|Tuesday, March 13,2007 00:00|
I just had the chance to listen to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest audio. When I listen to Zawahiri’s tapes and videos over the last year, I don’t hear the confused, struggling, flailing has-been who seems to populate much of the commentary about his tapes. I hear a confident, even cocky speaker who senses events going his way - whether or not those successes are of his own making. He is extremely up to date in his references, making a point of mentioning Cheney’s trip to Pakistan and the attempted bombing there. Most accounts of this tape have focused on his blunt intervention in Palestinian affairs. That’s appropriate: Palestine takes up a good two-thirds of the tape, and the entire presentation features a slogan, alternately in Arabic and English, declaring that "Palestine is our affair and a concern of all Muslims." But there are three other major themes that might get lost in the commentary that I thought were worth bringing out.
First: he argues that with America in retreat, as "the Muslims move from one victory to another just as the Crusaders stumble backward from one failure to another", why would any Muslim want to strike a bad deal now? This refers to Palestine directly, but also indirectly to Iraq. Why all this "backtracking before the American project when America is being defeated in America and Iraq, groaning under the blows from the mujahideen and searching for a way out?" The "Zionist Crusade" is "reeling... under your blows", he says. In Iraq, he argues, the Baghdad conference aims "to strike a deal which will ease the departure of the Crusaders," who are in a "confused and deteriorating condition." All bluff and bluster, perhaps, but in line with all other recent al-Qaeda statements he projects confidence about where things are going and describes Iraq and Afghanistan as battles already won.
Second: he takes developments in Palestine and Egypt as evidence supporting his long-standing argument against participating in elections: "my Muslim Ummah, these are the fruits of secular democracy and the fruit of elections in the shadow of occupation." He savages Hamas for selling out Palestine in exchange for a few cabinet seats in a government which can’t even control its own border crossing. He mocks Ismail Haniya for being stuck out in the cold at the Rafah border crossing waiting for Israeli permission to enter. For this, he says, Hamas gave up sharia law and most of Palestine? On Egypt, he mocks the Muslim Brotherhood relentlessly: despite agreeing to obey the laws of the regime, to denounce the jihad, and to participate in the elections now they are hounded ruthlessly by that regime. The regime "pounces on them despite all their concessions." He calls on "my Muslim Brothers" (Ikhwan Muslimeen) to "free themselves from the bonds of the organization" (the Muslim Brothers). He defends the al-Azhar students, whose martial arts demonstration provided the justification for the current crackdown - which suggests that his real target here are young Muslim Brothers who have grown restless and frustrated with the organization’s cautious approach. There may be takers. (Note - this doesn’t represent a surprising "split" between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, as I’ve seen suggested by people who should know better. That would be absurd, since they have long been mortal enemies and Zawahiri himself penned one of the best known attacks on the MB; nor is Zawahiri’s attack on Hamas unprecedented, since he attacked them prominently for participating in the Palestinian elections in the first place.)
Third: he looks to score some points off of the Srebrenica verdict at the Hague, juxtaposing an international court which lets off the hook the Christian murderers of hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Muslims with the recent indictments over Darfur. He asks: "How can America refer the case of Darfur to an international court when it does not place itself under that court’s jurisdiction or submit to its rulings?" He doesn’t endorse the Sudanese government, saying that all guilty of crimes should be charged, but focuses his ire on the double-standards and hypocrisy of existing international law: "What sort of tyranny is this world run by?"
By the way, want to know the only place where Zawahiri seems to indicate any vulnerability? It’s the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement: "America has decided it must settle the Palestinian issue in a nominal way in order to remove one of the biggest reasons for the Muslims’ hatred of it."
Translation by Laura Mansfield: Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri: زPalestine ...
Zawahiri vows attacks on US, slams Palestinian elections