The terrorists appear to have had a P.R. meeting -- or separate meetings. Both Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have released tapes, one audio and one video. It may be, as the White House suggests, that the apparent progress toward forming a government of national unity in Iraq is the trigger for these howls, or it may be that Zarqawi is bidding to replace his "prince and commander" in the hearts of blood-thirsty Muslim fanatics. In any case, both tapes are descents into a fantasy world where up is down and black is white.
Bin Laden begins by cursing "Crusader journalists," which seems to refer to the Danish newspapers that published cartoons featuring caricatures of Mohammed. The "umma" (worldwide Muslim community), bin Laden declares, has "reached consensus that he who offends or degrades the messenger (Mohammed) would be killed." Not exactly. The zealots and extremists have so proclaimed, while the majority retreats into an intimidated silence.
Not that the world was panting to know where bin Laden stood on the matter. Is anyone shocked to discover that he blesses those who attempt to slit the throats of cartoonists? But the tape does not stop there. It's a tour d'horizon of hot spots around the globe, all viewed through the twisted lens of a mass murderer who thinks himself destined for the Muslim equivalent of sainthood.
He calls upon Muslims to resist the "Crusaders" in Iraq and Afghanistan, denounces what he calls the "Crusader-Hindu war" against Muslims in Kashmir, condemns France's decision to forbid head scarves in public school classrooms (ironically, though the Franks were major players in the actual Crusades, they are not designated as Crusaders), and views the world's pressure on the Hamas government of the Palestinian territories as a "Crusader-Zionist war on Muslims." Zarqawi too accuses Iraqis who are at long last forming a government of being tools of the "Western Crusaders."
"Crusader" is the terrorists' all-purpose epithet for the United States. (And our leaders lend this drivel some degree of credibility. Bill Clinton expressed the view that the West really started this clash of civilizations with the Crusades.) As for bin Laden, he sees Crusaders all around him.
Okay, let's see now, where on the globe will you find people possessed of a religious zeal and political power-lust who are willing, even eager to kill in the name of God? In Washington, D.C.? In Los Angeles? In Boston? How about Tehran, Baghdad, Riyadh and Amman?
Yes, a thousand years ago European Christians responded to the call of Pope Urban II and took up arms to liberate the Holy Land from the infidels. On the journey eastward, the first Crusaders murdered and pillaged a number of Jewish communities, and when they conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they slaughtered unknown numbers of Muslims and Jews within the walls of the city. As historian Kenneth Harl explains in his history of the period, the primary motivation of those who joined the First Crusade was the belief that by "taking the cross" they would achieve remission of sins. But memo to Islamic fanatics: that was a millennium ago. In the intervening 10 centuries, Christians have become the most irenic of confessions. And even in the immediate aftermath of 1099, the Crusaders provided a better life to their Muslim subjects than they had known under Muslim rule (marred as it was by warfare among the Abbasids, Umayyads and Seljuk Turks).
Further, the Crusades, as aggressive as they seem to modern eyes, were a response to the staggering expansionism of the Muslim armies as they spread their faith throughout the Near East during the three centuries following Mohammed's death.
Every aggressor paints himself a victim -- Hitler had his grievances, too, we recall. But what is truly staggering about the bin Laden tape is his call for Muslims to take up arms against the peacekeeping force in Darfur. Three hundred thousand African Muslims have been murdered and two million displaced by raiders (the Janjaweed) working in concert with the Islamic government of Sudan. A small force from the African Union has been overwhelmed. President Bush has called for NATO involvement. On April 30, a broad coalition of Christians, Jews and human rights organizations will hold a "Rally to Stop Genocide" in Washington, D.C. Do the Islamists call for aid? Do they offer it? On the contrary, bin Laden calls for "mujahadin . . . to prepare all that is needed for a long-term war against the Crusaders and thieves in Western Sudan."