Translation of bin Laden speeches released
The only way to defeat the enemy is to know the enemy. But in the case of Osama bin Laden, the public doesn't know enough, says the author of a new book on America's No. 1 nemesis.
In "Osama Bin Laden: America's Enemy In His Own Words," San Diego civil rights attorney Randy Hamud tries to shed light on bin Laden by translating 20 of his statements and letters from 1994 to 2004.
The book, released Monday, is the first comprehensive compilation of statements that are rarely presented in full by the English-language media. It's also the first of several works on bin Laden due out in the coming months.
Hamud said the translations are critical to defeating bin Laden.
"What I mean by defeat is the complete discrediting of his message," he wrote in the book.
The third-generation Lebanese-American spent the past two years working with Arab scholars on the translations. His self-published book also offers an annotated biography of bin Laden and a history of Islam.
It sparked concerns among academics ¡ª none of whom have seen the book ¡ª because it does not disclose the names of his collaborators and only says they are mostly Middle East immigrants who fear repercussions for their involvement.
"In order for me to trust a text, I need to know who the translator is," said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor.
Abou El Fadl, who focuses on Islamic law, said he was surprised to learn about Hamud's book because the lawyer is not known as a specialist or scholar in Middle Eastern affairs or Islamic studies.
"In my perspective bin Laden is a criminal," Abou El Fadl said. "Is there value in publishing the diaries of a serial killer? Yes there's a value, and there's a danger."
Richard Dekmejian, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, also said he would prefer such translations be done by recognized Arab scholars, then reviewed by peers.
"It's very essential to do the translation correctly and reflect the context in which these things are said," Dekmejian said.
Still, Dekmejian is interested in using Hamud's text in his classes as a way to understand bin Laden's anger at the West and how he gained traction among Muslims worldwide.
Hamud defended his decision to withhold the names.
"Sadly, in today's America, Muslim immigrants do not enjoy the freedom of speech that those of us who are native-born enjoy in discussing subjects like Mr. bin Laden, political Islam and the subject of terrorism," wrote Hamud, who has represented a number of Muslims and Arabs detained by federal authorities since Sept. 11, 2001.
In November, Verso Books in England will publish "Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden," a compilation 24 bin Laden speeches dating back to 1994. It was edited by Duke University political science professor Bruce Lawrence.
In January, Simon & Schuster's Free Press will publish former CNN analyst Peter Bergen's "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of the Making of a Global Terrorist," with interviews from people who know bin Laden.
Lawrence, who had not seen Hamud's book, applauded his effort to make bin Laden's words more accessible. He said finding some of bin Laden's speeches, which are often blocked on Internet sites or reproduced only in snippets, involved major detective work.
"It's an aspect of Osama bin Laden that has not only been neglected, it has been totally overlooked in the war on terror," Lawrence said.
The speeches and letters show bin Laden's evolution from political attacks against corruption in the Saudi Arabian government to a declaration of war on the United States. There's also a critique of U.S. military contractors.
"The Iraq war generates billions of dollars for big corporations, either munitions makers or those working reconstruction, such as Haliburton and its sister companies," bin Laden said in an April 15, 2004 address originally broadcast by Al-Jazeera in which he offered a truce with European nations that agreed not to attack Muslims.
Throughout his speeches, bin Laden also returns to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and what he calls the "Jewish enemy."
According to Hamud's translation, bin Laden's anger at the West stems mostly from its support of the repressive Saudi Arabian regime and the idea of a Christian military occupying Muslim lands.
"It is unconscionable to allow the country to become an American colony," bin Laden wrote in 1994 to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, "for no other reason than to protect your throne and the oil resources."