As you’ve probably heard, Osama bin Laden has a new release, in which the head propagandist of the glorious global Islamic revolt claims credit for an Al Qaeda intern setting fire to his own crotch. This is, of course, pathetic, but just how pathetic has unfortunately been somewhat obscured by the fact that conservatives have, for the last month, been hailing the attack as an Al Qaeda success. As far as I know, this marks the first time that bin Laden has claimed credit for an attack that failed, and I have to wonder if the conservative-stoked media freak-out has anything to do with that.
Commenting on the prominence of Palestine in the new bin Laden statement (whose actual provenance Juan Cole doubts here), Marc Lynch writes “A lot of ink has been spilled since 9/11 trying to argue that bin Laden doesn’t really care about Palestine. But that’s always been silly — nobody knows what he ‘really’ cares about, and it doesn’t especially matter since he talks about it a lot and presents it as a major part of his case against the United States.”
An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics. [...]Like the failure to close Guantanamo, the issue isn’t that it will or won’t change the minds of al-Qaeda jihadists. It’s that the failure badly hurts U.S. credibility with the mainstream Arab and Muslim audiences that he most needs to reach, entrenching a twin narrative of Obama being no different from Bush and not matching his words with deeds, while giving extremists an argument against the U.S. that resonates widely.
Similar to the rote conservative denials that Guantanamo and torture have radicalizing effects, there is a long-standing effort among to deny that people in the Middle East actually care about the Palestinians, despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Lynch indicates, the fact that bin Laden and other propagandists always feel the need to include at least a few lines about Palestine in their various litanies should be evidence enough that it is a salient issue among the publics being appealed to.
This was brought home to me again at a meeting I attended last week of global internet democracy activists and bloggers. During a discussion of how various U.S. policies make their work easier and more difficult, Ceren Kenar of Turkey’s Young Civilians noted that, whatever else you’d heard, “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drives anti-Americanism” in Turkey. Hanin Ghaddar of Now Lebanon said that “the more Israel builds settlements, the more Hezbollah and Hamas’ resistance is seen as legitimate” among the very people to whom pro-democracy forces are also trying to appeal. Whether or not one personally sympathizes with the plight of the Palestinians, the fact is that huge numbers of people in the Middle East do. Failure to move the parties toward a just resolution hurts U.S. credibility in the region, and constantly refills a propaganda well from which our enemies continue to draw.