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Osama bin Laden issued an audio message last week calling on Muslims
to carry on in their fight against Israel. The Real News Network’s Senior Editor Paul Jay and News Analyst Pepe Escobar discuss the differences between bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and Hamas. One is an apocalyptic sect which doesn’t recognize borders, states or nationalist movements and the other, the elected representative of Palestine.

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: On May 16, a message purported to be from Osama bin Laden was posted on an al-Qaeda-friendly Web site. It was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary, the celebrations of the creation of the state of Israel and the visit by President Bush. Here’s what bin Laden had to say.


Osama bin Laden Tape
May 16, 2008

VOICEOVER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): This event illustrates clearly that 60 years ago, the Israeli state didn’t exist. Instead, it was established on the land of Palestine raped by force. This gives credibility to our point of view that Palestine is our land, and that the Israelis are occupying invaders whom we should fight.


Referring to western civilizations, bin Laden also said this speech is to understand the core reason of the war between our civilization and yours, and that’s the Palestinian cause. To analyze this speech, we’re joined by Pepe Escobar, who has visited Afghanistan many times and has been writing about al-Qaeda since the year 2000. Pepe, what did you make of bin Laden’s recent statements?

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: I think the most important thing for American viewers, and for world viewers for that matter, there is an enormous distinction between Hamas and al-Qaeda. Hamas is a nationalist, indigenous resistance movement with Islamic overtones, very strong Islamic overtones. Al-Qaeda is an apocalyptic, all-inclusive sect. They don’t recognize borders; they don’t recognize states; they don’t recognize indigenous resistance movements, for that matter. The only thing that matters to al-Qaeda is the [“OO-ma”], the global Muslim community, and that’s it. And they want a caliphate. They want a global Muslim government without states, without borders, just like in their minds, the caliphate, you know, the previous caliphate that was never materialized in history.

JAY: The Bush administration, American media, they usually paint everything the same. It’s all terrorism, it’s Hamas, it’s Hezbollah, it’s al-Qaeda, all one dark force. But I remember in 2006 when Israel invaded Lebanon, al-Qaeda in Iraq, supported by al-Qaeda central headquarters, assuming they are in Pakistan as everybody says, viciously denounced Hezbollah, actually told people not to support Hezbollah, while they were fighting in Israel.

ESCOBAR: Absolutely. They had to say that, because at the time, Sheikh Nasrallah was the most popular Arab leader all over the Arab world, and in the Muslim world, for that matter. After all, he had fought the Israeli military machine to a standstill. And from al-Qaeda’s point of view, Sheikh Nasrallah was still in the limelight of Osama and al-Zawahiri. So their PR strategy at the time was to denounce them as practically apostates. And this, from an Islamic theology point of view, from a Wahhabi-Sunni point of view, which is Osama’s and al-Zawahiri’s, it was, let’s say, correct because they consider Shiites as apostates. So they would consider Sheikh Nasrallah not only as an illegitimate nationalist leader but as an Islamic apostate as well.

JAY: The Hamas, while in grand terms does not recognize the state of Israel, in practical terms has a great deal of interaction with the state of Israel, and then said to Jimmy Carter that if Israel would accept the 1967 borders, they would have a peace agreement with Israel.

ESCOBAR: They would have a peace agreement.

JAY: Well, this doesn’t seem to fit with how al-Qaeda [inaudible]

ESCOBAR: Exactly, because they don’t accept states, they don’t accept borders, and for them, the global Muslim community, the [“OO-ma”], is one. So we have 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 billion Muslims that would have to espouse al-Qaeda’s ideology of total union. Well, you know this is absolutely impossible. This is a fiction, a figment of the imagination of Osama and al-Zawahiri, in fact.

JAY: The timing of this statement, other statements, one starts to think of al-Qaeda these days primarily as a PR agency. They’re getting very good at messaging, but there’s a point where they have to do something, or people are simply going to simply cynical about [inaudible]

ESCOBAR: Yeah, sure. But they’ve always been, because al-Qaeda’s model is the Internet model. It’s a web. Al-Qaeda is basically it’s a web. It’s not this hierarchical agency like the CIA want us to believe. And now they’re desperate, because they cannot regiment what they call white moors—these are white Europeans of Muslim extraction or who profess Islam that are attracted by al-Qaeda’s ideas. There are not enough of them. They are not attracting as many people from the Maghreb, northern African regions as they would. They are not attracting Middle Eastern modern people—I’m sorry, Middle Eastern moderates, like people in Kuwait, Qatar, or the Emirates. They prefer the capitalist model, in fact. When you go there and talk to them, even young people, they would even admit studying in a western university, because, okay, if I want to fight the system, I want to fight from the inside.

JAY: In terms of al-Qaeda’s pattern in the past, do you think this could be a prelude to another attack or is this more just public relations?

ESCOBAR: There are two possibilities. It could be a desperate PR strategy to rally the troops or try to get new converts, especially from the Middle East and northern Africa. Or they could be sending a signal. You know, the police in Austria and Switzerland, they are very, very worried that al-Qaeda might attack the European soccer tournament this summer. So this is a real possibility. In my own opinion, I think they are trying to rally the troops. They’re trying to send the message that, you know, we’re very much alive. We don’t agree with nationalist resistance systems. And that’s why.

JAY: In fact, the only thing they could really do, if they want to take the heat away from Hamas, is to launch some kind of attack in Israel, which is something they’ve not been capable of doing.

ESCOBAR: Exactly. They don’t have the structure to do an attack inside Israel. They can attack soft targets around the world, and soft targets inside Pakistan, for that matter, or in Casablanca, or in Tunis, but they cannot attack the state of Israel.

JAY: So far.

ESCOBAR: So far.

JAY: Thanks, Pepe.

ESCOBAR: You’re welcome.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.