YSU forum focuses on bin Laden

The head of the Islamic studies center said the terrorism suspect is winning the propaganda war.
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. warplanes may have established superiority in the skies over Afghanistan, but America lags in the battle on another, more subtle front.
"Osama bin Laden is ahead in the war of propaganda," said Dr. Mustansir Mir, head of Youngstown State University's Islamic studies center.
Bin Laden's use of the press in the Middle East and precise use of the Arabic language has put him out front in the war of words, Mir said Thursday in a YSU forum on terrorism.
"He appeals not only to the minds of people, but to the hearts of people as well," he said.
Discussions: The forum, the second in an ongoing biweekly discussion of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, focused on bin Laden, the Saudi exile believed to be the mastermind behind the suicide airplane crashes in New York, Washington, D.C., and outside Pittsburgh.
Mir analyzed bin Laden's taped remarks that aired on an Arab television station after the U.S. airstrikes began Oct. 6. The language bin Laden uses in the speech -- formal, standard Arabic -- is similar to the language used in the Koran, Mir said.
Bin Laden uses the language because "it preserves and maintains its Koranic flavor" and appeals to the hearts of many of his followers, he said.
The speech, however, also reveals that bin Laden is not an Islamic scholar and that his words are not justifiable even from a strict, Islamic standpoint.
"At the most, he's a vigilante, and vigilantism isn't supported in Islamic law," he said.
"There are crackpots in every country and in every religion, and if you take them as the true reflection of that country or that religion, then you are misled," he added.
Preserving a legacy: Dr. Keith Lepak, YSU political science professor who is running the terrorism forum series, said the videotapes being made by bin Laden are a way to preserve his words regardless of what happens to him.
"I see this man creating a myth about himself," he said.
Perceptions: Mir said the United States must be careful not to allow bin Laden to portray himself as David and the United States as Goliath in this battle.
"Perception is everything, no matter what the reality," he said. "It's a very difficult psychological war."
Even the name of bin Laden's terror network, Al-Qaida, is significant, Mir said. In Arabic, the term means "foundation" and is a reference to Abraham's struggle in the Koran against heavy odds to establish a new community of believers, he said. Bin Laden places himself in that same position.
"You can see the historical interplay ... and it makes a powerful appeal, especially to his Arab listeners," Mir added.