As the war between Israel and Palestinians rages on, an old "Letter to the American People" from the terrorist Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the murder of nearly 3,000 people in the United States on September 11, 2001, after his first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 failed, recently went viral on TikTok, where it is apparently "opening eyes" based on the sorts of reactions it has been receiving, such as:
- "It's wild and everyone should read it. If you haven't read it yet, read it."
- "I will never look at life the same again; I will never look at this country the same."
- "I guarantee you it's going to blow your mind."
- "[The letter] is actually so mind-fuc*ing to me, that terrorism has been sold as this [false] idea to the American people."
What great revelations did the Al Qaeda chief make in his letter from 2002? While justifying the 9/11 attacks, he accused America of any number of crimes — chief among them support for Israel supposedly at the expense of Palestinians.
The problem with bin Laden's litany list against America — and, in other letters, the West in its entirety — was that none of his accusations was the ultimate reason that he and Al Qaeda hated the U.S. and Europe.
Background: Osama bin Laden, from one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent families, denounced his country's royal family as insufficiently pious, formed the terrorist group Al Qaeda, and was eventually expelled from the Arabian Peninsula. He went to Sudan, then to Pakistan, where, after two attempts to destroy the World Trade Center – the second attempt brought it down – he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.
Soon after the strikes of 9/11, sometime in February 2002, sixty Americans drafted a letter titled "What We're Fighting For: A Letter from America," in which they declared America's resolve to combat Islamic terrorism.
In response, 153 prominent Saudi scholars drafted their own letter, "A Letter to American Scholars and Intellectuals: How We Can Coexist," published in May 2002, in Riyadh. Their reply, signed by many important figures of the Saudi establishment, infuriated al-Qaeda, and prompted bin Laden to write "Al-Qaeda's Declaration in Response to the Saudi Ulema: It's Best You Prostrate Yourselves in Secret."
The whole point of bin Laden's declaration (translated and annotated in this author's The Al Qaeda Reader, pp.17-62) was to chastise the Saudis for what he deemed was a theologically invalid and cowardly response to the West, one typified by "prostrations." To correct the Saudis, he repeatedly emphasized what he considered Islam's "true" position concerning non-Muslims (see below).
Because bin Laden's essay was written to the Saudis -- that is, for Islamic eyes only -- it is refreshingly honest and straightforward, and not that different from the writings of ISIS.
For instance, the Saudis had written to the Americans that "The heart of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is justice, kindness, and charity." Bin Laden, outraged, reprimanded the Saudis:
"As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels... 'Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us — till you believe in Allah alone' [Koran 60:4]." So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility from the heart. And this fierce hostility — that is, battle — ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed, or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable [of waging jihad]. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! Allah Almighty's Word to his Prophet recounts in summation the true relationship: 'O Prophet! Wage war against the infidels and hypocrites and be ruthless. Their abode is hell — an evil fate! [9:73].' Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them. The West perceives fighting, enmity, and hatred all for the sake of the religion [Islam] as unjust, hostile, and evil. But whose understanding is right — our notions of justice and righteousness, or theirs?
Not content with chastising the Saudis, bin Laden then took it upon himself — and here is where it gets interesting — to personally respond to the American letter ("What We're Fighting For") by penning a missive titled, "Why We Are Fighting You." It is this letter that the Guardian published in late 2002, under the title, "Full text: bin Laden's 'letter to America,'" and it is this letter that recently went viral. (The Guardian recently removed the text.)
Oddly, bin Laden said nothing about those many Islamic doctrines that require Muslims to hate and wage war against non-Muslims, which he had condemned the Saudis for failing to acknowledge in their "How We Can Coexist" letter.
When speaking to the Saudis, bin Laden had written:
"There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, thereby physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword—for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. Thus it behooves the [Saudi] signatories to clarify this matter to the West— otherwise they will be like those who believe in part of the Book [Koran] while rejecting the rest."
In his "Letter to the American People," however, bin Laden portrays Islam as "the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted." Curiously, he neglects to mention the three options mentioned above – conversion, subjugation or slaughter – that he chided the Saudis for failing to "clarify" to the infidels. Instead, he merely invites Americans to embrace Islam.
Just like the Saudi response to the Americans, bin Laden's "Letter to the American People" ultimately relies on political, humanitarian and even emotional arguments as to why Al Qaeda had declared war on the United States (for instance, self-defense, U.S. support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians, U.S. support for oppressive, dictatorial regimes, unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc.).
Even the letter's opening Koranic verse puts everything in a defensive context: "Permission to fight is given to those who are attacked, for they have been wronged and surely Allah is able to give them victory" [22:39]. Yet when clarifying to the Saudis what Islam really has in store for infidels, bin Laden quotes many of the most militant verses, including Koran 9:29:
"Fight those among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah, nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and his Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued."
Islam's classic threefold choice, then — conversion, subjugation, or slaughter — is the ultimate source of problems, even for other terrorist groups, such as Hamas. As the Encyclopedia of Islam's entry for "jihad" by Emile Tyan puts it:
"[The] spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general ... Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam ...."
Unfortunately, we, the "infidels" — Americans, Israelis, Christians, Jews, Hindus and all non-Muslims — are to people of this mindset de facto enemies. It is in this context that the question of U.S. support for Israel should be examined. Being hated and deemed an enemy for political differences is peripheral to being hated for simply existing, as, sadly, Islam views Jews -- not Israelis, Jews.
Nevertheless, instead of understanding and responding to this complex reality, today, young Americans are eating up the old and discredited words of Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the murder of 3,000 Americans — all thanks to TikTok and its Chinese Communist Party owners, who are outspokenly committed to displacing the US as the world's leading superpower. The Chinese Communist Party and their allies in Iran appear committed to that goal; what is the US doing about it?
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West, Sword and Scimitar, Crucified Again, and The Al Qaeda Reader, is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.