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[infowar.de] ist Bin Laden ein Plagiator?
oder vielleicht ein postmoderner Sampling-Autor? ;-)
New York Times, March 10, 2002
THE CLOSE READER
Ode to Terror
By JUDITH SHULEVITZ
Should we inscribe the name of Osama bin Laden in the ever-lengthening
book of famous plagiarists? In two videotapes broadcast after Sept. 11,
the terrorist is shown reciting a poem that most viewers assumed he
wrote himself. In one tape, he chants it to his dinner guests in a safe
house; in the other, his most recent public address, he weaves the poem
into a tearful homage to the 19 hijackers. The lines, however, were not
bin Laden's. A few weeks after the second videotape was shown in
December, a Jordanian who said he was the cousin of the actual poet
published a small article in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat
accusing bin Laden of plagiarism.
According to the article, the poem's author is Yusuf Abu Hilalah, a
sometime poet and professor of Islamic law at a Jordanian university.
Abu Hilalah has long been involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, and was
a close friend of Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden's mentor and a leader of the
Arabs who went to Afghanistan in the 1980's to fight against the Soviet
Union. Abu Hilalah apparently knows bin Laden well enough to have
dedicated to him a poem called ''The Fighting Eagle.'' We may presumably
fault bin Laden for failing to give credit where credit is due,
although, of course, he never claimed to be the author of the poem, and
the rules governing the attribution of poetry recited for propagandistic
purposes are far from clear.
More interesting than whether bin Laden committed a literary
misdemeanor is why this particular poem should have appealed to him.
According to Roy Mottahedeh, a professor of Islamic history at Harvard,
and Salameh Nematt, the Jordanian correspondent of Al Hayat, both of
whom translated the poem for me, the poem, which comes from a 1998
collection of Abu Hilalah's work titled ''Poems in the Time of
Oppression,'' is in a neoclassical style, with a conventional rhyme
scheme, high-flown literary language and the centuries-old imagery of
Arabic war poetry. The poet declares that he has come to bear witness
that ''those who are as sharp as a sword'' have not lost their resolve.
They remain committed to religion, struggle and sacrifice.
Notwithstanding the horrors of occupation -- the clothes of darkness
that came over us,'' ''the poisoned tooth that bit us'' and ''the homes
that overflowed with blood'' when ''the assailant desecrated our land''
-- these fighters will not be deterred until, the poet warns, ''you
leave our lands.''
Abu Hilalah's cousin said in his article that bin Laden made two small
but notable emendations to the last lines of the poem: ''The fighters'
winds blew, striking their monuments, telling the assailant that the
swords will not be thrown down until you leave our lands.''
Where the poet wrote ''monuments,'' bin Laden said ''towers''; and
where the poet wrote ''swords will not be thrown down,'' bin Laden said
''the raids will not stop.''
Bin Laden's changes turn a statement of general defiance into a direct
threat, the point being that the attack on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon should be seen as the first of many. The alterations
further transform the poem into bin Laden's own personal victory ode,
wrought in a style that would be familiar to anyone versed in the golden
age of Arabic literature. Reciting such a work would burnish bin Laden's
reputation in a way that Americans might not readily understand, given
the higher premium placed in the Middle East on poetic eloquence, even
in a political leader. Whether or not bin Laden meant to pass the poem
off as his own, he surely hoped that it would convince some Arab viewers
who might otherwise see him as a terrorist that he's really a Bedouin
warrior-poet celebrating a rebellion fought on behalf of the prophet.
It is a testament to bin Laden's skill as a communicator that he
consistently gives the form of his message as much attention as its
content. In his self-styled fatwa of 1998, for instance, in which he
calls on all Muslims to kill Americans, he employed an ornate style
known as saj, the rhymed prose in which the Koran was written and in
which most premodern literary Arabic was composed. According to
Mottahedeh, saj was once the requisite style for a fatwa, though few are
written that way anymore. Bin Laden also sprinkled his fatwa with
antiquated terminology, like a word for ''encampments'' that has been
out of use for hundreds of years. This kind of language is meant to
suggest to the Arabic speaker that the past two centuries -- the period
of Westernization in which Arabic prose took on a more neutral,
essayistic style -- might just as well have never occurred.
The most radical aspect of radical Islamist thought is its refusal to
believe the present has any legitimacy or holds any value. According to
the theology worked out by bin Laden's teachers and the thinkers who
taught them, the centuries before Muhammad and his revelation amounted
to nothing more than unenlightened chaos, while the years since Islam's
decline (some Islamists date that to the end of the reign of Muhammad's
successors, the four righteous caliphs, in 661; others to the abolition
of the caliphate itself in 1924) haven't been much brighter. Only with
the restoration of Islamic rule will the world re-enter a reality worth
living in or dreaming of.
Is the poem good or bad? It isn't necessarily an offense against good
taste to borrow outdated styles of writing or to imagine a return to a
glorious past. If it were, a good deal of English poetry and historical
fiction would have to be stricken from the canon. (''The Lord of the
Rings,'' for instance, would have to go.) The literature of nostalgia,
whether kitschy or brilliant, harms no one as long as it is understood
as literature. The moment it stops being seen as that and is mistaken
for history -- or worse, for a blueprint for the future -- it turns into
something terrifying. The problem lies with the way in which a work is
interpreted, not with the work itself. Not all imagined pasts are as
crude as, say, the one in ''The Turner Diaries,'' the white supremacist
fantasy that inspired the murderous violence of Timothy McVeigh; one
could easily envision an equally disturbing political movement based on
a simplistic interpretation of the writings of Leo Tolstoy, who became
an agrarian pacifist. When bin Laden recited Abu Hilalah's poem, he was
prophesying, not poeticizing. If you substituted airplanes and plastic
explosives for horses and swords, you would have a more or less accurate
picture of the world of interminable desert warfare and religious
coercion that bin Laden is willing to die to recreate. Such
literal-mindedness is less a crime against literature than against life
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