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Bruce Lawrence (ed), 'Messages to the World'

Verso Books, 2005; ISBN 1 84467 045 7; Pb 292pp; £12.99

Messages to the World is the first time that all the written statements and audio broadcasts of Osama bin Laden have been brought together in a single volume in English. Starting in December 1994, with what is generally considered to be his first published statement intended to reach a broad audience, the text covers the decade up to December 2004, and another attack against the ruling family in his homeland of Saudi Arabia.

It is strange that it has taken so long for such a work to appear. Perhaps this says a great deal about the slipshod fashion in which any serious information about bin Laden, as opposed to diatribe and rumour, has been gathered and made available to the public. Odious though he may be, his words should not be kept from the widest possible audience. Indeed, rather than protecting people from what many consider to be the greatest evil at large in the world today, exposure to his thoughts can only serve to make the beast less threatening. The writings themselves will prove too stylised for many western readers, frequently relying as they do on poetic forms of Arabic and allusion to a multitude of Islamic traditions. These declarations were never intended to be light reading. Aside from Koranic and other Islamic material, the texts also betray more secular strands, such as training methods employed by the CIA and Middle Eastern politics. Bin Laden is not a man of peace, and whatever justification he offers for his actions and those of his followers, there is no justification for the violence he promotes. However, reading these words will at least inform the reader as to the rationale he employs to justify his philosophy. That said, there is no escaping the fact that it is these very words, usually served in very small doses by western media, that have inspired and impacted on the lives of millions, whether in admiration and hero worship or hatred and loathing. As such, this is more than a fascinating collection but essential source material for anybody who cares to try to understand the global phenomenon that is Islamist terrorism.

Topics: Terrorism