Al-Qaeda Terrorism and Shakespeare


Cole Porter would have been perplexed by the petition in October 2017 to the English Department at Cambridge University to "decolonize the curriculum," but he had the foresight to call on people to brush up on your Shakespeare, start quoting him now.  Evidently Osama bin Laden, the epitome of decolonization, who had no use for Broadway anyway, had no quarter for Porter.  The terrorist leader who founded al-Qaeda in 1988, not one of those attired in wonder that know not what to say, implicitly told the world this in his personal diary of 228 pages with his private reflections that have just been made public.

This information is important at a time when the United States and the Western world have been preoccupied with the activities of ISIS, both the caliphate and its adherents, with attacks in New York City and around the world that have overshadowed the once more well known terrorist group al-Qaeda and its leader Osama.

On November 1, 2017, Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, ordered the release of 470,000 documents captured in the Navy SEALs' raid on May 2, 2011 on the compound of Osama in Abbottabad, Pakistan, close to the Pakistan Military Academy.  President Barack Obama had held that no more data taken from the compound should be released to the public .

However, Pompeo believes that it is important for reasons of national security to make most of the unclassified documents public, except those that might harm national security or are pornographic or copyrighted.  This is made more important because the U.S. forces in the raid were not able to take everything in the compound, and no doubt Pakistani officials have useful information not available to the U.S.  It is certain that American analysts can gain important insights into the plans and workings of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations from the revealed material.

No doubt the documents will prove a treasure trove with their astonishing array of material.  Some of them, if tantalizing, have little to do with Islamic terrorism or with U.S. security, especially those that are probably for the amusement of younger and other members of the Osama family that contained several of his wives and 23 children and his grandchildren.  In this part of the treasure trove are animated films; episodes of Tom and Jerry; film classics; a video of "Charlie Bit my Finger"; commercials from an Oregon car dealer; home videos with a barn and animals; videos such as The Three Musketeers; National Geographic films on Peru, the Kremlin, and India; and material on conspiracy theories, the occult, the Illuminati, and even 9/11, for which adherents of al-Qaeda were responsible.

Among the 80,000 audio and image files and the 10,000 video files are statements by Osama, his 228-page personal journal, and jihadist propaganda.  Interestingly, Osama seemed to have liked watching three documentaries on himself and programs on how the West saw him.  One of them was an interview in 2005 of former CIA director James Woolsey of the Iraq war.  The collection includes videos of jihadist beheadings and a video of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Iraqi al-Qaeda leader, who was killed in a 2006 U.S. air strike.

 It has long been assumed that Osama was radicalized after he joined the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1979 fighting the forces of the Soviet Union.  But the personal diary reveals a different picture.  Osama tells of his visit to the U.K. for unstated "treatment" for ten weeks while he was in the 6th grade, aged 13.  He reports that he went every Sunday to visit Shakespeare's 16th-century house in Stratford-upon-Avon.  He was not impressed, and he realized that British society was very different from his own and was a "morally loose society."  It was at Stratford, not Afghanistan, that he first concluded that the West is "decadent."  It is unlikely that he actually saw any one of Shakespeare's plays, but even if not influenced by Hamlet, he acted as "if from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth."

Though his exact schedule is unknown, Osama experienced further decadence in Britain.  He had the misfortune to take an English language course at Oxford – at least it saved him from the "colonialism" at Cambridge – and is believed to have attended a soccer game at the home of Arsenal, the brutal Great Gunners, at Highbury in north London.

The materials reveal that American administration perceptions of Osama's supposed unimportance in his last decade were inaccurate.  Osama and his network remained active and conspiratorial, and he was still the central factor in al-Qaeda, remaining in operations communication with his followers around the world.  His cohesive network included al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Shabaab in Somalia, and even the Taliban.

Some of his revelations are relevant to current affairs and U.S. policy.  He discusses the differences between al-Qaeda and ISIS and the factions with strategic, doctrinal, and religious differences within al-Qaeda.  The documents include the videos of Hamza, Osama's favorite son and potential successor, with footage of his wedding, which apparently took place in Iran.  This son is slated to be the head of al-Qaeda and is a bitter enemy of the U.S.  Indeed, early in 2017, Hamza in a message called on al-Qaeda to attack Jews, Americans, Westerners, and Russians, using whatever weapons they have.  The U.S. has now placed Hamza on its Global Terrorist List.

For U.S. policymakers, it is useful to examine Osama's thoughts on a variety of issues: the use of Libya after the death of Moammar Gaddafi; the path then and still for jihadists to enter Europe; the turmoil in the Middle East; Yemen, where Osama was plotting to kill the ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh; Bahrain; the protest by schoolchildren in Syria in 2011; the exploitation of the Arab Spring and other uprisings; and what al-Qaeda should do to make use of chaos.

Particularly important is Osama's account of relations between al-Qaeda and Iran.

They were and are complex, fluctuating relations and loose ties between Sunni Osama and Shiite Iran.  What brought them together was the common hostility to the U.S. and to Saudi Arabia.  Iran supported al-Qaeda's war against those countries.  Iran offered al-Qaeda "everything they needed," funds and arms, and the opportunity to train in Hezb'allah camps in Lebanon in exchange for striking U.S. interests.  Iran sheltered al-Qaeda people.  Al-Qaeda opposed Saudi Arabia because it was hosting U.S. troops during the Gulf war.  Osama sent a group, the al-Qaeda management committee, to Iran while Iran enabled al-Qaeda to move funds and fighters to south Asia and Syria.

Lastly, Osama's relations with Pakistan.  It is now clear that Pakistani authorities helped to hide him from the CIA for almost a decade.  This is clear from the fact that Osama used cell phones and computer hard drives, among other implements.

There is obviously a great deal of detail to analyze in the 470,000 documents.  What is important in all this for the U.S. and the Western world and Russia is reaffirmation of the need for cooperation to overcome Islamic terrorism.

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