Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bin Laden Mixtapes

On December 7, 2001, the Taliban evacuated Kandahar.

Among the detritus of their departure, a collection of 1,500+ audio cassette tapes.

Their previous owner? UBL.

The tapes ended up in the hands of a CNN producer and an Afghani translator. They tried to give them to the FBI, which wasn't interested. They ended up at the Williams College Afghan Media Project, which in turn recruited UC Davis Linguistics Professor Flagg Miller, an expert on contemporary Arabic poetry and language in Islamic movements and the use of audio cassette tapes as a prominent medium in contemporary Arab culture. As the UC Davis press release indicates, the tapes turned out to be quite a trove when entrusted to the right ears:

The tapes date from the late 1960s through 2000 and feature more than 200 speakers from more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Indian subcontinent and Africa. The speakers, identified on cassette labels, include prominent scholars as well as some of al-Qaida's most important strategic thinkers and operational leaders. The recordings include sermons, political speeches, lectures, formal interviews, exchanges between students and teachers, telephone conversations, radio broadcasts, recordings of live battles and Islamic anthems, as well as trivia contests and studio-recorded audio dramas.

Twenty of the audiocassettes contain recordings of bin Laden; 12 of these include material previously unpublished in any language, according to Miller

No word on whether there is any Rush, Abba, or Lionel Richie mixed in there.

Here's a sample:

Osama bin Laden poem
From audiocassette dated 1996
English translation

Tomorrow, William, you will discover which young man [will] confront your brethren, who have been deceived by [their own] leaders.

A youth, who plunges into the smoke of war, smiling
He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red
May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent
Humans, should they fall, Djinn, should they ride
[And] lions of the jungle, whose only fangs
[Are their] lances and short Indian swords
As the stallion bears my witness that I hold them back
[My] stabbing is like the cinders of fire that explode into flame
On the day of the stallions’ expulsion, how the war-cries attest to me
As do stabbing, striking, pens, and books.

From the NY Times report:

While Mr. bin Laden’s evolution from opposing Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty to running an international terrorist organization has been detailed before, said Flagg Miller, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who spent five years translating the tapes, the recordings provide a more spontaneous look at Al Qaeda than what is available through the carefully choreographed messages it releases.

“These are back-room conversations of Al Qaeda’s key operatives as well as fresh or potential recruits who are trying to figure out what the heck is going on and what their role in it is,” Mr. Miller said.

On one tape, a dull roar growing louder stumped Mr. Miller. Finally he discovered it was the sound of a gas stove being used by low-level recruits cooking breakfast with a famous Egyptian-born cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, now in a British prison fighting extradition to the United States on terrorism charges. The cleric tried to inspire them by comparing frying eggs to fighting jihad.

“These small moments tell us what the core of being on jihad was like,” said Mr. Miller, who teaches religious studies. “It is boring. While they are waiting, they create ways to make jihad urgent and imminent, so they develop this fanciful narrative comparing breakfast to going out on a raid.”

Mr. Miller released his findings in Davis, Calif., with a more complete explanation scheduled to be published in the October edition of the Journal of Language and Communication.

Another UBL sample:

"Safe Base"
From audiocassette dated 1996

English translation:

But by the Grace of God, a safe base is now available in Khorusan on the summit of the Hindu Kush; this very summit where, by the Grace of God, the largest infidel military force of the world was destroyed, and where the myth of the superpower withered before the Mujahidin’s cries of Allahu Akbar (God is Greater).

Happy anniversary.

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