is the first in a series of interviews conducted via e-mail with middle
eastern expert Lawrence Joffe following the horrific events of September
11 in which up to 7,000 people may have perished in terrorist attacks in
the US. An Oxford graduate in philosophy and politics, Mr Joffe, based in
London, is the author of Keesings Guide to the Middle East Peace Process,
freelance writer for The Guardian (UK) and BBC News 24 and Sky News
is Osama bin Laden, America’s prime suspect in the September 11
bin Laden was born 44 years ago to an immensely rich family which runs the
largest construction company in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His personal
wealth has been estimated at US$300 million.
has spawned him?
enough, bin Laden is very much a product of the old Cold War. During the
Afghan civil war, where he made his name, the USSR provided him with an
enemy. The USA was then his friend and sponsor.
those days, it was deemed to be in America’s interest to back whoever
opposed the Soviets. The paradox is the USA despised the
“fundamentalists” who had taken power in Iran in 1979, and who had
overthrown their ally, the Shah. Yet, at precisely the same time, they
began pumping vast amounts of arms and money into the hands of the
fundamentalists of Afghanistan, known as the Mujaheddin, who they hailed
as “freedom fighters.”
is bin Laden America’s prime suspect and most wanted man?
is at least the fourth major attack bin Laden has launched on US citizens.
First, he helped corral the Somali rebels who humiliated US troops in
according to the tremendous welter of evidence from the recent trial, he
masterminded the bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam in
Tanzania, and Nairobi in Kenya in 1998, which killed well over 200
innocent Africans, and 12 US embassy staff.
October, a suicide squad allegedly affiliated with bin Laden tried to sink
the USS Cole off Yemen, killing 18 navy personnel. And now we have the
World Trade Center atrocity, the targeting of the Pentagon, and with them,
the deaths of up to 7,000 people.
together, the events of September 11 constitute the most serious and
devastating attack yet attributed to bin Laden’s organisation. They also
were the first carried out in the USA itself. Over the last week,
compelling evidence has emerged that all 19 hijackers, in some way or
other, were connected with bin Laden’s al-Qa’eda network. Even if bin
Laden did not personally oversee this operation, it appears
incontrovertible that his so-called “fatwa” against the USA of May
1998 inspired the operation.
simply means “The Base” in Arabic.
has become the general umbrella name for bin Laden’s organisation in
Afghanistan - and, in a broader sense, for his entire network of activists
throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, America, Asia.
is said bin Laden has agents in 60 countries. The group musters some 3,000
fighters in various bases (other than the 5,000 worldwide). It is now
closely affiliated with the Taliban, and is better equipped than the
regular Taliban forces.
Laden set up the al-Qa’eda in the 1980s, inspired ideologically then by
the Palestinian militant, Sheikh Abdallah Azzam, but reactivated it as its
more determined leader, when he returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in
group has stinger missiles, numerous caves and training grounds, armoured
vehicles with Internet facilities and reputedly small suitcase nuclear
weapons. Politically, al-Qa’eda became increasingly affiliated with the
Taliban in their battle against other Mujaheddin.
earlier days, bin Laden used al-Qa’eda as headquarters for a vast
construction, hospital, welfare and social support network for Mujaheddin
fighters and their families. His millions went far in a dreadfully poor
nation like Afghanistan. This explains much of his undeniable popular
appeal at grassroots level.
bin Laden and al-Qa’eda the symptom of America’s relations with the
Arab and Muslim world rather than the problem?
begs the question: What is “the problem”?
is certainly true there are profound grievances in the Arab and Muslim
world, and bin Laden feeds on these feelings of unease.
list a few: Awful disparities of wealth between rich and poor in the Arab
world; a feeling of humiliation engendered by military defeats, whether of
Arab states at the hands of Israel, or Saddam Hussein at the hands of the
1991 pro-Kuwaiti “coalition” (though largely the USA and UK).
addition, many Arabs refuse to accept the idea of an “alien” Jewish
state (namely Israel) residing in the heart of the Muslim world. Even
amongst those Arabs who recognise Israel’s right to exist, most resent
the support the USA lavishes on the State.
there were “moderate” Arabs who hoped the Madrid conference of 1991
and the Oslo peace process would herald the creation of an independent
Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. That has failed to
intifada that re-erupted exactly a year ago has merely exacerbated these
feelings of disappointment and resentment. Many Arabs accuse the USA of
double standards by chastising Arabs for not adopting democracy but
turning a blind eye to perceived Israeli crimes, like cordoning off the
occupied territories, continuing to build settlements there, and
assassinating Palestinian leaders with apparent impunity.
glaring grievance is the continuing sanctions regime on Iraq, which
commentators claim has led to - or even caused - the deaths of half a
million Iraqi infants.
there any religious or other justification for the terror attacks on
There might be reasons to explain what inspired misfits to do this, or
explanations of political grievances, real or perceived - but, to
paraphrase the leading Sunni mufti of Al Azhar, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi,
“there is no justification for killing innocent people, in any of the
three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.”
week: A war unfolds continues, with expert analysis from Lawrence Joffe.