This article was first published in Norwegian in the Scientific journal EKFRASE in 2014.
Osama bin Laden was the leader of al-Qaida for 23 years before he was killed by US special forces on 2 May 2011. During these years be built a multinational organisation. As a leader, he was both eloquent and charismatic. However, there is little knowledge about him, and there are few sources. For a long time, al-Qaida’s leader did not have a private life that could be exposed. He had great freedom to create the media image he wanted among his people and adapt it to the audience’s longings and fear. His enemies were also free to create a media profile of him that suited them. In the West, Osama bin Laden was primarily the leader of the world’s most-feared terrorist organisation, and the main target of the War on Terror, but among a number of people in the Muslim world, he was seen as a resistance fighter and a hero.
This article does not focus on the terrorist leader, but on the charismatic leader. Rhetorical analyses will illustrate how this leader has been staged in different ways since he first appeared in the media as an international player in the mid-1990s, when he declared war on the USA – staging that not only used verbal language, but also used visual instruments that draw on the symbolic importance of specific cultural connotations. The visual depictions are important, because bin Laden spent much of his life in hiding. He therefore did not risk being photographed in undesirable situations, which gave al-Qaida good control of the media’s visual depictions of their leader. This article therefore focuses on the visual, which is a new perspective in the linguistic research on bin Laden. The article will show how visual depictions of bin Laden form a rhetorical development throughout three periods: from the holy warrior to the political leader, and finally to a mythical heroic figure.
The analyses presented in the article have a rhetorical and multimodal perspective. The rhetorical perspective has been chosen because it examines what it is the visual depictions of bin Laden are intended to convince the audience about, and how they achieve this. As known, rhetoric is the theory of convincing speech. Its starting-point is that pictures, like language, are rhetorical. The concepts used in rhetorical analyses are demonstrative speech and the speaker’s ethos. The multimodal perspective has been chosen as a supplement to the rhetorical perspective because some of the texts being analysed are so-called complex texts made up of different modalities, like speech, text, photographs and collages. An analysis based on multimodal perspectives shows what the different modalities express separately, as well as what the interaction between these modalities may express in more detailed analyses than is possible if one solely relies on a rhetorical vocabulary. The idea behind the theory of multimodality is not that words or symbols have a fixed content, but that they represent a meaning potential. The purpose of analyses that draw on this perspective is therefore not to make reference to an inherent meaning in the data material presented, but rather to illuminate some of the creation of meaning that is facilitated by the text. An important precondition for the analyses is that neither words, sentences nor other rhetorical resources have an inherent meaning.
Terms from rhetorical theory are particularly suited to describing rhetorical language use, like bin Laden’s speeches. The goal of analyses that draw on this perspective is to identify the speaker’s objectives, what he wants to achieve with his speech, and the strategies he uses to achieve these objectives. I have previously described how bin Laden’s popularity can be described using the term demonstrative speech in analyses of verbal rhetoric. Demonstrative speech is also a useful term to describe visual rhetoric, because it is a genre of speech that, among others, is characterised by a special way of constructing the past through language use based on rhetoric. The intention is to create and establish a community; a community based on shared values and ideas, which in turn are linked to a shared past and history. Bin Laden shares respect and love of God, religion and his last prophet, Muhammad, who was an important role model, with many of his supporters. The texts therefore contain comparisons with the achievements and past glories of the Muslims.
Bin Laden’s rhetoric focuses on a crusader campaign against Muslims, which bin Laden believes has been ongoing since the Middle Ages. The texts praise Islamic heroes throughout history, and the crusaders are highly criticised. The intention of the texts is thus to bring the public to feel antipathy towards the crusaders and awaken compassion and identification with Iraqis, Afghans and Palestinians using demonstrative Speech.
Demonstrative speech is also a form of speech where the speaker attempts to strengthen his ethos by demonstrating his speaking skills. The speech itself confirms the leading position assigned to bin Laden by al-Qaida by letting him act on behalf of the organisation. The visual rhetoric associated with the verbal texts depicts the war hero of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the sheikh (the learned leader) and finally the mythical hero. The language use is exhibitory and entertaining, which is also a typical trait of demonstrative speech, and it thus seeks to strengthen support for bin Laden and al-Qaida as an organisation.
Demonstrative speech explains incidents that otherwise would be difficult to understand or accept. Form is often more important than content, and the texts are intended to have a long-term effect. Andreea Deciu Ritivoi says that demonstrative speech awakens positive memories from or about the past. These positive memories appear to pervade many descriptions of demonstrative speech, but the texts attributed to bin Laden also exploit negative memories to create a clearer us-them perspective, where the crusaders’ evil and the Muslim’s goodness and helplessness are demonstrated. The choice of demonstrative speech is a way to attempt to get people to understand the events in the Muslim world as they are framed by al-Qaida, namely using the us-them perspective. This perspective thus contains a link to al-Qaida’s ideology, because this us-them perspective is at the core of its ideological foundation; a crusader conspiracy theory. What is key to this organisation is the idea of a global jihad which links fighting Muslims throughout the world in a united battle against the enemy: the crusaders. The motives underlying the texts ascribed to bin Laden thus appear to be to promote a leader with different types of competence, and to strengthen and awaken anti-Western sentiment.
Jens E. Kjeldsen argues that visual rhetoric is particularly suited to creating epideitic rhetoric, also called demonstrative speech. The photographs therefore also play an important role in the understanding of bin Laden’s position because they are realistic in the sense that they first can serve as documentation of bin Laden’s appearance and health. Second, they are realistic because they resemble that which has been depicted, and thus contain an element of reality. A picture can conjure up associations and ideas about what it seeks to evoke in reality. Pictures can also create expression and conviction. This is called visual rhetoric. According to Kjeldsen, photographs have the ability to produce something that gives the viewer the sense of seeing it with their own eyes. When photographs show something that resembles objects, beings and phenomena we know from reality, this may evoke emotions like the ones we would have experienced if we had seen the same thing for ourselves in reality. In the same way that an audience can be influenced by words that sound like a holy warrior (mujahid), the same audience may be influenced by photographs, because they can display forms of expression that are known from the mujahideen (the plural of mujahid). For example, the holy warrior is well known from Arabic news items in connection with the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. When the Soviets pulled out, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia as a hero, followed by many positive news items.
During his years in Afghanistan, bin Laden gained a reputation as a brave and persistent warrior and an effective administrator and leader with a large international network. He had participated actively in the war, raised large sums of money and established training camps for the holy warriors. In addition to their iconic and indexical function, pictures also have symbolic importance linked to different cultural codes. In Roland Barthes’ terms, it is a matter of the images’ connotations; that they also connote, and not only denote.
In the same way as verbal rhetoric, visual rhetoric seeks to awaken memories of or from the past, particularly memories of a long-term war between Muslims and crusaders, where Muslims are the victims of the crusaders’ aggressiveness. During the last few years of this history, bin Laden was presented as a war hero, a political leader, and a mythical heroic symbol. The different roles lead us on to an important question related to understanding rhetorical texts. The question refers to the speaker and who he is. In rhetorical terms, it is a matter of a speaker’s ethos, his own authority and credibility, because his ethos may convince an audience of a message. A speaker’s ethos is a matter of his competence, decency and good will. Competence is linked to the speaker’s knowledge and reason. Decency is related to the morality of the speaker. Good will means that the speaker appears to have good intentions towards his audience.
Texts attributed to bin Laden not only use verbal rhetorical resources but, as we see in other modern texts, there is growing use of multimodal resources, like pictures, videos, music, animations and graphics. These different resources have also contributed to bin Laden’s authority. The texts follow a modern trend, from the tape recordings of the texts in the 1990s and early 2000s to the videos of 2004–2006, up to the latest audiovisual texts, with animated collages. The texts have both movement and action, stills of bin Laden and an audio text with his voice in the background. This clearly illustrates the development of the use of modern technology in texts, and shows al-Qaida’s technological skill. During these three periods, bin Laden appears to have different types of expertise, and different impressions are formed of him. During the period of tape recordings of the speeches, bin Laden was often presented in the media as a mujahid (a holy warrior). This means that news items about bin Laden in different news media used photographs with this image. The photographs often originated with the pan-Arab news channel al-Jazeera, which mysteriously received bin Laden’s speeches, and later videos, from al-Qaida. Eventually the videos showed bin Laden as a sheikh (a learned leader). The collages that came with his speeches during the last few years of his life presented him as a mythical hero. In the following, I will present a more detailed analysis of bin Laden’s ethos.
THE HOLY WARRIOR
Up to 2004, readers primarily met bin Laden depicted as a mujahid in connection with news items in the media. The terms mujahid (al-mujahid with the definite article) and jihad are originally Arabic, and are often translated as holy warrior, i.e. a person who defends Muslims and Islam against attacks, and holy war. Bin Laden pointed out that this was a war of defence, and not a war of attack. The two terms are derived from the same root (j-h-d, ), and their meaning is therefore related. A mujahid is someone engaged in jihad. Bin Laden became a mujahid back in the 1980s, when he participated in the battles against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In these depictions, his ethos thus appears to have competence related to acts of war, as shown in Illustration 1 from a 1998 interview. This is one of the most widely-used photographs of him in the global news media.
In the photograph in Illustration 1, bin Laden is shown as a mujahid in the field, on the floor of his tent, as proof of his simple and dangerous lifestyle. Much background knowledge is also associated with the photographs of bin Laden and the depiction of him as mujahid among other mujahideen. For example, the photographs make reference to his family background. It is well known that he came from one of Saudi Arabia’s most wealthy families, and that he gave up a life of luxury to dedicate himself to the cause of Muslims and live a simple life in the field. The photograph confirms bin Laden’s fight and choice of path. The fight and the choice of path say something about his morals and good intentions towards Muslims. This may therefore have strengthened his ethos, and from this perspective he appears to have good morals.
The Kalashnikov in the background of Illustration 1 is the very symbol of resistance, and he is in uniform. The picture is therefore a reference to fighting, resistance and the victory over the Soviets in 1989, nine years before the picture was taken. The functions of the speeches and the images from that time appear to confirm bin Laden’s well-being and willingness and ability to remain active as a mujahid and the head of al-Qaida, despite major campaigns to catch him. The campaigns were heavily increased after the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001.
Bin Laden’s facial expression in the photograph is gentle, a gentleness that is shown in a faint smile around his eyes and mouth. A simple tape recorder lies next to him on colourful, flower-patterned pillows. It looks like he records his speeches here, speeches that are shared all over the world. The photograph gives the impression that he has set up his workplace and home in this tent, with pillows like those that can be found in many other homes in the Middle East. The flowery pillows with their bright colours are in contrast to the dark military field uniform and highlight the gentle side of the holy warrior, together with the bright white headdress, which connotes a religious leader. This visual rhetoric generates and reinforces a positive view of bin Laden. The picture can appeal to the audience in different ways. It can appeal through ethos, bin Laden appearing credible, because he is seen in a tent with a uniform and weapons, which says that he has military competence. The picture can also have an aesthetic and emotional appeal, as bin Laden’s faint smile creates a sense of calm over the picture, as the situation looks peaceful. His rifle is placed in the background. There are no visible acts of war here; in fact there are no traces of them. His clothes look recently laundered. This way the picture can also appeal to people who do not identify themselves with the more brutal and militant side of bin Laden. The outcome of the war in Afghanistan is also important to the understanding of bin Laden’s ethos as a heroic mujahid. The Soviets withdrew in 1989, and bin Laden returned to Saudia Arabia a hero, becoming a focal point for war veterans.
Journalist Abdel Bari Atwan is among the very few who have interviewed bin Laden. Atwan says that al-Qaida’s leader lived without running water, electricity or a toilet because he wanted to live in the same way as the prophet Muhammad and his companions in the 7th century. In one of the reports about bin Laden, he appears with a type of toothbrush that was used in the prophet Muhammad’s day, the miswak, which is a little twig which is still in use today, because symbols related to the prophet are important to many Muslims. For example, these toothbrushes can be found in many of the bazaars in the Middle East today, and are in use in a number of other countries. Up to 2004, it is this humble young mujahid with a strong vocation and a simple lifestyle which is reminiscent of the age of the prophet Muhammad and the victory of the resistance in Afghanistan that the readers often encounter in the media. He is not only humble, but also a brave young man outside the field, because in 1996 he declared war on global power USA, apparently from a cave in Afghanistan. The cave is an important symbol, because the angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Muhammad in a cave on the Arabian Peninsula. The prophet also hid in a cave when he was on the run from his enemies. Lawrence Wright, the author of one of the most quoted books about al-Qaida states that «It was a product of bin Laden’s public-relations genius that he chose to exploit the presence of the ammunition caves of Tora Bora as a way of identifying himself with the Prophet in the minds of many Muslims who longed to purify Islamic society and restore the dominion it once enjoyed».
In the years following al-Qaida’s establishment in Afghanistan in 1988, bin Laden appeared increasingly in the role of leader of the al-Qaida organisation, which first gained notoriety after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. In 1996, bin Laden took on a role where he no longer merely talked to the Muslims on the Arabian Peninsula, but also to Muslims worldwide, and he warned against attacks by the alliance of Jews and crusaders against Muslims. He encouraged continued resistance, a resistance that began with the attack on the US forces in Riyadh and Khubar in Saudi Arabia in 1996. An important factor in bin Laden’s declaration of war against the USA is Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 2000. At the time, the authorities in Saudi Arabia were concerned that Saddam would continue marching towards Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden offered the Saudi authorities his forces to defend the country, but his offer was rejected. The authorities chose the US military to protect them instead. In bin Laden’s view, infidel forces, the crusaders, were now establishing a presence on holy ground in the country where the prophet Muhammad had lived. For him and many Saudis, the foreign crusaders were as much of a disaster as the one brought upon them by Saddam Hussein. A whirlwind of emotions like anxiety, rage, humiliation and xenophobia raged through Saudi Arabia at the time. Resistance against the Saudi royal family was also on the rise then; against a family that was associated with corruption, hypocrisy and greed. Bin Laden was someone who knew how to fire up people’s emotions, and this political engagement meant that he had to flee the country. In 1992 he moved his whole family, which consisted of four wives and 17 children, to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. In Khartoum he not only helped advance the country’s economic development, he also gathered people with similar ideological ideas around him. In 1996 he had to pack his bags again. This time, it was as a result of pressure by the US and Egyptian authorities. On 18 May, bin Laden left Sudan and returned to Afghanistan. He most likely lived a life on the run here, but protected by the Taliban, until he moved into his house in the military city of Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2005. Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared that «Islam says that when a Muslim asks for shelter, give the shelter and never hand him over to enemy. And our Afghan tradition says that, even if your enemy asks for shelter, forgive him and give him shelter. Osama has helped the jihad in Afghanistan, he was with us in bad days and I am not going to give him to anyone.»
In 1998, bin Laden held his only press conference together with his second-in-command at the time, the current leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Muhammad Atef, better known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, al-Qaida’s military leader of the time. He presented himself and his colleagues as the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, and declared war against these groups. The declaration of war came to the fore two months later, when the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. At the press conference, bin Laden appears as a military leader, as he speaks on behalf of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. He has the most prominent place in the centre, as shown in the still in Illustration 2, and he is the one with the microphone.
Illustration 2, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDmp-lM5hL0
The photographs from the press conference show a more pronounced leader, with his second-in-command and the military leader present. Their positioning on either side of bin Laden confirms his position as leader; they are deputies supporting their leader. The photograph serves as evidence of an organisation of a certain size, because it implies several departments and levels of leadership. Bin Laden’s clothing also indicates that he has assumed a slightly different role. The military attire has been downplayed. The camouflage jacket has been replaced by a vest, and he is clearly wearing civilian clothing underneath. Behind the three men is the black flag with the Islamic creed on it. The flag is known from the mujahideen, and is considered the foremost symbol of jihad. The flag has been in use by different Islamic groups since the early 1990s. Today it is also seen on jihadi websites, which often use it as a symbol. Through their placement in front of the flag, the three men are presented as the leaders and spokesmen of the mujahideen. The very staging of the press conference with the jihad flag in the background is a staging that was also seen at the press conference of the Norwegian organisation Profetens Ummah (the prophet’s community) in the autumn of 2012.
As mentioned earlier, references to Islamic history are used in bin Laden’s texts. Michael Scheuer writes that bin Laden has great knowledge of Islamic history, and a strong sense that he is playing a part in a historic process that has been taking place for 1400 years. He also asserts that bin Laden fits well into Islamic hero models, where important virtues are modesty and moderation. Kepel describes al-Qaida’s staging in connection the message from bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (al-Qaida’s current leader) on the al-Jazeera TV channel on 7 October 2001 from the mountains of Afghanistan as follows: «The entire scenario – the cave, the outfits, the exhortations – suggested that Zawahiri and Bin Laden were playing out, in full costume, the epic story of the Hegira, or Flight from Mecca, which marked the beginning of the Islamic era in 622 CE». Illustration 3 is a still from this broadcast.
Illustration 3 , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDmp-lM5hL0, Al-Jazeera:
From left Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Muhammad Atef.
In the still in Illustration 3 we see key leaders of al-Qaida, with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the middle. They are sitting on a carpet on the ground of what looks like a cave. However, the picture does not only depict a simple lifestyle and a 7th-century setting, as Kepel points out. There are also modern weapons, camouflage suits and a contemporary suitcase. The picture thus depicts leaders with the necessary competence and equipment to take jihad into a modern world, and thus strengthen their credibility.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 are important topics in bin Laden’s speeches. He therefore appears to speak for Muslims. Through his thematic choice, he appears to have good intentions towards his public. In a video announcement in December 2001, bin Laden explains the attacks on Afghanistan as an evil crusade against Islam, and describes the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York as the blessed attack on global unbelief:
Three months after the blessed strikes against global unbelief and its leader America, and approximately two months after the beginning of this Crusader campaign against Islams, we should discuss the meaning of these events, which have revealed things of the greatest importance to Muslims. It has become all too clear that the West in general, with America at its head, carries an unspeakable Crusader hatred for Islam. Those who have endured the continuous bombing from US aeroplanes these last months know this only too well. How many innocent villages have been destroyed, how many millions forced out into the freezing cold, these poor innocent men, women, and children who are now taking shelter in refugee camps in Pakistan while America launches a vicious campaign based on mere suspicion?
Illustration 4, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=2Ru Vs0jeMyM
This speech was broadcast on al-Jazeera. The visual rhetoric as shown below, in Illustration 4, which is taken from the video, talks about the leader of the mujahideen. The military symbols are prominent; the camouflage suit which is known from the mujahideen and the weapon next to him. He looks like a leader reporting from the war, and in this speech he justifies the attack on the USA on 11 September 2001.
Bin Laden’s demonstrative speech is a type of language use that can strengthen a sense of belonging to a cultural and religious community through an us-them perspective. Relevant political issues are elaborated on and highlighted through this perspective, which is also a key aspect of demonstrative Speech.
Illustration 5, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA5v1pTsE9I
Illustration 5 comes from a report published on the internet in 2003, where bin Laden walks around what the report calls the Mountains of Islam.
The depiction of bin Laden has now begun to change markedly. He is clearly older here, his beard is greyer, and he is walking with a staff. His uniform is gone, but he still carries the Kalashnikov on his back. The weapon implies that he is still part of the resistance, but the civilian clothing indicates that he now plays a different part, and has a different type of competence. He does not appear to participate in acts of war anymore. Now he is dressed in civilian Afghan clothes with short trousers, which gives brings up associations of the prophet Muhammad. He looks more like an older man, and it is not only the greying beard that makes him seem older; he often sits down and takes breaks while walking through these desolate mountains. The report implies that he has less physical endurance, and that he is talking life at a slower pace. Despite his diminished physical endurance, he still appears to be in good physical shape, because the terrain appears to be difficult to traverse. The report thus refutes the rumours that were reported in different news media, which said that he was suffering from serious kidney disease, and that he depended on dialysis to survive, because that would be difficult in that area. In other words, the visual depiction can be seen as a response to the rumours of his kidney disease. During the breaks, when he sits down, he looks pensive, and contemplation can bring up associations of wisdom. During this report he also appears to move freely through the mountains. The viewers see a healthy man, living a quiet life in the mountains of Afghanistan, and who still survives all attempts to catch him.
Something interesting happens with bin Laden’s ethos one year later, in 2004. Now he appears as a political leader, he assumes the role of statesman, a sheikh (a learned leader).
The first time that bin Laden clearly appears with a sheikh’s ethos can be seen in a video recording from the autumn of 2004 in connection with the US election. This visual change also matches the verbal change. Now bin Laden has begun to assume the role and function of the statesman to a greater extent, where he not only attacks, he also proposes solutions. Bombs were set off on trains in Madrid, Spain in March 2004. In April, bin Laden offers a truce to Europe, promising to stop all attacks on European states if they do not participate in attacks on Muslim countries or otherwise interfere in their affairs. That year, Spain withdraws its forces from Iraq, an act that otherwise may have helped solidify bin Laden’s role as leader. It also was not until 2004 that bin Laden explicitly assumed responsibility for the attack on the USA on 11 September 2001, an attack that took al-Qaida from being a fairly unknown organisation to one of the world’s most feared terrorist organisations. Taking responsibility also fits in with a clear leadership role. However, there are other explanations for bin Laden’s late admission of responsibility for 11 September 2001. Peter Bergen, the journalist who wrote the book that is probably the most quoted book about al-Qaida’s leader, and who also interviewed him on one occasion, claims that the reason that bin Laden did not admit his responsibility for 11 September 2001 was that it would make it difficult for Mullah Omar not to extradite him to the USA. This analysis may have some truth to it, but Mullah Omar was only the leader of Afghanistan until the end of 2001; i.e. only weeks after 11 September, and three years before bin Laden took responsibility for the acts. It was also widely known that bin Laden did not take much consideration of his Afghan hosts, and went his own way. His political agitation was not viewed kindly by the Afghans, and Mullah Omar threatened to throw him out of the country if he did not end his media campaigns. Bin Laden promised to stop, but continued his activities nonetheless.
Illustration 6, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videos_and_audio_recordings_of_Osama_bin_Laden
After 2004, bin Laden looks more like a learned political leader in his media campaigns, as shown in the image in Illustration 6.
The change in bin Laden’s ethos is reflected in the verbal and the visual rhetoric; in his clothing, and not least the staging around him when he was filmed. He is no longer in the field, but appears to be in a modern television studio, where he even appears to be reading from a teleprompter, and can thus meet the eyes of the viewers. Such a direct gaze can be interpreted as both an expectation of and a demand for attention. However, what is most striking is the impression created by the exclusive clothing and the dignity with which he presents himself. The Kalashnikov and the military uniform are gone now. The new visual depictions of bin Laden give a sense of a different type of authority, as he appears to have the competence of the learned leader, a man with knowledge and experience. The brown cape with gold embroidery on the shoulders is a garment worn by leaders throughout the Arabian Gulf, including his home country of Saudi Arabia. The headdress is also associated with religious leaders.
The warnings in the speech take centre stage. He warns against continuing to interfere in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Palestine was also a recurring theme, and in several of his speeches he said that «I swear by God Almighty Who raised the heavens without effort that neither America nor anyone who lives there will enjoy safety until safety becomes a reality for us living in Palestine». In the texts, bin Laden highlights his leadership abilities, eloquence and care for Muslims, and he puts their suffering on the agenda. He uses his comprehensive knowledge of Islam and Islamic history to support his arguments and his ethos as a leader. Bruce Lawrence describes bin Laden’s selective use of quotes from the Koran, and shows how they are adapted to his anti-imperialist politics.
After 2004, bin Laden takes a more analytical perspective and talks about why a war is being waged against the USA, and claims that the causes of the terrorism have been misunderstood, and have been concealed from the US people by the US president. He presents himself as President Bush’s opposite number, the counter-party to the world power, a powerful leader, not only of al-Qaida, but all Muslims, someone who talks on behalf of the Muslim ummah (the international Muslim society). We see the rhetorician in these speeches, a leader who is able to convince others. As a leader, he was an accomplished speaker. He knew how to move his audience. He knew which buttons to push. The speeches are carefully structured. No words are chosen at random. His wording is certain, and his message is very clear, as we see in a quote from 2004, where he talks to the people of Europe:
We only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, we only killed Americans in New York after the supported the Jews in Palestine and invaded the Arabian peninsula, and we only killed them in Somalia after they invaded it in Operation Restore Hope.
THE MYTHICAL HERO
The texts attributed to Osama bin Laden after 2006 are of a very different nature. Now they appear on the internet as animated collages with a verbal text in the background (so-called audiovisual files), and they are published on sites like YouTube. These multimodal productions require other analytical perspectives because they make greater use of the interaction between different semiotic resources; a multimodal meaning potential.
The images in these audiovisual files highlight and repeat bin Laden’s message, at the same time that they promote a mythical leader. Some of them are bilingual, i.e. verbal Arabic texts, subtitled in English, sometimes in other languages. This indicates an attempt to reach a larger audience. Illustration 7 is a still from one such subtitled audiovisual file from 2007 where bin Laden talks to the Iraqi people, as seen in the heading: A Message to Our People in Iraq: A Message from Sheikh Osama bin Laden (May God Protect Him).
In the collage in Illustration 7, bin Laden is dressed as a powerful sheikh. The picture probably comes from the video we saw a still from earlier on in the article, and placed on a dark background. This dark, unclear background may play on the uncertainty regarding bin Laden’s place of residence at the time. The background appears to be a vague depiction of the Earth with planetary rings around it. The contours of the Iraqi map are barely visible under these shining rings. This map thus highlights bin Laden’s audience, the Iraqis, and that Iraq is the subject of this speech. Bin Laden was preoccupied with Iraq, not only because of the suffering caused by the invasion on the population of Iraq, but also because the invasion made it possible to establish an an-Qaida faction in the country. This faction, under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi turned out to be very brutal and violent, and probably helped undermine al-Qaida’s reputation and bin Laden’s support and credibility. The diminishing of bin Laden may also be related to al-Sahab’s work to establish him as a mythical hero, rather than an active hero, as in these collages. A mythical hero with connotations to a golden past is better than an active hero with connections to the brutality of the Iraqi faction, connections that probably led to a decline in bin Laden’s popularity. The reason he was launched as a mythical hero may therefore have been in order to tone down the connection with the Iraq faction.
In the collage, the text translated has been highlighted in a separate frame in the foreground and with white text. The collage is divided in two, with the globe on one side and bin Laden on the other, with bin Laden highlighted through his size and positioning in the foreground of the globe. This depicts him as a global leader. As mentioned, we have seen this image of bin Laden before, in connection with the US election in 2004. We also see that his death is implied at the top of the collage: To the people of Iraq from Sheikh Osama bin Laden (May God Protect Him). The phrase «May God Protect Him» often refers to people who have died, but it is not exclusively used for this purpose. The figure also appears to shine, as orange, blue and white light shines off of him. The light gives an unearthly impression of him, a ghost-like appearance. He looks like a sheikh who is no longer part of our world. Bin Laden’s voice gives the impression that the sheikh is still alive, but the pictures imply that he no longer lives in this world – that only the sheikh’s words live on; he is dead. In other words, the visual and auditive modalities express a contradiction. This provides an important link between these modalities, because the interaction between the modalities strengthens the uncertainty as to whether bin Laden is still alive, through the contradictory messages. These contradictory messages in the images and sound files may have increased the mystery around bin Laden, because at the time the text was published, it was unclear whether bin Laden was alive. The collages appear to exploit this uncertainty by strengthening the mystery surrounding bin Laden.
Illustration 7, http://www.youtube.com/watchv=nwAWwa6sgmQ&playnext=1&list=PLA966AAFFC08D067E
Illustration 8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiCck0xYe-Q
In other audiovisual files published on YouTube, bin Laden is seen as a holy warrior, albeit more as a mythical holy warrior, as seen in the image in Illustration 8, which comes from a 2008 text.
Illustration 8 comes from an animated collage where «from Sheikh Osama bin Laden (May God Protect Him)» is written at the bottom of the collage. The animation begins dramatically, with the spear at the right shooting across the screen with a religious song, a so-called nasheed, in the background. The spear hits what appears to be a bloodstain, then bin Laden’s image appears, as in the still in Illustration 8. This sets the stage for the speech, with a reference to past wars through the spear and up to the present fighting, with modern weapons, as visualised by the rifle. The song stops, and bin Laden begins his speech. There is a quote from the speech at the top of the collage. The quote is written in red, a colour that stands out and demands attention. This is a colour that is often associated with warnings, like a red traffic light, and here the warning is about the loss mothers can expect unless Muslims defend the prophet Muhammad. The quote is as follows: «May our mothers be bereaved of us if we fail to help our prophet» . The quote can also be read as an indirect incitement to holy war; a response to the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, which are the main topic of the speech made by bin Laden here to his enemies. In the verbal section, bin Laden describes how these drawings are part of an extensive crusade against Muslims which has been ongoing since the Middle Ages. Towards the end of the speech he says: «In closing, I tell you: if there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.»  In the photo collage, bin Laden appears to be in action, and the action in the photo thus highlights the threats in the verbal message. The visual modality tells the story of the battle between Muslims and crusaders, like the verbal modality. The Kalashnikov is a symbol that provides associations to rebel movements and resistance. The other weapon, the spear, provides associations to Islam’s past, the golden age of Muslims. The collage can be read as a narrative and, following the Arabic writing system, is read from right to left. This visual narrative thus also makes reference to a continuity from the age of Muhammad up to the present, a long-lasting fight with bin Laden, as the final hero of this battle. Like many of the other texts, the text shows a deep understanding of the feelings of many Muslims towards their lost golden age through the use of historic symbols. The texts also appear to be able to exploit these memories rhetorically by linking them to events in the present, and thus bring hope. This is done by calling forth memories of victory, and placing Islamic symbols and myths into new contexts.
The audiovisual collages from al-Qaida’s media company stand out greatly from past photographs and videos, also in other ways than through exploitation of several different modalities, as they are not meant to resemble the real world. Instead the function of the collages is to create inner pictures for their audience, through recontextualisation of the photographs used. Bin Laden appears ghostly and unreal, which provides associations to an immortal and strong leader. He does not let himself get caught or killed, but continues to live outside this world. He represents the unassailable symbol of resistance, an invincible hero. In these texts, he is a mythical historical hero, and it no longer seems important whether he lives. Through these texts, he took a place in history as part of people’s memories, already before he was killed.
In al-Qaida’s version of Islamic history, bin Laden sometimes appears as a mythical mujahid, other times as a mythical sheikh. The media company appears professional, because the picture presented by bin Laden matched people’s views of him during the last few years before he died. He was not a major international player anymore. Instead he was a symbolic figure to many people. This appears to be the image the media company tries to reinforce through its collages. The company appears to want to consolidate bin Laden’s symbolic role among his admirers as a mythical hero. The collages therefore remind his readers about his accomplishments through the composition of different images. In these complex texts, he has already assumed the role of martyr, despite clearly being alive at the time, well hidden in a house in Pakistan with his three wives, children and several grandchildren. The house was in the city of Abbottabad in northern Pakistan. Abbottabad was one of the last places where anyone would expect him to do be. The city was far from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where most people thought he was. This is also one of Pakistan’s main military cities, and thus a risky place to be. He recorded his speeches in this house in Abbottabad. The speeches were carried by his courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, to al-Qaida’s Pakistan-based media company as-Sahab. As-Sahab compiled the audio files together with photographs, graphics, translations and collages in audiovisual files before they were published online.
BIN LADEN’S VISUAL RHETORIC
Much has been written about bin Laden’s verbal rhetoric, while his visual rhetoric is virtually unexplored in the research into al-Qaida’s former leader. Some of the visual aspects of bin Laden’s rhetoric have therefore been presented in this article, through rhetorical and multimodal analyses of his original Arabic texts. The analyses show how the visual depictions of bin Laden reinforce the image of a leader and different types of hero. The article is also a contribution to a more nuanced picture of bin Laden. It can be read as a counterweight to the many negative presentations of bin Laden as a terrorist, disseminated in both the Arabic and Western media. This article therefore does not focus on the leader responsible for the major bombings that received attention, but on an eloquent rhetorician. I have described the eloquent rhetorician by focusing on bin Laden’s visual rhetoric and providing examples of some of the instruments used in the texts. Examples of this are references to Islamic symbols and myths, as well as recalling past experiences. These references are so important to people that they evoke emotions, and can thus persuade and engage people. This article may therefore help explain bin Laden’s popularity.
 Brynjar Lia, «Osama bin Laden – mannen bak al-Qaida» [Osama bin Laden – the man behind al-Qaida], Samtiden 3, (2011), pp. 118–131.
 Anne Birgitta Nilsen «Osama bin Laden – helten og demonen» [Osama bin Laden – the Hero and the Demon]. Internasjonal Politikk, no. 4, 2012.
 Represented, respectively, in Jens E. Kjeldsen, Visuell retorikk [Visual rhetoric], PhD thesis in Media Studies and Rhetoric. Department of Media Studies publication no. 50. Department of Media Studies, University of Bergen, 2002, and Gunther Kress, Multimodality – a Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication, London: Routledge, 2010.
 Jens E. Kjeldsen, Visuell retorikk [Visual rhetoric].
 For descriptions of multimodal analyses in Norwegian, see Aslaug Veum, «Historisk blikk pa meiningsskaping i avisforstesider» [A historical perspective on opinion creation on newspaper first pages] and Gunnfrid Oyerud, «Hvordan analysere multimodalitet» [How to analyse multimodality], in Diskursanalyse i praksis: metode og analyse, Tonje Raddum Hitching, Anne Birgitta Nilsen and Aslaug Veum, Kristiansand: Hoyskoleforlaget, 2011, pp. 88–110 and pp. 43–78.
 Anne Birgitta Nilsen, «Interkulturell retorikk – Osama bin Ladens makt» [Intercultural rhetoric – the power of Osama bin Laden], in Diskursanalyse i praksis: metode og analyse, pp. 136–160.
 Ibid., pp 155–157.
 Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, Paul Ricoeur: Tradition and Innovation in Rhetorical Theory, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.
 Peter Bergen, Menneskejakten [Manhunt], Oslo: Cappelen Damm, 2012, p. 285.
 Jens E. Kjeldsen, «Visuel politisk epideiktik» [Visual political epideitics], Rhetorica Scandinavica, 14, (2000), pp. 18–31.
 Jens E. Kjeldsen, Visuell retorikk [Visual rhetoric].
 Jens E. Kjeldsen, Retorikk i vår tid [Rhetoric in our time], Oslo: Spartacus forlag, 2004, p. 264.
 Roland Barthes, «Bildets retorikk» [Rhetoric of the image], Tegnets tid, Oslo: Pax forlag, 1994 , pp. 22–35.
 Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 25.
 Abdel Bari Atwan, The Secret History of al-Qaeda, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
 Ismail Abbas Darout, The Natural Toothbrush «Miswak» as an Alternative to the Modern Toothbrush: A Clinical, Microbial and Chemical Evaluation, PhD thesis, University
of Bergen, 2003.
 Lawrence Wright, Al-Qaida og veien til 11. september [The looming tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11], Oslo: Gyldendal, p. 234.
 Ibid., pp 168.
 Ibid., pp 224.
 Bergen, p. 46.
 The still is from «I knew bin Laden – al-Jazeera documentary»: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDmp-lM5hL0. Downloaded on 20.11.2012.
 TV2, News: «Profetens umma: – Vi er misforstatt» [Profetens umma – We are misunderstood]. http://www.tv2.no/nyheter/innenriks/profetens-ummah-vi-ermisforstaatt-3917690.html Downloaded on 20.11.2012.
 Scheuer, Michael, Through our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2006, p. 75.
 Ibid., pp 303–304.
 Gilles Kepel, The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, Cambridge Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 77.
 Ibid., pp. 221–222.
 Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s speech 2001. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=2RuVs0jeMyM . Downloaded on 20.11.2012.
 Complete footage of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA5v1pTsE9I Downloaded on 01.11.2012.
 The rumours were also documented by Bergen, pp. 32–33.
 Bruce Lawrence and Osama bin Laden, Budskap til verden, Osama bin Ladens brev og taler (Messages to the world: The statements of Osama bin Laden], Oslo: L.S.P. forlag, 2007.
 Bergen, pp 53–54.
 Wright, pp 245–247, 284–285.
 The translation from Arabic comes from Bruce Lawrence and Osama bin Laden, p. 165.
 Bruce B. Lawrence, «Osama bin Laden: The Man and the Myth», The Leader: Psychological Essays, Eds. Oliger Abdyli, Daniel Offer and Charles B. Strozier, New York: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 2011, pp. 119–134.
 Bruce Lawrence and Osama bin Laden, p. 346.
 (Osama bin Laden’s speech to the Iraqi people) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwAWwa6sgmQ&playnext=1&list=PLA966AAFFC08D067E. Downloaded on 20.11.2012.
 Abu Musab himself was known for having beheaded one of his hostages and for having filmed the executions, which were later posted online.
 Bergen, p. 166.
 Syaikh Usama bin Ladin Audio Message 20 March 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiCck0xYe-Q
 The author’s translation from Arabic.
 The author’s translation from Arabic.
[CPU1]Husk å rette på sidehenvisningene iht. den engelske boken.
[CU2]IntelCenter Words of Osama Bin Laden, Volum 1