Osama bin Laden has been celebrating the birthday of the prophet Mohammed by calling on Muslims to kill people like me, cartoonists and other “blasphemers” who have dared to publish and republish cartoons of a man who lived 1,400 years ago.
Actually, this is nothing new. Bin Laden addressed the cartoon issue two years ago, in a little-noticed speech, when he called the cartoons of Mohammed the worst possible attack on Islam.
“The response will be what you see and not what you hear and let our mothers bereave us if we do not make victorious our messenger of God,” said the voice from the cave in yesterday’s message.
“You went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greatest tragedy and the reckoning for it will be more severe,” it added.
The man from the cave said that the republishing of Kurt Westergaard’s cartoon depicting Muhammed with a bomb in his turban was part of a crusade against Islam. And, according to bin Laden, Pope Benedict XVI is playing a key role in this confrontation, even though the Pope has denounced the publication and republication of the famous cartoon.
Interestingly, bin Laden didn’t mention the upcoming film about the Koran by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which has been the subject of much debate in the Muslim world. So I am not sure if this is actually a new tape. But whether it’s a new or an old recording, jihadists around the world will be inspired by it and try to act in the spirit of the message.
Danish police have been on alert since February 13, when 17 newspapers in Denmark republished Mr. Westergaard’s cartoon as an act of solidarity following the arrest of three Muslims for allegedly plotting to kill the 72-year old cartoonist. Since the arrests, Mr. Westergaard has been living in a safe house, and he expects this situation to continue for the rest of his life. Bin Laden’s message, though, hasn’t led the police to change their evaluation of the threat level inside Denmark’s borders. However, Danish products and businesses are being boycotted around the Muslim world, and Egypt has just refused to play the Danish national handball team.
The latest message from bin Laden isn’t the first to address the cartoons. In a 50-minute speech released on audio cassette back in April 2006, bin Laden attacked Arab governments for their inappropriate response to the publication of the cartoons. Obviously, he would have preferred more killings and torchings of embassies. Bin Laden made clear that he saw the blasphemous Danish cartoons as a worse attack on Islam than the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also explicitly called for retaliation.
“Indeed, this is our Prophet’s law regarding anyone who mocks him, and belittles Islam and scorns it… They should be killed… Take an example from Muhammed ibn Maslama [who assassinated the poet Ka’b ibn Al-Asharaf]. It is intolerable and outrageous that the heretics are among us, scorning our religion and our Prophet. Therefore you must fear Allah and do His will. Do not consult anyone about the killing of these heretics. Be secretive in carrying out that which is required of you. So much for the apostate heretics.”
Explaining his call for the killing of heretics and blasphemers, bin Laden cited the example of Mohammed himself who is supposed to be a role model for every Muslim. The prophet ordered the killing of Ka’b ibn Al-Ashraf because he had written critical poems about Mohammed.
The latest message from bin Laden has been analyzed by Walid Phares:
The message is heavily targeting Europe, while using the “cartoon Jihad” as a motive. Bin Laden, and the war room behind him are concerned about the rise of tough national leaders on the continent: Sarcozy, Merkel, Brown and a possible reemergence of Berlusconi’s Party. In many spots in Europe, citizens are rejecting the Jihadi intimidations and becoming vocal about it. France is going to Chad, Germany has ships in the Eastern Mediterranean and Spain is arresting more Salafists. But the traditional apologists towards the Islamist agenda in Europe, remains strong. Al Qaeda wants to use the apologists against the “resistance.” What better than threatening to strike at Europe’s peace if its liberal values are not altered? In essence this is Bin Laden’s message:
Change your laws on liberties and freedom of expression or else. “If there is no check on the freedom of your words then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our hearts.”
But a thorough investigation of the origination of this argument leads not to al Qaeda’s traditional rhetoric — the group isn’t very concerned with the change of laws in infidel lands — but to demands that have been made by “long-range” Jihadists on European Governments. A simple check of archives shows that it wasn’t Bin laden or Zawahiri who have asked Europe to enact laws against “insult to religion” but more “mainstream” Islamist forces and intellectuals. Among them the Muslim Brotherhoods, the Union of Islamic Clerics (also influenced by the Brotherhoods and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi the spiritual mentor of al Jazeera), a number of European based academics and the bulk of Wahhabi radical clerics. This revealing reality if anything shows one of the two trends: Either al Qaeda is using the argumentation of political Islamists to provoke a mass clash against Europe or is it that the “political Jihadists” are now able to influence the war discourse of al Qaeda. In both cases, it deserves a closer analysis.
According to Mr. Phares and commentators on Al Jazeera, bin Laden’s message was aimed at Europeans and the Euro-Jihadis.
It was threatening Governments to retreat from the confrontation on the one hand and unleashing the pools of indoctrinated Jihadis across the continent to “engage” in violence. The near future will tell us if the trigger will be successful or not.
What should the response of Europe be? More cartoons or less cartoons? What kind of civilization are we, after all, if we refrain from mocking and ridiculing bin Laden and his followers?