Osama Bin Laden's latest recording is a rerun we've seen - or rather heard - many times before - by Saiyed Shahbazi

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Articles - Political

November 2007

Either the al-Qaeda leader is running out of things to say or his message isn't cutting it because his most recent message, which appeared on 23 October in an audio recording posted on Islamist websites, renews a call for a holy war against a proposed peacekeeping force in Darfur and urges Muslims in countries that neighbour Iraq to join the battle and intensify the fight against U.S.-led forces.

Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, also called for jihad in Darfur in a 20 September video message, and bin Laden himself called on followers in an audio recording in 2006 to go to Sudan to fight a proposed U.N. force there.

Clearly, bin Laden et al are banking on the fact that many Muslims are woefully ignorant of what's happening in Darfur.

By trying to portray a joint U.N.-African peacekeeping force planned for Sudan's war-torn region as the "Crusader invaders", they are pushing to portray Darfur as the latest in the long list of Muslim grievances in which the West/America/ Israel (take your pick) either invade, attack or occupy Muslim lands. And in the absence of robust coverage of Darfur in the media of the Muslim world - but particularly the Arab media - that is what many Muslims apparently believe.

"It is the duty of the people of Islam in the Sudan and its environs, especially the Arabian Peninsula, to perform jihad against the Crusader invaders and wage armed rebellion to remove those who let them in," bin Laden said. He referred in his message to talks between Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, and Saudi officials who pressed him in March and April meetings to agree to a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

But there are no "Zionist conspiracies" or American machinations over Darfur. Instead, Muslims are killing Muslims in Darfur and bin Laden's rehashed messages must be seen as a catalyst not for "jihad" but for Muslim-on-Muslim violence. More Muslims are today dying at the hands of Muslims - often those fueled by al-Qaeda ideology - than the "Crusader invaders".

Recognizing that and saying it loudly in the Muslim world is an important step in ‘de-fanging' the appeal of bin Laden's pleas for action.

And the figures speak of that tragic reality - loud and clear. Just witness the bombings in Pakistan on 19 October that killed at least 139 people when twin suicide attackers tried to kill the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto just hours after she returned from eight years in self-imposed exile. On 23 October, the same day that bin Laden's latest recording was reported, Bhutto received a death threat from a "friend of al-Qaeda".

Pakistan has been a particularly bloody home of Muslim-on-Muslim violence lately. At least 350 people - the majority of them Muslims - have died there in three months of suicide attacks. I am by no means holding Muslim life more sacred than that of non-Muslims. I am instead pointing out the lies at the heart of bin Laden's messages that consistently portray the Muslim world as the victim of western aggression. If anyone has declared war on Muslims, it is al-Qaeda itself and its followers who are behind those explosions in Pakistan for example.

According to a chronology compiled by Reuters News Agency, more than 140 people were killed in about 13 suicide attacks in July after the siege and storming by security forces of Islamabad's Red Mosque; at least 13 were killed in three attacks in August, and at least 61 were killed in four suicide attacks in September.

For more examples of Muslims killing Muslims look no further than the Palestinians, for whom bin Laden sometimes tries to rally the forces but who have been wise enough to recognise the disaster it would constitute for their cause should al-Qaeda ever become its standard bearer. Nevertheless, as it the case with Pakistan, Palestinian in-fighting has been bloody.

On 24 October, the international human rights group Amnesty International issued a blistering report criticizing rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah for harming civilians in months of infighting that came to a head in June when Hamas militants defeated pro-Fatah security forces to take over the Gaza Strip in June. In a 58-page report titled "Torn apart by factional strife," Amnesty said about 350 Palestinians were killed during the first months of 2007 in infighting. Many of the dead were noncombatants, Amnesty said.

Not all Palestinians are Muslim but it's safe to assume that most who died in the Hamas-Fatah infighting were. The particular irony of such intra-Palestinian violence is that the plight of the Palestinians is a perennial recruiting tool for violent groups such as al-Qaeda - as long as that plight is considered a direct result of Israeli violence and occupation, of course. But what of Palestinian- on-Palestinian violence?

Al Qaeda and its affiliates usually find plenty of fuel in Israeli atrocities against Palestinians to stir up recruits and anger. Needless to say, atrocities perpetrated by rival Palestinian factions as reported in the Amnesty report are unlikely to be employed in the ‘Die for Palestine' recruitment drive.

The Associated Press gave examples of such atrocities as cited in the Amnesty report: a child running to a shop to buy candy was killed by shrapnel, a young woman heading to a school exam died from a sniper bullet, and a peaceful march through Gaza City to demand an end to the clashes came under fire that killed three civilians.

Hamas and Fatah also killed respective members they held in captivity and maimed others often by shooting captives in the shin bones and knees, Amnesty said. In a particularly gruesome example of how civilians suspected of loyalty to rival groups were drawn into the conflict, AP reported the following from the report: pro-Fatah security forces snatched 35-year-old tiler Husam Abu Qinas and threw him off a roof, apparently as revenge after Hamas militants threw a security force official off a high-rise hours before.

With such bloody and sobering facts, it is understandable why bin Laden barely mentions Palestine any more and focuses instead on Darfur.

Iraq - another mainstay of jihadi recruitment - did feature once more in the al-Qaeda leader's latest message. "Where are the soldiers of the Levant and the reinforcements from Yemen? Where are the knights of Egypt and the lions of Hejaz [region in Saudi Arabia]? Come to the aid of your brothers in Iraq," bin Laden said.

Again, Iraq has witnessed the death of hundreds of thousands of Muslims at the hands of fellow Muslims. Wahhabi-inspired Sunni Muslim terrorists have slaughtered Muslim Shiites, whose death squads in turn executed Sunnis. But Al Qaeda followers have also clashed with tribesmen and domestic Iraqi Jihadist groups - more examples of intra-Muslim violence. Bin Laden was forced to admit that "mistakes" had been made and called on Sunni insurgents to put aside differences and unite with his al-Qaeda followers.

His latest message coincided with Iraqi government reports of a sharp drop in violence following a series of U.S.-led summer offensives against insurgents, and reports of those clashes between al Qaeda and rivals. October is also due to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths. But despite that decline, a significantly higher number of Iraqis than American soldiers are dying in Iraq - again because of Muslim-on-Muslim violence.

For example, 65 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in September. For Iraqis, the figure was 1, 023. As reports by the Associated Press have made clear, any significant attack - by insurgents or civilians caught in the crossfire - could quickly wipe out the downward trend.

But we must counter bin Laden's insistent focus on "them" - the West or America or Israel - and shift focus back to the Muslims who suffer as a result of that insistence. Muslims must not let themselves be prevented by bin Laden's "us versus them" message from seeing the "us versus us" reality, in which most of the victims of jihadi fighters are actually Muslims.

For those of us in the Muslim world fed up of the bloody toll of bin Laden's lies, the solution is to highlight, clearly and unequivocally, who bears the brunt of his message.

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