Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Dialogue with the devil?

Because of an important dignitary's visit to London recently I have only gotten around to Bin Laden's latest "campaign video" now. And how interesting from a rhetorical point of view!

The most obvious thing here is the change in genre. Usually his speeches has been levelled at the Arab world with a clear emphasis on the epideictic genre (that has the purpose of reaffirming a group's identity), although he has also been trying to rally moderate Moslems.

But this time around he has taken pains to ensure that his message is directed to the American people. This emphasises the deliberate genre, the political speech designed to convince the other party of something.

Another interesting thing is his persona, the self-image that he is presenting in the speech. He is much more "urban" and, well, witty than I have ever seen before. He uses shifts in metaphors, syllepsis, "because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers" and ironic anecdotes "All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida...".

Last but most interesting: This seems to be an attempt at a dialogue, however futile it is. And actually when considering it from a rhetorical viewpoint it all makes sense.

To be able to convince another human by speech you have to either seduce them (by propaganda for example) or signal that you are willing to embrace the principle of the best argument as the winning one. Only by being willing to listen to your opponents viewpoint and take (at least some) notice of it's essential value will you be able to make your recipient willing to adopt the same stance toward you. If you don't, the shouting argument ensues.

In other words, to be able to make a political speech to the American people, Osama bin-Laden must play by some of the rules of the American society to make himself understandable at all.

This might have a very large impact on the notion of al-Queda as a diplomatic entity. But how interesting this speech might be, it still hints the almost unbridgeable gap between the parties on each side of the "war on terror".

Read the speech here.


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