches back to sympathy for Saddam's Iraq. He recycles the phraseology peddled in the West by Saddam's leftist apologists, blaming America and the Saudis for allegedly killing more than half a million Iraqi children. The overall effect is more that of an article from the Nation than that of an Islamic religious text, as if it had been lifted from Susan Sontag or Noam Chomsky. But that is consistent with reports that some of bin Laden's cadres, although exploiting Islam, are former leftist extremists. The Wahhabi ideology has always been about power first.
A similar text is "The New Powder Keg in the Middle East," an interview Osama gave to an Australian Muslim magazine, Nida'ul Islam (The Call of Islam), around the same time in 1996. This can be read at www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/LADIN.htm. Here again, bin Laden bemoans various aspects of Saudi rule, but in surprisingly circumspect terms. The regime, he says, faces two choices: compliance with the demands of the extremists or an escalation of violence against Americans. In this interview he again wanders afield, deflecting the charge of terrorism with the claim that Iraqi children are victims of American terrorism--again, more a leftist than an Islamic argument--and even with references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his declaration on October 7 when the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan began, Osama again alluded to Japan and stressed anti-American more than Wahhabi themes.
A final gem is the World Islamic Front statement "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," issued in February 1998 and also accessible at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A4993-2001Sep21.html. This, like the first polemic here described, is often referred to as a fatwa, or religious opinion, by credulous Westerners, but it is signed by five political adventurers: bin Laden; his Egyptian mentor, the monstrous Ayman al-Zawahiri; Ahmad Taha, another Egyptian thug; and two insignificant figures from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Of these unsavory individuals only al-Zawahiri has any religious training to speak of, and the text has no religious content: It is simply another list of anti-American claims, including praise of Iraq.
Bin Laden is obviously a vain figure, intoxicated by his capacity to wreak havoc in the West. But he has no such nihilistic inclinations when it comes to his homeland, Saudi Arabia. His Saudi patrons continue to play a double game with the West, smiling in our faces and begging for healing and trust while sending money to Osama and their unemployable sons to the Muslim world as Wahhabi missionaries before they join Osama. How long will Western political and business leaders continue pretending this is not the reality of the Saudi relationship with the West?