In a creative article in today's Los Angeles Times, Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation considers Osama bin Laden's latest audiotaped message, in which offered immunity from further terrorist attacks to "our neighbors north of the Mediterranean" that "do not attack Muslim nations." After looking at other, more conventional, analyses Jenkins suggests that the main purpose of the tape could be "to entice non-Muslim European radicals to join Islamic jihadists in attacking the U.S. and its allies."
In favor of this interpretation, he notes that bin Laden's past tapes have been calls to action directed at Muslims alone in which he
stressed the aggressive schemes of the "infidels" and lamented the "black misfortunes" of Islam, berating Muslims for their substandard zeal in joining jihad, and attempting to inspire young men to emulate the "heroes" of 9/11 and reap the rewards of martyrdom.
This time, however, Bin Laden's language, except for a few formulaic phrases, is significantly free of religious rhetoric and instead uses terms like "bloodsuckers" and "merchants of war."
Bin Laden says on the new tape that "this war brings billions of dollars in profit to the major companies … such as the Halliburton company." He rails against the "Zionist lobby," the "White House gang," and those "who are steering the world policy from behind a curtain." These are expressions more commonly found in the rhetoric of the far left.
Jenkins concludes that Bin Laden "may now be encouraging a mutant form of jihad that jumps its religious borders to become a broader ideology of anti-Western protest.
Interestingly, if this is indeed the case, there is antecedent for it. As I documented in a 1995 article, "The Western Mind of Radical Islam," Islamists (or fundamentalist Muslims, as I called them in this article)
compare Islam not to other religions but to other ideologies. "We are not socialist, we are not capitalist, we are Islamic" says Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia. Egypt's Muslim Brethren assert they are neither socialist nor capitalist, but "Muslims." This comparison may seem overblown - socialism and capitalism are universal, fundamentalist Islam limited to Muslim - but it is not, for fundamentalists purvey their ideology to non-Muslims too. In one striking instance, Khomeini in January 1989 sent a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev asserting the universality of Islam. Noting the collapse of communist ideology, he implored the Soviet president not to turn westward for a replacement but to Islam.
I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan. . . . I call upon you seriously to study and conduct research into Islam. . . . I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.
As interpreted by a leading Iranian official, this letter "intended to put an end to . . . views that we are only speaking about the world of Islam. We are speaking for the world." It may even be the case - Khomeini only hints at this - that Islam for him had become so disembodied from faith, he foresaw a non-Muslim like Gorbachev adopting Islamic ways without becoming a Muslim. If so, the transformation of Islam from faith to political construct is then total.
In both cases, leading Islamist ideologues, frustrated by the restriction of recruits having to convert to Islam, are seemingly in a process of unmooring their ambitions from their faith. (April 25, 2004)