October 28, 2001 -- WASHINGTON POST
Not Who You Think
By Stanley Bedlington
Nobody who has seen it forgets the image of the man on the video: the apparently indomitable Arab veteran seated at the mouth of
a cave, deriding Americans -- "the cowards of this age" -- for being "full of fear" while threatening further violence against them.
But for a man of such belligerent words, Osama bin Laden is no fighter, nor of course are the inhospitable caves and mountain
retreats of Afghanistan his true home. The release of the video, as well as the publication of numerous staged photographs of the
terrorist leader in military fatigues, crouching on one knee and pointing his AK-47 at an unseen target, reflect his desire to build up
a myth of himself as a warrior.
CIA operatives, who ran the covert campaign to arm the mujaheddin, or guerrilla forces, against the Soviets in the 1980s, tell
another story: The Arab volunteers bin Laden joined made no great contribution to the battle; the fighting fell mainly to the
Afghans. At best, CIA operatives say, bin Laden may have fired a few rounds in self-defense. They attest instead to the wealthy
Saudi exile's proclivity for the role he plays today -- which has been to raise money and use it to provide construction equipment
and logistics and to fund and advance his terrorist campaign.
It has become increasingly clear to me, ever since the threat bin Laden poses first came to my attention in the late '80s, that he is
bent on enhancing his reputation by building myths about himself that will appeal to his followers. Puncturing those myths -- both to
enhance our own understanding of what we are up against in the current war against and to enlighten the people over whom bin
Laden holds sway -- is the skill we must now develop. For while the man who is now America's Most Wanted would like to be
seen as an indomitable warlord, there can be little doubt that he is really a master of planning, and that his ambitions are limitless.
His modus operandi is already far too familiar: He devises an attack, then provides guidance about the timing and location, but
otherwise remains aloof from danger. That's why I call him a "facilitator" -- a description that echoes one of bin Laden's preferred
code names, "The Contractor."
In trying to understand bin Laden's intentions, the CIA's goal has always been to assess where he fits within the political and
religious power structures of the region. By the mid-1980s, he had already made a name for himself by helping to fund the
anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. But when he returned to Saudi Arabia in 1989, though initially treated like a hero, he soon fell
foul of the religious establishment for criticizing its lack of devotion. After fleeing to Sudan in 1991, he collaborated with the
National Islamic Front -- an organization that combines radical Islamist politics with ruthless violence, although its activities there
have recently been curbed. But it was after the Persian Gulf War that bin Laden came into view on the CIA counterterrorist
center's radar screen, as he began building training camps in Sudan for extremists from all over the Muslim world. We watched as
he melded front organizations into what became al Qaeda -- his international network of terrorist groups and their support cells.
One of bin Laden's strategies has been to mix his real motivations with goals designed to appeal to wide swaths of disaffected
Muslims. He has talked for several years about his desire to expel U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia, and has expressed real anger at
the pollution of that country's holiest sites -- Mecca and Medina -- by the presence in the region during the Persian Gulf War of
hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims. More recently, he has spoken out about the plight of Palestinians, but I believe he has done
so out of expediency, seeing in the Palestinian cause a means of attracting new Muslim recruits. Together, these issues provide bin
Laden with a potent rallying cry.
Although these objectives spur on his actions, bin Laden's ambitions -- both personal and social -- are greater. Based on his own
statements and those of his close associates, bin Laden wants to be portrayed in the Islamic world as a latter-day caliph, or
supreme ruler, in the image of the Prophet Muhammad's successors -- a figure who can unite all of Islam. The title not only evokes
historic Islamic power but also underlies his grand strategy of bringing together as many terrorist groups as possible, giving him, as
the word al Qaeda implies, a "base" from which to spread his influence.
But perhaps just as important as his egotism is bin Laden's ardent desire to halt the flood of American popular culture into the
Islamic world. Echoing the inflammatory anti-Western writings of extremists such as Syed Qutb, an Egyptian who gained
prominence in the early 1960s, and Maulana Abu Ala Maududi, a Pakistani who continued to be active into the '70s, bin Laden
believes that the United States is the "Great Satan." He sees Islam under assault from a rising tide of secularized modernity led by
America and by corrupt Arab governments and monarchies.
That is not to suggest that bin Laden is in tune with the beliefs of modern Islam. Having lived in Muslim countries for almost 20
years, I know that, by choosing to obey and enforce the harsh laws of Pashtun village elders, bin Laden and his Taliban comrades
are divorcing themselves from the majority of Muslims. He finds company instead in a line of extremists dating back to the
Kharijites, who emerged within decades of the Prophet Mohammed's death. For while the scale of bin Laden's violence may be
unprecedented, his philosophy of violence is nothing new. Echoing the words of George Habbash, former leader of the terrorist
group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who warned several years ago that "in this war, no one is neutral,
no one is innocent," bin Laden recently said that "in the name of retaliation there are no innocents."
It comes as no surprise then to see bin Laden readily abjure the religious mainstream, as did the extremists who came before him.
His thinking reflects that of Syed Qutb, who shaped himself in the Kharijite mold and attacked the United States during the 1960s
for propagating "that crass and vacuous materialistic perception of life; that animal freedom called permissiveness; that slave
market dubbed women's liberation." Beliefs such as these are focal to bin Laden's thinking.
He thus juxtaposes his jihad, or holy war, against the United States with the Crusades. In his fatwa issued in February 1998, bin
Laden specifically invoked the term jihad as the collective duty of the entire Islamic ummat -- the worldwide community of
Muslims -- summoning his followers to perform jihad against both Christianity and Judaism. But both of these religions are
described in sacred Islamic texts as Ahl Al-Kitab, or "People of the Book" -- that is, as communities that have received revelation
from God in scriptures, and who must be treated with respect. To mount an attack against them is antithetical to the teachings of
Once again, then, bin Laden has defiled his own religion in pursuit of his grand strategy, creating his own myth of jihad and ignoring
the teachings of the Koran when it suits him. Even in the heat of battle, Islam requires that certain moral inhibitions must be
maintained: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you," the Koran demands, "but do not transgress limits, for God loves not the
transgressor." In other words, a Muslim can fight back provided it is in defense of Islam, but the indiscriminate slaughter of
innocents, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, is not permissible. Compare these to bin Laden's own religious rules: "We do not
differentiate between . . . military and civilians." All Americans are targets according to the terms of his fatwa.
The willingness of bin Laden to transgress strict Koranic injunctions is seemingly boundless. If there were any question about
whether he believes the ends of his strategy justify his means, his fascination with weapons of mass destruction should lay it to
rest. Whether or not the current anthrax infections prove to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda supporters on the orders of bin
Laden, there is no doubt that he has often demonstrated his proclivity for wholesale slaughter. Experts on Afghanistan have strong
evidence to show that at one secret laboratory at the Abu Shahab camp in Afghanistan, research has been conducted on chemical
and nerve gases. The State Department's latest annual report on international terrorism states that al Qaeda "continues to seek
chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities."
It is in this willingness to create his own myths, to endorse mass murder as part of his jihad, that bin Laden's Achilles' heel may lie.
He expressed no remorse for the Muslims killed on Sept. 11. Perhaps, he sees them as Westernized moderates standing in the way
of his ambitions. But his horrendous acts sadden and anger the majority of Muslims around the world. They are infuriated to see
bin Laden treat violence as an integral part of Islam, almost as a sixth Pillar of the Faith. And they shudder at his willingness to
mold Islamic thinking to suit his own goals, seeing in it the risks of his achieving the title of caliph and thereby wielding immense
There is no precedent, no authority in Islam for the slaughter bin Laden perpetrated on that bright September morning. His death
may yet be within reach of American forces overseas, but the downfall of his philosophy of terror may lie in the hope that people
increasingly see through the myth of religiously sanctioned invincibility that bin Laden has woven around himself.
Stanley Bedlington studied Osama bin Laden as a senior analyst at the CIA's counterterrorism center, where he worked
from 1978 until 1994. He is currently a consultant on Middle East affairs.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
Correction: Bin Laden's N-Saturn conjoins T-Pluto. Bin Laden's N-Saturn is opposite T-Saturn. -- Starcats. Information regarding the difficulty in discovering OBL's birth chart is documented at Stariq.com and at Lois Rodden's Astrodata Bank. In the absence of reliable data, please use the OBL chart above with extreme caution.