Bin Laden—tape cassette salesmanDecember 1, 2011
The Arab street, where low-tech still matters
This photo caught Money Jihad’s attention during routine research for an unrelated post.
It features pictures of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Yassir Arafat, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arranged in front of tape cassettes for sale at an Arab store in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Like the cavalier reference to sales of Hasan Nasrallah CDs and mugs in Lebanon, shops like this are so widespread that their existence rarely merits news coverage. One source says that little cassette shops like this are nearly as plentiful as grocery shops.
Call it ‘retail jihad,’ in which the tape cassette, now considered a dinosaur by most Americans, still play an important role.
Of course the bigger problem than hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail cassette sales made by Islamists is a) the violent messages of Islamic supremacy in the tapes themselves, and b) the millions of dollars in zakat solicited on the audio tapes that go back toward supporting jihad.
Malcom Nance noted in An End to Al Qaeda that as important as the Internet and satellite television has become:
…the key to understanding why there has been such a rapid spread of populism within the Salafi world is that they already had a solid grounding in their message based on books, pamphlets, lectures, and letters. These materials were spread by hand first, handed out at conferences, and made into cassette tapes and widely distributed throughout the Muslim world through supporting Islamic bookstores or charities.
The problem with tape recordings is that, unless somebody takes the time to transcribe, translate, tag, and upload the messages to the web, their content is largely unknown by Western audiences who may be likely to underestimate the importance of the old-fashioned technology in the Islamic world.
Bin Laden himself was an active cassette collector, maintaining a 1,500 tape collection in Kandahar before he fled Afghanistan in the early 2000s. Recent analysis of the contents of those tapes by U.C. Davis professor Flag Miller opens new insights into Bin Laden’s history.