x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Qa'eda's verbal attack on Obama

Ayman al Zawahiri's condemnation of the new US president-elect draws on an unfavourable comparison with "honourable black Americans" like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader. The al Qa'eda deputy leader calls Obama a "house negro" but as one American commentator says, "If al Qa'eda wants to insult Obama, it has to do a lot better than that." Zawahiri's message amplifies Osama bin Laden's long uninterrupted silence.

"In a propaganda salvo by al Qa'eda aimed at undercutting the enthusiastic response of Muslims worldwide to the American election, Osama bin Laden's top deputy condemned President-elect Barack Obama as a 'house negro' who would continue a campaign against Islam begun by President Bush," reported The New York Times. "Appealing to the 'weak and oppressed' around the world, the Qa'eda deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, sought to dampen excitement over Mr Obama's election around the globe by saying that the 'new face' of America only masked a 'heart full of hate'. "The Qa'eda leader described the victory by Mr Obama, who has called for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, as the American people's 'admission of defeat in Iraq.' But he warned Mr Obama that United States risked a reprise of the Soviet Union's failures in Afghanistan if the president-elect followed through on pledges to deploy thousands more troops to that country. "And in a blunt personal attack on the new president, Mr Zawahiri painted Mr Obama as a hypocrite and traitor to his race, unfavourably comparing him to 'honourable black Americans' like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader." Commenting on Mr Zawahiri's use of the expression "house negro", Mary Mitchell wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times: "That phrase has been thrown around a lot since Malcolm X first used it to describe black leaders who refused to stand up against white racists. At that time those were darn near fighting words. "Decades later, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte's use of the racial slur to condemn Powell and Rice for going along with George W's War on Iraq was barely noticed since blacks overwhelmingly opposed the war. "If al Qa'eda wants to insult Obama, it has to do a lot better than that. Given his mixed-raced heritage, upbringing in a white household, and Harvard education, the President-Elect has been called a lot worst. "Besides, Obama isn't going to the White House to serve the man. He is the man." At CNN, Peter Bergen said: "the tape does not resolve the mystery of why we didn't hear from one person who was supposed to weigh in on the American presidential election: Osama bin Laden. "Four years ago, the al Qa'eda leader appeared in a well-lit videotape addressing himself directly to the American people five days before they voted in the contest between Sen John Kerry and President Bush. "Bin Laden said then that whoever won the election was immaterial as far as al Qa'eda was concerned and that instead, Americans needed to change their country's foreign policies in the Muslim world, or face the consequences. "US intelligence officials tracking al Qa'eda had been expecting a similar message from the al Qa'eda leader in the run-up to this presidential election. Yet, bin Laden did not appear." In Time magazine, Robert Baer, a former CIA operative who has previously said he thinks Osama bin Laden is dead, wrote: "In a talk at the Atlantic Council this week, CIA director-general Michael Hayden said Osama bin Laden is alive. I'll take his word for it. But bin Laden's strange disappearance makes one wonder what exactly happened to him. The last relatively reliable bin Laden sighting was in late 2001. A video that he apparently appeared in last year shows him with a dyed beard. More than a few Pakistani intelligence operatives who knew bin Laden scoff at the idea he would ever dye his beard. They think the tape was manipulated from old footage, and that bin Laden is in fact dead. But then again, they would have an interest in making Americans believe bin Laden is dead, since it would relieve US pressure to find him by any means necessary, including going into Pakistani territory. "And what about all the other audiotapes bin Laden has put out since 9/11? Experts will tell you that off-the-shelf digital-editing software could manipulate old bin Laden voice recordings to make it sound as if he were discussing current events. Finally, there's the mystery as to why bin Laden didn't pop up during the US election. You would think a narcissistic mass murderer who believes he has a place in history would find it impossible to pass up an opportunity to give his opinion at such a momentous time, at least by dropping off a DVD at the al-Jazeera office in Islamabad. "I posed these questions to half a dozen of my former CIA colleagues who have been on bin Laden's trail since 9/11. What surprised me was that none of them would say for certain whether he is alive or dead. Half of them assumed he is dead, while the other half assumed he is alive. I suppose a lot of their timidity had to do with the still open wounds regarding the CIA's missing an event like Saddam Hussein's destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It would be so much easier to miss the death of a single man."

Obama and the Arab League peace plan

"US President-elect Barack Obama proclaimed himself 'very impressed' with the Arab League's peace plan when he discussed it with President Shimon Peres during a brief visit to Israel four months ago, Peres said Tuesday," Haaretz reported. "Peres, who had just arrived in London for an official visit, made the comment in interviews to be published in the British media. He was responding to questions about whether he thought Obama would advance the Middle East peace process in general and the Arab League's plan in particular. "But he denied a Sunday Times report earlier this week which claimed that Obama had said Israel would be 'crazy' to reject the Arab initiative. "On Monday, former American envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, who has been advising Obama on the subject, also denied reports that Obama had said while visiting Israel in July that he supported the Arab initiative and would base his own diplomatic policy on it." The New York Times said: "Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas received a courtesy phone call from American president-elect Barack Obama, who confirmed that he would work for peace, a Palestinian official said Wednesday. "The conversation took place on Tuesday. The official, senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat, said that Mr Obama thanked Mr Abbas for the congratulations he had extended after the Nov 4 election. Mr Erekat added that both men 'reiterated their commitment to continue to work' for an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution." The Associated Press reported that Mr Abbas: "is taking his case for a peace deal directly to ordinary Israelis, assuring them in Hebrew-language ads in Israeli newspapers that a withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem will win them full ties with the Arab world. "The unprecedented campaign, to be launched Thursday, comes at a troubled time for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. A year of negotiations has not brought tangible results, and Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu says he won't continue talks in the current format if he wins Feb 10 general elections. Opinion polls give Netanyahu a strong chance of winning. "Many Israelis are also skeptical about a peace deal, in part because the embattled Abbas no longer speaks for all Palestinians. He lost Gaza to the Islamic militant group Hamas in a violent 2007 takeover, two years after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territory. Gaza militants have fired hundreds of rockets on Israeli border towns since the pullout, and Israelis fear a West Bank withdrawal could bring more attacks. "The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offers normalisation with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War, could help dispel such scepticism by offering Israel a much bigger prize than just a potential end to the conflict with the Palestinians." In Haaretz, Daniel Levy wrote: "A stable Palestine and sustainable peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis cannot be built on a divided Palestinian house. The American position has been one of encouraging Palestinian division. That needs to change urgently, not by an Obama administration directly engaging Hamas, but by it discreetly signaling an end to the American veto on Palestinian national reconciliation along lines similar to the Saudi-brokered Mecca deal of February 2007. Given the stop-start Palestinian talks now being brokered by Egypt, there might be some urgency to the American policy re-think on this issue - the peace process is deeply flawed in its absence."

pwoodward@thenational.ae