Sunday, September 28, 2008
POETRY by Osama Bin Laden is to be published next week by an Oxford-educated academic, who has discovered that the world’s most hated terrorist was once in great demand as an after-dinner speaker.
Bin Laden’s recitals at wedding banquets and other feasts during the 1990s were recorded on tapes recovered from his compound in Afghanistan in 2001, after the September 11 attacks.
They have been studied by Professor Flagg Miller, who teaches Arabic poetry at the University of California, Davis. He said: “Bin Laden is a skilled poet with clever rhymes and meters, which was one reason why many people taped him and passed recordings around, like pop songs.”
The first lines of one poem read: “A youth who plunges into the smoke of war smiling stains the blades of lances red. May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent humans, lest they fall.”
The verse goes on to portray Bin Laden himself as a “warrior poet”, whose words will lead his followers to an idyllic refuge in the Hindu Kush mountains.
“He frequently uses mountains as metaphors,” Miller added. “As borders they separate Arabs from each other but mountains can also help them from the temptations of the secular world .”
Miller first heard the tapes four years ago when FBI translators were scrutinising them for coded messages to sleeper cells. He identified up to 20 featuring the “distinctive monotone ” of Bin Laden.
Extracts from the tapes will appear in the October issue of the journal Language and Communication.
“They reveal Osama Bin Laden as the performer, the entertainer with an agenda,” Miller said. “He told gory tales of dead mujaheddin from the villages where he was speaking, which was often the first time their families had learned of their fates. He mixed this news up with radical theology and his own verse based on the traditions of hamasa - a warlike poetic tradition from Oman calculated to capture the interest of young men.”
Miller said Bin Laden was calculating. “He crafts his words to excite the urban dissatisfied youth, offering them escape from their elders and villages. Instead, many just die in terrible ways.”
Other Arabic specialists are unhappy that the tapes have come to light. “They seem adolescent and brutal, like a video nasty, composed with minimal skill to win over the susceptible mind of the young and bloodthirsty male,” said one academic, who did not want to be named.“Whatever else Bin Laden is, he is now exposed as a disgrace to two millennia of Arabic culture.”
While Miller prepares to write a book analysing Bin Laden’s poetry and its role in jihad, the tapes are going to Yale University where they will be repaired and made available to scholars in 2010.
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