Academic studies Osama bin Laden the skilled poet
One of the world's most wanted men is about to be a published poet.
The poems of Osama bin Laden are to be published next week in the Language and Communications Journal, an academic publication.
Professor Flagg Miller of the University of California has been studying bin Laden's poetry for four years, working with audio recordings originally found in the al-Qaeda leader's Afghanistan compound.
Miller said the man who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks is quite the wordsmith.
He used to recite poetry at weddings and he frequently used it in public forums where he was trying to recruit young men.
"There was a variety of occasions he delivered this poetry … so they were sometimes given to large audiences when he was recruiting for jihad in Afghanistan and afterwards, and other times they are delivered at weddings, and far more personal contexts," Miller said.
Some of those recitals survived on audio tapes that were passed around in Kabul and Pakistan. CNN originally found a clutch of audio cassettes in bin Laden's Afghanistan compound and the FBI has translated and studied them for coded messages.
Miller, an expert in Arabic poetry, says bin Laden is tapping into an aspect of tribal culture, which has a strong oral tradition because many people are illiterate.
One poem begins: "A youth who plunges into the smoke of war smiling stains the blades of lances red. May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent humans, lest they fall."
The poem portrays the head of al-Qaeda as a "warrior poet" who will lead followers to an idyllic refuge in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Miller, who is writing a book about bin Laden's use of poetry in jihad, said he crafts words to excite dissatisfied youth and lure them into a warrior lifestyle they believe will be exciting.
"They reveal Osama Bin Laden as the performer, the entertainer with an agenda," Miller said in an interview with the Times of London.
The poetry is full of religious imagery, taken directly from the Qur'an and uses metaphors such as the mountains to symbolize resistance to secular influences.
"He told gory tales of dead mujahedeen from the villages where he was speaking, which was often the first time their families had learned of their fates. He mixed this news up with radical theology and his own verse based on the traditions of hamasa — a warlike poetic tradition from Oman calculated to capture the interest of young men," Miller said.
The tapes are now at Yale University, where they are being cleaned and digitized and will be released to scholars in 2010.
Some scholars have objected to the publication of bin Laden's poetry, saying it gives a forum to a reviled figure.