Verso to Publish bin Laden's Speeches--A First

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Bruce Lawrence, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, has agreed at the request of Verso Books, to edit and write an introduction to “Messages to the World,” a compendium of bin Laden's communiqués from 1994 to 2004. (This is the first time that the major texts will be available in English in their entirety.) In November, Verso—an independentpress known for publishing leftist writers such as Slavoj Zizek and Alexander Cockburn—will issue twenty thousand copies of the book, in paperback, to be sold at $16.95 each.

“I'm really not a fan of O.B.L., but I'm not happy with the reporting on him, because it's been so piecemeal and generalized,” Lawrence said. He believes that the project will afford readers the opportunity to understand bin Laden in his own words. “He has to be decoded if he's going to be defeated.” Besides, as Lawrence explained, “Osama may be the world's worst terrorist, but he's also one of the best prose writers in Arabic.” (The historian Bernard Lewis has called bin Laden's prose “eloquent, at times even poetic.”)

Among the many difficulties inherent in editing a wanted man is access: some of the texts are as elusive as bin Laden himself. “One can't go to the Library of Congress and ask for the Osama bin Laden file,” Lawrence said. A speech from 2003, for instance, disappeared from the Internet a few days after a Verso employee tracked it down. Others have been heavily censored by translators or publishers. “Places where bin Laden says that people like King Fahd are apostates have been excised,” Lawrence said. “And he's hell on the guy who's the interior minister!”

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