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Osama Bin Laden in the Middle East conflict: A like for Osama

The former al-Qaeda leader is trending on social media with his “Letter to America.” The TikTok group is trying to limit the damage. What’s going on there?

Osama Bin Laden speaks into a camouflage microphone.  He stands in front of a rock with a machine gun leaning against it

Has a beard like that, but some young people just like it: Osama bin Laden Photo: Al-Jazeera/dpa

Twelve years after his death, the world is fighting against Osama Bin Laden again. Since Thursday, the social media platform Tiktok has been blocking videos that promote an old message from the former al-Qaeda leader. In it, bin Laden justified the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The platform was forced to take this step after users promoted bin Laden’s propaganda and portrayed it as a kind of enlightenment. Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” ​​is “awesome and everyone should read it,” says a blonde woman in a cardigan in one of the videos.

“I will never see life the same again,” explains another. For years, terrorism was sold to people as something where people hated for no reason, another video says. A young man makes a reference to the war in the Middle East: “Under settler colonialism, any kind of resistance is branded as terrorist.”

The “Letter to America” that people are referring to is a translation of a message from Osama bin Laden in Arabic that was published in November 2002. “You attacked us in Palestine,” it says about the reasons why Al Qaeda attacked the United States. The message is full of reactionary ideology, such as the rejection of homosexuality, and is laced with anti-Semitism – for example, by assuming that Jews have supposed control over the economy and the media.

This text comes from the weekday. Our weekly newspaper from the left! Every week, wochentaz is about the world as it is – and as it could be. A left-wing weekly newspaper with a voice, attitude and the special taz view of the world. New every Saturday at the kiosk and of course by subscription.

Videos with more than a million views

They are teenagers and young adults who are now expressing their astonishment on social media that they agree with the terrorist’s message. Some of the videos received over a million views. A statement from Tiktok said, the videos would be removed “proactively and aggressively.” The company tried to limit the damage publicly: the number of videos was small and calling it a “trend” was inaccurate.

The Chinese platform Tiktok has been criticized for a long time Spreading anti-Semitism and conspiracy ideology. 60 percent of users are under 30 years old, many of them minors. A look into the Trend analysis from Google shows that searches for the Al-Qaeda message have increased in recent days. Searches for “Letter to America” skyrocketed. There was particular interest in western regions, the USA and Europe.

The audience for the videos is believed to have been born after the September 11 attacks. “We are dealing with a generation gap,” says Moustafa Ayad, Executive Director for Africa, Middle East and Asia at the London Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the taz. “Terrorist groups have long used Palestine as a vehicle for their arguments. This particular letter also did that,” Ayad said.

Palestine was not the target of Al Qaeda, but was used populistically to convince Muslims worldwide. The expert considers the current trend to be dangerous. “The problem is that terrorist propaganda has the potential to radicalize someone,” Ayad explains. Islamists have also recently recognized this.

Failure of the education system

A translation of bin Laden’s message could be found on the British website for years Guardian. The Sunday newspaper The Observerwhich for Guardian Heard had reported in 2002 that the news of bin Laden was also circulating among British Islamistsand the full text is documented.

At the He deleted it on Wednesday Guardian the document. When contacted, the press department said it was “widely shared on social media without the full context.” It was therefore decided to remove the document. The deletion had increased attention on social media. Some users saw this as confirmation of the anti-Semitic conspiracy ideology that Jews controlled the media.

Aaron Y. Zelin, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the taz explained that elements of left-wing ideas also flow into the jihadist ideology. “So young people are choosing something, and part of it seems rebellious to them because of the anti-American current within the left.” This illustrates a failure of the education system.

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