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What Motivates Osama bin Laden?

Osama bin Laden has made no secret of his goals. They are clear and simple, but involve several desired outcomes.

Bin Laden wants the United States to withdraw military forces from Saudi Arabia.
“Now infidels walk everywhere on the land where Muhammad was born and where the Qur’an was revealed to him,” bin Laden told Time Magazine in 1998.
In 1996, bin Laden said the Saudi government ceased to be Muslim because it allowed in “crusaders,” a reference to the Crusades which attempted to recapture Jerusalem from Muslims between 1099-1271.
Ridding Saudi Arabia of all “infidels” and removing the Saudi royal family is merely a first step for bin Laden. He also wants U.S. military expelled from other Muslim countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Bin Laden wants U.S. sanctions against Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Iran to cease. He also objects to U.S. support of Israel–which he believes should be a Palestinian nation.
In an Oct. 7 interview on Al Jazeera television, bin Laden vowed that “neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security” until “the infidel armies” are no longer in Israel or the Arab world.
Once all “infidels” are expelled from Islamic countries, bin Laden foresees the establishment of one united Muslim government strictly enforcing shari’a, or Islamic law. The Taliban is bin Laden’s ideal Muslim government.
Michael Doran, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, said bin Laden “is tapping into a minority Islamic tradition with a wide following and a deep history.”
The Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group which assassinated the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, said rebelling against one’s rulers, which is forbidden by most Islamic authorities, is a duty if the rulers have abandoned true Islam. They argued that killing innocent civilians, or even other Muslims, is permitted if it serves the cause of jihad. Their goal is to return Islam to the purity of its earliest days.
Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda movement merged with the Islamic Jihad several years ago. Bin Laden is the figurehead and hero to a number of loosely organized small terrorist cells.
The Armed Islamic Group (AIG) claimed responsibility for thousands of murders in Algeria. In 1994 AIG killed four Roman Catholic priests, saying the slayings were part of a war of “annihilation and physical liquidation of Christian crusaders.” The AIG said, “The Armed Islamic Group will, God willing, continue its jihad against all who stand in the way of achieving the supremacy on Earth of Allah’s shari’a and the establishment of a wise caliphate [Islamic theocracy].”
Some Islamic scholars trace the militant movement within Islam to the 1930s when the West began dividing the Ottoman Empire into smaller nations. Muslims saw this as a threat to Islam.
However, bin Laden’s driving influence is probably Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb (SIGH-yid KUH-tahb), who was executed by the Egyptian government in the mid-1960s for anti-government activities.
       
Qutb spent time in the United States between 1948 and 1950. In his 1964 book, Signposts on the Road, Qutb wrote about the moral degradation and sexual promiscuity he saw in America. He cited the Kinsey Report, Darwin, Marx and Freud as forces that have contributed to the moral decline.
He described a nightclub scene in Greeley, Colorado: “Every young man took the hand of a young woman. And these were the young women who had just been singing their hymns! Red and blue lights, with only a few white lamps, illuminated the dance floor. The room became a confusion of feet and legs; arms twisted around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together.”
Western immorality is a popular topic with bin Laden.
Bin Laden appeals to Muslims living in poverty and under militant governments: “Come join my holy war against the immorality of the West and the failure of Muslim governments to honor the Qur’an.”
Doran said bin Laden’s strategy in attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is merely a shift in tactics.
“Bin Laden is using the U.S. as an instrument in his struggle with other Muslims,” Doran said. “He wants the U.S. to strike back disproportionately, because he believes that will outrage Muslims and inspire them to overthrow their governments and build an Islamic state.”
Bin Laden represents a small, but violent, faction within Islam. The number of Islamic terrorists is small, but their fierce dedication to Islam makes them feared not only by the West but also by more moderate Islamic governments.
Many Muslim citizens are looking for a hero to lift them out of their poverty and oppression. Bin Laden wants to be that hero.
Gary Leazer is president of the Center for Interfaith Studies in Stone Mountain, Ga.