Miller, Flagg, The Audacious Ascetic : What Osama Bin Laden’s Sound Archive Reveals About Al-Qa’ida , Londres, Hurst, 2015, 320p.
In late 2002, over 1500 audiotapes were discovered in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in a house once occupied by Osama bin Laden. The Audacious Ascetic is the first book to explore this extraordinary archive. It details how Islamic cultural, legal, theological and linguistic vocabularies shaped militants’ understandings of Al-Qaeda and, more controversially, challenges the notion that the group’s original adversary was America and the ‘far enemy’. Miller argues that Western security agencies’ ‘management’ of Bin Laden’s growing reputation went awry. When magnified through global media coverage, narratives of al-Qaeda’s coordination were exploited by Osama and his militant supporters.
Focusing on over a dozen previously unpublished speeches by Bin Laden as well as on discussions by top al-Qaeda leaders and Arab-Afghans, Miller chronicles the Saudi radical’s evolving relationship with a host of Muslim insurgencies that found his stripe of asceticism (zuhd) tactically useful, especially when circulated via audiotape. These recordings also reveal militants’ disenchantment when Bin Laden, marginalised through the nineties, began pandering to Western television networks in his attempt to direct heterodox Islamist armed struggles against America. Such audio evidence exposes al-Qaeda’s diminishing coherence before 9-11 and invites scrutiny of dominant narratives of Western law enforcement, intelligence and terrorism analysts.
Flagg Miller is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist, his first book, The Moral Resonance of Arab Media: Audio-cassette Poetry and Culture in Yemen, examined how Yemenis have used traditional poetry and new media technologies to envision a productive relationship between tribalism and progressive Muslim reform.