Street Literature on Usama Bin Laden: A REVIEW OF CHEAPER ARABIC BIOGRAPHIES FOUND IN ARAB ALLEYWAYS

By Aboul-Enein, Youssef | Infantry, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview

Street Literature on Usama Bin Laden: A REVIEW OF CHEAPER ARABIC BIOGRAPHIES FOUND IN ARAB ALLEYWAYS


Aboul-Enein, Youssef, Infantry


Books in much of the Arab world are considered a luxury. Although accessible to the public, libraries such as the great new library in Alexandria, Egypt, seem to be the purview of scholars. The vast majority of the Arab public is busy eking out a living and does not have the time and money to travel to the libraries usually located in centralized locations such as Cairo, Kuwait City, or Riyadh. This is the drawback of having one library in a major urban center and not having branches at the community level as you would find in the United States. In addition, young Arab students are not taught how to access the library and how to research and access books. Therefore, many pay attention to the small booklets that permeate corner mosques and markets. These books, which often range in price from 50 cents to $2, offer those with the inclination to read books a chance to explore an issue beyond the satellite television that saturates the Middle East. These cheaper street books represent perhaps the main source of how the majority gain information beyond reading the newspaper. But what makes these small booklets worth looking at is that they represent the street perception of an issue, history, or biography. Although in Arabic, American policy makers and military planners should be aware of the existence of these booklets and make an effort to acquire them. It is the only way to stay inside the decision-making cycle of our adversaries.

This review essay will focus on Abdullah Khalifa's short biography on Usama Bin Laden, entitled, Usama Bin Laden Bain Al-Jihad wal lrhaab (Bin Laden between Jihad and Terrorism). The booklet was published in 2001 by Dar AlAhdath for Journalism and Media Services in the Dasman district of Kuwait City. Unlike other cheap booklets acquired off the street which are typically printed in poor quality paper, sometimes rag paper, this booklet's pages are made of more durable, higher quality paper which is attainable in Kuwait and Arabian Gulf countries. The booklet has no price, no biography of the author, and no references, but was clearly written months after September 11, 2001, as a means of rationalizing Bin Laden's heinous actions and the troubled history AlQaeda has had with the United States. It is worth reading the wild conspiracy theories in this 113-page booklet not only for interesting biographical vignettes of Bin Laden, but to also understand what the United States is up against in countering these false perceptions through the use of public diplomacy. The very title of the book is suggestive of the unacceptable argument that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter; the dichotomy between what is moral jihad and terrorism? This subtitle is what attracts a person perusing the books and booklets in a stall or street vendor after Friday prayers.

The booklet's first mistake is the date in which Usama Bin Laden's father, Mohammed Bin Laden, died; the booklet says it was 1970. In reality, he had died in a helicopter crash in 1967 when Usama was 9 or 10 years old. Mistakes like these make street biographies an unreliable source; yet the cheap cost, portability, and number of available copies make these accounts an important part of the Bin Laden lore. The booklet takes readers to 1979 when Usama graduated from King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah. There he came under the influence of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian firebrand cleric who was teaching Islamic courses at the university. Khalifa's booklet is right on the mark as to the influence of Azzam on Usama Bin Laden. The Palestinian militant cleric established Maktab Al-Khidmat IiI Mujahideen (Services Offices for [Arab] Jihadists) in Peshawar, Pakistan, that would funnel tens of thousands of Arab jihadist volunteers to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pages discuss how from:

1979 to 1982 - Usama supported Azzam's efforts by first developing a system of financing the anti-Soviet jihad through contributions from leading Saudi families, using his family name and connections. …

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