We know that Osama Bin Laden didn’t have satellite television or an internet connection at his compound in Abbottabad. But it seems he did, at least, have a small portable set and a video machine. In one of five videos (without sound) released yesterday by the Pentagon, a grey-haired, frail-looking Bin Laden is shown watching himself on television.
In his essay in the current issue of the New Statesman, Olivier Roy emphasises the centrality of the visual image to al-Qaeda’s strategy:
Al-Qaeda always needs a mise-en-scène – the volunteer for death filming himself before carrying out an action, the execution of hostages in front of the camera . . . The staging is then taken up, for free, by the media: rolling coverage of the attack on the World Trade Center, front pages for any attack in which innocent westerners are killed. This mirror effect exacerbates public frear and gives an apocalyptic dimension to al-Qaeda action.
The Pentagon videos give that “mirror effect” a final turn.