Osama bin Laden’s greatest asset is the Western media. It serves as his mouthpiece and disseminates his propaganda. Every time one of his periodic messages gets broadcast to the world, our news media does us a disservice. No longer should these messages receive any coverage whatsoever.
On March 20, a certain news report came out that by now has become familiar. Each time, bin Laden, with his beard and traditional garb, appears on screen surrounded by large Arabic writing.
We are told that the video was first broadcast by Arab media outlet al-Jazeera and in several days the CIA will have verified that the voice is, in fact, bin Laden’s.
The video is usually long, but only certain tidbits are related, which are essentially the same time and again. A week later, the issue is completely forgotten, a victim of the media’s chronically deficient attention span.
This time, bin Laden proclaimed, among other things, “Iraq is the perfect base to set up the jihad to liberate Palestine.” This, I presume, is part of al Qaeda’s inexorable ascendance to world domination. At least, that is what the hype surrounding bin Laden’s videotapes would lead us to believe.
Unfortunately, this hype merely serves to legitimize bin Laden’s status as a leader of Islamic extremists and an urgent concern in the eyes of Americans. Anyone who looks up to bin Laden as a symbol of resistance to America surely is encouraged by the attention he gets in the Western media.
Alas, terrorism can remain an urgent concern, as it should, even without coverage of al Qaeda’s propaganda. The reality is that “terrorism” encompasses much more than bin Laden and al Qaeda. By paying so much attention to bin Laden, we are oversimplifying the situation and overemphasizing his role. As well, we are fulfilling one of his main objectives: the generation of publicity.
In thinking about why bin Laden’s videotapes should not be broadcast, I am reminded of a Major League Baseball game I watched a long time ago.
During the course of play, the game suddenly stopped and cameras were directed away from the field. The announcers soon revealed that a man was running across the field naked, and rather than give him the attention he desired, the TV crew ignored him.
I see a striking similarity between this naked man and bin Laden. Increasingly, bin Laden’s extremism is being questioned even by his ilk, and his viability as a major player in the world scene is diminishing. Take, for example, a follow-up video to the one from March 20, which came out just last Thursday. In it, a senior al Qaeda official stated that the organization does not kill innocents. In fact, any civilians killed in al Qaeda’s attacks died because they were being used as “human shields” by “the enemy.”
This particular video is a response to criticisms from the Muslim world, including prominent religious figures, that the targeting of innocent civilians is sacrilege under Islam. Increasingly, al Qaeda’s extremism is isolating it from groups who formerly were more supportive.
And al Qaeda’s leadership is clearly delusional in claiming that it does not target civilians. Why, then, should we broadcast such a claim to the world? To remind Americans that they should be afraid?
I would fully support restrictions placed upon the press in announcing bin Laden’s videotapes. Unfortunately any such restrictions probably could not pass muster in a country that so values freedom of speech and of the press.
It’s too bad, really. I guess we’ll have to go on aiding and abetting al Qaeda’s propaganda.
Ian Deitz is a senior political science major from Gettysburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]