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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
War of the airwaves
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason
The American air strikes on targets in Afghanistan are being accompanied by an increasingly vehement war of words.
The statement was made in a video broadcast by the Arabic satellite television station al-Jazeera, based in the gulf state of Qatar.
The station has become Bin Laden's favourite way of getting his point of view across to the Arab and Muslim people, over the heads of the sheikhs and presidents whose rule he detests.
But al-Jazeera is also being used by western leaders, notably by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to put their point of view in the propaganda battle.
The United States has found itself on the back foot, complaining to the Emir of Qatar that the television station was becoming a platform for Bin Laden but being told that media freedom was an essential part of democratic life.
Autocratic leaders complained to the West about media criticism but were told that western governments had no control over journalists.
Osama Bin Laden showed his ability to plan ahead in releasing a pre-recorded video within a hours of the launching of US and British air strikes on targets in Afghanistan.
The new statement by one of his lieutenants again follows the rule that the most effective propaganda lies in the constant repetition of a few simple messages.
There is defiance of the world's only superpower, praise for the suicide hijackers and the explicit threat of more to come -- "the storm of aircraft will not stop."
This comes as close as anything so far to an admission that al-Qaeda was responsible for the 11 September attacks.
Then there are a set of demands that resonate in a large part of the Islamic world, in this order: that the United States should withdraw all forces from Arabia, the home of the Prophet Mohmmed; that it should stop supporting Israel; that it should end the blockade of Iraq.
Bin Laden himself has increasingly emphasised the plight of the Palestinians and their treatment by the Israelis as this crisis has developed.
That is the message that the United States and its European allies reject.
They repeat again and again that they are not attacking Islam, Muslim civilians or the Afghan people.
Their only targets are the terrorists and their backers: those responsible for murdering thousands of people going about their everyday lives, including Muslims.
Mr Blair has turned himself into the chief proponent of the western view to the Muslim world.
He understands the need for rapid rebuttal of your opponent's arguments, a technique his Labour Party refined to win elections in Britain.
They did not want his fanaticism, Mr Blair said, any more than the people of Afghanistan wanted the fanaticism of the Taleban. He did not believe anybody seriously wanted to live under that kind of regime.
Mr Blair's aim is to isolate Bin Laden from the mass of Muslims, arguing that his theology is a perversion of Islam.
Some may think it is rash for a convinced Christian to fight on this ground, but Mr Blair has never been reluctant to take risks.
Bin Laden knows he is not having things all his own way. In his words: after the 11 September attacks "the United States succeeded in turning even the countries that call themselves Muslim against us."
On the other hand, Bin Laden has become a cult hero in street demonstrations and to a sizeable chunk of Muslim opinion. So far the protests have been contained by the government authorities he despises, just as more widespread demonstrations in favour of President Saddam Hussein were eleven years ago.
Glorification of violence
It is possible that al-Qaeda's glorification of violence and death will put off more Muslims than it attracts.
Many will find grotesque its statement that there are thousands of young people who are keen on death as Americans are on life.
But as western military operations go on, the number of civilians killed is capable of changing the atmosphere from day to day. And in the meantime, western politicians are hampered by not addressing more directly the grievances of the Arab world.
Removing the grievances would not end the extremism embodied by Osama Bin Laden, but leaving the resentment in place certainly fuels the fire.
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