Usāmah Bin Lāden has released a new audio statement today titled “Stop the Method of Relief Work.” I would like to address this title first as there has been some interesting discussion about it on twitter this morning with Leah Farrall and Florian Flade. The English language forum Anṣār al-Mujāhidīn incorrectly translated the statement as “Some Points regarding the method of relief work.” As I articulated they did so most likely because the actual title could be misconstrued as UBL saying to stop relief efforts in Pakistan because it was God’s punishment against the Pakistani people for not instituting Islamic law, etc. boiler plate rhetoric. Rather, the way one should interpret the title of the statement is stop with the current method of relief work because there is another way of doing it, which he then proceeds to outline in the audio, but he is not saying stop relief efforts. Just stop the particular method that has been used.
I’m not going to delve deep into the actual content of this message since I think the implications are more important. In the actual message itself he highlights the problems of global warming, poor agricultural practices, and the importance of better relief efforts for the Pakistanis and Muslim ummah. For more on the content, read Florian Flade’s blog as well as a brief write-up from the BBC.
Although Leah Farrall in a quick-take post on this audio message highlights al-Qā’idah’s past aversion to relief work I believe that is no longer the case at least rhetorically. As Jarret Brachman has been stating for some time now and yesterday reiterated, al-Qā’idah Central’s main role is no longer as a terrorist organization:
Al-Qaeda has transformed in recent years from a terrorist organization (illegal) that haphazardly used media to advance their cause (not illegal) to a media organization (not illegal) that haphazardly uses terrorism to advance their cause (illegal). In other words, by reconceptualizing their illegal organization into a legal movement, they managed to rope in thousands, if not tens of thousands of new followers. This reconceptualization, by sheer numbers, structurally flipped the ratio of their labor hours from being 3/4 illegal stuff (terrorist operations) and 1/4 legal stuff (media operations) to 1/4 illegal stuff (terrorist operations) and 3/4 legal stuff (propaganda operations).
This statement from UBL would further suggest this transition. Also, if one looks at the pattern of the most recent messages from al-Qā’idah’s main leaders one can see more of an emphasis on relief work and environmental issues. Two days ago, Adam Gadahn released a video message titled “The Tragedy of the Floods” and two weeks ago Ayman al-Zawahiri “A Victorious Ummah, A Broken Crusade,” which highlighted the importance of relief efforts while fighting the Jihād. Further, UBL has discussed environmental issues in the past, therefore this is not completely new. This time he is adding relief work and agriculture to the mix. This past January, UBL’s statement discussed issues related to global warming. In addition, he also talked about global warming in a release in September 2007.
Overall, one can conclude from this that this is yet another example of al-Qā’idah’s efforts to rebrand itself in the aftermath of the slaughter in Iraq, which revulsed much of the Arab and Muslim world. Moreover, the CTC report that stated that al-Qā’idah’s attacks killed Muslims 85% of the time brought light to the hypocrisies of the organization that purported to be at war with the “Zionist-Crusaders” and not a war between al-Qaeda and Muslims. Although most Muslims did not read this report it was fairly obvious to them too who al-Qā’idah killed most of the time. Therefore, al-Qā’idah has tried to be a more inclusive organization and part of this rebranding is a softer message such as this one. At the same time, one should not be fooled by this. Brachman correctly points out the problem in this strategy:
The challenge is that for as much as AQ continues trying to build itself into an inclusivist social movement, it keeps slamming its head into the big brick wall of reality that AQ is founded on exclusivist, elitist doctrine and methodology. Any organization with Ayman al-Zawahiri at the top is by definition the opposite of populist. This is the fundamental contradiction that AQ cannot escape, no matter how much they ask Muslims to donate to earthquake relief funds or rockslide relief funds or talk about climate change. AQ offers nothing more than empty rhetoric and elitism.